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The development of capable Iraqi security forces has been hampered by “ghost soldiers” who don’t report for duty, sectarian and militia influences, and a lack of logistical capabilities, a U.S. government report has found.

According to the Government Accountability Office report, issued March 13, more than $15 billion has been spent in three years on training the Iraqi security forces.

But, the report found, “while the Iraqi security forces are increasingly leading counterinsurgency operations in Iraq, they and the coalition have been unable to reduce the levels of violence throughout Iraq.”

The GAO also lamented the Pentagon’s tight hold on information about the actual training and readiness of Iraqi forces, which include the army, police, border guards and other armed forces.

“While DOD captures this information in its Transition Readiness Assessments, it does not provide this critical information to Congress,” the report read. “These data provide information on capabilities and gaps in Iraqi units’ manpower, equipment and training levels. … Congress needs this information to make informed appropriations decisions and engage in meaningful oversight. Despite repeated attempts over many months, we have yet to be provided the TRA information we are seeking.”

As of February 2007, the Pentagon said it had trained and equipped more than 327,000 Iraqi forces, more than doubling the total from March 2005.

One problem, though, is that accurate records are not kept.

“The Ministry of Interior does not maintain standardized reports on personnel strength,” the report found. “As a result, DOD does not know how many coalition-trained police the ministry still employs or what percentage of the 180,000 police thought to be on the payroll are coalition trained and equipped.”

Additionally, at any one time, one-third of Iraqi soldiers are on leave to bring their salaries back home.

Perhaps more importantly, the report found, “Iraqi units remain dependent upon the coalition for their logistical, command and control and intelligence capabilities.”

“The coalition,” the report reads, is providing “fuel, uniforms, building supplies, ammunition, vehicle maintenance and spare parts, and medical supplies.”

The report comes at a crucial time for U.S. troops and their Iraqi counterparts. The new Baghdad security plan hinges on putting more American and Iraqi troops in the middle of the capital.

While the report does not take into account the “surge,” it concludes that “the increasing number of Iraqi army battalion leading counterinsurgency operations has not resulted in lower levels of violence in Iraq.”

The GAO is often called “the investigative arm” of Congress and produces reports on how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. For a full copy of the Iraqi security forces report, go to: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07612t.pdf.

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