More Soldiers, New Firearms, Better Procedures, Make Iraqi Army Stronger
By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2007 Vast improvements to Iraq’s national army are leading to a force that will eventually stand on its own, a coalition commander said today.
“They’re increasing their capabilities to be able to do that every day,” Army Brig. Gen. Robin Swan told online journalists and bloggers during a conference call from Baghdad. Swan heads up the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team with Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq.
“From my foxhole, from a training, from an equipment standpoint, from an operational standpoint, the way that they’re fighting today, the way that they’re standing firm in their ground, really conducting some sophisticated operations throughout the country, most notably, certainly out in al Anbar province, but also up in Ninevah and here in Baghdad as well, so a lot of great improvement on that line,” he said.
Although the army’s logistics system is in its infancy, the general explained, parts of the system are improving.
“From the standpoint of unit-level logistics, they’re getting better,” Swan said.
Setting up bases where Iraqi soldiers can pick up supplies or even overhaul vehicles, as they can only at Taji national depot now, will take as long as 18 months to accomplish, the general said. That is why coalition experts are embedded with Iraqi soldiers to help determine solutions that make sense to Iraqis, he said.
“We have really very robust logistics-expert teams that are in every support unit … trying to assist in establishing what the right logistics policies and procedures are,” Swan explained. “That effort is beginning to pay some very good dividends.”
For example, cumbersome and strict procedures had been in place to circumvent corruption and to keep dangerous items out of the wrong hands, the general explained. “Every ammunition requisition up till now has had to come all the way back from Baghdad, get 29 or 30 signatures, and then get issued back out,” Swan said.
Now, new procedures are in place to allow trusted Iraqi commanders on the ground to directly authorize the release of ammunition, even via telephone, without compromising security, the general said.
Another significant development, the general explained, is the wide distribution of M-16 rifles to Iraqi soldiers, replacing antiquated AK-47s.
“They believe that it is a new, improved weapons system. They see coalition forces using it to great effect, and they take it as a mark of moving forward,” Swan said. “It is, in my view, a badge of national pride for them to get the M-16.”
New recruits to the Iraqi army continue to volunteer every day, the general said. Each is fully vetted, and those chosen are prepared to deploy with one of 13 divisions of the army that will patrol throughout the country by next year, Swan explained. Getting recently commissioned and noncommissioned officers into Iraqi formations as they are ready and continuing to mentor them is helping move the national army toward self-sufficiency, the general explained.
“Increasing capabilities of the tactical competence of soldiers, leaders and units, partnering, certainly with our formations and being able to continue that and to have access to coalition enablers is an important part of what they’re doing,” Swan said.
(David Mays works in new media at American Forces Information Service.)