Friday, September 30, 2005


The number of Iraqi army battalions that can fight insurgents without U.S. and coalition help has dropped from three to one, top U.S. generals told Congress yesterday, adding that the security situation in Iraq is too uncertain to predict large-scale American troop withdrawals anytime soon.

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who oversees U.S. forces in Iraq, said there are fewer Iraqi battalions at "Level 1" readiness than there were a few months ago. Although Casey said the number of troops and overall readiness of Iraqi security forces have steadily increased in recent months, and that there has not been a "step backwards," both Republican and Democratic senators expressed deep concern that the United States is not making enough progress against a resilient insurgency.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his commanders yesterday publicly hedged their forecasts of U.S. involvement in Iraq, leaving it unclear when troops will be able to come home or how long it will take before Iraqi security forces can defend their homeland. The officials also gave somber forecasts of significant insurgent attacks in the coming weeks as Iraq faces important political milestones.
Officials did not say specifically why two battalions are no longer rated at Level 1 and thus unable to operate on their own. They said generally readiness ratings can change for numerous reasons, such as if a commander resigns, or if more training is needed. Casey also said that the "Iraqi armed forces will not have an independent capability for some time."

In a House Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday afternoon, Rumsfeld and the commanders were pressed for specifics about when troops might withdraw. But the answers were vague, at least the ones provided in public, before members moved into a classified briefing.

"I can tell you, Congressman, it's all going to be conditions-based," Casey said in answering Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.), who had sought a "reasonable time frame" for Iraqi troops to take over security duties. "It's not going to be like throwing a switch where all of a sudden, one day, the Iraqis are in charge."

Actually, it probably is going to be like throwing a switch, since Casey, Rumsfeld, et al. refuse to quantify "improved conditions," or let us all in on how such improvement is measured on a week to week, month to month basis. One day, the Pentagon is just going to announce that the Iraqis are ready to be in charge, and no one will have a clue how they got to that point.

Or maybe not. Maybe Casey and other top military officials are just playing Congress and the public like an entire orchestra of violins. It's not as if there's been steady progress, even if slow. The Bush administration has been telling us that Iraqi security forces are "not ready yet" since the occupation began, with no significant change in their degree of readiness.

I plugged "Iraqi security forces not ready" into Google, and got a long list of articles going back to February 2004.

From the DOD website, February 16, 2004:

Places in Iraq like Fallujah are not ready for local control, and U.S.-led coalition forces will not leave an area that's not secure, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said today during a briefing in Baghdad.

Fallujah is where gunmen conducted a well-organized guerrilla-style attack on the local jail Feb. 14, killing about 25 people, mostly police, and wounding more than 30. The attackers freed dozens of prisoners at the police station.

"There's no timeline for local control," said Kimmitt, deputy director of operations, Combined Joint Task Force 7. "In fact, places like Fallujah are not ready for local control."

Each city's situation will determine when coalition forces move to the outskirts of the city, allowing Iraqi security forces to take responsibility, Kimmitt noted. "When the conditions in the city are right, the level of insecurity is down to a certain level, and Iraqi security forces are ready, then the coalition forces will make that determination. ..." (not the Iraqi forces, notice. So much for self-determination).

Pointing out that a clock or a calendar doesn't make the determination for local control, Kimmitt emphasized, "It's made by conditions."

In contrast to the hotbed of anti-coalition activity in Fallujah, Kimmitt said, about 90 percent of the country doesn't experience daily incidents, terrorist acts or shots fired. He said those are the areas that will be considered first for implementing local control.

From The Battalion, an AP article dated April 19, 2004:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi security forces will not be ready to protect the country against insurgents by the June 30 handover of power, the top U.S. administrator said Sunday - an assessment aimed at defending the continued heavy presence of U.S. troops here even after an Iraqi government takes over.

The unusually blunt comments from L. Paul Bremer came amid a weekend of new fighting that pushed the death toll for U.S. troops in April to 99, already the record for a single-month in Iraq and approaching the number killed during the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein last year.

The military had always planned to remain after June 30, when the U.S. is to handover sovereignty to Iraq. In recent months coalition officials acknowledged the transfer of security will be significantly slower than hoped because Iraqi forces were not prepared.

But Bremer said the fighting across the country this month exposed the depth of the problems inside the security forces.

''Events of the past two weeks show that Iraq still faces security threats and needs outside help to deal with them. Early this month, the foes of democracy overran Iraqi police stations and seized public buildings in several parts of the country,'' he said. ''Iraqi forces were unable to stop them.''

''It is clear that Iraqi forces will not be able, on their own, to deal with these threats by June 30 when an Iraqi government assumes sovereignty,'' Bremer said in a statement issued by the U.S. coalition.

Note the statement by Kimmitt in February that virtually all of Iraq except Fallujah was ready for local control; and then the statement just two months later from Bremer that most of Iraq was not ready for local control.

From MSNBC, December 20, 2004, a month before the parliamentary elections:

President Bush pointedly acknowledged Monday that U.S.-trained Iraqi troops are not ready to take over their country's security, and cautioned that next month's elections there are only the beginning of a long process toward democracy.
Bush said "I would call the results mixed" on a U.S. effort to put Iraqi security in the hands of its own people.

"There have been some cases where, when the heat got on, they left the battlefield -- that is unacceptable," he said. "... We are under no illusion that this Iraqi force is not ready to fight in toto."

Essential to the American strategy for withdrawing its troops from Iraq is the effort to train Iraqi forces for security and combat. But doubts have been raised from several quarters about the effectiveness of the effort and the reliability of Iraqi security forces.

From the DOD site, January 13, 2005:

The progress of the Iraqi security forces in the four provinces of the north means that the election Jan. 30 "will be an election for Iraqis, run by Iraqis," a top military commander said here today.
Batiste said the Iraqi forces – either on their own or in conjunction with the coalition – have detained 1,371 insurgents, killed 170 and wounded 36 in the area since Oct. 1. The Iraqis know who fits and who doesn't in the country, Batiste said, and because they are native to the area, they can detect something out of place, such as a different accent or style of clothes.

The Iraqi army -- which now includes the Iraqi National Guard -- is becoming more professional and more deadly to the insurgents, the general said, adding that this is why the insurgents are targeting them. He said the insurgent attacks ebb and flow, but that on Jan. 12, about 24 attacks took place, about 25 percent of which were directed against the Iraqi security forces. That percentage is going up, he said.

From AP, January 27, 2005, posted on the Common Dreams site:

The top American commander in Iraq yesterday said U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces were still not ready to take over the counterinsurgency and there was no guarantee they will ever be able to defeat the militants on their own.

Gen. George Casey said the 130,000 Iraqi police and soldiers still lack leaders to direct them in a fight against rebels, and local police forces who've deserted in the thousands in the face of intimidation and withering assaults by guerrillas remain a key weak point.

Training and equipping Iraqi troops to eventually take the lead role here is a central pillar in U.S. efforts to rein in insurgents and eventually pull American and other foreign troops out of the country. But the Iraqi forces have been criticized for poor training and lack of leadership.

"Can I sit here and look you in the eye and say that the Iraqi security forces guaranteed 100 per cent (they) are going to be able to defeat this insurgency by themselves? Of course not," Casey said.

"From what I've seen in the seven months that I've been here, I believe that we can achieve capable Iraqi security forces over a period of time that can deal with the Iraqi insurgency that's here."

From The Telegraph, July 22, 2005:

The Pentagon has given a stark assessment of the state of Iraq's fledgling security forces, concluding that only a "small number" of units are capable of fighting the insurgency without American military support.

In the first detailed official insight into Iraq's police and army, a Pentagon report said half of the new police units are still being established and two thirds of the army are only "partially capable" of carrying out counter-insurgency missions.
Gen. [Peter] Pace [vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] insisted that many of the Iraqi units had performed "superbly" but added that half of the police battalions are "not yet capable of conducting operations."

Even within the same report, the Pentagon cannot agree on whether the arrow points up or down. But note what Pace is saying here: Half of the Iraqi security battalions are not capable of fighting insurgents on their own. Doesn't that imply that half are ready?

Yet, in the Washington Post's article on the same Pentagon report, Josh White quotes Gen. Pace as saying that:

... only a "small number of Iraqi security forces are taking on the insurgents and terrorists by themselves," and he estimated that one-third of the Iraqi army's battalions are capable of counterinsurgency operations with coalition support and two-thirds are "partially capable." While half of the Iraqi police are partially capable, the other half is still forming and not conducting operations, according to Pace's statement, which was released by the Pentagon yesterday.

In other words, they don't have a clue.

Or do they? Does the world's most effective, efficient, capable defense organization really have no clear or accurate idea of whether Iraq's security forces are ready or not; of how close to or far from readiness they are; and of what has to be done to get them ready?

It seems unlikely, doesn't it?

Pres. Bush insists that U.S. troops will leave Iraq when Iraq has a military, or a security force, capable of defending the country. Yet, by the Pentagon's own admission, Iraq is no closer to having a security force that can function independently than it was two years ago. To me, it strains belief that the U.S. military could fail this abysmally by accident.

It's hard for Iraqis to believe, too. In Night Draws Near, Anthony Shadid's fine book about the effect of the U.S. occupation on Iraqis, Shadid spoke to many Iraqis who were incredulous at the idea that a superpower like America could be so incompetent and mess up post-invasion Iraq so completely. Iraqis expressed this skepticism about the U.S. military's seeming inability to repair the devastated infrastructure -- even while necessities of life like electricity were never a problem in the Green Zone, and were quickly fixed if they became a problem. The same skepticism exists about the security situation. Why can't the Americans stop the violence? And since they can't, why don't they leave and let Iraqis take care of their own security needs?

One Iraqi voices what Shadid calls "a suspicion common to" the Shiite followers of Muqtada Sadr.

" 'I don't think the Americans are going to leave, ever,' he said."

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