Pete Eisler, USA Today
WASHINGTON — Iraqi insurgents have nearly ceased their once-constant attacks on convoys delivering U.S. supplies for reconstruction projects and equipment for Iraq’s security forces, and shipments are at their highest levels since the start of the war.
Through June 2008, there were only 93 attacks on about 6,100 logistics convoys carrying supplies ranging from building materials for schools, hospitals and public utilities to weapons for local police, Pentagon data obtained by USA TODAY show.
That’s a convoy-attack rate of about 1.5%. During some months in late 2006 and early 2007, attack rates were up to 20%.
The 6,100 convoy missions during the first six months of this year also represent a substantial increase over previous years. In all of 2007, the Pentagon ran fewer than 6,900 convoys.
“The improved security obviously is allowing us to move more (supplies), but there also has been a large increase in demand for the services,” says Col. Gary Pease, chief of staff for the Gulf Region Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the convoys.
The logistics convoys move virtually all materials supplied by the United States for reconstruction efforts in Iraq, which are a pillar of the Pentagon’s strategy to win the support of the Iraqi people.
Unlike U.S. military convoys used to move troops and their equipment, the logistics convoys rely on drivers and vehicles supplied by Iraqi companies under contract with the corps. British and U.S. companies provide convoy security, also under contract with the corps.
Historically, delays in logistics convoys, typically due to security problems, have been one of several key factors in delaying Iraqi reconstruction projects, says Ginger Cruz, deputy Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. “The improvement in security … certainly is contributing to an improvement in the reconstruction program.”
The decline in convoy attacks is the latest evidence of decreasing violence in Iraq. Overall, insurgent attacks have fallen 80% since the U.S. troop “surge” in June 2007. They’re now at their lowest level since March 2004, Pentagon data show.
Pease says the successful use of private security contractors to protect the logistics convoys frees more U.S. troops for combat and peacekeeping.
Congress has moved to heighten regulation of security contractors after several high-profile cases in which they were found to be involved in unwarranted killings of Iraqi civilians. And industry officials, who are resisting calls for more restrictions on the role those contractors can play, say the successful use of contractors to protect logistics convoys underscores the important role they can play.
“If you take (that role) away, you have to rethink the role that you want U.S. soldiers to play,” says Jeffery Green, a lobbyist who represents the Private Security Company Association of Iraq, a trade group of U.S. contractors operating in the region. The contractors “are doing a lot of hard and important work out there.”