The Cable

Robert Gates is heading to Pakistan

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is going to Pakistan for a long-awaited visit, multiple sources familiar with the trip told The Cable. Gates is set to meet with basically the entire Pakistani leadership, including Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the Army chief of staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and intelligence chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha.

There are a bunch of issues on the table to be discussed. The Pakistanis want increased military support if they are going to expand their war against the extremists in South Waziristan to North Waziristan, where the Afghan Taliban are located. That's a thorny issue, because Pakistan has yet to make the strategic decision to confront those groups but the Obama team is pushing hard for that as part of their new surge strategy.

"The Americans want that to happen yesterday, the Pakistanis want to do it the day after tomorrow. Most likely it will happen sometime in between," one of the sources explained.

Gates will also likely discuss military supply routes to Afghanistan, which run (dangerously) through Pakistan, the ongoing but semi-secret cooperation on drone strikes, and the expansion of the military presence at the U.S. embassy in Pakistan.

The Pentagon's representation at the embassy, known as the Office of the Defense Representative, is growing from 45 to 280 personnel, causing some concern among the Pakistani military, one diplomatic source noted, and Gates will have to address those concerns.

Pakistan has been getting a lot of love from the Obama administration lately. Senior administration officials who have gone to Islamabad lately include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, DNI Adm. Dennis Blair, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and others.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell wouldn't confirm or deny the trip. The dates are closely held due to security concerns, so we'll just say "soon."

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Cable

More problems at Abu Ghraib - not the prison, the dairy factory

So much discussion of the Iraqi town of Abu Ghraib focuses on the notorious Hussein-era dungeon there and the abuses by American soldiers, that the nearby powdered milk factory goes largely unnoticed. But not by the Special Inspector General on Iraq Reconstruction, which is all over the situation.

"Milk is essential in a balanced diet, especially for a country like Iraq, with an increasing overall population, a large youth population, and a high fertility rate," reads the newest SIGIR report, "However, Iraq does not have the resources necessary to provide dairy products to its increasing population."

Good to know. The report is filled with all sorts of interesting facts about those lactose seeking Iraqis. For example, Iraqis consume 120,000 - 200,000 tons of powdered milk each year, according to USAID.

Still, Iraqis drink roughly half the milk of other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, so powdered milk is really important. And here's the rub: The better the conditions in Iraq get, the more milk they are going to need.

So what else did SIGIR find out? Well, apparently the Iraqi Freedom Fund, a taxpayer funded pool of money, gave $3.4 million to construct a facility that could house new powdered milk production equipment that had sat uninstalled since before the 2003 invasion.

That's when the problems began. First of all, the contracting authority didn't provide enough detailed instructions to the contractor and "allowed the contractor to begin construction with an inadequate design." Next, the contractor didn't properly account for how the factory addition would handle things like plumbing and power.

Oh, and by the way, the walls aren't structurally sound, the steel beams are bending already, the floor is completely uneven, and the roof could cave in if there is too much wind or rain, SIGIR reported.

"This project had no oversight when we went out to visit it and we discovered that the design was flawed and could have resulted in the eventual collapse of the roof," said Special Inspector General Stuart Bowen, in an interview with The Cable.

The SIGIR investigation prompted a complete revamping of the building plan so now the roof won't fall in, he said, adding that such building design problems were prevalent in several of the inspections SIGIR has conducted.

Nice work, SIGIR! They also turned up this interesting bit of UN trivia. Did you know that the Abu Ghraib milk factory was also the target of an inspection only one month before the invasion?

"In February 2003, monitors from the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission made a surprise visit to the Abu Ghraib Dairy Plant in search of signs of biological weapons.  The monitors took samples from the dairy plant equipment, but did not report finding any biological weapons at the dairy plant site."

Poison milk, eh? I'm beginning to understand why no one ever found those WMDs.

Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction