Iraqi Army Has Control, but No Logistics

The U.S. military intends to turn over increasing amounts of territory and responsibility to the Iraqi Army. While leaders say Iraqis will have logistics structure this year and training next year, a recent trip to an Iraqi supply depot and the Iraqi Military Transportation Regiment showed that supplies, food, medical care and spare parts are essentially nonexistent. Privately, U.S. military officers say it will be years before Iraqis can provide for their own logistics. But despite the much-hailed turning over of control of Iraqi Army divisions to the Iraqi government, experts say the units can't sustain themselves in the field.

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The American strategy in Iraq is based on training and equipping Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi army now has more than 113,000 trained soldiers. But that's only half the story. The Iraqis are still developing what's called a logistics space, creating the supply chain that will provide their soldiers with bullets, spare parts, uniforms, even field kitchens. For now, the U.S. military and private contractors are largely providing that service.

NPR's Tom Bowman traveled to the Iraq army supply depot just north of Baghdad to check on progress there.

TOM BOWMAN, reporter:

There's an old saying in the military - amateurs taught tactics, professionals taught logistics. If the Iraqis are ever able to stand on their own will likely depend on what happens at this falling and dusty supply base called the Taji National Depot. There are row upon row of vehicles. American trucks, British army cars, Russian tanks. Warehouses are stocked with uniforms and helmets. Bullets and machine guns are piled high on one another, tucked inside dark green wooden boxes.

Captain DAVID CHANDLER (U.S. Army): Well, over here we have PKN Machine guns. They come from various countries, and it's 762 by .54 is the caliber.

BOWMAN: Captain David Chandler is an Army officer from New York. He's the officer in charge of weapons and ammunitions at Taji. Chandler will continue his duties until Iraqis can pick up the slack. The Iraqis have about 330 personnel here, but they need nearly 1,300. The Americans say they wont reach that level until sometime next spring.

There are other challenges, too. One of the top Iraqi officers here, Colonel Mazir(ph), says he also needs more heavy equipment to move supplies.

Colonel MAZIR (Iraqi Military): We need at least 25 additional trucks beyond the six trucks that we have right now. We also have problems with the forklifts. When they break, we contact the company and they say we need to get spare parts from Jordan.

BOWMAN: This is the way it's supposed to work - Iraqi military units come here to pick up their supplies of armored vehicles, AK-47s, bullets and uniforms. So far, only a small percentage of the 10 Iraqi divisions can handle the job. Lieutenant Colonel Ken Kirkpatrick is a senior American advisor here.

Lieutenant Colonel KEN KIRKPATRICK (U.S. Army): And about 20 percent of the Iraqi divisions were able to come here to pick up their own supplies and equipment, and that's largely due to the close proximity here to the Taji National Depot.

BOWMAN: For the Iraqi army units that don't live close by, the Americans are paying $450 million for contractors to move the supplies and other equipment. Kirkpatrick says once that contract ends next March, the Iraqis will have to pay to renew the contract or they will have to do it themselves. The issue is not just the lack of personnel and trucks, there is also the reality of the violence along the roads.

Major EARL MACK, III (U.S. Army): Part of the transportation issue is the counter insurgency fight and conditions of safety security along the routes.

BOWMAN: Major Earl Mac, III, is an adviser here for one of the success stories, an ordered transport regiment that is now supplying the Iraqi 6th army division in Baghdad. The transport unit has been operating on its own for four months now.

Major MACK: They do go out on their missions by themselves, so the Americans, we no longer have to go out with them. We help them with all the mission planning. When it's time to execute the mission, they go by themselves.

BOWMAN: Mack said his goal is to work himself out of the job. But he's not there, yet.

Major MACK: We'll always need some type of coalition oversight over here, just to make sure those processes remain in place. But other than that we don't need the day to day necessary supervision.

BOWMAN: Recently, the top American commander in Iraq, General George Casey, predicted that the Iraqi security forces would need very little help from the Americans within the next year to 18 months. But he said achieving that goal would depend on a number of factors.

Chief among them is Iraqi logistics. At the edge of the Taji base is a stack of anti-aircraft guns from the Saddam era, their barrels pointed harmlessly towards the sky. Nearby, bright red trucks unload brand new Chevy Silverados. Who knows how long they will sit here before they'll be used by Iraqi soldiers at their bases.

Tom Bowman NPR News, Baghdad.

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