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Unsecured Weapons Continue to Pose Threat
Some Saddam-Era Storage Sites Remain Open for Looting
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 03/22/2007 3:32 PM ET
It has been widely reported how Iraqis looted Republican Guard weapons depots in the early days of the war, but a damning new GAO report makes it sounds as if some munitions remain unsecured. As the report states, "unsecured conventional munitions continue to pose a threat to U.S. forces and others."
"As of October 2006, the Multi-National Coalition-Iraq stated that some remote sites have not been revisited to verify if they pose any residual risk nor have they been physically secured. DOD has taken many actions in response to OIF lessons learned, however, DOD has given little focus to mitigating the risks to U.S. forces posed by an adversary's conventional munitions storage sites in future operations planning."

To mitigate the threat unsecured munitions pose to the US mission and troops in Iraq, the GAO recommends:

Secretary of Defense direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to (1) conduct a theater-wide survey and risk assessment on unsecured conventional munitions in Iraq, (2) report related risk mitigation strategies and results to Congress, and (3) incorporate conventional munitions storage site security as a strategic planning factor into all levels of planning policy and guidance.

The complete report can be read here, or see the short summary released by the GAO below.

Operation Iraqi Freedom: DOD Should Apply Lessons Learned Concerning the Need for Security over Conventional Munitions Storage Sites to Future Operations Planning

What GAO Found

The overwhelming size and number of conventional munitions storage sites in Iraq combined with certain prewar planning assumptions that proved to be invalid, resulted in U.S. forces not adequately securing these sites and widespread looting, according to field unit, lessons learned, and intelligence reports.

Pre-OIF estimates of Iraq’s conventional munitions varied significantly, with the higher estimate being 5 times greater than the lower estimate. Conventional munitions storage sites were looted after major combat operations and some remained vulnerable as of October 2006. According to lessons learned reports and senior-level DOD officials, the widespread looting occurred because DOD had insufficient troop levels to secure conventional munitions storage sites due to several OIF planning priorities and assumptions.

DOD’s OIF planning priorities included quickly taking Baghdad on a surprise basis rather than using an overwhelming force. The plan also assumed that the regular Iraqi army units would “capitulate and provide internal security.” According to an Army lessons learned study, this assumption was central to the decision to limit the amount of combat power deployed to Iraq.

GAO analysis showed that the war plan did not document risk mitigation strategies in case assumptions were proven wrong. Furthermore, DOD did not have a centrally managed program for the disposition of enemy munitions until August 2003, after widespread looting had already occurred. According to officials from Multi-National Coalition- Iraq, unsecured conventional munitions continue to pose a threat to U.S. forces and others.

Not securing these conventional munitions storage sites has been costly, as government reports indicated that looted munitions are being used to make improvised explosive devices (IED) that have killed or maimed many people, and will likely continue to support terrorist attacks in the region.

As of October 2006, the Multi-National Coalition-Iraq stated that some remote sites have not been revisited to verify if they pose any residual risk nor have they been physically secured. DOD has taken many actions in response to OIF lessons learned, however, DOD has given little focus to mitigating the risks to U.S. forces posed by an adversary’s conventional munitions storage sites in future operations planning.

DOD’s actions generally have emphasized countering the use of IEDs by resistance groups during post-hostility operations. GAO concludes that U.S. forces will face increased risk from this emerging asymmetric threat when an adversary uses unconventional means to counter U.S. military strengths.

For example, potential adversaries are estimated to have a significant amount of munitions that would require significant manpower to secure or destroy. GAO concludes that this situation shows both that Iraqi stockpiles of munitions may not be an anomaly and that information on the amount and location of an adversary’s munitions can represent a strategic planning consideration for future operations. However, without joint guidance, DOD cannot ensure that OIF lessons learned about the security of an adversary’s conventional munitions storage sites will be integrated into future operations planning and execution.

What GAO Recommends

The report GAO is releasing today recommends that the Secretary of Defense direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to (1) conduct a theater-wide survey and risk assessment on unsecured conventional munitions in Iraq, (2) report related risk mitigation strategies and results to Congress, and (3) incorporate conventional munitions storage site security as a strategic planning factor into all levels of planning policy and guidance.

DOD partially concurred with our recommendations.

Why GAO Did This Study

GAO is releasing a report today on lessons learned concerning the need for security over conventional munitions storage sites which provides the basis for this testimony.

Following the invasion of Iraq in March 2003—known as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)— concerns were raised about how the Department of Defense (DOD) secured Iraqi conventional munitions storage sites during and after major combat operations.

This testimony addresses (1) the security provided by U.S. forces over Iraqi conventional munitions storage sites and (2) DOD actions to mitigate risks associated with an adversary’s conventional munitions storage sites for future operations on the basis of OIF lessons learned.

To address these objectives, GAO reviewed OIF war plans, joint doctrine and policy, intelligence reports, and interviewed senior-level DOD officials.

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