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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Report: Iraq forces need U.S. support, embeds 'for several years to come'

WASHINGTON The U.S. military is exaggerating progress in the training and development of Iraq's security forces under pressure from Washington to function independently.

A report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that Iraq's army and police would not be capable of independent operations in 2008, when the United States was expected to begin a significant withdrawal. The report envisioned the under-equipped Iraq Army remaining dependent on the U.S. military for years to come.

"It is going to take well over a year to bring the Iraqi Army to the level of readiness it needs to assume responsibility for most security activity," CSIS senior fellow Anthony Cordesman, author of the report, said. "And it will then remain dependent on the United States for air support, artillery, armor, ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], and some aspects of sustainability. A strong advisory effort, including embeds, may be needed for several years to come."

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Cordesman said the Iraqi police has been progressing at a much slower pace than the army. He said he could not predict when the police could assume full responsibility, even with embedded U.S. trainers.

"It will be at least several years," Cordesman said on May 16.

Entitled "Iraqi Force Development and the Challenge of Civil War," the report said progress in the Iraqi security forces would depend on the Baghdad government's effort to reconcile the rival Sunni and Shi'ite communities. CSIS said the United States must develop long-term plans with the Iraqi government to create fully independent forces that "can defend Iraq against outside powers as well as deal with internal threats."

"Iraq must establish both effective governance and a rule of law," the report said, "not simply deploy effective military, security, and police forces. Legitimacy does not consist of determining how governments are chosen, but in how well they serve the day-to-day needs of their peoples. Security cannot come through force alone."

The report said a large number of the 320,000 Iraqis recruited into the military and security forces have left. The U.S. military has determined that 50,000 of the troops were killed or wounded while another 33,000 deserted, Cordesman said.

CSIS assessed that up to 50 percent of the Iraqi police have deserted or do not report to work. The report cited "phantom" police units and cited the U.S. Defense Department's failure to gauge the extent of the problem.

Iraqi units reported as leading combat operations remain heavily dependent on U.S. officers, the report said. CSIS said these units could operate only under the leadership of embedded U.S. advisers or in cooperation with partner units.

The U.S. military has reported that five Iraq Army divisions, 25 brigades, 85 battalions and two national police battalions assumed lead responsibility by August 2006. In contrast, outside experts asserted in November 2006 that as few as 10 battalions could be deemed effective.

"Moreover, 'fully independent' is almost meaningless if the units cannot engage in any form of demanding combat operation without support from U.S. airpower, artillery, and/or logistics; if they lack the armor to operate in demanding missions; and require emergency back up from coalition forces if anything goes wrong," the report said. "Even the best forces cannot use weapons they do not have, or perform missions for which they are not equipped."

The report cited "positive trends" in the Iraq Army and asserted that some units fight well and perform important security roles with U.S. support. At the same time, the Pentagon has stopped releasing data on Iraqi army, police, and Border Enforcement readiness and manning levels.

"The unclassified U.S. government and MNF-I [Multi-National Force-Iraq] public affairs reporting on the ISF exaggerates progress, ignores or understates real-world problems, and promises unrealistic timelines," the report said. "Much of the media reporting, however, focuses on the cases where Iraqi forces fail -- often in cases where they come under the greatest stress and where new units have not yet had time to gain experience and 'shake out' their leadership and personnel."

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