U.S. to equip Iraqi army with 'low-end' Russian equipment

Thursday, September 18, 2003

The United States plans to establish a limited Iraqi military based largely on Soviet-origin equipment that will constitute what officials term a motorized infantry force.

The Bush administration, however, regards the U.S. rebuilding of the Iraqi military as a first step towards a much larger force that Baghdad will be allowed to pursue once Iraq turns stable and U.S. troops begin to leave.

Recruitment thus far has taken place from facilities in Baghdad, Basra, Irbil and Mosul, Middle East Newsline reported. "The force which we're putting together will essentially be a motorized infantry," Walt Slocombe, special adviser on security and defense for the U.S.-sponsored Coalition Provisional Authority, said. "It will have limited air mobility. There will be a small coast guard for river and littoral defense. There will be some relatively small armor and artillery units, but it will be, essentially, a motorized infantry force."

"There is a lot of adequate used and excess military equipment in the world that's available," Slocombe said. "And we're buying relatively low-end stuff."

Slocombe presented the Defense Department's concept of the Iraqi military and its requirements in a Pentagon-sponsored briefing on Wednesday. The officials acknowledged that Iraq's military will not be capable of defending the country alone.

U.S. officials said the Pentagon wants to complete an Iraqi military of three infantry divisions, or 40,000 troops, by September 2004. They said the military will be mostly Shi'ite, the majority group in Iraq, and focus on border control and internal security.

"Do we expect Iraq to defend itself with three light infantry divisions?" Slocombe asked. "And the answer is no. We understand that in the long run, Iraq will, in all probability, choose to make additional investments in a larger force. But those decisions, we believe, are best left to a new Iraqi government. What we are trying to do is to create a base, a nucleus."

The Iraqi military will be equipped with AK-47 assault rifles rather than the U.S.-origin M16, Slocombe said. The official said the AK-47 has been procured for less than $60 a unit from military surplus. The infantry will use what he termed non-tactical vehicles, or trucks, rather than such U.S. platforms as the Bradley.

The United States began training the first Iraqi army battalion in August in a six-week course scheduled to end on Oct. 4. Training has been conducted by the Vinnell Corp., a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, under oversight from the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team, commanded by Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton. The administration has asked Congress for an extra $2 billion a year to pay for the training and equipping of the Iraqi military.

Officials said the Pentagon has decided not to build up the Iraqi military to U.S. or NATO standards. They said most of the equipment will be Soviet-origin and acquired under competitive bidding. They said there is virtually no serviceable military platforms or military bases left from the Saddam regime.

"The motorized infantry, they will not be U.S. standard," Slocombe said. "No one is claiming that they're going to have the level of technology or the level of equipment. But they will be, by the standards of that part of the world and, indeed, by general international standard, a first class army. That means they'll require both facilities from which to operate any equipment."

Much of the infrastructure for the Iraqi military has been conducted by local companies, officials said. They said Iraqi construction companies are refurbishing bases while Iraqi contractors are sewing new uniforms.

Officials said the Pentagon has concluded that training the new Iraqi military would be a much shorter process than had been envisioned several months ago. They said most of the recruits are former soldiers who were trained well and that the U.S. focus is to create an officer corps.

"What we learned is, that the Iraqi army was not much good for some things, but it did a perfectly competent job of basic training, and that the real requirement is for leaders," Slocombe said. "So what we propose to do is to focus on training the officers and NCOs [non-commissioned officers].

We will set what is, in effect, an NCO academy."

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