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Iraqi Security Forces Top 155,000; Positive Trends Continue

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 22, 2005 – There are more than 155,000 "trained and equipped" members of the Iraqi security forces, and trends are clearly positive, a senior defense official said during a Pentagon background briefing today.

What's more, U.S. troop strength in Iraq went under 140,000 this week with the completion of the rotation of forces in and out of the country, he said.

And, while there has been an increase in the number of attacks in Iraq, it is small, and coalition and Iraqi officials are keeping an eye on such attacks.

The increase "is not significant in and of itself because the weekly number of attacks tend to fluctuate," the official said. "We don't believe this is indicative of ... increased levels of planning, coordination and sophistication of attacks. The general trend of the number of attacks has been decreasing since the January elections."

One disturbing anomaly is with car bombs. About half of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices are now being detonated by suicide bombers, the official said. In the past, the number of "suiciders" was about 30 percent. "We don't know yet what that means, but that is a particular note we're watching with interest," he said.

He said there has also been an increase in tensions among ethnic groups in various areas. The official said this is a direct outgrowth of the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi strategy. The al Qaeda-affiliated Jordanian has been trying to pit Sunni against Shiia and Arab against Kurd in Iraq. This is something the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces are going to have to deal with in the weeks and months ahead.

The coalition and the Iraqis understand that the battle against the insurgents is different than a conventional operation. "The nature of insurgencies is that they are long-term affairs," the official said. "From the U.S. military perspective, the focus is on helping the Iraqis defeat this insurgency themselves."

Commanders in Iraq continue to evaluate forces and operational concepts employed to defeat the insurgency. "Clearly everybody wants to defeat the insurgency as quickly as possible," the official said. "But there is a reality that defeating an insurgency can be a long-term affair. There is no timeline."

Iraqi forces are doing well, this official said. Between 1,500 and 3,000 more soldiers and police are joining the country's forces weekly. "Certainly the capabilities vary from unit to unit, but the trend is clearly positive in development of the forces," he said.

One of the challenges all Iraqi units have is sustainability, the official said. The government and the coalition are working hard to develop forces that can sustain themselves. The Iraqis have taken over many sectors in the country, which the official called a positive trend.

Some of the Iraqi units are doing quite well. The Iraqis have far better human intelligence than the coalition does, for example. "They are Iraqis and we're not," the official said. "It's a little easier for them to gain that intel off the street."

U.S. mentors are working with Iraqi units to help them gain experience and run their own operations.

The number of U.S. forces in Iraq has dropped below 140,000, the official said. This is down from the 170,000 American troops in Iraq in January. In Kuwait, the number of U.S. troops is also down to 14,000.

The main reason the numbers are down is because the latest troop rotation is finished. The numbers will rise again shortly as the next rotation begins. "During these transitional periods the number of troops in the region increases while units conduct relief-in-place operations," he said.

The official said there will be fewer reservists in the next cycle of troops going into Iraq. "The key is not so much, 'Is it active or is it reserve?' but 'Is it right?'" he said. "Is it the right mix of forces to meet the commander's requirement in theater?"

In other news from Iraq, coalition forces detained two suspected terrorists during operations in northern Iraq April 20.

Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment detained an individual suspected of terrorist activity at a traffic control point south of Quyarrah. Soldiers from 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, detained an individual suspected of terrorist activity during a cordon and search operation east of Tal Afar.

An investigation team surveyed the site of the April 21 Mi-8 helicopter crash north of Baghdad this morning. The team is comprised of members from multinational Force Iraq and Iraqi interpreters. Personnel from the contract helicopter's operating company and a private security firm that had personnel aboard have also been invited to participate in the investigation.

The Russian-made helicopter crashed en route to Tikrit. Three Bulgarian crewmembers, six American Blackwater Security Consulting employees, and two Fijian security guards were killed in the crash.

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