Sanchez Says Security Improving, But More Work Needed
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 11, 2004 As Iraq's security force continues to grow, so will its responsibilities, and that's the basis for local control, Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, Combined Joint Task Force 7 commander, told reporters today during a Baghdad press briefing.
Under the local-control initiative, coalition forces are increasing the Iraqi security forces' responsibilities as their capacities increase over time, Sanchez said. "This is a conditions-based transition," he noted. "There is no timetable for local control. But we're trying to move that along as fast as we can in the different parts of the country."
Sanchez said it's important for Iraq's development that Iraqis assume responsibility for their own safety and security in the different communities.
"Operationally, we will not turn control over before the Iraqi security forces are ready," the three-star general told journalists. "Coalition military forces will continue to mentor, equip, train and maintain command and control of our partners as long as it takes to achieve conditions that will allow for a continued safe and secure environment."
He noted that Iraqi security forces continue to take huge steps along with the political processes. For example, the general said, less than a year ago the Department of Border Enforcement was created, consisting of the border police, immigration inspections and civil customs inspections sections.
"Today, we have more than 82,000 border policemen and nearly 9,000 border enforcement agents operating across a 3,600-kilometer border," Sanchez said. "The combined total will grow to about 26,000 agents."
Coalition forces are actively involved in border security operations, and they are still using unmanned reconnaissance vehicles and helicopters along the borders. In addition to conducting joint patrols with the Iraqi border police, coalition forces routinely visit border posts and continue to train and mentor the Iraqi border patrol officers.
Sanchez said the joint task force recently assumed responsibility for manning, equipping and training the Iraqi border police. "We'll complete an assessment of Iraq's border requirements and revalidate those requirements in order for us to see what remains to be done to expedite capacities being built in the country," the general said.
Other Iraqi security forces also are expanding, he noted. This includes more than 11,000 experienced policemen who have complete the transition integration program where they've learned democratic principles and values, basic fundamentals of policing, policies and standards for conduct, law and order, and their responsibilities to their communities.
"We have more than 1,600 policemen who have trained from scratch in the eight- week training program," Sanchez said. "Last week, 450 additional policemen graduated from the first class of the eight-week Baghdad Public Safety Academy. Five-hundred more graduated from the Jordan International Police Training Center today."
Another 1,500 new policemen will graduate in April. Sanchez predicts the two academies will have produced more than 2,100 new professional policemen by year's end.
The number of battalions being fielded in the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps has expanded from 36 to 45. Thirty-two of the battalions are complete, fielded and operating with coalition forces, the general noted.
The new Iraqi army continues to grow, he said. "Two weeks ago, more than 1,000 recruits of the 4th Battalion graduated from the nine-week basic training program," Sanchez said.
Turning to operations, Sanchez told reporters coalition forces continue to take the fight to the enemy. "In a average week, our coalition troops conduct more than 10,000 patrols, over 100 raids and continue to capture insurgents and weapons that are spread out across the country," he said.
Raids not only are taking the enemy and weapons off the streets, he added, they also provide significant intelligence insights into where the enemy is operating from and how the enemy is conducting its operations.
"This leads us to additional raids and sources of strength of the enemy in terms of weapons caches," Sanchez said.
The major troop rotation now under way isn't affecting the coalition's pace or its effectiveness, the general said. "The troops with the most experience in the theater are leaving, but we're replacing them with troops that have been specifically trained for the current threat," Sanchez noted.
"Things are going well with the handovers," he continued. "To date, we've transported just over half the cargo, redeployed about 40 percent of the troops, and have brought in over 80 percent of the replacement soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines."
He predicts completing the transformation by early May.
As the world's media turns its attention to the anniversary of operations in Iraq, most will compare pre-war Iraq to what Iraq is today, Sanchez said. "Some of you will focus on the difficulties we still face, and that's fair," he said to the reporters. "But it's also important for us to note how far we've come. One of the world's most notorious tyrants is out of power, and a nation that has hope for the first time in decades is making dramatic progress.
"The coalition's commitment to a free and democratic Iraq is as strong today as it was one year ago," Sanchez said.