TCS Daily

Iraqis Defending Iraq

By Melana Zyla Vickers - January 26, 2005 12:00 AM

In this violent and tense lead-up to Iraqi elections, welcome words have in recent days been uttered by Lt. Gen. John Vines, commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps. After the Jan. 30 elections, Vines told The New York Times, "The most desired course of action is that there be rapid progress in training and preparing Iraqis to assume responsibility for security in every province."

Handing over responsibility for security from American troops to the Iraqis is now more than a year overdue. Failure to do so thus far is what has kept the U.S. from seeing an end to its military operations in Iraq, it's what strains the overworked U.S. troops there, and it's what drives up the dollar cost of reconstruction, as U.S. aid teams find their work slowed by the dangerous local conditions. What's worse, the continued policing and defending of Iraq by foreign soldiers (American soldiers) rather naturally nurtures a flame of resentment within the local population. And as that climate of resentment heats up over time, it will prove increasingly hospitable to the insurgents who need local support to succeed and survive.

Until now, the Department of Defense has paid inadequate attention to the problem of training, equipping and advising Iraqi soldiers and police. It first ignored the problem, then let its programs get bogged down in all manner of shortcomings. The consequences are still upon us. Just two weeks ago the State Department reported to Congress that progress on beefing up indigenous Iraq security forces has not met the administration's expectations. The latest quarterly Report in Iraq Relief and Reconstruction says that "while Iraq's Security Forces have shown considerable progress during the last quarter, the overall performance of these forces has been mixed when put to test."

It also says that "the recent performance of the Iraqi Regular Army and Intervention Forces has demonstrated their ability to conduct counterinsurgency operations alongside and with Coalition forces. Conversely, these joint operations have also revealed their inability to logistically sustain themselves. This arises in large part to the fact that most division and brigade staffs have not completed their initial training, and because these units lack the logistical organizations that are necessary to sustain operations over an extended period of time."

Researching this topic is growing difficult. In the last half-year, U.S. government details on the lack of progress on security in Iraq have gotten more and more vague, migrating from regular chart updates available from the Pentagon, to more prolix descriptions available less often from State, to quarterly reports whose actual chapters are not publicly available on the web and whose language has become more vague with each passing quarter. Nonetheless, one is able to piece together the following information about the extent to which the Department of Defense is still falling short of its benchmarks:

The Iraqi Armed Forces are not yet fully trained. A full 27 battalions of the Iraqi Regular Army and Iraqi Intervention Force were to be trained by this winter, according to the July quarterly report. The January report says they "will complete their initial training by the end of February. This represents a one-week to one-month delay in the projected completion date."

The Iraqi National Guard has made little progress in five months. There are 42 battalions actively conducting security operations, according to the January report. The July report said 41 battalions were fielded, suggesting very slow progress in the intervening five months. The January report says that 49 battalions have been "organized," with plans to expand to 65. It also says that "although the status of equipment distribution has improved substantially, a number of equipment items remain outstanding. These missing elements are still arriving in country from their respective points of origin."

The Iraqi Police Force has half its personnel untrained and under-equipped. In July, there were about 120,000 police officers on the payroll, but, according to the State Department report, "not all personnel on duty have received sufficient police training, or are fully equipped to be mission capable." There are now 50,978 police trained and equipped, according to the January report. That's less than half the total.

Despite these shortcomings, the State Department describes the security trend as positive before adding a further warning. "Notwithstanding these generally positive developments, recent insurgent activity has tested Iraqi Security Forces and their efforts to develop and perform. In some areas, such as the provinces of Al Anbar and Ninawa, some Iraqi Security Forces have been rendered ineffective. Due to insurgent intimidation and terrorist activity, large numbers of Police Service, Iraqi Highway Patrol, and the Department of Border Enforcement personnel in the Al Anbar Province have quit or abandoned their stations, along with police in several other cities. The impact of and recovery from these types of situations and conditions is being determined now and will likely have budgetary implications."

The Department of Defense has until now devoted far more attention to directing its own troops' operations than to building Iraqi capacity for self-defense -- a mission that requires training, equipping and advising the local forces until they prove they no longer need the support and advice. Where the Defense Department's failing was somewhat excusable in past months, it no longer is. The U.S. has had only a few thousand advisers assigned to Iraqi units, and that number falls far short of what's required if Iraqis are ever going to stand up and help themselves.

Which is why Gen. Vines's announcement is so welcome. He said that as many as 10,000 advisers could be assigned to work with Iraqi units, according to The New York Times. While it's not clear where those advisers would come from, they'll likely be culled from the ranks of active-duty personnel who currently have other assignments.

That will be beneficial not only for the Iraqis, but the U.S. as well. It will shift the U.S. troops to an indirect role and erase part of the bull's eye on their backs, while still bringing American power to bear on the insurgents. Iraqi forces, meanwhile will be hunting insurgents with U.S. support, rather than sucking their thumbs while the U.S. conducts combat operations.

The quicker this redeployment of effort away from combat operations and toward advising gets underway, the better. Indeed, the day after Iraq's presidential election will be none too soon.


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