A Report Card on Iraqi Troops
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
HILLA, Iraq, May 17 -- The Iraqi colonel had just finished telling Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, about the successful raids his brigade had carried out, the suspected insurgents captured and the weapons rounded up.
Then, on a screen at the far end of a narrow, cramped conference room where Casey was sitting, the colonel flashed a slide rating his brigade according to a system just devised by the U.S. military. The slide showed a nearly complete sea of red squares -- red for staffing levels, red for training, red for equipment and so on through several more categories.
Red means poor. It's the worst color to be on a scale that goes from red through orange and yellow to green.
A senior Iraqi general was accompanying Casey on a visit Tuesday to a dusty base on the outskirts of Hilla, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, that serves as headquarters for the 51st Brigade. He asked the colonel how he could have settled on so much red after having listed so many operational achievements.
"Because I want you to give me more help," the colonel said, grinning, his ploy exposed.
Iraqi commanders and their U.S. advisers have begun grading Iraq's military for the first time since the United States started to build a new set of Iraqi security forces from scratch. But as Tuesday's episode showed, the process still has some kinks to work out.
Some Iraqi officers are clearly trying to manipulate the system to the advantage of their units, underplaying their condition in hopes of gaining more assistance. Some U.S. officers in Iraq worry, in turn, that Pentagon authorities and others in the Bush administration will overplay the grades and interpret them in ways that would justify too quick a withdrawal of U.S. troops.
In any case, senior U.S. commanders say they are pleased to finally have a means for trying to measure how well, or how poorly, the fledgling Iraqi military is doing.
"We now have a tool to help us assess the progress of Iraqi forces," Casey said.
With dozens of Iraqi units now engaged daily in patrols and raids, Casey and other U.S. commanders say these forces have made considerable strides since last year, when some Iraqi soldiers and many police officers proved ineffectual in the face of insurgent attacks and intense intimidation. Recruiting has remained strong, they said, despite recurring suicide attacks on recruiting stations, and standards for entry into the military are being raised with the addition of a literacy test.
Academies and training facilities are graduating about 8,000 members of the military and police forces a month. U.S. advisers in 10-man "transition teams" have joined newly formed Iraqi military units across the country, and plans call for more than 2,500 such embedded mentors to be in place by mid-June. A similar program for assigning advisers to provincial police headquarters also is taking shape.
Still, the performance of the forces can vary widely, as evidenced by the new grading system, which was used for the first time last month.