Petraeus Touts 'Enormous Progress' Fielding Iraqi Forces
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2005 The chief of the coalition command charged with training Iraqi security forces said "enormous progress" has been made in the effort.
Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who commands Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, told National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" that more than 105 police and army combat battalions are "in the fight."
This breaks down to more than 93,800 members of the Iraqi police and 77,700 Iraqi servicemembers. The total number of forces "trained and equipped" is 171,500. This time last year, only one battalion was trained and equipped well enough to assist coalition forces, Pentagon officials said.
Petraeus said that while most of the Iraqi units rely heavily on coalition forces for support and guidance, "there are still some three dozen of them that are assessed to be in the lead." By this he means that the Iraqi units are leading the fight against the insurgents with minimal or no help from coalition forces.
Training for the Iraqi units goes on constantly both within Iraq and outside. Insurgent forces know the security forces are the best hope for Iraq, military officials have said repeatedly, and therefore they have targeted members of the police and army. A recent bombing killed 26 police recruits. Still, Iraqis are volunteering to serve their country, Pentagon officials said.
Coalition forces still provide support and leadership for many of the units. "It's not surprising that there would be need for the coalition," Petraeus said. He pointed out that it takes years to train officers and noncommissioned officers in the U.S. Army, and the effort in Iraq has been in place just slightly over a year.
The general said that given all the turmoil, he is impressed with how rapidly the Iraqis have stood their forces back up.
Given continued progress and acceptable conditions, Petraeus said, the United States may be able to reduce troop presence in the country next year, noting this depends on political progress as well as progress in the security capabilities of Iraqi forces.
Petraeus said his command will continue to train Iraqi units. He said some of the Iraqi units have excellent leaders and are doing a great job. Others, he acknowledged, are not. But given the "age" of many of these units, he said, "it's not surprising that units are trying to find themselves and gaining experience along the way."
The national forces need to mirror the proportions of the Iraqi population, the general said, adding that he is pleased with the efforts of the Iraqi government to integrate the units.
Petraeus said he's not surprised by the insurgency in Iraq. "Military leaders plan for toughest circumstances," he said. "Still, sometimes I have to work hard to grasp the magnitude and scope of what it is that we are doing to reestablish a country's entire military structure. We have to work hard to keep all this in our viewscreen because it is a colossal effort."
Petraeus will leave Iraq next month to be commander of the Army's Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Army Maj. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who last week turned over the reins of the 1st Armored Division to Maj. Gen. Doug Robinson Jr., has been nominated for a third star, and if approved for promotion by the Senate, will replace Petraeus in Iraq.