BAGHDAD ø 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
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
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
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
"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
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
been helping train Iraq's air force.