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Lead Trainer Discusses Iraqi Military Training

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2008 – The Iraqi army continues to become more proficient and to grow capabilities, the commander of the Coalition Army Advisory Training Team in Iraq said today.

Army Brig. Gen. Steven L. Salazar spoke to reporters via telephone from his headquarters in Baghdad.

The Iraqi army increasingly is in the lead in operations from Basra to Baghdad to Mosul. The number of violent incidents has continued to drop in Iraq, even as U.S. surge brigades left the country. The Iraqi army picked up the security slack, Salazar said.

The coalition training team in Iraq has three major elements to it, Salazar said: force generation for the Iraqi army, development of logistics infrastructure and training the Iraqi army.

Generating the forces for the Iraqi army is done through unit set fielding, he said. Essentially, this entails bringing together personnel, training and equipment at a dedicated location and over a period of a few weeks, he explained.

“We build the formation and then push it out to the operational force,” Salazar said. Some of those units have deployed directly to Basra, Diyala, Mosul and Ninevah, the general said.

Developing the logistics is the “long pole in the tent” of building the Iraqi army, Salazar said. A rudimentary Iraqi logistics structure is now in place, and it ultimately will have four levels of logistics and maintenance support. The Iraqi army already has Level 1 capabilities, he said, which comprises the headquarters and support companies that provide services to battalions and brigades. There is some Level 2 capability in the form of motorized transportation regiments. “We have 10 of 12 fielded right now,” he said.

The Level 3 capabilities are called location commands, which provide logistics support and maintenance support.

“Nine of those are currently at some level of existence, and there are five others being built,” Salazar said. The other five should be up and running by spring, he said.

The fourth level is the national level at the Taji National Depot. The facility there is the hub for the Iraqi army, and it’s already handling some wheeled and tracked vehicle repair and refurbishment, he said.

The advisory team also helps with training, and helps to operate six basic training centers.

“We train between 11,000 and 15,000 in every training cycle,” Salazar said. “Iraqi soldiers do five weeks of training, graduate and then move to a unit.” Ten percent of those in the course are selected to go to the corporal’s course and become instant noncommissioned officers after three weeks. Another 10 percent go to qualification courses at regional training centers for jobs such as supply, maintenance and food service.

“We are building 14 division training centers to add to that capability,” Salazar said. The centers will include small-arms ranges with 200 firing points, combat assault courses, “shoot-houses” and hand-grenade ranges.

A new warfighter program will bring training up to the battalion level.

“Last month, we pulled a battalion out of the 9th (Iraqi) Division and ran them through what would be similar to an American combat training center program,” Salazar said. The training culminates with a battalion-level day and night cordon-and-search operation.

“The intent is to institutionalize the training,” Salazar said. “This is challenging, given the operational tempo of the force, to pull a unit off the line. But the Iraqis are very excited about this, and we think it has a lot of potential to enhance the professional development of the military.”

Overall, the Iraqis are good soldiers, but there are concerns about their education level, the general said.

“Many Iraqi soldiers cannot read and write, but the army is putting in place courses that Iraqi soldiers can take to improve their education,” he said.

Some senior leaders are also concerned that the five-week basic training is not enough. Plans are in the works to expand the course to six weeks in the next few weeks and to eight weeks in 2009, Salazar said.

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