U.S. focus is training, equipping of Iraqi National Guard

Friday, September 24, 2004

The U.S. military has focused its training and equipping effort on the Iraqi National Guard, deemed the main force for the recapture of insurgency-controlled cities.

Officials said the Iraqi National Guard, formerly the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, would receive most of the training and equipment over the next few months. They said the United States and the government of Prime Minister Iyad Alawi aimed to employ the National Guard to regain control over such cities as Baqubah, Faluja, Ramadi and Samaria by the end of 2004.

With more than three months left until national elections, many areas of Iraq, including suburbs of Baghdad, remain outside of central government control. Pacified areas include portions of the north and south of Iraq, where Iraqi security forces have been most active.

"There's going to be areas out there that we're not going to be able to get the local control by the end of December," Army Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a briefing on Sept. 20.

Sharp said the National Guard has 38,661 members who have undergone three weeks of basic training. He said the next step was to send the troops to units of the U.S.-led Multinational Force-Iraq for joint patrols.

"The real emphasis is on the Iraqi National Guard," Sharp said. "The individuals are embedded into our units to include coalition units and do on-the-job training there for a period of about eight weeks."

Officials said the Defense Ministry has set a goal to train and deploy about 62,000 members or 65 battalions of the Iraqi National Guard. They said more than 700 Iraqi security officers have been killed since Jan. 1, 2004.

"Get some small unit squad-platoon level training, learn leadership skills, which was what was really lacking during the springtime period where we got in trouble and then they form as a unit and start doing the initial operating capability -- again, working very closely with ours," Sharp said.

"So that has been a very successful program, as we move through."

Sharp was referring to the wide-scale defections within the ICDC and police during the Sunni and Shi'ite revolt in April. About 50 percent of ICDC units fled Sunni and Shi'ite combatants and in many cases defected to the insurgency side.

Officials said the U.S. military was forming an Iraqi command capable of enforcing discipline and maintaining morale in military and security units. Sharp said 40 of the current 45 National Guard battalions have been conducting daily operations throughout Iraq. He said some of the ING operations have been autonomous while others were operating along with U.S. forces.

"We're working very closely with our units to develop those mid- and lower-level leadership qualities that are needed throughout there," Sharp said. "We are now on the path of getting manned, trained and equipped Iraqi security forces into the field and as quickly as possible."

The general said Iraqi forces performed well during the stand-off in Najaf in August. He said U.S. troops in Najaf had been supported by two Iraqi Intervention Force battalions, a commando battalion, an ING battalion, counterterrorist force and the Iraqi police.

The Iraqi Intervention Force, regarded as the key unit for counter-insurgency operations, was meant to receive the same training as the ING. This would comprise of 12 weeks of training, with equal periods for cadre, basic and collective instruction.

Officials said the United States has allocated $3.4 billion of which $3.2 billion has been spent for the development of the Iraqi armed forces. The Bush administration has requested from Congress another $3.46 billion, which would be taken from the Iraqi Reconstruction Fund.

Another priority, officials said, was the special operations forces of the Iraqi military. They said the commando battalion and the counterterrorist force have carried out dozens of missions across the country.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry has also launched a special commando unit. Officials said the unit was comprised of 1,000 officers and conducted its first operations on Sept. 18.

The smallest of Iraq's forces is the military, with 4,789 trained soldiers. Officials said troops were meant to undergo four weeks of basic training and another four weeks of collective training.

Officials said the United States was forming a mechanized brigade in the Iraq Army. They said the brigade would be provided with combat armored vehicles, Russian-origin BRT-80 APCs, from Jordan.

"The Iraqi security force recruiting is not a problem," Sharp said. "It continues. We get many, many Iraqis who I think are really answering to Prime Minister Alawi's call that security is the responsibility of Iraqis and that's the only way that it will end. And they are standing up to that test."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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