Iraq Security Successes Critical to Victory in Iraq, Bush Says
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2005 As Iraq's security forces gain capability and take on more and tougher missions, they're winning the confidence of the Iraqi people and setting the stage for coalition forces to stand down, President Bush said today in Annapolis, Md.
Bush visited the U.S. Naval Academy to unveil details of the U.S. National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, which lays out political, economic and security aspects of the plan.
Helping the Iraqis build capable, effective security forces is critical not just to the plan's success, but also to Iraq's future as a stable, democratic country, the president said.
It's also a huge indicator of when U.S. troops can begin to return home, he said.
"As the Iraqi forces gain experience and the political process advances, we will be able to decrease our troop levels in Iraq without losing our capability to defeat the terrorists," he told the group.
Bush cited "real progress" toward that end, particularly within the past year.
Last fall, only a few Iraqi battalions were ready for combat. Today, more than 120 Iraqi army and police combat battalions are in the fight against terrorists. Of these, 80 battalions are fighting side by side with coalition forces, and 40 are taking the lead in combat missions.
Most of those 40 battalions are controlling their own battle space and conducting their own operations against terrorists, with some coalition support, Bush said.
This progress is particularly clear when comparing recent anti-terrorist operations in Tal Afar with those last year in Fallujah, the president said.
In Fallujah, Iraqi forces played a limited role as coalition forces carried out the brunt of the mission. In Tal Afar, 11 Iraqi battalions took the lead, with five coalition battalions providing support, he said.
As Iraqi forces lead more operations, they're also taking control of more Iraqi territory, Bush said. More than 30 Iraqi army battalions have assumed control of their own areas of responsibility, including most of Baghdad.
Meanwhile, coalition forces are transferring more forward operating bases to Iraqi control. Last week, the Iraqi government took control of Saddam Hussein's former place in Tikrit.
This progress hasn't been easy and has been uneven at times, Bush noted.
Lessons learned early on, and changes made in response, have helped move the process forward, he said. These include:
- Increasing capabilities of the Iraqi civil defense corps so they're better trained and equipped to defend against enemy forces within the country;
- Increasing training time for Iraq's police spent outside the classroom, with intensive hand-on training in anti-terrorism operations and real-world survival skills; and
- Promoting a "train-the-trainer" concept, with more Iraqis involved in training Iraqi military and police, creating an institutional capability that will develop and grow.
As the training has improved, so too has the quality of new recruits, the president said. "Even though the terrorists are targeting Iraqi police and army recruits, there is no shortage of Iraqis who are willing to risk their lives to secure the future of a free Iraq," he said.
More work remains ahead, not only in training forces, but also in helping the Iraqis build the institutions they need to support their own forces, Bush said.
But Bush expressed optimism that progress will continue. "Iraqi units are growing more dependent and capable. They are defending their new democracy with courage and determination," he said. "They're in the fight today, and they will be in the fight for freedom tomorrow."
As Iraqi forces become more capable, the U.S. military's mission in Iraq will shift to more specialized operations targeting the most dangerous terrorists, he said.
And as Iraqi security forces continue to stand up, he said, coalition forces will be able to begin standing down. "We will increasingly move out of Iraqi cities, reduce the number of bases from which we operate and conduct fewer patrols and convoys," he said.
"Our goal is to train enough Iraqi forces so they can carry the fight," Bush said. "This will take time and patience.
"And it's worth the time and it's worth the effort, because Iraqis and Americans share a common enemy," the president said. "And when that enemy is defeated in Iraq, Americans will be safer at home."