SOME IN THE MEDIA have been remarkably quick to report on leaked copies of reports about Iraq before the average person has a chance to read them. There is a reason, apart from the usual journalistic desire to be first with a story. The reports often don't say what the reporters want them to. First leaks about the National Intelligence Estimate and the report of the Government Accountability Office turned out to have painted them darker--and in the case of the NIE much darker--than they actually were. That is even more true of the report of Retired Marine General Jim Jones about the state of the Iraqi Security Forces.
The Washington Post rushed out its story with the headline: "Jones Report: Iraqi Security Forces Not Ready: Logistical Sufficiency Is at Least Two Years Away." The New York Times was somewhat more circumspect in its title: "Panel Sees More Than a Year Before Iraq Can Handle Security," but not in its lead paragraph:
A report by an independent commission created by Congress says that it will be at least 12 to 18 months before Iraq's army and police can take charge of the country's security, pushing further into the future estimates of when American forces can step back from their leading role. The finding is the latest in a series of ever-lengthening predictions by American officals about when Iraqi forces might be able to operate independently."
The Washington Post made it sound even worse: the report "estimates that '[the Iraqi army] will not be ready to independently fulfill their security role within the next 12 to 18 months' without a substantial U.S. military presence. Logistical self-sufficiency, which it describes as key to independent Iraqi operations, is at least two years away, the report says." Worse still, "the report, which emphasizes the failure of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to achieve key political benchmarks, says that violence will not end without political reconciliation." Well. Let's just see what the report actually says about the key issues. The following are direct quotations, with phrases of particular interest in bold:
- The Commission finds that in general, the Iraqi Security Forces, military and police, have made uneven progress, but that there should be increasing improvement in both their readiness and their capability to provide for the internal security of Iraq.
- While severely deficient in combat support and combat service support capabilities, the new Iraqi armed forces, especially the Army, show clear evidence of developing the baseline infrastructures that lead to the successful formation of a national defense capability.
- In general, the Iraqi Army and Special Forces are becoming more proficient in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations; they are gaining size and strength, and will increasingly be capable of assuming greater responsibility for Iraq's security.
- The Iraqi Army possesses an adequate supply of willing and able manpower, a steadily improving basic training capability, and equipment tailored to counterinsurgency operations. There is evidence to show that the emerging Iraqi soldier is willing to fight against the declared enemies of the state, with some exceptions along ethnic lines. The Army is making efforts to reduce sectarian influence within its ranks and achieving some progress. The Army's operational effectiveness is increasing; yet it will continue to rely on help in areas such as command and control, equipment, fire support, logistical support, intelligence, and transportation. Despite continued progress, the Iraqi military will not be ready to independently fulfill its security role within the next 12 to 18 months. Nevertheless, the Commission believes that substantial progress can be achieved within that period of time.
- Finding 3: The 'clear, hold, build' strategy being implemented by Iraqi Security Forces is on the right track and shows potential, but neither the Iraqi armed forces nor the police forces can execute these types of operations independently.
- Finding 12: The Iraqi Army has become more effective in supporting Coalition-led counterinsurgency operations from the start of Iraqi and Coalition surge operations in early 2007. The reliability of Iraqi Army units continues to improve, and some units now are an integral part of the Coalition team for counterinsurgency operations. The overall rate of progress of the Army is uneven. Some units perform better than others; but there is rising confidence that progress is being made at a rate that will enable Iraqi Army tactical formations and units gradually to assume a greater leadership role in counterinsurgency operations in the next 12 to 18 months. However, they will continue to rely on Coalition support, including logistics, intelligence, fire support, equipment, training and leadership development for the foreseeable future.
- Finding 13: Iraqi Special Operations Forces are the most capable element of the Iraqi armed forces and are well-trained in both individual and collective skills. They are currently capable of leading counterterrorism operations, but they continue to require Coalition support. They remain dependent on the Coalition for many combat enablers, especially airlift, close air support, and targeting intelligence.
- The Iraqi Special Forces are a success story. The most capable units within the Iraqi military, they have trained extensively with U.S. Special Forces and developed a strong set of junior officers and a noncommissioned officer corps. Special operations involving both Coalition and Iraqi Special Forces are led by Iraqi commanders; their brigade provides 70 percent of the forces for these operations. Nevertheless, the Iraqi Special Operations Forces still rely extensively on Coalition forces for fire and counterfire, close air support, fixed-wing and rotary wing mobility, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.
- As part of Fardh al-Qanoon (the Baghdad Security Plan), the Iraqi Army has participated in a large number of high-intensity operations and demonstrated an effectiveness and level of determination far greater than what Coalition forces observed during joint operations in 2005 and 2006.
- Although the central government cannot yet control security inside the country, Iraq's ground forces, particularly its Special Forces, have demonstrated strong counterterrorism capability. Iraqi Special Forces, which have conducted many counterterrorism operations with and without Coalition forces, have achieved significant operational success in 2007.
- Finding 33: The emphasis on local recruiting and assignment in the Iraqi Police Service is showing promise in establishing security at the local level; strong personnel vetting processes will remain vital.
- Finding 34: Police training in Iraq is improving, particularly in areas where training is led by Iraqi instructors partnered with civilian police advisors.
- Violence remains a fact of life in Iraq. Those insurgents who perpetrate this violence are elusive, operate covertly, and seek to avoid direct engagement with Coalition and Iraqi forces. While violence has recently declined sharply in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province--the former stronghold of the insurgency--attacks have risen in Diyala, Balad, Basra, and Amarah. Violence remains endemic in Baghdad, despite measurable gains made since the implementation of Fardh al- Qanoon (the Baghdad Security Plan) in February 2007 by Coalition and Iraqi forces. Since the beginning of Fardh al-Qanoon, the average number of sectarian killings in Baghdad has decreased. The average number of daily attacks has similarly fallen. While these numbers may simply reflect the decision of many of the Shi'a militias to maintain a low profile during the Coalition-led surge, there are signs of improvements in the security situation in Baghdad.
- Many of the shortcomings that prevent the Iraqi armed forces and civil security forces from independently maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq are also weaknesses that prevent them from independently ensuring that Iraq does not become a safe have for international terrorists. Although the Iraqi armed forces have made progress in developing greater combat proficiency, they lack the combat support and combat support services outlined previously.
- Reflecting the Coalition's much stronger grasp of counterinsurgency operations, the "clear, hold, build" strategy launched in March 2006 appears to be generating results in enhancing security in the provinces. The Iraqi Army's ability to conduct "clearing" operations has improved significantly; units such as the 2nd Iraqi Army Division based in Ninewa province are conducting effective intelligence and counterinsurgency operations that seem to be noticeably reducing violence levels. New cooperative relationships with local forces in Anbar and Diyala provinces exemplify how local Iraqi forces are able to "hold" Iraqi territory after it has been cleared by Coalition and Iraqi Army troops. The "surge" of Coalition forces has made the presence of the Coalition and ISF much more visible in cities and neighborhoods all over Iraq. The morale of ISF units paired with Coalition forces appears relatively high, and trainers all over Iraq report that the ISF, particularly the Iraqi Army, seem to have the will to fight. An ISF casualty rate three times that of Coalition forces would seem to reflect this determination, albeit also the reality that neither the Iraqi Army nor the Iraqi Police Service are adequately armed or protected against the threats that they face. The Joint Security Stations established in Baghdad partner Coalition forces with the Iraqi Army, National Police, and Iraqi Police Service, and they appear to be reducing levels of violence in their immediate areas. The Joint Security Stations also are increasing the level of cooperation between local Iraqis, the ISF, and Coalition forces, as well as providing opportunities for in-depth mentoring and advising by Coalition forces.
- Since the beginning of Fardh al-Qanoon in February 2007, the Coalition and the Iraqi Security Forces have managed to create some level of security and some breathing space for Iraqi politicians. If the Coalition continues to provide key enabling support and training to the ISF over the next few years, with the expected increases in security that such support will likely bring, a more durable security environment will continue to develop and perhaps broaden. The reverse is certainly true should the government be unable to find the required political solution.
In other words, the Iraqi Army has made tremendous strides, is fighting hard and skillfully, and is now a critical component of the counter-terrorism campaign in Iraq, but it cannot continue that campaign without continued Coalition combat and logistics support over the coming months (for more on this, see a new report from the American Enterprise Institute released today, "No Middle Way"). Almost all of the trendlines for the Iraqi Army and for security in Iraq noted in the report are positive. The Iraqi Police are more problematic, but even here, the report notes that training is improving and local recruiting is making a significant positive difference. The National Police, the report rightly notes, are broken, and the media has made much of this. But the National Police consist of around 25,000 members, compared to perhaps 300,000 members of the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police. The Iraqi Security Forces can hardly be judged a failure on such grounds.
In fact, the Jones Report offers no suggestion that the Iraqi Security Forces should be judged a failure at all. On the contrary, they have made great progress and the report sees every reason for them to continue to make better progress. The issue of their "independent" operations is and always has been a red herring. For Americans concerned about how long their sons and daughters will have to be in harm's way in Iraq, which is everyone, the point isn't how long it will take the Iraqis to operate independently, but how long it will take before they can carry more of the burden of fighting the enemy. The Jones Report makes it clear that they are already carrying a significant part of that burden, and that their ability to do so will increase steadily and rapidly in the coming months--as long as we maintain our presence and our current strategy, which the report clearly judges to be working. Presenting the Jones Report as a condemnation of the Iraqi Security Forces, proof of their hopelessness, or support for a rapid withdrawal of American forces or a "change of mission" goes beyond spin. It is simple dishonesty.
Frederick W. Kagan is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.