Training the Iraqi Security Forces, Tough, but Worth it
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 10, 2005 The U.S. Army general in charge of training Iraqi forces said here today that the job is tough, but it is a mission that must be accomplished before coalition forces can leave Iraq.
And, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, added, progress is being made.
Petraeus commands the Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq. The group, which includes the Army Reserve's 98th Training Division, is working to train and equip the Iraqi security forces. About 2,000 coalition servicemembers are in the unit, as well as 700 coalition police who help train the Iraqi police. The unit works with the Iraqi ministries of Defense and Interior.
Iraqis must provide for their own security, Petraeus said. The coalition cannot impose a peace on Iraq, nor can force make democracy flourish. "It's like a cattle drive: you have to keep them moving," he said in an interview. "There will be losses, but you have to keep moving."
The Iraqi army is growing in strength and experience, he said, with many units gaining invaluable combat experience fighting alongside coalition forces. But the general didn't sugarcoat the situation; he acknowledged there are problems. Iraqi soldiers go through basic training, the equivalent of advanced individual training ands then training with their units. "Then the units go into combat," he said.
It would be tough on any unit, the general said, and with recruits and their families threatened by insurgents, it becomes that much tougher.
And building an army, he explained, isn't limited to equipping and training infantry units. "We are building an entire infrastructure," Petraeus said. All of the things U.S. soldiers take for granted clerks, cooks and medics must be established.
But the Iraqis aren't left to themselves. Ten-man coalition teams serve with Iraqi units, advising them on tactics and training and helping with communications.
There are 20 battalions in the Iraqi army today. A total of 27 will join the service by the end of February. The Iraqi National Guard and its 42 battalions also are being integrated into the army. Specialized Iraqi army units also are forming and undergoing training, including a special operations unit, a counter-terrorism unit and a mechanized brigade.
The Iraqi police force is a prime target for insurgents. Hundreds of Iraqi police have been killed in terrorist attacks. "If they didn't matter, then they wouldn't be important targets," Petraeus said. There are now 53,000 Iraqi police trained and equipped, and the police academies will start graduating 4,000 officers each month.
Petraeus said there are tough days, when insurgents kill or maim many Iraqis and coalition personnel. But Americans must remember to see beyond the attacks, he added, and focus on the progress being made.
The general said the coalition just has to keep pushing to continue the cattle drive. It's what the Iraqis deserve and the region expects, he said.