BAGHDAD ø The United States regards the battle for Fallujah as a
milestone for Iraq's military and security forces.
U.S. officials said the 2,000 Iraqi troops who helped capture Fallujah
performed well and could serve as the core of an effective Iraqi
counter-insurgency force. The officials said the Iraqi performance was the
best since Baghdad launched its nascent military and security force in July
"These soldiers came and fought well and have been in the fight 24 hours
a day since the start," a senior U.S. defense official said. "It is quite a
tribute to their leadership and their fortitude."
The official told a Pentagon briefing on Nov. 20 that Iraqi forces
helped find and capture more than 100 insurgency caches of weapons in
Fallujah. He said they included stockpiles of ammunition, mortars, anti-tank
munitions and improvised explosive
devices and the equipment required for bomb production, Middle East Newsline reported.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee told the House Armed Services
Committee on Nov. 17 that the five Iraqi battalions engaged in Fallujah
"performed very well" against enemy forces. Hagee said Iraqi troops worked
well with American soldiers and Marines and were not afraid to engage in
close-in fighting with Sunni insurgents.
Hagee recounted a joint Iraqi-U.S. patrol in which Iraqi troops
sensed an impending suicide car bomb. He said the Iraqis inside a U.S.
armored personnel carrier expressed their suspicion and insisted on stopping
the driver, thereby thwarting the attack.
"We would not have recognized that," Hagee said. "They did."
The mobilization of the Iraqi forces for the Fallujah operation was
fraught with pitfalls. Officials said about 300 soldiers from an Iraqi
military battalion failed to show up for combat duty amid complaints over
salaries and conditions.
But the five battalions that fought in Fallujah were deemed as highly
effective, officials said. They participated in virtually every stage of
combat operations and elite units often operated without being accompanied
by U.S. forces.
"The way they performed in Fallujah clearly shows that there are a core of
fighters in the Iraqi security forces that are prepared and capable of
operating independently and in war-fighting operations that does give us
confidence that our efforts to train the Iraqi security force can be
successful," Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy chief of U.S. Central Command,
Officials said the United States has accelerated the training and
equipping of the Iraqi military and security forces. They said the military
would be expanded to 27 battalions by February 2005 and the National Guard
to 45 battalions.
"We believe that what we saw in Fallujah gives us great confidence that we
will be able to transition to an Iraq that is fully capable of taking care
of its internal security, as well as its external," Smith said. "How long,
is really the question, how long it will take."
But the pace of training and equipping has not been as fast as that
envisioned by the U.S. military. Officials said Iraqi troops lack body armor
and vehicle armor, a major element in force protection.
Officials said the Sunni insurgency campaign has also hampered training
and continues to intimidate many members of the Iraqi police and security
forces. In early November, more than 3,000 police officers in the northern
city of Mosul abandoned their weapons and fled Sunni attacks on police
stations and government facilities. Officials said Iraq and the United
States would have to rebuild the entire Mosul police department.
"We had hoped that the Iraqi security forces might come along faster, as
far as capability and ability to conduct the law
enforcement mission, as well as the local control mission," Smith said. "And
for a lot of reasons, a lot of it had to do with equipment and late in
getting them equipment and the limited amount of training that they get, but
also in experiencing the force so that you do have folks that are prepared
and capable of fighting at the battalion and above level. So as they build
that capability, we will adjust our forces accordingly."
Officials said Fallujah would require the deployment of up to 1,600
trained officers. They said Iraq could not fulfill such manpower
requirements over the next few months.