By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 29, 2007 - The Defense Department's inspector general will travel to Iraq with an 18-person assessment team to determine the magnitude of a reported problem with Iraqi weapons accountability. According to a Government Accountability Office report, Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq cannot fully account for about 110,000 AK-47 rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor, and 115,000 helmets reported as issued to Iraqi forces as of Sept. 22, 2005.
"Since January, the inspector general's office has been thoroughly investigating reports of unaccounted-for weapons, as well as allegations of arms ending up in the wrong hands," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said at a news conference today.
Morrell said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates became very concerned when Turkish officials claimed that U.S.-issued weapons were ending up in the hands of criminals in Turkey.
The IG team will meet up with colleagues on the ground and use whatever resources it needs to close the investigation, Morrell said. By law, the IG is the principal advisor to the secretary for matters relating to the prevention of fraud, waste, and abuse in the programs and operations of the Defense Department. The IG organization has auditors and criminal investigators, and the IG can suggest new ways of doing business. The Defense Criminal Investigative Service works for the inspector general, and special agents with the service can investigate, arrest, and charge personnel for criminal behavior.
Morrell said the IG, retired Army Lt. Gen. Claude M. Kicklighter, will "remain in place as long as it takes to find out if any record-keeping problems persist, and if so, make any recommendations to commanders on the ground to fix those problems." With direction from Gates to get to the bottom of the situation, Kicklighter and his team will travel to Iraq next week, he added.
The team is expected to operate in high gear, Morrell said, and "offer remedies within weeks, not months."
The weapons unaccounted for under the program were issued in 2003 and 2004. The period was a chaotic one in Iraq, with coalition forces wanting to get weapons out to Iraqi security forces as quickly as possible. Pentagon officials said many of the AK-47s issued to Iraqi troops were taken from the battlefield, cleaned up, checked and reissued.
Since then, the procedures have changed. Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, commander of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, described today's accountability processes at a Baghdad news conference today.
"The responsibilities now are very complete," Dubik said. "We hand over weapons on the military side from Taji National Depot by serial number to the responsible officer by Iraqi division, and then that person hands them off by serial number within the division."
For the Iraqi police, weapons are sent to the Baghdad Police College by serial number. Officials there hand off weapons by serial numbers to the provincial directors of the police, who assign them to stations and policemen by serial number, the general explained.
"You walk in to any police station now, (and) you find a ledger of people signing weapons in and out by name, by serial number, by date," Dubik said.