10-25-2016  8:36 am      •     
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The State Department is quietly forming a small army to protect diplomatic personnel in Iraq after U.S. military forces leave the country at the end of 2011, taking their firepower with them.
Department officials are asking the Pentagon to provide heavy military gear, including Black Hawk helicopters, and say they will also need substantial support from private contractors.
The shopping list demonstrates the department's reluctance to count on Iraq's army and police forces for security despite the billions of dollars the U.S. invested to equip and train them. And it shows that President Barack Obama is having a hard time keeping his pledge to reduce U.S. reliance on contractors, a practice that flourished under the Bush administration.
In an early April request to the Pentagon, Patrick Kennedy, the State Department's undersecretary for management, is seeking 24 Black Hawks, 50 bomb-resistant vehicles, heavy cargo trucks, fuel trailers, and high-tech surveillance systems. Kennedy asks that the equipment, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, be transferred at ``no cost'' from military stocks.
Contractors will be needed to maintain the gear and provide other support to diplomatic staff, according to the State Department, a potential financial boon for companies such as the Houston-based KBR Inc. that still have a sizable presence in Iraq.
``After the departure of U.S. forces, we will continue to have a critical need for logistical and life support of a magnitude and scale of complexity that is unprecedented in the history of the Department of State,'' says Kennedy's April 7 request to Ashton Carter, the Defense Department's under secretary for acquisition and technology.
Without the equipment, there will be ``increased casualties,'' according to attachments to Kennedy's memo detailing the department's needs.
The military equipment would be controlled by the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, according to the information Kennedy sent to the Pentagon. During the Bush administration, the bureau was heavily criticized by members of Congress for its management of Blackwater Worldwide and other private security firms working in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The military has about 7,500 of the bomb-resistant vehicles -- known as MRAPs -- in Iraq. So shifting 50 to the State Department could be easily handled as the troops depart.
But handing over two dozen Black Hawks, which cost between $12 million and $18 million depending on the model, would be more problematic. The aircraft are in short supply and heavily used by military forces in Afghanistan, where the primitive roads heighten the need for transportation by air.
The Defense Department has not formally responded to Kennedy's memo.
Spokesmen for both departments said the two agencies are discussing the request. ``Both agencies recognize the importance of a smooth transition,'' Brian Heath, the State Department spokesman said.
About 90,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, and that number is expected to fall to 50,000 by the end of August under Obama's plan to remove all combat troops from the country. All American forces are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011.
Departing, too, will be key crucial missions they performed, such as recovering downed aircraft, convoy security, bomb detection and disposal, and the ability to counter rocket and mortar attacks.
By September 2011, the 22 U.S.-led reconstruction teams spread throughout Iraq will be replaced by five ``Enduring Presence Posts,'' according to the documents Kennedy sent to the Pentagon. The State Department will be responsible for all the costs of operating these stations, including security, until at least 2015.
State wants to use an existing Defense Department contract in Iraq to support these posts and the U.S. embassy in Baghdad with essential services, including meals, mail delivery and laundry.
If State cannot use that contract, known as ``LOGCAP,'' the department ``will be forced to redirect its resources towards developing, implementing and overseeing a massive new life support infrastructure throughout Iraq,'' the documents state.
The Black Hawk, manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft, is designed to carry a crew of four and 11 fully equipped infantryman. The helicopters are armed with two machine guns.
The MRAPs -- pronounced M-Rap -- the State Department wants are called Caimans. The vehicles are nine-feet (3 meters) high, weigh 19 tons (17.2 metric tons) and are made by BAE Systems. Each Caiman costs more than $1 million. The vehnine-feeticles have a special armor designed to deflect the most potent roadside bombs. 9 feet (2.74 meters)

Associated Press writers Anne Flaherty and Robert Burns contributed to this report.

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