WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Pentagon cannot account for 190,000 AK-47 rifles and pistols given to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, or about half the weapons earmarked for soldiers and police, according to a government report.
U.S. soldiers patrol the Iraqi village of Sweb, south of Baquba, on Wednesday.
The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, said in a July 31 report to lawmakers that the Defense Department also cannot account for 135,000 items of body armor and 115,000 helmets reported to be issued to Iraqi forces as of September 22, 2005.
The GAO said the Pentagon concurred with its findings and has begun a review to ensure full accountability for the program to train and equip Iraqi forces.
"However, our review of the 2007 property books found continuing problems with missing and incomplete records," the GAO report said.
The report raised concerns that weapons provided by the United States could be falling into the hands of Iraqi insurgents, just as lawmakers and policymakers in Washington await a September report on the success of President Bush's so-called "surge" strategy for stabilizing Baghdad.
One senior Pentagon official told The Washington Post some weapons probably were being used against U.S. troops. He said an Iraqi brigade created in Falluja disintegrated in 2004 and began fighting American soldiers.
Many in Washington view the development of effective Iraqi army and police forces as a vital step toward reducing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Since 2003, the United States has provided about $19.2 billion to develop Iraqi security forces, the GAO said. The Defense Department has recently asked for another $2 billion to continue the train-and-equip program.
Congress funded the program for Iraqi security forces outside traditional security assistance programs, providing the Pentagon with a large degree of flexibility in managing the effort, the GAO said.
"Officials stated that since the funding did not go through traditional security assistance programs, the DOD accountability requirements normally applicable to these programs did not apply," the GAO report said.
Military officials in Iraq reported issuing 355,000 weapons to Iraqi security forces from June 2004 through September 2005, including 185,000 rifles and 170,000 pistols, the GAO said.
But the Defense Department could not account for 110,000 rifles and 80,000 pistols, the GAO said. Those sums amount to about 54 percent of the total weapons distributed to the Iraqi forces.
The GAO quoted officials as saying the agency responsible for handling weapons distribution was too short-staffed to record information on individual items given to Iraqi forces.
Accountability procedures also could not be fully implemented because of the need to equip Iraqi forces rapidly for combat operations, the GAO found. E-mail to a friend
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