WASHINGTON -- After spending $19 billion to train and equip 346,500 Iraqi security forces, the Pentagon doesn't know how many of them are on the job or whether their weapons have been stolen or turned against American forces, according to a bipartisan congressional report that was released Wednesday.
It found that Iraqi security forces aren't ready to take full responsibility for their country's security and the central government of Iraq isn't capable of funding and guiding them. It demands that the Pentagon do a better job of accounting for the Iraqis it's trained and equipped.
"What we have found has been a lot of disappointment," said Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass. The Iraqi forces are "nowhere near ready to operate independently."
The report's findings are likely to contribute to the debate on Iraq policy because they go to the heart of the issue of how the United States eventually can leave behind a country that’s capable of providing its own stability.
President Bush said in March 2006 that as Iraqi forces stand up, "we’ll stand down." But as the number of Iraqis trained and equipped has increased, the violence hasn't diminished and U.S. forces haven’t been redeployed.
Meehan said that despite many different views on future Iraq policy, the panel that produced the report, which he chaired, had examined facts about the Iraqi forces in a bipartisan fashion. All members of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Armed Services Committee signed the report.
Meehan and Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, criticized the Defense Department for its "unwillingness or inability to cooperate fully, and in a timely way, in responding to our requests for information and witnesses."
Meehan said he personally had concluded that the Pentagon had tried to hinder the investigation.
The report says the Pentagon must do a better job of reporting meaningful information to Congress on the Iraqi forces.
"Basically, the department can tell us how many people they've trained and how many weapons they've been given, but they can't tell us enough about how well they can perform their missions or even plan them," Meehan said.
The report raises the question of whether Americans have been training their enemy, but it can't answer that question, Meehan said.
He said the report also didn't conclude whether the United States should continue with long-term training in Iraq.
Bush has requested $2 billion for Iraqi forces in 2008.
An unrelated report issued Monday by the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning research center, says the United States should phase out training Iraqis and put strict limits on equipping them. That report argues that Iraq's security forces lack loyalty to a national government, so U.S. support amounts to arming different sides in a civil war and providing support to Shiite Muslim groups that are allied with Iran.
The congressional report found "strong evidence that some are independently committing sectarian violence and other illegal activity."
It also says that Iraqi police are plagued with corruption and sectarian loyalties. Many police officers trained by Americans are unaccounted for, and many on the job weren’t those whom Americans had trained or vetted, Meehan said.
Akin, the Republican, said the report showed mixed results. It found that some Iraqi military units were planning and conducting their own missions successfully, and that many had sacrificed their lives for their country.
Local police, however are "less trustworthy - they tend to be more partisan," Akin said.
He said he could understand that it would be difficult for Iraqis to account for their personnel and equipment. Army records are kept by Iraqis, not by Americans, he said, but American Marines do keep records of the Iraqis they've trained.
The congressional report, The Continuing Challenge of Building the Iraqi Security Forces, can be read on the House Armed Services Web site.
The report is available at Center for American Progress.