U.S. Military Expects to Meet Training Goal for Iraqi Security Forces

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 28, 2006

U.S. military commanders expect to meet their goal of training and equipping more than 325,000 members of the new Iraqi security forces by the end of this year, an important step in developing Iraq's self-defense, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who leads the training effort, said yesterday.

Top officials remain optimistic that they will meet targets that call for training 137,000 troops for the Iraqi military and 188,000 people for Interior ministry units such as local police and the border patrol. But they warned that there is a long way to go before the Iraqis will be able to independently fight the insurgents.

"It's just not appropriate yet to be thinking in terms of independent anything in Iraq," Dempsey said. "This, remember, is a nation at war, and although they have taken responsibility for battle space, and large swaths of it . . . they are not independent at this point in time."

Dempsey, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon yesterday, said that Iraqi army troops are becoming increasingly capable as time goes on and that they share combat efforts with U.S. and coalition forces. Still, the Iraqi forces are not yet able to operate on their own, and the fact that they are learning while facing combat has created hurdles.

The development of Iraqi security forces is the cornerstone of the U.S. plan to give the new Iraqi government control of the war-torn nation. Even if the desired number of troops becomes available in six months, Dempsey said, they will need time to develop before they can take control from U.S. forces, especially in the contested areas of Baghdad and Anbar province to the west.

Nor are U.S. military leaders saying that a trained Iraqi military means that U.S. forces can leave Iraq soon.

"It's my belief . . . that we're going to be in Iraq for a long time," Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday. "It's open-ended."

Dempsey said major progress has been made in the development of the Iraqi police, which number more than 100,000. He said officials expect 24,000 of 25,000 members of the border police will be trained and equipped by the end of July. And U.S. officials plan to provide nearly 2,800 armored Humvees to Iraqi forces to fight the insurgency.

Dempsey said the training effort's biggest challenge is finding capable leaders. In an effort to find 2,500 officers, trainers recalled about 3,800 who were in Saddam Hussein's military. After screenings and a six-week training program, 1,800 remained. But Dempsey said three military academy classes have produced 2,500 newly minted officers.

Staff writer Thomas E. Ricks contributed to this report.

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