WASHINGTON, June 13, 2007 – Given the levels of violence in Iraq and anticipation of a declining U.S. presence in the future, the Iraqi security forces need to grow in 2008 at about the same rate they’re growing this year, the U.S. general who was in charge of training Iraqi forces until this week said here today.
Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey turned over command of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq to Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik on June 10 in Baghdad and today spoke at a news conference at the Pentagon, giving an assessment of the Iraqi security forces’ performance and his views on their future.
This latest recommendation to increase Iraqi forces, as well as the previous recommendation to grow the Iraqi forces by about 65,000 this year, were made largely in response to lessons learned when Iraqi units started moving around the country, Dempsey said.
As the units moved, they got an idea of how many forces needed to be left behind at Iraqi bases and how many forces might not show up for deployments, he explained. Also, once the Baghdad security plan began, Iraqi units started showing up at less strength than expected, so U.S. leaders recommended that the units be bumped up to about 125 percent strength before they leave, to ensure adequate forces on the ground.
The Iraqi security forces are performing well, Dempsey said, but the increase is needed to give commanders enough depth to pull units out of the fight to conduct training. Also, until the Iraqi forces gain ground technologically, they’ll need more forces to fight the insurgents, he said.
“A counterinsurgency and a counter-terror environment are manpower-intensive,” he said. “We tend to offset the size of our force with technologies. If you don't offset them with technologies, and believe me, the Iraqi security forces are not yet capable of offsetting their needs with technology, then you have to offset it with additional manpower.”
Dempsey asserted that he is optimistic about the future of the Iraqi security forces, despite the problems they face. In 2003, U.S. forces had to support Iraqi forces in every area, he said, but now the Iraqis are doing many things for themselves, such as taking care of pay and promotions, medical care and procurement.
“You've got a system now that is literally that; it is an institution that is growing, not just a bunch of tactical units largely unconnected,” Dempsey said. “Three years ago, the tactical units were out there, not in large numbers, but they were out there.
“They were partnering with the coalition,” he said. “But they didn't feel any loyalty to anything called the government of Iraq or an institution called the ministries of Defense and Interior. Those institutions now exist and the loyalties are clearly aligned to the ministries in a way that did not exist three years ago.”
Iraqi forces do face a leadership challenge, as the pool of qualified officers shrinks, Dempsey said. Possible solutions to this problem are for the Iraqi government to give more promotion opportunities to experienced young officers, or reach out to the universities and offer skilled applicants a shorter academy course, he said.
As Iraqi units rotate into Baghdad as part of the new security plan, it is very likely that new units will come in at lower skill levels than those that have experience in the city, Dempsey acknowledged. However, dealing with the tactical inefficiency is necessary to achieve the larger initiative of creating a military that is an institution of national unity, he said.
“You've got units that are predominantly Kurdish coming to Baghdad that contribute to the fight; you've got units from the south that are predominantly Shi'a coming to Baghdad that contribute to the fight working by side by side,” he said. “That seems to me to be a strategic imperative of the future of the Iraqi security forces.”
To test Iraqi units’ readiness and loyalty, the units are being sent to Besmaya Range, a training complex east of Baghdad, for two weeks before going to Baghdad, Dempsey said. This training is similar to what the U.S. Army does at places like the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, he noted.
As the Iraqi forces grow, they will need some additional equipment, Dempsey said. The Iraqis need more armored Humvees and personnel carriers, air transportation, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, he said. Also, U.S. leaders think the Iraqi forces may be ready to start using artillery and possible cavalry for border protection.
These changes are “all about helping them move from a force that is today very firmly focused on internal security, that will have to begin to account for the fact that at some point they'll need to protect themselves against external threat as well,” Dempsey said.
As the September assessment of the Baghdad security plans approaches, Dempsey said that U.S. leaders aren’t expecting the Iraqi government to completely achieve any of the political or security benchmarks laid out for them. What’s important is that the Iraqi government recognize the importance of those benchmarks and start working toward them, he said.
“I don't think it's going to be necessary that peace break out between now and September because that — if that's the standard, then we're not going to achieve it,” he said. “But I think what we're looking to see is movement in each of those benchmarks of a serious enough nature that causes us to believe that the Iraqi government can make a difference on those benchmarks over time.”