Iraqi security forces improving, air force begins limited operations

Friday, September 3, 2004

BAGHDAD The U.S. military reports progress in the development of the Iraqi security forces. Iraq's limited new air forces has also begun operations.

U.S. officials said the Iraqi military and security forces did not fall apart when attacked by the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army during the insurgency campaign in August. Three months earlier, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and police units had fled or collapsed during the Mahdi Army insurgency in Shi'ite cities, Middle East Newsline reported.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the level of defections from Iraqi units in August was far less than during the insurgency campaign in April and May 2004. Myers said Iraqi National Guard units remained cohesive in the standoff with the Mahdi Army around the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf.

"They now know they are fighting for the Iraqi government," Myers said. "They have clear lines of authority, and they felt that this was for their people."

Officials said Iraqi security forces have benefited from accelerated training by and equipment deliveries from the U.S.-led coalition. In July, Iraqi forces began to receive a significant amount of weapons, vehicles, communications and other military equipment from the United States. "We've got a full-court press on, on building Iraqi security forces," Myers said.

Iraq has also begun deploying its new and truncated air force.

Officials said the Iraqi Air Force began operating its first two aircraft in reconnaissance missions along the nation's borders. They said the missions included patrols over Iraq's border with Iran as well as the protection of Iraq's oil terminals and pipelines in the Basra region.

U.S. Central Command said the Iraqi air force operations began on Aug. 18 with two SB7L-360 Seeker light reconnaissance aircraft purchased from Jordan. The U.S. military said in a statement that the missions were limited and meant to reinforce pilot training.

Officials said the administration has decided to divert some of the $18.4 billion for Iraqi reconstruction to rebuild the nation's military and security forces. They did not say how much of the reconstruction fund would be used for Iraqi security.

"The first priority for our effort right now has to be security and we have to do everything we can to build up Iraqi forces right now to make sure they're equipped, they're trained and not just trained to shoot a rifle but trained to operate as units, and that takes money," Secretary of State Colin Powell said. "That's priority one. That seems to be a prudent choice to make when your major problem is getting the insurgency under control and the principle solution to that problem is building up Iraqi forces."

U.S. Central Command chief Maj. Gen. John Castellaw said the Iraqi army and security forces were making steady progress. Castellaw cited the military campaign against the Mahdi Army in Najaf and Baghdad.

"We saw Iraqi forces in the lead, playing a key and primary role in bringing the situation to a close by carrying out combat operations with professionalism and skill causing only the minimum damage to people in that area," Castellaw said. "The Iraqi security forces were employed skillfully."

Officials said the accelerated equipment deliveries to Iraqi security forces have already enhanced their capabilities. They cited the delivery of 25 sets of night vision goggles and 10 jeeps to an Iraqi Border Patrol battalion deployed in Diyanah near Mosul.

As a result, officials said, the Iraqi battalion will have enough vehicles to conduct multiple missions simultaneously. Until now, the border patrol unit, plagued by a shortage of vehicles, was limited to one mission at a time.

"These vehicles will make our jobs easier and allow us to prevent smugglers from crossing the border," an IBP logistics officer, identified only as Lt. Karim, said.

Officials said the goggles will enable the IBP to improve its capability to detect and capture smugglers and insurgents during night patrols along Iraq's borders. Most of the infiltration has come from Iran while the smuggling was said to stem from Syria.

"This new equipment will allow the IBP to be more effective," Capt. Aaron Baugher, a Multinational Forces commander who works closely with the IBP, said. "They will be able to conduct more patrols at night, when smugglers are most active."

The Iraqi air patrols included officers from the U.S.-led Multinational Force. The coalition trainers sat with the Iraqi pilots during their missions.

"These flights are meant to protect the oil installations, power lines and protect our borders from our enemies," an Iraqi air force officer, identified only Col. Abed, said. "This is the first move of our air force that will provide security."

Officials said the current training differs from that provided by the air force under the regime of Saddam Hussein. They said Iraqi pilots, many of them who served under the Saddam air force, are now being drilled in map-reading and navigation orientation.

"This is a new concept of flying compared to what they experienced in their old air force," Group Capt. Neil Jagger, chief of aviation at the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team, Chief of Aviation, said. "We're helping to develop their general awareness with everything around them."

Iraq plans to purchase 10 aircraft in the first stage of air force development. The two-seat observation and surveillance Seekers, based in the Basra region, were acquired on July 29 from Seabird Aviation Jordan, based in Amman.

The Seeker has been powered by a 168 horsepower engine driving a wooden two-blade pusher propeller. The aircraft, with a patrol speed of 65 knots, has a range of 880 kilometers and an endurance of more than seven hours.

Officials said Iraq will order another eight light aircraft by Sept. 21. They said the aircraft would also contain the Seeker's airborne thermal-imaging and electro-optic capabilities.

The Iraqi air force also plans to boost its manpower from the current 200 to more than 500 personnel by the end of 2004. Australia and Britain have been helping train Iraq's air force.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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