By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
April 23, 2007 – Iraqi civilians need to support security force members who sacrifice their own safety for their fellow Iraqis, a top U.S. military official said. "Soldiers and police are suffering every day for the Iraqi people. In return, the people of Iraq must support their security forces." Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq commander, told reporters during a briefing yesterday.
In the past two years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 8,123 Iraq soldiers and police have died, and 18,236 others were wounded in action. With "the right information and the right cooperation of the people," Iraq's military and police forces can defeat the terrorists who are trying to destroy the country, he said.
Dempsey, who is responsible for assisting the Iraqi government in developing, organizing, training, equipping and sustaining Iraqi security forces, said Iraq is developing new Army and police force units, replacing individual losses and fielding billions of dollars worth of equipment. "The security ministries have invested in modern weaponry through a foreign military sales agreement with the United States," he said.
M-16 and M-4 assault rifles - U.S. military standard issue weapons - will soon replace the AK-47 assault rifles Iraq security forces currently use, and over the next 18 months, the United States will commit $5 billion toward "decreasing the dependence and increasing the self-reliance" of Iraq's security forces, Dempsey said.
Additionally, hundreds of camps and stations are under construction, and communications, logistics, and intelligence architecture is being established, "all while fighting a brutal enemy who's trying to destroy (the) country," he said. "Considering all that, progress has been pretty remarkable," the general added.
The Iraqi government has shown its dedication to security by committing 20 percent of the 2007 fiscal year budget to security forces. "Iraqi units from all over the country are deploying to Baghdad, to assist and support the government, and protect the people in a way that would not have been possible just one year ago," he said.
This year, the Iraqi army plans to add about 25 battalions, enlist roughly 20,000 soldiers and build two division headquarters, Dempsey said. Iraq's "small, but important" air force has a functioning fleet of C-130s the force uses to deliver equipment and medical supplies, and it is currently growing a helicopter fleet, he said.
"The Iraq air force, by the end of the year will have ... a transportation capability, some surveillance and intelligence capability," Dempsey said, "and helicopters which will allow the army to ferry soldiers around the country as needed on a more rapid basis."
Iraq's navy is serving the "vital purpose" of guarding the country's 31-mile coastline and protecting its oil platforms, he added.
Dempsey said that many years ago, the U.S. Army taught black and white men to live and work together. "I think Iraq security forces have a chance to provide the same kind of example - an example where all Iraqis will learn to live and work together," he said.
"That's the dream of Iraq's military and police leaders," Dempsey said. "We will do everything possible to help them achieve that dream."
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