State Department wants a mini-army in Iraq
By Richard Lardner - The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The State Department is quietly forming a small army to
protect diplomatic personnel in Iraq after U.S. military forces leave
the country at the end of 2011, taking their firepower with them.
officials are asking the Pentagon to provide heavy military gear,
including Black Hawk helicopters, and say they will also need
substantial support from private contractors.
The shopping list
demonstrates the department’s reluctance to count on Iraq’s army and
police forces for security despite the billions of dollars the U.S.
invested to equip and train them. And it shows that President Obama is
having a hard time keeping his pledge to reduce U.S. reliance on
contractors, a practice that flourished under the Bush administration.
an early April request to the Pentagon, Patrick Kennedy, the State
Department’s undersecretary for management, is seeking 24 Black Hawks,
50 bomb-resistant vehicles, heavy cargo trucks, fuel trailers and
high-tech surveillance systems. Kennedy asks that the equipment, worth
hundreds of millions of dollars, be transferred at “no cost” from
Contractors will be needed to maintain the gear
and provide other support to diplomatic staff, according to the State
Department, a potential financial boon for companies such as the
Houston-based KBR Inc. that still have a sizable presence in Iraq.
the departure of U.S. forces, we will continue to have a critical need
for logistical and life support of a magnitude and scale of complexity
that is unprecedented in the history of the Department of State,” says
Kennedy’s April 7 request to Ashton Carter, the Defense Department’s
undersecretary for acquisition and technology.
equipment, there will be “increased casualties,” according to
attachments to Kennedy’s memo detailing the department’s needs.
military equipment would be controlled by the department’s Bureau of
Diplomatic Security, according to the information Kennedy sent to the
Pentagon. During the Bush administration, the bureau was heavily
criticized by members of Congress for its management of Blackwater
Worldwide and other private security firms working in Iraq and
The military has about 7,500 MRAPs in Iraq. So
shifting 50 to the State Department could be easily handled as the
But handing over two dozen Black Hawks, which cost
between $12 million and $18 million depending on the model, would be
more problematic. The aircraft are in short supply and are heavily used
by military forces in Afghanistan, where primitive roads heighten the
need for transportation by air.
The Defense Department has not
formally responded to Kennedy’s memo.
Spokesmen for both
departments said the two agencies are discussing the request. “Both
agencies recognize the importance of a smooth transition,” Brian Heath,
the State Department spokesman said.
About 90,000 U.S. troops
remain in Iraq, and that number is expected to fall to 50,000 by the end
of August under Obama’s plan to remove all combat troops from the
country. All American forces are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011.
too, will be key crucial missions they performed, such as recovering
downed aircraft, convoy security, bomb detection and disposal, and the
ability to counter rocket and mortar attacks.
By September 2011,
the 22 U.S.-led reconstruction teams spread throughout Iraq will be
replaced by five “Enduring Presence Posts,” according to the documents
Kennedy sent to the Pentagon. The State Department will be responsible
for all the costs of operating these stations, including security, until
at least 2015.
State wants to use an existing Defense Department
contract in Iraq to support these posts and the U.S. embassy in Baghdad
with essential services, including meals, mail delivery and laundry.
State can’t use that contract, known as “LOGCAP,” the department “will
be forced to redirect its resources towards developing, implementing and
overseeing a massive new life support infrastructure throughout Iraq,”
the documents state.
The Black Hawk, manufactured by Sikorsky
Aircraft in Stratford, Conn., is designed to carry a crew of four and 11
fully equipped infantryman. The helicopters are armed with two machine
The MRAPs the State Department wants are called Caimans. The
vehicles are nine-feet tall, weigh 19 tons and are made by BAE Systems
in Sealy, Texas. Each Caiman costs more than $1 million. The vehicles
have a special armor designed to deflect the most potent roadside bombs.
Press writers Anne Flaherty and Robert Burns contributed to this