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DoD Reports Iraqi Forces Gains, Probable Cause of Fatal Blast

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2005 – Iraqi forces are being trained and equipped, and most are helping with defense of their nation, a senior defense official said here Aug. 4.

The official, speaking on background, also said that in all probability, the explosive that flipped an armored amphibious vehicle and killed 14 Marines in Iraq Aug. 3 was a triple-stacked anti-tank mine. Pictures show a crater about 8 feet wide and 4 feet deep.

The vehicle struck the mine outside Haditha, near where six Marines in two sniper teams were killed earlier in the week.

Officials in Baghdad said Iraqi security forces now have about 175,000 members, with 105 battalions of soldiers and police. Eighty percent of the units are fighting alongside American forces, but the units are not able to completely operate independently of U.S. forces. "The Iraqis don't have a logistics or intelligence or a sophisticated command and control" capability, the senior official said. "Those things are being created."

The official said Iraqis "are doing pretty darn good" in small-unit tactics -- squad, platoon and company levels. "I think we need to give credit to some young Iraqis out there who are looking to the horizon and trying to do the right thing," he said.

The official said the coalition is seeing about the same number of attacks this year as last, about 500 attacks a week. Numbers of troops killed in action are about the same from last year for coalition forces and down somewhat in overall casualties. But the insurgents have targeted the Iraqi people and Iraqi security forces, and for them, casualties are way up.

As more Iraqi forces enter the field, Iraqi civilians are giving more information to the coalition. "That's the beauty of getting these (Iraqi) forces out there with us," the official said. "They are pretty proud of their Iraqi boys -- they've got about a 75-percent approval rate. The people who want to see the country stabilize realize that's how it's going to happen." Hotline tips have increased tenfold, he added.

Foreign fighters are coming into Iraq from Syria via the Euphrates River valley, along what servicemembers call "ratlines." These are a problem, the officials said, but the coalition and Iraqi troops in the west and along the Euphrates River are making a difference.

The training for Iraqi security forces is on track, the official said, with roughly 175,000 members of the various security forces "trained and equipped." The plan is on track for 270,000 next year. "There's no shortage of Iraqis signing on. There is no lull in the training, and there are no equipment issues," he said.

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