Safety burden shifts to State Department after Iraq war

Military urged to aid workers with logistics

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The Obama administration has not settled on a plan to protect and supply thousands of State Department diplomats and employees left behind in Iraq once all but a relatively few U.S. troops leave the county in a little more than a year.

In what would be the first time a large contingent of American government workers will remain in an active war zone without U.S. military protection, the State Department is urgently demanding that the Pentagon provide equipment at no cost.

The State Department also wants the Army to let it tap into the huge, billion-dollar logistics system that fed and supplied more than 100,000 combat troops at one time. So far, the Pentagon has not given the State Department an answer.

“I can’t think of another time when the State Department will have been required to take over a mission of this magnitude,” Grant S. Green, a member of the special Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, told The Washington Times.

Mr. Green, who was a State Department undersecretary in the George W. Bush administration, spent hours with embassy personnel in Baghdad in May to determine the scores of new security and other duties being heaped on State.

“It’s a huge, huge undertaking,” Mr. Green said. “I don’t know how well you know State, but there is not a lot of bench strength over there.

“They’ve got huge challenges ahead of them taking over these missions, many of which they’ve got zero experience. … Some of the things they will have to take over are just not in their DNA, principally in some of the security missions [the military] is performing for them today,” he said.

State now has more than 5,000 employees in Iraq who, without U.S. military protection, could be more vulnerable to attack next year. More than half are devoted to security in a country where every travel route or base is a potential target for insurgent ambush and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks.

Today, the military augments diplomatic security on missions such as ground and air travel, and counterbattery if employees are attacked. But those forces will leave with most other troops by the end of 2011, according to a status of forces agreement with Baghdad.

The commission has been pressing the Pentagon to strike a deal with the State Department about security and extend the Army’s Logistics Civil Augmentation Program.

But the Pentagon has been reluctant at a time when Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is pressing the military services to cut costs.

“The commission’s concern is primarily this has not appeared to have received adequate high-level attention,” commission spokesman Clark Irwin said. “It’s going to involve a great deal of money and a lot of contracting.

“And the commission is simply concerned the time is running short to make all the arrangements. There will essentially be no military presence there after 2011. And some critical units with special capabilities, like mine clearing, could be gone before then, for example.

“You either have to keep the State Department mission the way it is and add a lot of contractors, or change the mission, or renegotiate the parts of the status of forces agreement [with Iraq], and probably no one has an appetite for doing that.”

Commission member Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon’s top financial officer during the Bush administration, said many issues remain unsettled as troop levels shrink to 50,000 this year and to a relative handful in 2011.

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