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Petraeus on Iraqi Troop Levels

Will Dunham, Reuters:

Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, briefing reporters at the Pentagon from Baghdad, said commanders planned to shift some U.S. troops from fighting insurgents to training new Iraqi security forces, but did not say how many.

The Bush administration says it will only withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq once an Iraqi force has been established that can provide security in the country, still gripped by a bloody insurgency 22 months after the U.S.-led invasion. There are now about 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Petraeus said the formation of Iraqi security forces was "behind a bit in raw numbers, but, again, not all that much" and put the number of trained and equipped forces at 136,000.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told a Senate committee on Thursday that Iraqi regular army units had absentee rates of about 40 percent.

Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the same hearing that about 40,000 of the 136,000 Iraqi security personnel were able to "go anywhere in the country and take on almost any threat."

Petraeus noted that Iraqi soldiers and police provided security at 5,200 polling sites around Iraq for last Sunday's elections and said there has been "no shortage of volunteers."

Petraeus declined to specify the desertion rate for the Iraqi security forces.

"There clearly was a huge challenge, particularly in the Sunni areas and in the area of Nineveh province, to a couple of regular army battalions," Petraeus said.

"This is an area where the insurgents were actually cutting the heads off soldiers as they were trying to come back from leave and so forth. Major challenge, retention in those units," he added, but said "we've turned the corner with that."
Eric Schmitt, New York Times:
The disclosures at the hearing appeared to support the contentions of Democrats who have accused the Pentagon of playing fast and loose with the number of Iraqis who can tackle the toughest missions in Iraq.

"We should stop exaggerating the number of Iraqi forces that have already been fully trained and capable, and willing to take on the insurgency," said Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the panel's ranking Democrat.

Asked about the numbers debate at a Pentagon briefing later in the day, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld denied that Pentagon had been misleading, and warned against relying too heavily on the figures themselves - which he and other administration officials have regularly cited - and focus instead on the Iraqi units' duties and improvement.

"It is flat wrong to say that anyone is misleading anyone, because they are not," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "We are providing the best data anyone has in the world to the Congress on a regular basis every week." But Pentagon officials conceded that they had done a poor job of explaining to Congress and the public a confusing accounting of Iraqi troops that reflected a wide array of training and experience among more than six classes of security forces, from capable commandos to less skilled guards.
There are two glaring absences in this reporting. One, it is crucial that we know the ethnic breakdown of the trained Iraqi forces. If the 40,000 troops that Gen. Richard B. Myers says "can go anywhere in the country and take on almost any threat" are all Kurdish peshmerga, then we have effectively accomplished little. The Kurdish troops were already dependable and well trained. And actually sending them "anywhere" is as likely to exacerbate tensions and violence than placate. Two, we neeed to ensure that the accelerated training mentioned by the DoD meets certain standards - everytime I hear about it, I wonder if part of that training includes the "Salvador option," of training death squads and special forces that are more likely to create a civil war than prevent one. The Iraqi forces need to be competent, professional, and national - not merely trained ethnic militia.

Update, 2/6/05: Joe Biden tries to lay out the facts in an editorial in the Washington Post.
After more than a year of drift, the administration took a critical step in the right direction: It put Gen. David Petraeus in charge of the security training. He has added counterinsurgency to the police curriculum, emphasized leadership skills and building cohesive units, and developed special forces with much longer training times. As a result some Iraqis are starting to get the equipment, training and leadership skills they need to fight the insurgency. They include police commandos (about 5,000), special intervention forces (about 9,000), SWAT teams and other specialized forces (about 4,000). These forces total some 18,000 men.

But that is far short of the administration's 136,000 estimate. And of those 18,000, many are rookies with little experience. Indeed, in testimony Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, senior administration officials couldn't say how many Iraqi forces can operate independently against the insurgency. That's why I believe the number of Iraqis prepared to take on the insurgency is somewhere between 4,000 and 18,000.


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