IN THE CONVENTIONAL template of reporting on Iraq, glossy, controversial headlines often fail to reflect the reality of the situation on the ground. Take the latest reporting by McClatchy Newspapers' Nancy A. Youssef concerning the purported shift of U.S. military power away from training Iraqi Security Forces and back toward stability operations. The Detroit Free Press titles the article "U.S. plan backs off training of Iraqis," with a subtitle of "Policy shift entrusts security to American troop buildup." The Kansas City Star leads with "In a reversal, U.S. reliance on Iraqi army is fading," and subtitles with "Training troops is no longer a priority, changing the role of American forces." Forget the fact that Youssef provides no evidence within the article to back up such bold assertions. She relies on vague or nonexistent quotes from unnamed Pentagon and Washington officials, as well as Defense Secretary Robert Gates' failure to mention training last Thursday, to support her unfounded claim. In fact, many of the named officials in her article refute her assertion.
The fact is that the U.S. and Iraqi government continue to push the training of additional Iraqi combat and support troops, and are funding a dramatic growth in the capabilities in the Iraqi Security Forces. The Congress' failure to pass the Fiscal Year 2007 (FY07) Supplemental Budget is the only thing holding up the growth and training of the Iraqi military. In the FY07 budget, Congress has inserted the demand for a date for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, a demand which has prompted President Bush to insist he will veto the legislation.
The decrease in the training of the Iraqi Security Forces that Youssef is detecting is the first effect of delaying the FY07 supplemental budget. The money to train the Iraqi units has dried up. While about 75 percent of the expansion of the Iraqi Security Forces is funded by the Iraqi government, this money is focused on equipping and training new combat units, including upgrading units to armored and mechanized divisions. The funds to train and equip over 33,000 Iraqi Army logistics, sustainment, maintenance, and support personnel comes from the U.S. FY07 supplemental budget.
Currently, the Iraqi Army has about 13,000 support personnel to sustain a 138,000 man force. The expansion of support personnel by 33,000 troops by the end of 2007 would provide the bare minimum support necessary for independent operations. The money to train the support units cannot be legally reappropriated from U.S. budgets to fund a foreign military equipment/training program, so the programs has stopped. This weakness in current Iraqi Security Forces structure is the focus of U.S. training in the "Year of Logistics."
It is highly unusual for U.S. generals to weigh in on disputes between the executive and legislative branches. The cut in funding for the training programming has caused U.S. generals to mention the situation no less than four times since the delay in the FY07 Supplemental Budget became a critical issue. "At the current moment, because of this lack of funding, MNSTC-I is unable to continue at the pace they were in the developmental process of the Iraqi security forces," Major General William Caldwell said in a recent press briefing. "It is starting to have some impact today, and will only have more of an impact over time."
Youssef's article also fails to note some very real and significant changes which are occurring with the structure and development of the Iraqi Army. The Army is expanding from 10 to 12 divisions. The current Iraqi Army has nine light infantry divisions and one mechanized division. This will expand to 12 divisions, with one armored division and two additional mechanized divisions, which will significantly increase the Army's mobility and striking power. To augment these new heavy divisions and to accelerate the motorization of the light infantry divisions, the Iraqi government is in the process of purchasing somewhere between 600 to 800 U.S. made M60 tanks and over 4,000 assorted armored personnel carriers.
In order to man these divisions, the Iraqi Army is using existing units as incubators. The 4th Iraqi Army Division is creating a 4th Brigade and the 7th Division is creating a 4th Brigade as well, both will help form the nucleus of a new Iraqi division. Over 6,000 recruits are being raised in the Kirkuk region--they will likely form the nucleus of the 11th Division, and another 5,000 troops are being raised in Basra.
Unfortunately, the expansion of the Iraqi Army by two divisions will force the service to poach trained cadres from existing units. This will result in a short term decrease in combat effectiveness for the cannibalized units, causing some to fall from an "in the lead" status to a lower level that requires Coalition partnering until they can increase their skill sets. When this happens, it will undoubtedly be used to show the Iraqi Army is failing in its mission to take over security.
The U.S. military and Iraqi Ministry of Defense continue to raise troops and are in the process of an intensive training Program. Brigadier General Terry Wolff, the commander of the Military Assistant Training Team, highlighted this in a briefing in early March. "And you asked about replenishing the forces that were here as part of Baghdad security. Well, many of the young soldiers are going through basic training right now, and there are about 7,000 that are in basic training... Additionally, there are three training battalions in this force, and the training battalions are putting and are preparing soldiers for those units I described in the prime minister's initiative... So all total, about 15,000 soldiers training. You know, we've been as low as 6,000 at different cycles, based on whether we've got basic training running heavily or not, up to 15,000 is the highest I've seen.
The training isn't stopping with the foot soldiers, mechanized troops and supply and logistics soldiers. Multinational Forces Iraq established the 370th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group and Squadron at the New Al Muthana Air Base on April 22. The 370th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group is training the nucleus of the nascent Iraqi Air Force. And an Iraqi Military Intelligence Academy has recently been established to "prepare Iraqi security force graduates for counter-insurgency tactical and urban military intelligence operations."
Unlike what some would claim, training for the Iraqi Security Forces could only be higher if the FY07 supplemental budget submitted in February was not delayed for political reasons. The proponents of this delay claim that they want to bring the troops home sooner but, the delay in standing up their replacements (the Iraqi Security Forces) caused by Congress' actions has had the opposite effect of delaying the eventual reductions and the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
To put it bluntly, the facts do not support Nancy Youssef's highly provocative and patently false claim that the U.S. military has abandoned the training of the Iraqi Security Forces in order to fight al Qaeda and the insurgency. We've established the Iraqi Security Forces Order of Battle to document the progress and setbacks in the development of the Iraqi Army, police and other services, and there are no indications the training has been curtailed, other than what is being restricted by the U.S. Congress' failure to pass the supplemental funding bill. Youssef should do her homework before making such provocative and inaccurate statements.