Thousands of U.S. troops now studying Arabic

Friday, February 20, 2004

Members of most U.S. military services are learning Arabic to facilitate engagement with the Iraqi population.

Thousands of U.S. military personnel have been taking instructions in Arabic to overcome the critical language barrier that has thwarted U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq. The goal is to have an Arabic speaker in every single combat unit in Iraq.

Marine Corps Gen. Michael Hagee said the Arabic instruction provided by his service has been accompanied by rigorous urban combat training in Iraq. Hagee said that so far more than 400 marines have received Arabic language training.

A shortage of Arabic speakers was reported in every arm of the American military and government involved in Iraq last year, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said the CIA and other agencies have outsourced a considerable amount of material to Arabic translators as well as employed retired Arabic-speaking government employees.

Officials said Arabic instruction has been part of the preparation for the rotation of troops in Iraq and efforts to ensure more effective operations. They said the Arabic training has also prepared soldiers for temporary duties in military intelligence and the CIA.

Hagee told the House Armed Services Committee on Jan. 28 that the marines have been heavily engaged in the Middle East region, particularly in Iraq. He said 70,000 marines and sailors from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force were deployed in Iraq in fewer than 60 days in early 2003.

"Exploiting the operational speed, reach and inherent flexibility of sea power, the Navy and Marine Corps closely integrated with joint and coalition, and special operations engaged in 26 days of sustained combat operations, fought 10 major engagements, destroyed eight Iraqi divisions before stopping in Tikrit almost 500 miles inland," Agee said.

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