MODERATOR: Well, good morning, and thank you for showing your interest today in this particular topic.
It is my privilege to be able to welcome back to the briefing room Lieutenant General Mike Barbero, who is now the deputy commanding general for Advising and Training, as well as the commanding general for the NATO Training Mission in Iraq.
He began this tour, I think, in -- I have October of last year. Time flies.
And this is our first opportunity to have him back into the briefing room in this particular capacity. It obviously is such a crucial element of the Iraq mission, that we appreciate you taking the time here to come and give us an update on it and take a few questions. And hopefully, some of our colleagues in the press will join us as we're in progress, too.
So, General, thank you again for coming, and let me turn it over to you.
GEN. BARBERO: Okay, thank you. And good morning.
Let me -- I'd just like to start off with a few comments, and then take your questions. I know we're all watching the process of the forming of the Iraqi government very closely. But what I've been watching more closely is the development of the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces.
In my current duties, I work daily with U.S. Forces-Iraq, NATO, and senior Iraqi leaders to build the capabilities of Iraqi security forces throughout Iraq. I'd like to take a couple of minutes to tell you what I'm seeing first-hand, then take your questions.
Everyone knows the Iraqi security forces have made remarkable progress since 2004. Thanks to a lot of hard work and sacrifice, the security situation has improved dramatically. Violence is down more than 50 percent since this time last year when Iraqi security forces took the lead for security in the cities, and down 90 percent than we experienced at the height of the surge. However, there is still progress to be made. Yesterday, there were 11 attacks -- three of them effective -- producing two Iraqi security force casualties. Still, given the progress I see, my honest assessment remains that the Iraqi security forces will be ready on 1 September to take full responsibility for internal security.
I'd like to now give you a quick thumbnail description of the Iraqi security forces, and a sense for their developing capabilities. First, it's important to note that we've moved beyond force generation, building -- moved from building large numbers of Iraqi security forces to focus on force sustainment, with a shift in effort to the specialization and professionalization of the force.
The Ministry of Defense has put over 245,000 personnel in uniform and has managed the world's fastest-growing army, navy and air force. The army is a very capable counterinsurgency force, with more than 238,000 trained soldiers, who are preparing to transition from a counterinsurgency-focused force to building conventional defensive capabilities.
The first of 140 M-1 tanks will begin rolling in this summer, and the Iraqi army has already trained 65 tank crews, with more in training now who will be ready to man them. The army is actively training at 11 Iraqi-run training centers across the country, honing specialized individual skills and working towards a large joint training exercise planned for April 2011.
The air force now operates more than 100 aircraft and has nearly doubled in personnel in the past year, set to grow to 10,000 airmen. They are training their own fixed-wing and helicopter pilots. On election day, the Iraqi air force flew over 120 sorties, providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance with real-time downlinks to their operation centers. They also provide essential airlift and battlefield mobility.
The Iraqi navy is also growing in size and capabilities. They possess more than 50 vessels, used to protect offshore critical oil infrastructure, territorial waters and the commercial ports. The navy conducts 50 patrols a month in this mission, a 300 percent increase in patrols from this time last year. They have been fully responsible for securing one of the two critical oil platforms for over six months.
Additionally, the first of 15 new U.S.-built patrol boats arrive later this summer, and the first crews for those patrol boats, 50 Iraqi sailors, are currently training in Louisiana today.
The Iraqi counterterrorism forces are the best in the region. They are very experienced, conducting warrant-based operations every night across Iraq.
Similarly, the Ministry of Interior has fielded a force of more than 410,000 police. Over the next month, they will begin the transition to police primacy, where the Ministry of Interior and police forces take the lead for internal security. At the federal and local levels, police are increasingly capable, making Iraq safer for the citizens of Iraq so they can participate in the democratic process, something more than 62 percent of eligible Iraqi voters did just three months ago.
But there's a deeper story here that goes beyond these statistics. Not only are Iraqi security forces better trained and equipped, but they are changing their approach to the security mission in fundamental ways -- true paradigm shifts that are unique in this region.
While still developing, rule of law and democratic policing are becoming the norm, with a focus on protecting the population. Counterterrorism operations are all warrant-based. And the Iraqi judicial system is evolving from reliance on confessions for convictions to one that relies on hard evidence and forensic science. And we are starting the initial steps to integrate the forces of the Kurdish regional government into the Iraqi security forces.
Security forces have also embraced institutional training and have fully acknowledged the importance of sustainment. In the defense forces, we are seeing the emergence of a noncommissioned officer corps, another unique paradigm shift in this region.
Finally, they have taken the lead in the day-to-day training as well, leaving our forces focused on training the Iraqi trainers. So the investment and sacrifice we've made are creating real opportunities for a more stable and secure Iraq, and for a long-term strategic relationship with Iraq.
I mentioned earlier that Iraqi security forces will be ready to take full responsibility for internal security on 1 September as the United States forces' mission transitions to Operation New Dawn. More than just another phase in the responsible drawdown of forces, New Dawn puts our main task -- to advise, assist, train and equip Iraqi security forces -- into clear focus.
And it is a critical milestone in the progress that has been made.
While there has been much and tremendous progress, in building the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, much hard work remains. And some essential capabilities are still being developed. However we are on track to achieve our mission: to build the minimum essential capabilities of the Iraqi security forces by December 2011.
In tactical terms, the last 100 meters toward seizing an objective is the most critical part of the mission and the point where the commander brings all those resources together to close with and achieve his objective. I believe we are at this point now, in the last 100 meters of this critical mission.
So with that, I look forward to your questions. Thank you.
Q You mentioned in your statement -- at the end of your statement that there are some essential capabilities still being developed. What are some of those?
GEN. BARBERO: Well, let me do a quick review of where I think Iraqi security forces will be in December 2011.
I think the ministry of interior and the police forces, as I said earlier, will be fully capable of providing for the internal security of Iraq. The army, while they will have fielded all of their 140 M1 tanks, that does not equal a combined arms capability, a conventional defensive capability. So they will not have fully developed that capability.
The Iraqi air force quite frankly will not be able to provide air sovereignty. They'll have two of the components of air sovereignty: the ability to see with radars, respond with a command-and-control capability. But they will not have the capability to respond with some sort of aircraft.
And the counterinsurgency forces, I think they'll be fully capable to continue these counterterrorist operations into -- beyond 2011.
Q Did you say that was -- I'm sorry, did you say summer or December of 2011?
GEN. BARBERO: December.
GEN. BARBERO: 2011.
Q Sir, let me go back to your opening statement.
GEN. BARBERO: Sure.
Q You have said that the size of the Iraqi army is 245,000?
GEN. BARBERO: Two hundred and forty-eight thousand (248,000).
Q Forty-eight thousand.
GEN. BARBERO: Yes.
Q Okay. My question is, what's the size that you think that the Iraqi forces need reach in the upcoming years?
GEN. BARBERO: Well, Iraq -- that's a question for the Iraqi leadership to determine. I know that they're in the process and just have initiated some studies to analyze what should be the final configuration of the Iraqi security forces. But in the short term, I think we need to add about 1,200 more to the Iraqi special operations forces, and they'll be ready to go. We've just recently added to the navy, for their ability to man the increasing number of platforms. And the air force still needs to grow a little.
So they're -- as I said, they have a number of studies ongoing, and they're studying -- and they're looking at what they should be, how many divisions, what type of configuration. But I think we have an opportunity to shape that in the near future. I think we have an opportunity, as I said, to help the Iraqis achieve police primacy, where the Ministry of Interior and police forces are in control for internal security; get the army out of the cities. And that also allows the army to focus on and train for their conventional defensive capabilities. So I think in the next 18 months those are two opportunities which we must initiate and then help the Iraqis through.
Q And just to follow up, then can you give us an update about the status of the Sons of Iraq right now?
GEN. BARBERO: Right. The Sons of Iraq are being -- it's a government-of-Iraq-run program. You know, I left Iraq in September 2008 -- correction -- yeah, September 2008; came back just last September. And one of the surprises that I saw was how the Sons of Iraq had been adopted and it is now an Iraqi government-run operation.
They're being paid regularly. Forty percent of the Sons of Iraq have been incorporated into government of Iraq institutions, with, I think, 30 -- correction, 40,000 have been, with 30,000 incorporated into non- security institutions.
So it's ongoing and it's working, and the Iraqis have -- are running that operation.
Q General, when September 1 comes the mission becomes a training- and-assist mission, you're talking about how the Iraqis are shifting from a COIN focus to conventional. Is that what our forces are going to be doing mostly, they're going to be helping them shift towards conventional training?
GEN. BARBERO: Well, we'll be helping the Iraqi police provide for the internal security. And as I said, we're going to start the process this year of transitioning the Iraqi army's focus from being a counterinsurgency force to one that has conventional capability. So, yes, our forces are involved in that, right now training M-1 crews, but I think we’ll become more involved as we seize this opportunity before we depart.
Q And the police training mission, how long do you envision that one going on for?
GEN. BARBERO: Well, we're going to do it until December 2011, and then one of the transitions we have to manage is the transition to INL, State Department. And that's on track.
I think it's important, when you look at training Iraqi police, especially, it's Iraqis that are training it. They have 18 training centers across Iraq, all Iraqi-run. I went to two down in Al Kut just two weeks ago, and it's Iraqi commanders. We have maybe one civilian adviser in each of the training centers.
So we're not training Iraqi police, except for a few specialized skills. The Iraqis have it. They run their own logistics for the police. We're focused on helping them field these specialized skills -- forensics, canine teams, counter-explosives, criminal investigations.
So that -- the transition of the Iraqi police to an Iraqi-run operation is well on its way. And this transition to the State Department, I think, is well on its way, too.
Q Can I follow up on that?
GEN. BARBERO: Sure.
Q What -- so if the Iraqis are already training some of their own police, then why -- I mean, December 2011 is, like, 18 months away. Why would State even have to take over the mission at any point? Why couldn't the Iraqis just eventually assume the entire mission of training them?
GEN. BARBERO: Well, I mean, there are still a number of: They'll be good enough; will they be where they finally need to be with full capabilities? No, I don't think so.
For example, we have six forensics labs in place now. We're going -- those are going to be expanded to 10. That requires a lot of training to be able to train the technicians there, and also get the judiciary to accept forensics as evidence in their courts.
We're still fielding canine teams. You know, as you look at this region, canines are -- I had concerns about it. But the Iraqis have adopted it. They've -- they're training not only the canine handlers but also vet techs, veterinarians, et cetera. And that's under way.
Some of these training programs are I’d term under construction. We still need to help move them along. But there still will be a need for advising and further professionalization after December 2011.
Q And when State takes over that mission in early -- late 2011 -- and the U.S. military will essentially be gone for Iraq.
GEN. BARBERO: Right.
Q So will it be diplomatic security that's providing security to those State Department people on the ground there? Will there be -- do you think there will be a bump-up in the number of security contractors coming in? And then, also, there's this request from State Department --
GEN. BARBERO: Right. Right.
Q -- for some large military equipment, Black Hawks, MRAPs.
GEN. BARBERO: Right. Right.
Q Do you know what the status of that is, if that looks like something they'll need?
GEN. BARBERO: First of all, about the equipping requests: I've not seen a specific request. I've -- we've -- obviously we've coordinated this transition with them.
But the -- you know, the first concern of any commander is force protection.
You know, I've got 1,200 American soldiers spread out all across Iraq on some 50 or 60 different installations. I worry about force protection every day, even though we're down to 11 attacks. And some of those -- some of those areas are very secure.
So I think it's prudent for the State Department to take a look at it and ensure that they have force protection in place for their forces 18 months from now. As far as whether it's force protection or contractors, I couldn't answer that. I just don't know how they're going to pursue them.
Q When we get down to 50,000 in September, what will that 50,000 look like in the way of, what types of units will that be mostly? Is it mostly special forces? Or --
GEN. BARBERO: No. It will be mostly advise-and-assist brigades from the United States Army. And their mission will be to partner with Iraqi security forces and provide advice, assistance to them as they continue this development and build their capabilities.
We'll also have about 1,200 trainers working in the institutions, in the schools and centers across Iraq, because one thing we want to do is build this institutional capacity, which I think is well on its way, so it endures and is self-sustaining after we depart.
So one of our goals is to link Iraqi institutions with American institutions and other institutions in NATO. And I'll give you a few examples. There's being constructed an Iraqi international academy which will eventually be a regional studies center, which has links to -- will have links to the NATO Defense College, to the Marshall Center, to the National Defense University, to help as I said become a regional studies center for security issues.
I talked to our United States Army Training and Doctrine Command commander, General Dempsey -- who had my job a couple years ago -- about, how do we tie the Iraqi army schools into our schools?
And we're going to pursue that. So a number of programs along those lines. We want to make sure that whatever we do here will endure and be sustained by the Iraqis after 2011.
Q Yes, going back to the Iraqi air force, we heard lately that the Iraqi government has requested the F-16 from the U.S. government. Can you talk a little bit about that?
GEN. BARBERO: The Iraqi government has requested F-16s from the United States, and we're now in the process -- as you can imagine, it is a very complex process which involves State Department and congressional notification. And we're developing, based on their request for the specific capabilities that they want: what does that package look like, when can it be delivered and, obviously, what the cost of it is going to be. So we're in the process of developing that back here in Washington right now.
Q Well, when do you expect that the process will end and they will receive those?
GEN. BARBERO: I couldn't answer that. And as I said, it depends on some milestones that have to be met back here, working through the State Department and congressional notification. And it's something that'll be managed here in the administration. So I -- from Baghdad, I could not answer that. But I know the Iraqis are interested in and they have requested F-16s.
Q Yeah, you've been talking about shifting the Iraqi army from a COIN capability to a conventional warfare capability, with these 140 M-1 tanks, and I presume other supporting capability.
GEN. BARBERO: Right.
Q Is there any kind of threat orientation to the -- to this shift, to the training that you'll be giving, in terms of these new capabilities?
GEN. BARBERO: We are building it on a capabilities basis. An Iraqi navy, for example, must be capable of protecting the critical oil infrastructures, territorial waters and the critical ports; an Iraqi air force that can provide air mobility, ISR and air sovereignty; an Iraqi army that can protect the sovereignty of Iraq and protect its borders.
So that's how we're focused on building capabilities.
But I will tell you, in conversations with senior Iraqi leaders, the Iranian threat and Iranian activities in Iraq comes up as they talk about future capabilities. And so it is -- they are concerned about it. They look at these Iranian surrogate groups -- Kata'ib Hezbollah, Asa'ib al-Haq -- which are active in Iraq still, not only attacking U.S. forces, but Iraqi security forces. And I believe these activities are creating antibodies in Iraq.
So we're building towards capabilities, but the Iraqis are very aware that they live in a neighborhood where they must be able to protect Iraqi sovereignty.
Q Sir, you spoke about this upcoming exercise, joint exercise in April.
GEN. BARBERO: Right.
Q Are we talking about a tabletop? Is this a real-field --
GEN. BARBERO: No.
Q -- exercise? And how different is it? I mean, are you going to require additional forces than what you need now, with different capabilities?
GEN. BARBERO: No, it's going to be mostly Iraqi forces. And the Iraqi minister of Defense has issued an order, and the planning within -- by the Iraqi Joint Headquarters and Ministry of Defense has started. It will be a naval -- some sort of naval exercise, vicinity of Umm Qasr, hopefully with some of the coalition forces there.
It will be an army exercise, we think centered around their large and very capable training center at Besmaya, maybe using some of the M-1 tanks and some other capabilities they have. It will -- we think it will also include Iraqi special operations forces at possibly another location, and probably some sort of senior-level seminar to talk about security concerns in the region.
So still developing now.
The Iraqis are planning it. And, but it's scheduled for April 2011.
Q So the U.S. role will be much --
GEN. BARBERO: Support.
We could participate with a modest number of forces. That's still to be determined. But this is Iraqi -- they've got the lead in this, and we're supporting them.
Q If I could go to September again, it sounds like what's going to happen in September is that the number of forces -- the forces that remain are just going to be pretty much doing exactly what they've been doing right now. It's just the number that's significant.
GEN. BARBERO: I think -- you know, I've read something from Secretary Gates which he says, this is an important milestone in our evolving relationship. Our mission is going to change. The mission of U.S. forces will change to a focus on as I said advise, assist, train and equip.
So that's significant. And a lot of it as you said is ongoing today. The progress and capabilities of Iraqi security forces have allowed our commanders to already focus on this. But 1 September, it will become official. And all of our forces in Iraq will be focused on this very important mission.
And it's more than the 50K. It's a change in mission. It's -- I think as I said it's a milestone, as we continue to move forward.
Q General, Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News.
Can you talk a little bit about the leadership skills in the Iraqi military and police, and how those are developing and how much further they have to go, and also about compensation?
And what -- how would you gauge the current risk of potential corruption? Is that still a lingering concern? Or is that taken care of?
GEN. BARBERO: No.
First of all, corruption remains a problem. It remains endemic in Iraq. Iraqi leaders I talk to realize it and realize they must do something about it. They've taken some steps, in standing up some of these inspector general offices in both the ministries I deal with -- ministry of interior, ministry of defense -- and some corruption activities.
But we have a long way to go. We've told our Iraqi partners that if you want to attract foreign investment, you must deal with this. So I think the -- it will be a major task for the new government.
The Iraqi leadership in both the ministries and in the forces is very capable, very confident. They've been fighting, you know, for six years. And the cream has risen to the top in both the police -- which is a remarkable change from the bad days of the National Police back in 2004 and 2005.
Now the Federal Police is a very professional force. In my NATO hat, we have Italian Carabinieri who train them every day. And they are very well led and professional. In a recent poll, 80 percent of Iraqis who were polled expressed confidence in their Iraqi security forces, which I think is the strongest testimony to their professionalism and their development.
Q Can I just get a quick clarification?
GEN. BARBERO: Yes. Sure.
Q When you -- you were just answering another question. You said that this is more than 50 -- it's going to be more than 50,000. You didn't mean, though --
GEN. BARBERO: No. I mean -- I mean, it means more than 50,000.
GEN. BARBERO: Yeah. (Laughs.) I certainly don’t want to leave here saying --
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. BARBERO: No, no, no, no. That's not the headline -- otherwise I'd go back to Baghdad and never be able to come back.
Q (Chuckles.) They seem to be doing that to you anyway. (Off mike.)
GEN. BARBERO: No, no. (Chuckles.)
MODERATOR: All right. Well, if that's it, I want to thank you all for coming.
And thank you, General, for taking the time.
GEN. BARBERO: Great.
MODERATOR: I know that we tend to focus on other theaters right now, but this is very important. And thank you for this.
GEN. BARBERO: Great. Good to see you all again. Thank you.
Q Thanks, General.
GEN. BARBERO: Thanks.
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