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Training Iraqis: the Facts

By Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Sunday, February 6, 2005; Page B07

Before we can begin to responsibly disengage from Iraq, two conditions must be met. First, an elected Iraqi government and constitution considered legitimate by the country's main factions must emerge. Second, that government must develop the capacity to provide law and order, deliver basic services and, most important, defeat the insurgency. Last Sunday's elections were an important step toward meeting the first condition, but they did little to advance the second.

During Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's confirmation, much was made of the dueling numbers she and I advanced regarding Iraq's security forces. Rice said there are about 125,000 trained Iraqi security forces. I maintained that the real number was between 4,000 and 18,000. What explains the discrepancy?



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By one measure the Bush administration is right: As of today, there are about 136,000 "trained and equipped" Iraqis. But that measure is meaningless. Indeed, a year ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld boasted of 210,000 Iraqis in uniform and called it "an amazing accomplishment."

We should focus on real standards, not raw numbers. The real standard is straightforward: Can an Iraqi soldier or policeman do what we ask American soldiers to do -- provide law and order, protect the infrastructure, defend the borders and, above all, defeat the insurgency? There are nowhere near 136,000 Iraqis capable of accomplishing these goals. Here are the facts:

Police: According to the administration, there are 57,290 trained Iraqi police. The key word is "trained." Those who served in the old Iraqi police force receive a three-week "refresher" course. Yet holdovers from the Saddam Hussein era possess none of the skills we expect from our police -- from investigation techniques to crowd control to a basic understanding of human rights.

New recruits get eight weeks in the classroom, compared with 16 to 24 weeks in most developed countries. Many arrive at the academy with minimal vetting and lack basic skills in reading and driving. After their classroom time, new recruits were to receive a 24-week field training course, working with U.S. and international trainers, but that was never implemented because of security concerns and a shortage of field trainers.

Imagine an American city giving a rookie cop minimal classroom training, then sending him to patrol a neighborhood infested by drug dealers, street gangs, violent criminals and terrorists without even the benefit of an experienced partner, much less an armored vehicle, secure police stations and adequate weaponry. Is it any surprise that nearly the entire police force in Mosul deserted in November under an insurgent onslaught?

National Guard: As of Jan. 19 the administration listed 36,827 guard members on duty. The Iraqis have since integrated the guard into the army, which now totals 56,284. The guard was expected to be the tip of the counterinsurgency spear. Its members receive six to seven weeks of training, but there is minimal focus on counterinsurgency skills.

The guard has taken heavy casualties, been plagued by high absenteeism -- the result of an effective intimidation campaign -- and been infiltrated by insurgents. At best, the guard can handle fixed-point security -- as it did with the police and army for last week's elections -- but only if it has heavy U.S. combat and logistical support.

The police and guard make up 94,000 of the 136,000 "trained and equipped" Iraqis. The army, border enforcement units and specialized forces make up the rest. Yet despite their courage few can operate independently against the insurgency. Their ability to take on other key missions, such as providing basic law and order, is unproven.

After more than a year of drift, the administration took a critical step in the right direction: It put Gen. David Petraeus in charge of the security training. He has added counterinsurgency to the police curriculum, emphasized leadership skills and building cohesive units, and developed special forces with much longer training times. As a result some Iraqis are starting to get the equipment, training and leadership skills they need to fight the insurgency. They include police commandos (about 5,000), special intervention forces (about 9,000), SWAT teams and other specialized forces (about 4,000). These forces total some 18,000 men.

But that is far short of the administration's 136,000 estimate. And of those 18,000, many are rookies with little experience. Indeed, in testimony Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, senior administration officials couldn't say how many Iraqi forces can operate independently against the insurgency. That's why I believe the number of Iraqis prepared to take on the insurgency is somewhere between 4,000 and 18,000.

The administration must build on this counterinsurgency foundation. It should embed U.S. officers with Iraqi units to develop their operational skills. Other countries should be pressed to support and open training academies outside Iraq. We also must accelerate the effort to train police to provide basic law and order in the parts of Iraq that are not under siege by insurgents but that are plagued by violence.

At home, we need the administration to level with us about the challenges in Iraq, including the time it will take to develop security forces that can operate independently. Overselling the size or capability of those forces -- and leaving a false impression with the American people -- is guaranteed to produce a failed policy.

The writer is a senator from Delaware and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


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