By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 27, 2006
Two senior members of the House Armed Services Committee and several former Defense Department officials yesterday criticized poor U.S. training and deployment of the Iraqi army and police as a major reason the Baghdad government cannot provide security to its people.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the panel, said that 33 trained Iraqi army battalions, now serving in provinces that are relatively peaceful, should be moved into Baghdad or other areas where there is fighting. "Saddle those guys up, move them into the fight," Hunter said on NBC's "Meet the Press." He added, "Nothing trains a combat unit better than actually being in military operations."
Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), who next year will take over as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, focused on the Army training of Iraqi units. He said that in many instances "the wrong types" of trainers were given the job.
"I would hope we could stand up their brigades, their battalions, and that they would be effective, and the way to do this is for us to train them better, to have advisers that understand them," Skelton said on NBC.
"What's really fallen down . . . has been the police," said retired Gen. Wayne A. Downing, who headed the Army's Special Operations Command and briefly served after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the Bush White House handling counterterrorism.
"We reconstituted the Iraqi police pretty much in their old image," he told NBC's Tim Russert. "They are corrupt, they are feared by the people, and we recognize this." Downing said that once a Baghdad neighborhood is cleaned up, "we turn it over to the Iraqi police, Tim, and within weeks it's right back to the way it was before."
"We've got to get the Iraqi army and police better equipped, better trained, and into the fight. And I think we've got 24 months," said retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, also on "Meet the Press." He said the Iraqis, now armed with light trucks and small arms, need armored vehicles and air force and support helicopters "to sustain a major internal battle."
Yesterday's criticisms were expanded upon in the latest study by Anthony H. Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A Pentagon official in the Reagan administration and a specialist in Middle East intelligence and military matters, Cordesman just returned from Iraq, where he received briefings from military and civilian officials.
One of Cordesman's central issues is that public statements by the Defense Department "severely distorted the true nature of Iraqi force development in ways that grossly exaggerate Iraqi readiness and capability to assume security tasks and replace U.S. forces." He also writes that "U.S. official reporting is so misleading that there is no way to determine just how serious the problem is and what resources will be required."
Cordesman says the Pentagon's Aug. 31 status report, which was sent to Congress, lists 312,400 men "trained and equipped" among the Iraqi army and national and regular police. But it adds that "no one knows how many . . . are actually still in service." At the same time, he writes, "all unclassified reporting on unit effectiveness has been cancelled."
Criticizing statements about how many Iraqi army units are "in the lead," Cordesman notes that the Iraqi army "lacks armor, heavy firepower, tactical mobility and an Iraqi Air Force capable of providing combat support" -- the same points McCaffrey made yesterday.
"No administration official has presented any plan to properly equip the Iraqi forces to stand on their own or give them the necessary funding to phase out U.S. combat and air support in 12 to 18 months," Cordesman says. He writes that the Iraqi army could need U.S. support through 2010.
The August Pentagon report says that the Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MOI), which controls the National Police, does not have "an effective management system" and therefore "it is unknown how many of the forces . . . are still employed by the MOI."
Cordesman says attrition is put at "at least 20 percent per year." The Pentagon report also notes problems with the police having ties to militias and warns about "unprofessional and at times criminal behavior" by some units.
Cordesman described the situation as "far worse" with the regular police, where "desertion rates are far higher than with the regular [Army] forces and National Police. He cites the Pentagon report as saying "there is currently no screening process to ascertain militia allegiance" and "no method exists to track the success rate of these or other police officers."
As with the army, Cordesman says he believes it will take three to five years to adequately train Iraqi police officers. He notes, though, that the Pentagon report "makes clear there is no meaningful database on where the maintained and equipped for the regular police actually are, or on the effectiveness of individual units."