Military Equipment: Missing in Action

A new Defense audit says the Pentagon has failed to properly equip soldiers in Iraqjust as the President struggles to find support for a troop increase

The Inspector General for the Defense Dept. is concerned that the U.S. military has failed to adequately equip soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially for nontraditional duties such as training Iraqi security forces and handling detainees, according to a summary of a new audit obtained by BusinessWeek.

The findings come as the Pentagon prepares to send another 21,500 troops to Iraq and as Democratic leaders levy threats to restrict funding for a war that's already cost about $500 billion. The Army alone expects to spend an extra $70 billion on an additional 65,000 permanent troops from fiscal year 2009 through 2013. According to Army officials, $18 billion of that will be spent on equipment.

Soldiers Poorly Equipped

The Inspector General found that the Pentagon hasn't been able to properly equip the soldiers it already has. Many have gone without enough guns, ammunition, and other necessary supplies to "effectively complete their missions" and have had to cancel or postpone some assignments while waiting for the proper gear, according to the report from auditors with the Defense Dept. Inspector General's office. Soldiers have also found themselves short on body armor, armored vehicles, and communications equipment, among other things, auditors found.

"As a result, service members performed missions without the proper equipment, used informal procedures to obtain equipment and sustainment support, and canceled or postponed missions while waiting to receive equipment," reads the executive summary dated Jan. 25. Service members often borrowed or traded with each other to get the needed supplies, according to the summary.

Pentagon officials did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

The audit supports news reports and other evidence that U.S. troops have been stretched too thin or have performed tasks for which they were ill-prepared. It is likely to add fuel to the opposition to President George W. Bush's decision to send more troops to Iraq in an effort to quell the violence there.

Controls Needed

Already, support for the troop increase is tepid in the Senate, where Democrats are preparing to vote on a nonbinding statement against the President's plan. While lawmakers have threatened to reduce funding for the war, few have publicly committed to using the "power of the purse" to block funding for the troop surge. "The thing we're going to do now is very important, to show the American people that the United States Senate, on a bipartisan basis, does not support an escalation," says Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "Even the Republicans are very timid in their support for the President at this stage."

In the summary of the Inspector General's audit, the equipment shortages were attributed to basic management failures among military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. Central Command lacked standard policies for requesting and tracking equipment requirements or for equipping units to perform nontraditional duties. Auditors surveyed 1,100 service members stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan from all four military branches, the National Guard, and Reserves.

The Inspector General recommended that the Pentagon establish new internal controls and policies to address the funding, equipping, and sustaining forces performing nontraditional duties.