By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 29, 2007 - Iraqi security forces have taken "huge steps forward" in growing and moving toward independent operations, a senior commander in Iraq said today. And they've made this progress despite fighting a war on their own soil and working through an immature bureaucracy, said British Army Brigadier S. M. Gledhill, deputy commanding general for the Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq. The command is charged with helping the Iraqis to organize, man and equip their force and to develop the ministries of Defense and Interior.
"Fundamentally, Iraqis are now taking ownership of the battle space themselves. I think this is an extremely positive move and it really demonstrates their capability," Gledhill said to a group of Internet journalists and "bloggers" in a conference call.
"An increasing number are moving into the leading role, and I have every confidence that over the next 12 months Iraqi battalions and brigades will increasingly take the lead in the battle space," he said.
In the past year, the Iraqi security forces have rocketed to nearly a half million, including both the police and army. The 158,000-member armed forces are expected to grow to 190,000. The police forces number more than 300,000, Gledhill said. A year ago, the police forces numbered less than 200,000, and the armed forces were about 135,000 strong.
Between the army and national police, 191 Iraqi battalions are in the fight, with more than half operating without coalition force support, he said.
This progress has come as U.S. forces put more into developing training infrastructure in the country. A combat training center about 50 miles east of Baghdad can train a brigade at a time. Plans are for each army division to have its own training center that will be able to host battalion-level training.
Now is the time to develop logistics capabilities that have not kept pace with the combat forces, Gledhill said.
"As the size of the force and the nature of it matures, we need to put in place a proper functioning logistics system. It's partly in place, but not entirely," he said.
Some of the higher level maintenance for Iraqi equipment now is provided by contractors who are paid by the United States. "Clearly that's not something that can carry on for much longer," he said.
He called the Iraqi security forces logistics efforts problematic and fragile. But, he said, "that was not a surprise. We have been ... focused upon producing combat units to get them into the fight as a first priority."
Plans are to deliver "considerable enhancements" to the logistics capabilities over the next year. For example, each Iraqi army division will have its own logistics support base in its operating area, offering supply and maintenance services. Now units have only regional support that is no longer capable of serving the expanded force, Gledhill said.
More depots will be built, offering maintenance and wheeled- and tracked-vehicle repair.
In the next 18 months, the Iraqis will become self-sufficient with their own logistics capabilities, Gledhill predicted.
Another growth area for the force has been developing the bureaucratic processes within the Defense and Interior ministries, which Gledhill called immature. But, he said, the war and the expeditious growth of the force have made it a challenge to develop even the most basic services.
Now, monthly progress is measured by an objective process developed jointly with Iraqis. Basic functions are evaluated, such as the ability to acquire material and field it, the ability to recruit, train and equip and the ability to pay its force. The results are assessed with the Iraqis, and focus areas are decided, Gledhill said.
When Gledhill arrived, the ministries were almost totally dependent on coalition support, he said. Now most are capable of performing nearly independently.
"In the past eight months, it is quite clear that there has been steady improvement ... in both ministries," Gledhill said. "It's definitely moving in the right direction. But there's still a lot work to do."