GAO: Looted munitions pose new threat

Explosives looted from Iraq munitions sites probably will continue to support terrorist attacks throughout the region, a congressional report said Thursday. It said some sites were still not secure more than 3 1/2 years after the war started.Failure to guard the sites “has been costly,” the Government Accountability Office report said, noting looted munitions are being used to make roadside bombs, the No. 1 killer of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Quoting from previous Defense Department reports, the study says widespread looting occurred after the fall of Baghdad in early 2003 because war planners did not put enough troops into the country to secure weapons depots and because officials incorrectly assumed Iraqi soldiers would surrender and help with security.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters Thursday that large amounts of unexploded munitions continue to be a huge problem in Iraq.

“Fundamentally, the entire country was one big ammo dump. And there were thousands of these sites,” Gates said. “We’re doing our best to try and find them but, given the expanse of the country and all the other tasks that the military is trying to carry out there, it’s a huge task.”

The report recommended that the Pentagon do an Iraq-wide survey of unsecured sites and factor already identified lessons learned into future war planning.

In the report, the Defense Department said that commanders are aware of the problem, have done similar surveys over the past three years and lack the manpower for a new one without harming the war effort.

The report is an unclassified version of a classified study compiled from November 2005 through October 2006. At the time it was completed, U.S. commanders in Iraq “stated that some remote sites have not been revisited to verify if they pose any residual risk, nor have they been physically secured.”

“Estimates indicate that the looted munitions will likely continue to support terrorist attacks throughout the region,” the report said. The military “has taken many actions” in response to the problem but they’re only “good first steps” that need to be encased in procedures for the future, it said.

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