Monday, November 02, 2009

On the celebrity skids






The first (partial) week of October saw 5 people reported dead and 24 reported wounded, the second week (October 4th through 10th) saw 46 reported dead and 131 injured, the third week (October 11th through 17th) saw 89 reported dead and 336 reported wounded, the fourth week (October 18th through 24th) saw 53 reported dead and 107 reported wounded, and the fifth week (October 25th through October 31st) saw 191 reported dead and 580 reported injured. Totals? 384 reported dead and 1106 reported wounded. At least. Michael Christie and Michael Roddy (Reuters) cite "security sources" for the toll of 343 people killed. Barbara Surk (AP) reports that AP's count for October is 364 killed. John Leland (New York Times) reports, "In October, 453 Iraqi civilians and security personnel were killed, an increase from a monthly low this year of 279 in September but considerably below the high of 677 in April, according to the Interior Ministry. The statistics do not count deaths in the northern Kurdish region."

8 US service members were announced dead in Iraq during the month of October. Today the US military announced another death: "FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq -- A Multi-National Corps -- Iraq Soldier died Nov. 2 of non-combat related injuries. Release of the Soldier's identity is being with held pending notification of the next of kin. The name of the deceased service member will be announced through the U.S. Department of Defense Official Web site [. . .] The announcements are made on the web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is currently under investigation." Maloy Moore (Los Angeles Times) reports that the fallen was 20-year-old Lukas C. Hopper of Merced, California who "is survived by his mother and father, Robin and Yancy Hopper, both of Merced." The announcement brings to 4356 the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.

[ . . .]

Appearing October 21st before the US House Armed Services Committee, the Pentagon's Michele Flournoy was asked of the delays in Iraq passing an election law.Michele Flournoy: Uh, let me start by saying, you know, the draw-down plan that we have, is conditions based and it creates multiple decision points for re-evaluating and, if necessary, changing our plans based on developments on the ground. Although the government of Iraq's self-imposed deadline of October 15th for passing the elections law has passed, we judge that the COR [Council Of Representatives] still has another week or two to come to some kind of an agreement on the elections law before it will put the January date -- the early January date -- in jeopardy in terms of the election commission's ability to actually physically execute the, uh, the election. If a new law with open lists is not passed, the fall back solution for them is to return to the 2005 election law which is based on a closed list system. But that could be used for upcoming elections, the COR would simply have to vote on an election date. If that law is not passed in the next two weeks, they will be looking at slipping the date to later in January which would still be compliant with the [Iraqi] Constitution but would be later than originally planned. In that instance, M-NF-I [Multi-National Forces Iraq] would need to engage with the government of Iraq to do some contingency planning on how to secure the elections at a later date and that might well have-have implications. Though she maintained Iraq could fall back on the 2005 election law, other bodies begged to differ. As Rod Nordland (New York Times) reported, "Iraq's existing election law was declared unconstitutional by its highest court, which said it needs to be replaced or amended." Yesterday Gabriel Gatehouse (BBC News) reported, "Iraqi MPs have until Sunday to pass controversial legislation or face postponing parliamentary elections set for 16 January. The poll is seen as crucial to the stability of the country, and any delay would likely impact on the US plan for withdrawal." There was no passage and AFP reports today that KRG President Massud Barzani and US Vice President Joe Biden "pressed the need for a key election law to be passed". BBC News reports the United Nations "had warned that it could not guarantee to endorse the polls if the bill was not approved on Sunday" -- that was yesterday and the bill was not approved. BBC points out that the 'sticky points' are Kirkuk and the issue of open or closed lists. The latter will determine whether voters vote for individual candidates and this is something that many in Parliament are opposed to. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports this afternoon that things remain at a standstill and quotes Iraqi MP Hunain al-Qaddo stating, "If we don't manage to make any progress on the electoral law, that will have a negative impact on the political process and it will send a very bad signal to Iraq's enemies that the political system isn't working. [. . .] I still have hopes but I think if we don't manage to do something this week or next week, we really have to look at postponing the election." Meanwhile Mohammed Jamjoom and Jormana Karadsheh (CNN) report Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman states that the US is pushing the "highest levels of the Kurdish leadership" to go along with a plan for January elections that would yet again set aside the issue of Kirkuk. In an offensive statement issued last week, Chris Hill (US Ambassador to Iraq) and Gen Ray Odierno (top US commander in Iraq) insisted that the election law should be a 'one-time only' type deal and not apply to or consider Article 140 of Iraq's Constitution. Article 140 is the one that mandates the Kirkuk issue be resolved (via a referendum). That was supposed to have taken place 2 years ago. It did not. Now let's get back to offensive: In 2000, the US election was decided not by the voters nor by the means outlined in the US Constitution. Instead the US Supreme Court injected itself into the dispute and issued a laughable ruling that was so perverted the Court insisted it was a 'one-time only' ruling and couldn't be cited as precedent in future cases. That's what Hill and Odierno are now proposing. Regardless of who gets or doesn't get Kirkuk, it's amazing how the US continues to kick the can down the road over and over. This issue was supposed to have been addressed no later than 2007. The US is again pushing for it to be postponed. And the only time the KRG can get people to the table on this issue is when they have the pressure of an upcoming election which needs to be addressed.

Today the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan met in DC and heard from a number of witnesses including someone on the second panel who mentioned Flournoy's October 21st testimony, Rear Adm Thomas Traaen who declared, "As I'm sure you know, the testimony given by Secretary [Michele] Flournoy, Mr. [Alan] Estevez, Vice Adm [James] Winnefeld and, my boss, Lt Gen [Kathleen] Gainey on 21 October was well received by the House Armed Services Committee. My testimony here will draw heavily from their insightful remarks." Those remarks included establishing that decisions on draw-down and going back in would be made by events on the ground in Iraq. Yes, that is a clear contradiction of the position Barack Obama presented as a candidate when he was fond of saying the US military did everything they had been tasked to do and did it well. And, yes, he was stealing from Hillary Clinton back then and, yes, Hillary was attacked by CODESTINK and others for those comments but they apparently sounded so much better out of Barack's mouth thereby explaining the refusal to call him out. So Barack's plan as outlined in that hearing was the same plan he outlined to the New York Times, the one that left Michael Gordon flabbergasted because Barack was saying that he was 'withdrawing' and at the same time saying he was going back in if anything went wrong and playing definition games regarding the military ("trainers," etc.).

Also appearing on the second panel was the GAO's William Solis who declared that the Pentagon hasn't completed the plans for a draw-down. He stated that the Defense Dept "has not fully defined or identified the contracted services it will need to successfully complete the draw-down and support the remaining US forces in Iraq." Solis explained that 128,700 US service members were in Iraq as of the end of August "spread among 295 bases throughout the country." Solis' opening, prepared remarks, can be found [PDF format warning] here. While the GAO was able to count the number of US service members in Iraq, there was no count on the number of contractors leading Co-Chair of the Commission, Michael Thibault to declare, "It is both peculiar and troubling that eight years after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and more than six years since the overthrow of the Ba'athist regime in Iraq, we still don't know how many contractor employees are working in the region. [. . .] How can contractors be properly managed if we aren't sure how many there are, where they are and what they are doing?"

Commissioner Dov Zakheim: Yes, uh, first, Adm Traaen, I noticed on page three of your testimony, uh, you said that there will be a proportionally larger contractor presence. Now GAO has said that you haven't -- DoD, rather, hasn't fully determined its need for contracted services so how are you planning to oversee this? You're going to have more contractors, you already have fewer CORs than you need right now, the proportions going to go up. Could you walk me through your current plans and your timetables and how you plan to address this issue?

Rear Adm Thomas Traaen: Yes, sir. First of all, I think the proportionality is prudent as we close forward operating bases and operating sites and as the military either resets or re-postures in Afghanistan. The proportionality issue is not surprising to me. Uh, I think that the number of contractors -- in terms of measuring that to the plan -- is moving down significantly faster than CENTCOM had originally planned and so I think that getting out in front of it is the first part of the plan. It's to make sure that we're removing capability where we don't need it. Certainly, I think the CENTCOM plan is to be conditions based and I think that there is a protocol that we would continue to move forward in terms of making sure that there are some outliers -- for example, the elections that are coming up in the January time frame, counter-insurgency efforts that -- if we draw down too quickly -- we could put that combatant commander in harms way of not being able to produce his mission. I do believe that there is proper planning in terms of the MNFI fusion cell that is tasked with fusing, synchronizing and integrating this effort. And as the third point, I think having MNFI and that fusion cell also combined with the Joint Logistics Procurement Support Board that is the JCCIA and an MNFI established board that will properly prioritize and coordinate those efforts as the fourth point of light making sure that drawing down in accordance with those priorities is the proper way to go, sir.

Commissioner Dov Zakheim: Uhm, let me turn now to Mr. Thompson. Uhm, we know that the target is a 32% contractor draw-down. I believe that's the number that Adm Traaen has in his testimony. But looking at that chart, I guess I'm thrown a little bit. Contractors have already declined by seven -- nearly eighteen percent but not KBR. In fact, KBR has declined by roughly half of that 18% number. In the previous panel, and you may have been here when we discussed this, I noted that if a service wasn't completely closed down, then any contractor -- well, not any -- some contractors, and I guess I should emphazise that, not all would act this way. But some contractors would drag their feet because service hasn't closed down, you don't pull the people out, you keep charging. Could you explain to me why it is that KBR which has been under so much scrutiny from GAO, from the IG, even from this commission, is pulling it's people back at half the rate -- half the rate -- of all other contractors.

Lee Thompson: Number one, when we talk about consolidation, draw-down, consolidation of bases, drawdown, those services that we provide under LOGCAP [Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program] are still being performed. There's a common mistake of rolling up all bases as a single base. There's different sizes of bases. So you had the small contingency operation locations and that which is a lower brigade size which would be a contingency operation site. They move into our services, the services we contracted for are still being provided. There has been a reduction as that [chart] says, from when we started. In fact, the number's around 50,000 today. So we've put a freeze on them. They -- KBR -- cannot hire above a certain limit based on the basis of the estimate that was negotiated this past August and September. As we get the guidance from CI MNFI on what bases will close, we'll descope and we'll start moving out contractors. We are in fact doing those, we're looking at those critical skills. But remember the major draw-down starts after the [Iraqi] elections. So we are watching that and I'm depending upon our DCA[A -- Defense Contract Audit Agency] folks that are doing the floor checks for us.

Commissioner Dov Zakheim: So can you state with absolute certainty that KBR has moved expiditiously and, for instance, has not moved people from one location to another? Are you certain of that? Do you have that degree of oversight and visibility? Given some of the things we heard earlier from one of our Co-Chairman, Co-Chariman [Michael] Thibault about issues arising with dining halls and certain things, are you absolutely certain that KBR's getting people out as they should?

Lee Thompson: I'm not going to sit here and say I'm absolutely certain but I will tell you that we'll provide the oversight and look at those places where we are closing to make sure that there's not excess personnel there. And we will -- they have to get a blessing from us as we move and we descope, we descope the property, if we close a base, we look at the personnel where they're reallocating or realinging them to so we're looking and we're scrutinizing that. And I depend on my folks forward, the same two officers -- if you will -- that said they're against or-or whatever Chairman Thibault had to say about what they said overseas.

Commissioner Dov Zakheim: Mr. Solis, could you comment on both of these points? One, the adequacy of planning and, second, the degree of oversight of KBR and the seeming discrephancy between KBR LOGCAP 3 and other draw-downs.

Willaim Solis: Well I think in terms of the planning, I mentioned before in my opening statement that there is -- there's a lot of things that are going on with regards to the retrograde of equipment. One thing that we haven't seen a whole lot of is planning, as I mentioned, for determining the requirements, the oversight for the contracts that are going to be coming onboard. And we still have a concern about that, we still have seen exact plans. As I mentioned to you the GMASS [Global Maintenance and Supply Services] contract in Kuwait ,which is a major maintenance contract, which is necessary to move equipment out, look at it, and get -- and then repair it and move it out to Kuwait or whever it's going to go -- back to a unit, over to Afghanistan or whatever -- they expect a major increase, as I mentioned, doubling the size of their contract force to about 6,000 people. We have not seen what kinds of plans are going to be put in place to increase the contractor oversight there -- and that's not just there, I think it's other contracts that we have seen as well. I think in terms of the LOGCAP, we haven't really looked in terms of the numbers so I can't really contra -- comment on that. But I think that these numbers are going to flucuate, whether it's LOGCAP or some of these other major contracts in terms as the draw-down proceeds and that's why it's important to really understand what you're contract requirements are going to be during this period.

The first panel included April Stephenson who stated KBR's ineffective managing of their workforce is costing tax payers "at least $193 million". Stevenson was testifying on behalf of the Defense Contract Audit Agency. She explained KBR had not done the staff reductions and, as a result and barring no major action on KBR's part, there staff ratio in Iraq would, by August 2010, be 1 KBR employee for every 3.6 US service members. That will probably be a detail noted by any who note the hearing. But another detail -- the reason for the excerpt above -- is equally important: No plans.

The GAO -- like the House Armed Services Committee -- is not seeing plans. Do they exist? What's being discussed isn't 2011 or post-2011. What's being discussed above is the draw-down that's supposedly going to begin taking place as soon as Iraq holds national elections. Where are the plans?

The inability to move foward on the election bill (passing legislation) by the Iraqi government or 'government' is rightly being noted. What about the inability of the Pentagon to provide plans for events that are supposed to be right around the corner?

And what's up with allowing KBR to drag it's feet there? Commission Charles Tiefer asked if KBR had a written, detailed plan for their part in the draw-down. Thompson declared, "I was over there a few weeks ago, a month ago, and they provided me with a briefing. I think it was 25th, 26th of September." He continued, "Was there a written plan? We have a normal, operational, 'how do I close a base' kind of plan that they have signed up to early on." Who is providing oversight and how will there be a draw-down starting supposedly in a few months if there are no plans in writing? (No, a general "how do I close a base" is not a written plan.) Commissioner Robert Henke attempted to get a "short, succinct answer" on the KBR issue: "If the president announces on February 27, 2009 the draw-down plan and we're on November 2nd, is it possible that the contractor hasn't provided you any plan to adjust staff accordingly?" What he received was a babble from Thompson that contradicted and spun. Henke then attempted to get answers by going bit by bit through a timeline and asking "How is that posssible?" In Thompson's most honest response in the entire hearing he included "I don't know" as part of his long-winded, run-the-clock-down response.

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