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What's Wrong with the GAO Report

Measuring failure--or the failures of measuring.

3:37 PM, Sep 4, 2007 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
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* Militia Disarmament. The GAO assesses that the goal of "enacting and implementing legislation establishing a strong militia disarmament program" has not been met. Too true. And militias, particularly Moqtada al-Sadr's Jaysh al-Mahdi and the fighting forces of Fadhila are a significant security problem. But this section of the GAO report also notes, "In June 2006, the prime minister sought to include insurgent groups as part of his reconciliation plan. However, according to administration and DOD reports, efforts at reconciliation have stalled." Really? What about the 30,000 former insurgents now fighting terrorists? This error was not the fault of Congress, but an inexplicable misrepresentation of reality in Iraq by the report's authors. And, again, the turnabout of these insurgents on the ground is far more important than the passage of legislation through the CoR.

Of course, some of the problems of the GAO report are the fault of its authors, not those who chartered it. For example, it assesses the goal of providing "three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations" as "partially met." It starts by offering the background: "During the summer of 2006, a large number of Iraqi security forces refused to deploy to Baghdad to conduct operations in support of the previous Baghdad Security Plans. In January 2007, the President said that the Iraqi government had agreed to resolve this problem under the current plan and had committed three additional Iraqi brigades to support the new plan." It then reports: "Since February 2007, the Iraqi government deployed nine Iraqi army battalions equaling three brigades for 90-day rotations to support the Baghdad Security Plan. In the July 2007 report, the administration stated that the Iraqi government had difficulty deploying three additional army brigades to Baghdad at sufficient strength. In commenting on our draft report, DOD stated that current present for duty rates for deployed units is 75 percent of authorized strength. However, the July 2007 administration report stated that the government has deployed battalions from multiple Iraqi Army divisions to provide the required three brigade-equivalent forces to support the Baghdad security plan. After the initial deployment of the required brigades, the Iraqi government began the rotation plan. Nineteen units have currently deployed in support of the Baghdad security plan. Several of these units voluntarily extended, and others were rotated every 90 days in accordance with the plan. In addition, all of the Iraqi units had pre-deployment training to support operations in Baghdad. The administration's July 2007 report states that progress toward this benchmark has been satisfactory, and the overall effect has been satisfactory in that three brigades are operating in Baghdad."

This sounds like success by any reasonable measure, considering that the benchmark was adopted to address the problem that in 2006 we couldn't get the requested number of Iraqi Army units to deploy to Baghdad at all. But the GAO notes that the performance of the units that did get to Baghdad has varied. It assesses that "of the 19 Iraqi units that had supported operations in Baghdad, 5 units had performed well while the remaining had proven to be problematic for several reasons: lack of personnel, lack of individual fighting equipment and lack of vehicles to conduct their assigned missions." Indeed--the Iraqi Army is an immature force with limited logistics capabilities. Simply moving 19 units from their home bases to a training center, from there to Baghdad, fighting in Baghdad for 90 days, then moving them back to their home bases, was a daunting challenge to such a force--which it met. The units were not perfectly equipped, and did not perform perfectly. But if the standard for "meeting" such a benchmark is perfection, then few armies in the world would pass.

The evaluation of the benchmark requiring that "the Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation" is likewise an undeservedly harsh "partially met." The intention of this benchmark is clearly stated in the GAO report: "previous plans to secure Baghdad have failed, in part, because political and sectarian interference and rules of engagement in place for those plans prevented Iraqi and coalition forces from entering neighborhoods that are safe havens to those fueling the sectarian violence." But for some reason the GAO report defined success in this realm as follows: "We defined this benchmark as 'met' if Iraqi government policy did not allow safe havens and none existed; defined this benchmark as 'partially met' if Iraqi government policy prohibited safe havens yet some existed; and defined this benchmark as 'not met' if the Iraqi government had no stated policy on safe havens."