The Obama administration has not settled on a plan to protect and supply thousands of State Department diplomats and employees left behind in Iraq once all but a relatively few U.S. troops leave the county in a little more than a year.
In what would be the first time a large contingent of American government workers will remain in an active war zone without U.S. military protection, the State Department is urgently demanding that the Pentagon provide equipment at no cost.
The State Department also wants the Army to let it tap into the huge, billion-dollar logistics system that fed and supplied more than 100,000 combat troops at one time. So far, the Pentagon has not given the State Department an answer.
“I can’t think of another time when the State Department will have been required to take over a mission of this magnitude,” Grant S. Green, a member of the special Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, told The Washington Times.
Mr. Green, who was a State Department undersecretary in the George W. Bush administration, spent hours with embassy personnel in Baghdad in May to determine the scores of new security and other duties being heaped on State.
“It’s a huge, huge undertaking,” Mr. Green said. “I don’t know how well you know State, but there is not a lot of bench strength over there.
“They’ve got huge challenges ahead of them taking over these missions, many of which they’ve got zero experience. … Some of the things they will have to take over are just not in their DNA, principally in some of the security missions [the military] is performing for them today,” he said.
State now has more than 5,000 employees in Iraq who, without U.S. military protection, could be more vulnerable to attack next year. More than half are devoted to security in a country where every travel route or base is a potential target for insurgent ambush and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks.
Today, the military augments diplomatic security on missions such as ground and air travel, and counterbattery if employees are attacked. But those forces will leave with most other troops by the end of 2011, according to a status of forces agreement with Baghdad.
The commission has been pressing the Pentagon to strike a deal with the State Department about security and extend the Army’s Logistics Civil Augmentation Program.
But the Pentagon has been reluctant at a time when Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is pressing the military services to cut costs.
“The commission’s concern is primarily this has not appeared to have received adequate high-level attention,” commission spokesman Clark Irwin said. “It’s going to involve a great deal of money and a lot of contracting.
“And the commission is simply concerned the time is running short to make all the arrangements. There will essentially be no military presence there after 2011. And some critical units with special capabilities, like mine clearing, could be gone before then, for example.
“You either have to keep the State Department mission the way it is and add a lot of contractors, or change the mission, or renegotiate the parts of the status of forces agreement [with Iraq], and probably no one has an appetite for doing that.”
Commission member Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon’s top financial officer during the Bush administration, said many issues remain unsettled as troop levels shrink to 50,000 this year and to a relative handful in 2011.
“The biggest question facing State is how it will provide for the many services the military has given its diplomats as a matter of course — everything from route planning, to medevacs, to threat intelligence, to IED dismantling, to counterbattery, countermortar, counter-rocket fire, among many others,” Mr. Zakheim said. “Are all those tasks ones that we would wish State to contract for? And if not, how will State’s personnel receive the protection they both need and deserve?”
Mr. Green said the commission has taken on the role of urging the Pentagon to meet State’s requests.
“It’s an Army decision,” he said. “I don’t know why there is reluctance. I don’t know whether they’re concerned with reimbursement. Whether they are concerned with the amount of overhead they would have to provide to continue to oversee that contract. I just don’t know. State and Defense are in a dialogue as we speak. I don’t know how it will end up.”
The Pentagon told the commission in a memo Friday that negotiations with the State Department are continuing.
A former Army official said in an interview that the Army fears State will pledge to reimburse the cost of the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program, but then have trouble finding the money. A defense contractor involved in logistics said the Army has counted on shutting down the logistics program for Iraq so it can delegate personnel to other jobs.
The State Department first sounded the alarm in a 12-page April 7 memo from Patrick F. Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management, to Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition.
The memo put in a pitch for continuing the logistics program and for the transfer of military helicopters and other equipment to State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security:
“If we do not acquire critical military assets before December, 2011, [State] will be forced to use less-effective technology and equipment as [State], on its own, does not have the resources or capability to provide this type of materiel support either for the Embassy in Baghdad or for [posts outside the city]. As a result, the security of [State Department] personnel in Iraq will be degraded significantly and we can expect increased casualties.”
While awaiting a Pentagon decision, State held an “industry day” June 14 during which private companies in the business of providing water, food, shelter, laundry, maintenance and other services heard officials explain their needs for post-2011.
Under State Department plans, there may will be fewer employees to protect eventually. The next U.S. ambassador to Iraq, James F. Jeffrey, said Wednesday that 16 military civilian posts will be consolidated into three branch offices across the country.
The agenda, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, listed 15 separate services State will need from industry, such as pest control, fire protection and fuel, if the logistics program ends.
There was also a list of contractor services for the new embassy in Baghdad, including kitchen equipment, waste management and swimming pool equipment.
A contractor with a company who attended the briefing said it was clear from State’s presentation that it does not have the bureaucracy to manage such large contracts.
This month, the wartime contracting commission issued a special report titled, “Better planning for Defense-to-State transition in Iraq needed to avoid mistakes and waste.”
The report said the two agencies have identified more than 1,000 tasks that State must perform starting in 2012, including 14 security missions being relinquished by the military. They include convoy security, communications, clearing travel routes and recovering killed and wounded State Department employees.
“What does seem certain, however, is that State must greatly expand its contracting to prepare for the U.S. military’s exit from Iraq,” the report said.
Mr. Irwin said State estimates that it will be forced to nearly triple the 2,700 security contractors in Iraq to fill in for the military.
In a swipe at the Obama administration, the report concluded, “There is not enough evidence of a thorough, timely, disciplined planning approach to the coming transition.”
Iraq has seen a sharp reduction in violence since 2007, when a surge of U.S. troops turned the tide of battle against al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and against Sunni and Shiite insurgents. But, as the Pentagon’s latest assessment report spells out, al Qaeda will attack as often as possible with suicide bombers.
“Even though insurgent and militant activities in Iraq continue to decline, the environment remains dangerous,” the report says. “Several Sunni nationalist groups … remain in armed resistance and continue to conduct attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces. … AQI is currently focusing its rhetoric and its attacks against the [Iraqi government] and Shia in an effort to discredit the [Iraqi government] and incite sectarian violence as U.S. forces draw down.”
Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Wednesday that the ongoing political squabbles in Baghdad over a new government will not affect plans for troops to leave by the end of 2011.
Said Mr. Green: “Here you’ve got a non-benign environment and when the military pulls out we don’t know what the threat is going to look like.”
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at email@example.com.
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