By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 3, 2008 - The number of attacks in Iraq is at its lowest level since January 2004, and this is proof of the growing capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, the vice chief of staff of the Iraqi Joint Forces said yesterday. Gen. Nasier Abadi, briefed reporters in Baghdad along with coalition spokesman U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David Perkins and Brig. Johnny Torrens-Spence of the British Army, deputy commander general of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq.
"The enemy has lost his ability to fight in frontal operations or offensives in big groups," Abadi said through an interpreter. Threats now come from individual attacks and indirect combat, such as roadside bombs and so-called "sticky bombs" that attackers attach to targeted vehicles with magnets, he said.
Abadi said the Iraqi security forces are moving to sustain progress and build on their capabilities. Iraqi forces are working in Ninevah, Diyala and Baghdad, and continue to work on improving logistics, he added.
Iraqi security forces also are readying for the next large security operation: ensuring the elections now set for early next year will be safe, Abadi said.
"The commands have also started putting together plans to ensure the next elections in 567 voting centers," he said. "The society's security and individual security is a necessity, and I call on all citizens to take on their big role in maintaining a secure environment through watch and observing and checking their vehicles and their work places to stop the effects of sticky bombs."
Iraqi and coalition leaders also are working to build Iraq's air force and navy, he said.
Torrens-Spence agreed, and said his command's priority has shifted as it helps to build the Iraqi military.
"Until the early part of this year, the priority ... was to generate sufficient forces for counterterrorist operations," he said. "We were, frankly, in a hurry, and the focus was deliberately on creating and equipping as many infantry combat units as we could in a short space of time."
But with the improvement in security in the country and the continued bulk-up in capability and size of the Iraqi military, MNSTCI has been able to shift to building an independent, self-sufficient Army that not only can take on the terrorists and win, but also transforms to becoming a force capable of defending the nation's borders, the brigadier said.
"The Ministry of Defense's main focus right now, as you heard from General Abadi, is on logistics," Torrens-Spence said. "And this is coming on pretty well. There are still many gaps, and we're working hard with our Iraqi colleagues to address these."
The brigadier listed a number of accomplishments, including the turnover of the Beiji ammunition depot to the Iraqi Army. The Iraqi army now maintains small-arms repair facilities, and operates maintenance facilities for wheeled, tracked vehicles.
"The General Transportation Regiment, which provides logistics support from the national bases forward to the divisions, became operational this month," Torrens-Spence said. "A new computer logistic network, which links the depots, the Ministry of Defense and the divisions, is now fully functional. And the Ministry of Defense-wide personnel management system is also on track to be launched in the new year."
Next year, the Iraqi Defense Ministry will invest in building communications, surveillance and target acquisition, bomb disposal and engineers.
"We fully support these programs, and we will do our best to assist our Iraqi friends to bring these important capabilities into service efficiently and smoothly," the brigadier said.
The growth of the air force and the navy is a little behind that of the Army, and this was expected, he said. The Iraqi air force and navy are small, but building, he noted. The Iraqi air force flies about 350 sorties a week and is playing an increasingly active counterinsurgency role. The force also conducts surveillance and reconnaissance missions in support of the army and is providing important logistic support.
"Next year, we expect the first precision air-to-ground capability attack to be fielded with rocket-firing MI-17 helicopters and combat Caravan aircraft fitted with Hellfire missiles," Torrens-Spence said.
The first new pilots for the Iraqi air force recently graduated and are now operational.
The navy is conducting three times as many patrols as it was last year, with increasing amounts of boarding and searching of vessels coming into Iraqi territorial waters.
"The navy has just taken delivery of the first six of 26 Defender Class fast-patrol craft and is expecting the delivery of four large patrol ships from Italy in 2009," the brigadier said.
More remains to be done, he acknowledged. "The Army is still seriously short of middle-rank officers and sergeants, and is looking actively at increasing the through-put of officers at the Staff College and more English language training," he said.
The logistic system remains fragile, especially the supply of spare parts to the forward locations, Torrens-Spence said. Key skills such as mechanics, communications specialists and cooks still are in short supply.
"But looking to the future, we see the first signs of reconfiguring the armed forces from their current counterinsurgency focus to a more conventional posture – defense of the homeland," he said. "We welcome this."
Iraq announced it is buying M1 tanks, C-130 transport aircraft and armed reconnaissance helicopters. The brigadier said this "marks a significant step down this road, in line with the Ministry of Defense's long-term development plans."