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Outside View: Preparing Iraq's Army

an unstainable deployment

Washington DC (UPI) Aug 05, 2005
A detailed analysis of the current Multi National Force-I and Multi-National Security Training Command-I effort to train and equip Iraqi forces indicates that this effort has been comprehensively reorganized over the course of the last year and that it now includes far better readiness standards and significant allied contributions.

The two main issues to be addressed are providing the full range of civilian advisers needed to supplement the military in training the police forces and how Iraqi forces should acquire armor and other heavier weaponry over time.

Progress in unit generation is necessarily much slower than progress in creating trained and equipped individuals.

According to some press reports, the Iraqi Army had a total of 81 operating combat battalions by late May 2005, but a new evaluation matrix developed by MNF-I rated only three of those battalions at the top level of readiness and capability.

At the top level of readiness, a unit is capable of independent operations without coalition support.

Only one of 26 brigade headquarters had such a rating. However, many other combat battalions were still contributing to the fight, either with some support provided by coalition forces (the second level of readiness) or fighting alongside coalition forces (the third level).

If one included all of the special police battalions, the press reported that the total force had risen from 81 battalions to 101, but the number of battalions rated in the top category of mission capability only rose from three to five.

Although the other operating combat battalions were contributing to the counter-insurgency to varying degrees, MNF-I concluded that it needed to make further major increases in the number of U.S. advisory or "transition teams" embedded in Iraqi units and was seeking to deploy rapidly 2,500 more soldiers by mid-June.

Coalition leaders are concerned that detailed reports on the ranking of Iraqi forces will be used by insurgents to focus attacks on weaker units, but coalition experts summarized the status of Iraqi forces in mid-June as follows:

No special police units and less than a handful of army units were rated "fully capable" of independent counter-insurgency operations. Some 40 percent of the special police units and 20 percent of army units were rated capable of leading operations with coalition support.

Some 40 percent of the special police units and 45 percent of army units were rated capable of conducting counter-insurgency operations when "fighting alongside" coalition units. Less than 10 percent of the special police units and 20 percent of army units were rated as "forming" or incapable of conducting counter-insurgency operations.

Put differently, more than 60 Iraqi army combat battalions could then perform a counter-insurgency role when operating with coalition forces; more than 20 combat battalions were capable of counter-insurgency operations, but needed some specific coalition support to do so. In the case of special police forces -- which included the Public Order Brigades, the Mechanized Police Brigade and the Special Police Commando Brigades, there were roughly 27 battalions authorized and 14 actually operational, all of them either fighting alongside or with coalition support. A long way from a perfect force, but a vast improvement over a single active battalion in July 2004.

Looking towards the future, the focus of Iraqi and MNF efforts has clearly shifted from force formation to force effectiveness, and the MNSTC-I goal is to "graduate" most remaining units from basic/small unit training at Level 3 ( fighting alongside coalition forces). Their progression to Level 2 or Level 1 will follow on varying timelines. Some "graduated" units may still be assessed as Level 4 (forming), but they should be the exception.

Are Iraqi troops being deployed before they are ready in an attempt to demonstrate progress? This may have been the case through the spring of 2004. It no longer seems to be an issue. As is noted above, far better readiness and training standards are being applied.

Should there be a more gradual training schedule to allow Iraqi units to develop greater cohesion and capabilities before exposing them to hostilities?

Iraqi forces are deployed into more-demanding missions only on the basis of their actual performance, as reflected by their transition readiness assessment. The coalition transition teams that guide them through their initial training and equipping remain with them as they transition to operational status and as they are slowly introduced to more demanding missions over time.

Keeping them in training status would make things worse, not better. Their involvement in appropriate operations will give them needed experience and ensure that leaders and other ranks are competent and active while they build practical cohesion and capability.

Should the number of Iraqi security forces be increased by integrating the Badr brigade (an anti-Saddam Shia militia group), the Peshmurga (Kurdish forces), or other local militias into the Iraqi army or National Guard? Would the political ramifications of such integration outweigh the security benefits?

The problem lies in the word "integration." If it means properly vetted, fully trained, and dispersed as individuals into a wide range of units to create truly national forces, the answer is yes. In the real world, Iraqi forces have been recruiting militia members as individuals for almost a year as part of the Transition and Reintegration of Militias program.

Success in these endeavors has been mixed. Total dissolution of militias will take time and serious negotiations and will probably be successful only when the political parties see the militias as no longer required because the central government is providing adequate security.

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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Outside View: U.S. Options In Iraq
Washington DC (UPI) Aug 05, 2005
The key issues affecting U.S. strategy in Iraq are not military, but politics, governance, aid and economics. The United States and the Iraqi government have largely "cast the die" in military terms, and the issue is not one of strategy as much as finding ways to ensure that the development of Iraqi forces will actually succeed.

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