The Cable

Report: State Department's Iraq police training program being scaled back even further

The State Department's flagship program in Iraq to train police officers is failing and is being further scaled back to 10 percent of the original plan, according to a new audit report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).

The massive program, which has cost more than $8 billion since 2003, was meant to employ over 350 police training advisors but now will be scaled back to just 36 U.S. advisors, 18 in Baghdad and 18 in Erbil.

That means that this year each advisor will cost the U.S. taxpayer $2.1 million and next year that number will jump to $4.2 million, the report said. The police development program in Basrah is also being shut down and the overall future of the program is in jeopardy, SIGIR reported.

"The State Department wisely has reduced the scope of the program in light of the level of Iraqi interest," said SIGIR Stuart Bowen in an interview with The Cable. "It's an unfortunate consequence of poor planning and a lack of Iraqi buy-in."

State Department officials had touted the program as one of their premier efforts in Iraq following the departure of all U.S. military forces last December, but they never figured out how they were going to handle the task and were always on a different page than the Iraqis.

"The U.S. wanted a large program, but the State Department didn't have any inherent capacity to carry out this program when they took it over and the Iraqis were never clear what they wanted, which was apparently much, much smaller," Bowen said.

Even the drastically scaled-down program as it stands has little chance of fulfilling its mission to help the Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MOI) train a modern police force that can maintain security and be part of a functioning law enforcement scheme, according to the report, mostly because the Iraqi government never wanted it and never committed to it in the first place.

"Without the MOI's written commitment to the program, there is little reason to have confidence that the training program currently being planned will be accepted six months from now," the report said.

What's more, the State Department has closed the brand-new, $108 million facility is built for the program, called the Baghdad Police College Annex (BPAX), which it couldn't use because of security concerns. It simply costs too much for security to get U.S. personnel and contractors from the embassy compound to the new facility, so the whole complex was just handed over to the Iraqis. They may use the fields there for sports, Bowen said.

"Although BPAX's facilities will be given to the Iraqis, its closure amounts to a de facto waste of the estimated $108 million to be invested in its construction," the report stated. "In addition, DoS [the State Department] contributed $98 million in PDP funds for constructing the Basrah Consulate so it could be used for PDP training. It too will not be used because the MOI decided to terminate training at that location. This brings the total amount of de facto waste in the PDP-that is, funds not meaningfully used for the purpose of their appropriation-to about $206 million."

The program's problems are not new. In SIGIR's last audit of the police program last October, the oversight group said that State had not done an adequate assessment or proper strategic planning for the program, and that State had not determined what the Iraqis actually wanted or needed.

One main reason for the problems is that State can't handle the security needs of implementing the police program since the U.S. military pulled out of Iraq last December. Ninety-four percent of the money spent on the program is spent on overhead, mostly security, Bowen said.

Another problem was that the Iraqis didn't like the training they were receiving, as SIGIR explained in its April 2011 quarterly report. Bowen said those criticisms were still being heard one year later.

"We did learn from Iraqi government reporting that they were dissatisfied with the quality of the training they were receiving," Bowen said. "Some of the training they were receiving was low quality."

As of June 30, 2012, there were 15,007 people supporting the U.S. mission in Iraq -- 1,235 U.S. government employees and 13,772 contractors. The size of the overall mission is expected to go down dramatically in the coming months.

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