The new Defense Department quarterly report to Congress says that the Taji National Depot is the centerpiece of the maintenance and supply network for the Iraqi security forces. This is part of the American goal to make the Iraqi army and police self-sufficient so that they can carry out their own logistics and repair their own vehicles and equipment. The Pentagon claimed that the Iraqis have made progress at the tactical level in this field, but still need work at the strategic level. A recent memo by Col. Timothy Reese, the head of the U.S. advisory team in Baghdad stated that the Iraqi forces are institutionally incapable of becoming self-sufficient however. His opinion seems to be supported by two recent audits by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), the latest of which dealt with the Taji Depot.
In December 2007, the U.S. military signed a $350 million contract to build and develop the Taji National Maintenance Depot within two years. It was one of the largest contracts given out under the money appropriated for the Iraqi security forces. The contractor was to build the facilities, install the equipment, train Iraqis how to use them, and then eventually turn it over to Iraqi control by the end of 2009. When completed the Taji Depot was to be the main repair facility for the Iraqi forces.
This contract ran into two major problems. First, poor work and lack of supplies meant that many pieces of equipment were not installed, and some areas were unsafe to work in. The U.S. military was in charge of all supply orders, but couldn’t make timely deliveries. Today, the Taji facility is still waiting for parts and equipment to arrive. The U.S. has also failed miserably in providing manuals for the Iraqi students. Of the 115 manuals required for Taji, only two had been translated into Arabic. This obviously led to delays in the training of Iraqis, and the contractor was found to have set overly optimistic goals for how many could complete their lessons in the set amount of time. The company created a plan where Iraqi soldiers would first go to basic training, then spend two weeks in vocational classes, get one week off, return for four weeks of basic maintenance, then go on leave again, to return for the final 26 week, non-stop course. The Iraqi ministries however, never showed any commitment to supply the necessary soldiers to go through training. First, not all the soldiers assigned to Taji had completed basic training, and those who hadn’t were routinely pulled out to complete that task. Second, Iraqis couldn’t stick to the training schedule, and would often leave early before completing their lessons. 46% were said to be absent at any time, and most Iraqis only completed 12-13 weeks of the final 26-week course. More importantly the Iraqi security forces never sent enough soldiers to begin with. The depot dealing with tracked vehicles for example, only had 179 assigned students in July 2009 when 556 were required, and of those sent there, 45 were in basic training. Overall the U.S. military reported that as of July 2009 Taji only had 62% of its assigned Iraqi soldiers. Due to troops going to basic training however, only 33% of those were ever actually at the Taji Depot. The ministries would also sometimes pull soldiers out of the training program so that they could be sent on regular security duties. The contractor ended up trying to work around these problems to finish training, but was largely unsuccessful.
The result is that the Taji Depot is barely able to carry out its assigned tasks of maintaining the Iraqi security forces’ equipment. The U.S. military set a low rate goal, which is the minimum number of jobs the Iraqi Army is supposed to perform to show that they are proficient and productive. SIGIR found that only the low rate goal for transmissions on wheeled vehicles had been met, but even that had problems. The goal was 30 and that was accomplished, but of those, only 7 were tested good. Taji had a low rate goal of 500 jobs on the AK-47 rifle and none had been accomplished. The same thing was true for another rifle type. The low rate goal for the Humvee was 30, but only one of those had been completed.
SIGIR does not believe that the Iraqis will be able to maintain the Taji Depot once it’s turned over to their control on December 31, 2009. The Depot requires 1,037 skilled workers, but only 771 students had graduated by May 31, 2009. Of those, many were ranked as only marginally skilled because they had not completed all their courses. If the Iraqi government wanted enough troops to meet this goal, they would’ve had to send them to Taji by May 21 to start training. That obviously did not happen. Two Iraqi army officials said that the Iraqi military was not involved when the Americans decided to create the Taji Depot. They said it took a year before the U.S. really included the Iraqis in the process. This is a problem noted here before in the general American reconstruction effort in Iraq where the U.S. came in and built what they wanted, without ever really asking the Iraqis what they needed. At the same time, this audit, and another earlier one in April 2009 found that there was no commitment by Iraq to create a self-sufficient security force. Whether it was for maintenance, supply, transportation, or health services, the Iraqis never sent enough troops to go through training, those that did show up often left, and none were held responsible for not finishing. Again, this is similar to the overall experience the U.S. has had with rebuilding Iraq. There are millions of dollars worth of projects in Iraq that Baghdad didn’t want, and are either unwilling or incapable of running. In the end, the SIGIR and U.S. military are committed to turning over Taji at the end of 2009 no matter what. Unless Washington or Baghdad hires a contractor to run it afterwards, that will mean the centerpiece of the Iraqi forces maintenance program will operate at such a low level as to be almost completely useless.
Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” June 2009
Reese, Col. Timothy, “It’s Time for the US to Declare Victory and Go Home,” July 2009
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Developing A Depot Maintenance Capability At Taji Hampered By Numerous Problems,” 7/30/09
- “Security Forces Logistics Contract Experienced Certain Cost, Outcome, and Oversight Problems,” 4/26/09