By Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 30, 2008 - Last month, Iraqi soldiers in Taji recovered two broken-down Humvees on their own and restored them without any help from coalition maintenance personnel. Small accomplishments like that are becoming more and more common, and cumulatively they mark milestones toward the Iraqi security forces becoming self-sufficient. The difference between the partnership he experienced with the Iraqi Army in 2006 compared to today is "night and day," said Capt. Steve Chadwick, an Iraqi security forces coordinator with Multinational Division Center, who was stationed in Tal Afar and Ramadi two years ago.
At that time, he said, coalition mechanics took care of the bulk of repairing vehicles and replacing parts. Not any more, the Oviedo, Fla., native said.
Maintenance is not the only area in which Iraqi security forces are more proficient. The Iraqis now have more regional and divisional training centers than ever before, with classes taught by either Iraqi noncommissioned officers or civilian instructors expert in a specific field.
"The future is the [Iraqi Army] taking up training all on its own. It's already begun," said Army Capt. Kyle Kirby, of Livingston, Ky., an Iraqi security forces coordinator with 10th Mountain Division.
Before, many of these courses were supervised or even taught by coalition instructors. Iraqi forces units also relied more heavily on training with coalition military transition teams. But now, the coalition's partnership with Iraqi security forces has shifted from a leading role to a strategic one. The coalition now serves as an "enabler" to help Iraqis complete missions. This means providing support using advanced technologies Iraqi forces have not yet established.
"We make sure the Iraqis get the necessary training and advice, so that they may operate their own military properly," said U.S. Army Capt. Thomas Obrien, an aide de camp for the Iraqi Assistance Group, which works in partnership with the Iraqi security forces.
One of the major goals in improving Iraq's forces, coalition officials have emphasized throughout the effort, is increasing the number of NCOs and officers who can lead and mentor fellow troops. Two elements are working to achieve this goal: recruiting centers and military academies.
Thirteen recruiting stations across Iraq take applications from local citizens, from people who served in the previous regime's Army and want to return to service, and from citizens who already have taken an active role in protecting their communities in "Sons of Iraq" citizen security groups. Mobile recruiting drives engage the population in areas without local centers. Three more centers are planned for future efforts.
Iraq now has 15 Police academies that can accommodate and train 20,000 recruits. Two of the academies train Iraqi National Police, and three train border enforcement agents. Another 24 military academies train a variety of Iraqi security forces, including a naval center, five officer schools and other Army training centers and branch schools.
By the end of the year, eight training cycles, which began in December, will be complete in an effort to stand up 13 Iraqi Army divisions. Each training cycle produces 14,000 new troops, which will account for 112,000 new Iraqi security forces members by January. Of those, 4,000 will be new officers.
The numbers of schools and recruits continue to rise, and the quality and variety of their training programs also improving, coalition officials said. Regional centers, such as the ones in Taji and Numaniyah, teach proficiency in logistics, advanced medical courses, maintenance, armor, welding and engineering.
The Iraqi security forces' successes and the drastically improved security climate their progress has helped to produce have made way for major improvements in the economy, infrastructure and future of Iraq.
On July 20, the people of Najaf celebrated the opening of a new international airport. During the inauguration ceremony, Iraqi security forces took charge of providing security without any help from their coalition counterparts. Throughout Iraq, 10 of the 18 provinces are now under provincial Iraqi control, which places security responsibility with the country's own security forces.
Army Capt. Dave Hansen, of Plano, Texas, the officer in charge of the fusion cell for 10th Mountain Division, said the progress he has seen bodes well for Iraq's future. "It's a good sign to see them taking control of their own country," he said.
(Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret serves in the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.)