By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
May 23, 2007 – The Iraqi government may add as many as 15,000 more troops to its current 348,000-person security force to help decrease the country's dependence on coalition forces, a top U.S. Army officer testified yesterday. The current plan is to bring the force level to more than 350,000 by the end of 2007, Army Brig. Gen. Michael D. Jones, the Joint Staff's deputy director for politico-military affairs for the Middle East, told the House Armed Services Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee.
No decision has been made to increase the Iraqi force yet, Jones said, but Iraqi officials are looking at its structure and whether the current force is going to be adequate for their needs in order to allow U.S. troops to withdraw.
"I will tell you that that force structure is under review by the Iraqi government with us in advisory mode to talk to them about their force needs and whether or not that number is the right number, and if they need to make any other adjustments," he said.
"I think that right now they're doing this review based on their best estimates of what they think the security environment will need and how fast they can produce capability to replace the requirement for coalition forces," he added.
Four of the five additional Iraqi brigades tapped for deployment to Baghdad are in place, Jones said. The fifth is expected to deploy in June.
In April, security of Maysan province in southeastern Iraq was officially transferred to Iraqi authorities. It was the fourth of 18 Iraqi provinces where security control is now principally in the hands of Iraqis. Several other provinces are close to meeting the criteria necessary for security independence, according to Defense Department reports.
In June 2004, no Iraqi Army units were capable of leading security operations independent of coalition forces. In April, 94 Iraqi army battalions were in the lead in more than half of Iraq's territories, with coalition forces assisting only in key roles, such as logistical support.
Jones said that U.S. forces have had to build the Iraqi forces from the "ground up," because none had any experience dealing with counterinsurgency operations. "We're trying to create security forces that can deal with an insurgent environment. The traditional Iraqi army forces were trained to deal with conventional threats -- other armies. They had no doctrine, no concept of how to do intelligence-based operations to deal with an insurgency," he said.
Jones said embedded training teams provide mentoring and guidance. The teams also provide feedback to coalition forces as to the Iraqi forces' progress.
"Clearly, over time, what we'd like to do is continue to turn over more responsibility to the Iraqi units to where they are responsible for all the sectors in Baghdad, to then continue to reduce the amount of assistance that they need from coalition forces," he said.
The Iraqi government already is financing the lion's share of this year's budgeted total security needs, about $7.5 billion, said Peter Velz, with the Middle East section of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. Velz testified before the same committee yesterday.
The U.S. will contribute about $5.5 billion this year, he said. In the 2008 budget, the U.S. is asking for only $2 billion, and the Iraqi government is expected to spend as much or more as it did this year, Velz said.
Velz said that most of the U.S. funding will go toward fixing critical shortcomings in Iraqi military logistics capacity, such as warehousing and supply chains.
"It's admittedly a fair amount of money, but it's to basically address ... what we have identified as a significant requirement to ... take the Iraqi capabilities to the next level," he said.
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