SANTIAGO (AFP) — US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday the United States is looking for ways to speed the delivery of arms to Iraqi security forces, acknowledging that the current system is too slow.
His comments followed criticism by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani who said Iraq was buying 100 million dollars in light military equipment for its police from China because US arms producers could not meet Iraqi demands quickly enough.
Gates said he was not worried about Iraq's purchase of AK-47 assault rifles from China, but was concerned that the US foreign military sales system was delivering weapons to customers too slowly.
At a press conference with Chilean Defense Minister Jose Goni, Gates added that the issue also had come up in his talks in Chile, the third stop on a Latin American tour.
"This is an issue that we have to look into and see what we can do in the United States to be more responsive and be able to react more quickly to the requirements of our friends," he said.
"Unfortunately, the FMS (foreign military sales) program was set up in a way that was not intended to provide sort of emergency or short term supplies as in the case of Iraq. We are trying to figure out how to do that better," he said.
Arming the Iraqi security forces has taken on greater urgency because US plans to withdraw US combat brigades from Iraq will mean shifting the burden for security to the Iraqis.
In Washington, Major General Richard Sherlock of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said one billion dollars worth of equipment has been delivered to Iraq and another 1.5 billion dollars worth were in the pipeline.
He said delivery times have been compressed from a year to about 150 days, and the military hopes to get it down to 120 days.
"We don't see any hang ups right now with foreign military sales that would delay anything with regard to a drawdown of forces, or a ... transfer of responsibility to the Iraqi security forces," Sherlock said.
A commission led by retired general Jim Jones, a former Marine Corps commandant, warned last month that the Iraqi security forces would not be ready to assume security for the country for 12 to 18 months in part because of a weak logistics system.
General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, told reporters during a visit to Washington last month that the US foreign military sales system was a peacetime operation unsuited for the demands of the war in Iraq.
"They've put about 1.6 billion dollars into FMS (foreign military sales) just in the last year or so and there's potentially as much more going into it," Petraeus said of the Iraqis.
"But we've got to come through and deliver as rapidly as we can so they have replacement vehicles, because they get battle damage and all the rest of this," he said.
Talabani told the Post that "only one in five Iraqi police officers is armed."
He said Iraq was turning to China for light military equipment because the US cannot provide the material.
"The capacity of the factories here are not enough to provide us quickly with all that we need, even for the army. One of our demands is to accelerate the delivery of the arms to the Iraqi army," Talabani said.
The Post said the deal with China has raised concerns among US military analysts because Iraq's security forces already cannot account for some 190,000 weapons already provided by the United States, including 110,000 AK-47 assault rifles supplied in 2004-2005.
US officials fear some of the arms have made their way into the hands of insurgents, who are believed to have widely infiltrated police ranks.
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