By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 26, 2007 - Iraqi security forces are growing stronger and more effective as they take the lead in more operations and continue to recruit and train record numbers to fill their ranks, a top U.S. advisor in Iraq said yesterday. At a news conference, Army Brig. Gen. James C. Yarbrough, commander of the Iraqi Assistance Group, touted "significant growth and increased effectiveness" within the Iraqi army, police and border patrol.
New units are forming, equipping, training, and operating alongside coalition forces in all areas of the Iraqi army, police and border security division, Yarbrough said.
"Progress has not been easy," he added. "Innumerable challenges remain. But each day we see continued improvements. This is a long journey, but we're moving forward step-by-step with Iraq."
Highlighting the greater complexity of Iraqi-led operations, Yarbrough cited the recent three-day Operation Lion Pounce, in which the 8th Iraqi Army Division last week coordinated joint operations involving the army and police forces. The checkpoints, patrols and searches targeted insurgents in Diwianiyah about 110 miles south of Baghdad. Iraqi forces detained 81 insurgents and seized 35 rockets, 124 mortar rounds and rocket-propelled and anti-armor grenades.
The Iraqi Ground Forces Command now controls 11 Iraqi army infantry divisions and one mechanized division with more than 160,000 trained troops. The corps-level command took control of its first division only a little more than a year ago. In the past year, the Iraqi army has added 27 battalions and 43,000 soldiers. Plans are to add another division as thousands of recruits finish their training, according to Iraqi Maj. Gen. Adnan Jawad Ali, deputy commanding general of Iraqi Ground Forces Command.
Iraqi army soldiers also have begun humanitarian operations, Yarbrough said.
The border patrol has more than tripled its number of control posts since 2006, from 176 to 585, along Iraq's 2,200 miles of borders. Its force has more than doubled from 1,000 to more than 2,000, according to Iraqi Maj. Gen. Mohsen Abdul Hassan, the director general of border enforcement within the Ministry of Interior, who also attended the news conference.
Most recently, the al Qaim Port of Entry to Syria at Husaybah reopened Nov. 15. Only two years ago, the port was controlled by al Qaeda, giving its forces free passage through more than 100 miles of border. Now Iraqi army, police and local citizens are helping to secure the border, and state-of-the-art biometrics, radar and passport scanners have all but stopped smuggling of contraband and weapons through that area, officials said.
"The borders between Iraq and all the neighboring countries are much (more) secure than before. I wouldn't say 100 percent, but probably close," the Iraqi general said.
No senior Iraqi police official was present for the conference, but Yarbrough said that Iraqi police leaders are addressing sectarian bias within their units by training a mixed Sunni and Shiia class of 1,900 recruits who began training Nov. 13. The recruits will be assigned throughout all national police units, he said.
Also to rid its ranks of sectarian bias, Iraqi national police senior leadership has removed 19 of 25 battalion commanders and all nine brigade commanders. About 160,000 people serve in Iraq's police forces.
"I think they've got the right leadership; they've got the courage to confront their flaws, and I think they show great promise," Yarbrough said.
Iraqi security forces total nearly 360,000 as of this month, according to U.S. State Department documents.
Yarbrough said the increased efficiency of the security forces, combined with recent successes of forces against insurgents and the surge of local support, make the region ripe for progress.
"These factors have combined to produce solid momentum and unity against criminal acts and bloodshed and a renewed commitment to work toward a better life in Iraq," Yarbrough said. "We have a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on this increased stability and also exploit this momentum if we can achieve politically and economically what's been achieved in the area of security."