Iraqi Security Forces Working Toward Self-Sufficiency
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2005 Those who question why it seems to be taking so long to build Iraq's security forces don't fully understand the magnitude of the challenge, a general who recently returned from training them explained during a recent interview with the Pentagon Channel and the American Forces Press Service.
Creating highly trained Iraqi security forces involves far more than simply channeling recruits through a basic training course, said Army Brig. Gen. Richard J. Sherlock, who recently took the reins as the Army Reserve's deputy chief.
The task requires building leadership capabilities at all levels and molding members into cohesive operational units able to stand up to the terrorist threat, said Sherlock, who spent a year in Iraq as commander of the Iraqi Assistance Group (Provisional) and deputy commander of the Coalition Military Assistance Team, Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq.
At the same time, Sherlock said, it involves standing up a logistical and administrative network capable of supporting them, as well as the ministries of Defense and Interior that oversee their operations, Sherlock said.
"It is a lot like trying to build a multilayer cake, and at the same time that you are trying to put the layers together, at the same time you are baking it," he said. "Each level develops at a different rate of speed, requires different capabilities and managerial and leadership attributes. And so each of those pieces is growing at the same time."
One early step in building Iraq's security forces was to create the foundation for a strong noncommissioned officer corps - something Sherlock said didn't exist under former dictator Saddam Hussein.
NCOs in the old Iraqi army had few leadership responsibilities and little authority, he said, so the coalition helped the Iraqis create NCO and junior officer programs that promote leadership traits, he said.
"As we continue to grow that capability, we are teaching them to be squad leaders, platoon leaders, platoon sergeants, first sergeants," he said. "In many cases, these are lessons they are learning for the first time."
U.S. and coalition forces subscribe to the "train-the-trainer concept," in which they train Iraqis who, in turn, train their comrades. This builds on their new leadership capabilities and increases the force's ability to sustain itself, Sherlock said.
"A unit is not just a collection of individuals who have trained to a certain level," he said. "It's being able to operate with each other, back each other up, become a whole that is greater than just the sum of its parts."
Iraq's security forces, which Sherlock said "started from zero about 19 months ago," are doing just that and making impressive progress, he said.
The year 2005 was one of "dramatic change for Iraq," he said. Iraq's security force grew from just five operational battalions in late 2004 to 128 battalions in the fight. At the same time, the trained force more than doubled, to more than 216,000 members. "That's dramatic by anyone's measure," he said.
But numbers alone don't tell the whole story, Sherlock said. Iraqi units are becoming increasingly more capable and are assuming a growing share of the security burden.
"These aren't just units in the training pipeline," Sherlock said. "They are operational units - police and soldiers - out on the street, conducting security operations for Iraq. These units are out working with coalition force units every day on the streets."
As this trend continues, the focus is now moving toward bolstering up the support network for these forces. "We had to grow all the things that you take for granted in an army that they didn't have before: administrative support, logistics support, maintenance support (and a) basic mechanism for paying their soldiers," Sherlock said.
"And as that capability continues to grow, they become more and more self-sufficient," he said.
As Iraq's security forces increasingly take the lead in their operations, the Iraqi people are gaining confidence in them. "The Iraqis want their country to work, and with the Iraqis in charge," Sherlock said.
Morale remains high among Iraq's security forces, who see themselves moving steadily toward self-sufficiency and believe in the cause they are serving, he said.
"They are fighting very well, becoming very effective in operations and in being able to plan operations," Sherlock said. "And they are joining the services for all the right reasons: because they want to provide a secure environment for their families, for their extended families and for their nation."