Despite Challenges, Iraqi Forces 'In the Fight'
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 29, 2004 Although insurgents are making things difficult, the task of training, equipping and deploying new Iraqi security forces is progressing, a senior U.S. military official noted in a Sept. 26 commentary published in the Washington Post.
Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus acknowledged "there will be more tough times" in Iraq in the months leading up to the country's general elections in January and beyond. However, while he predicted that insurgent attacks would likely increase, he also pointed out that the situation isn't out of control and that Iraqi security forces are "developing steadily and they are in the fight."
Petraeus, commander of the Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, is charged with overseeing efforts to prepare Iraqis to assume security of their country. In the past few months, he noted, 7,500 Iraqis signed up for the new Iraqi Army, while 3,500 new Iraqi police recruits recently reported for training.
Despite insurgent attacks, Petraeus observed, "there is no shortage of qualified recruits volunteering to join Iraqi security forces."
Noting that he regularly meets with Iraqi security force leaders, Petraeus praised their "determination and their desire to assume the full burden of security tasks for Iraq."
Petraeus compared the task of training Iraqi security forces in the midst of insurgent violence to "repairing an aircraft while in flight and while being shot at." Yet despite terrorist attacks, Petraeus pointed out, "there has been progress in the effort to enable Iraqis to shoulder more of the load for their own security, something they are keen to do."
Today, about 164,000 Iraqi police and soldiers including 100,000 who've been trained and equipped and another 74,000 Iraqi facility protection forces are performing myriad security missions across the country, Petraeus wrote.
"Training is on track and increasing in capacity," the general wrote, while also noting that necessary command and control structures and institutions are being stood up.
Some Iraqis have paid for their freedom with their lives, Petraeus pointed out, noting that more than 700 Iraqi security force members have been killed since Jan. 1. And hundreds of Iraqis who had sought to join the new Army and police forces, he noted, also have died through insurgent violence.
But despite insurgent efforts to destabilize the Iraqi government, Petraeus wrote, six battalions of the new Iraqi Army and members of the Iraqi Intervention Force are now conducting anti-insurgent operations across the country. In fact, he pointed out, the existence of Iraqi security forces was a key factor in recent successful operations in Najaf.
Within the next two months, Petraeus wrote, six more regular Iraqi Army and six more Iraqi Intervention Force battalions will come on line.
And "nine more regular Army battalions will complete training in January, in time to help with security missions during the Iraqi elections at the end of that month," he indicated.
In the months ahead, the Iraqi border force is expected to expand from 16,000 members today to 32,000, the general noted. These forces, he observed, will be equipped with vehicle X-ray machines, explosive-detection gear and ground sensors.
Petraeus also pointed out that needed equipment "has begun flowing" to Iraqi security forces. Since July 1, he noted, Iraqi security forces received more than 39,000 weapons and 22 million rounds of ammunition, in addition to 42,000 sets of body armor, 4,400 vehicles, 16,000 radios and more than 235,000 uniforms.
Iraqi security forces have been gaining momentum in recent months, Petraeus observed. And, he wrote, with "strong Iraqi leaders out front and with continued coalition and now NATO support, this trend will continue."