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Iraqi Security Forces Trainer Says Police on Right Path

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2006 – The Iraqi National Police Commando Division is on track to replicate other elite national police units, the division's American training commander said during a briefing from Iraq today.

"We think that the future is to take them to a true national police force, to where they're badge-carrying and qualified officers enforcing the Iraqi rule of law," said Army Col. Jeffrey Buchanan, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 75th Division, likening the force to the Italy's Carabiniere or France's Gendarmerie. "That's the future. That's not where we are right now."

To date, the division has been operating as urban light infantry rather than police, said Buchanan, who serves as commander of the Special Police Transition Teams for the National Police Commando Division and 1st Mechanized Police Brigade of the Iraqi Ministry of Interior.

The division, however, is a long way from where it started Buchanan said.

The Iraqi commando division began as one battalion in August 2004 with no coalition assistance, Buchanan said. It now numbers four brigades of up to 2,600 men per brigade. The total authorized end-strength for the division is 11,000, and the current total force strength is about 8,900, he said.

"They're really searching for quality rather than quantity," the colonel explained. "They recruit only through word of mouth. We don't have recruiting centers set up in a mall or something like that. And basically every guy that comes in is known to some of his fellow comrades, which is a way that they have of cutting down potential infiltration."

Throughout Iraq, the commandos are responsible for conducting counterinsurgency operations, gathering intelligence and establishing a secure environment for other security forces.

"The commandos typically accomplish that mission by conducting raids, cordon-and-search operations (and) reconnaissance," Buchanan said. These operations are conducted both independently and in conjunction with coalition forces, he said.

Buchanan has one Special Police Transition Team embedded in each police organization down to the battalion level, he said. These teams of 11 American servicemen and two to four Iraqi interpreters are primarily responsible for coaching, teaching and mentoring the commandos and the mechanized police brigades, he added.

This instruction includes how to handle one of the division's greatest strengths: aggressiveness. Buchanan said his teams lead by example and work to ensure that the Iraqis' aggression doesn't go over the top.

"They tend to be aggressive, and they will hunt down the enemy. Sometimes that aggressiveness has the potential to get them into trouble," he said. "But the fact is that we're addressing it and we're being effective in helping to shape their behavior."

Those behaviors were learned during Saddam Hussein's regime. Most of the commandos served in Iraqi special forces units.

"The fact is, most of the people in this country have learned and operate the way they do based on 35 years of experience," he said. "Right now we're shaping behavior. We're starting to affect values, but changing values is going to take a long time."

In hopes of truly making this Iraq's Year of Police, police transition teams also will embed in regular police services throughout Iraq, Buchanan said. The hope is that proficiency will increase by embedding the teams of coalition advisers with the regular police services.

One thing the commandos have learned is the U.S. Army's value of selfless service and what it means to live in a democracy, he said.

"Democracy requires individual sacrifice for the good of society and (the Iraqis) are doing just that," Buchanan said. "They, like their coalition teammates, put the needs of their fellow men, their units and their nation above their own.

"It's truly an honor to serve with all of these men, both Iraqi and American," he said.

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