Iraqi Military Capabilities Growing, General Says

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2011 — Iraq has the most capa­ble coun­terin­sur­gency force in the Mid­dle East and Cen­tral Asia, but its mil­i­tary still has a long way to go to defend the Iraqi peo­ple, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Iraq said here today.

Iraq has a very capa­ble army and grow­ing air force and navy capa­bil­i­ties, Army Maj. Gen. Jef­frey Buchanan said in an inter­view with the Pen­ta­gon Chan­nel and Amer­i­can Forces Press Service. 

In 2003, there were no Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces. “The size has increased from zero to 650,000 now,” Buchanan said. “They are equipped with very mod­ern equip­ment, and they are train­ing themselves.” 

The Iraqis have the secu­ri­ty lead in oper­a­tions through­out the coun­try, he said, and, by any mea­sure, they are doing the job. The num­ber of attacks per day and the num­ber of casu­al­ties have decreased since the Iraqis took con­trol. Amer­i­can forces still pro­vide some capa­bil­i­ties, he not­ed, such as intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance assets, and they help with logis­tics and air sup­port. Still, the Iraqis are devel­op­ing those capa­bil­i­ties as well. 

“This has been the fastest-grow­ing mil­i­tary, with the high­est [oper­a­tions tem­po] in the world for the last eight years,” Buchanan said. “By neces­si­ty, they have been focused almost entire­ly on inter­nal threats — fight­ing ter­ror­ism, fight­ing insurgents.” 

But a secu­ri­ty force has to do more than defend against inter­nal threats, Buchanan not­ed. It must defend the coun­try from exter­nal ene­mies and defend the nation’s sov­er­eign­ty. “Only in the last two years has the Iraqi mil­i­tary looked at exter­nal threats,” he said. Iran shares a long bor­der with Iraq, and Syr­ia is anoth­er cen­ter of instability. 

The Iraqi army is devel­op­ing a force to defend the nation. Iraq now has 135 of 140 M‑1 tanks. “Those tanks are on hand in Iraq, the crews are get­ting train­ing, and they are get­ting some capa­bil­i­ty,” Buchanan said. The Iraqi army now also has 24 self-pro­pelled 155 mm how­itzers and 80 155 mm towed howitzers. 

“But their abil­i­ty to inte­grate the effects of artillery, armor, attack avi­a­tion with infantry against a con­ven­tion­al force is real­ly at the begin­ning stages,” he said. “This will take them some years to develop.” 

Oth­er aspects will take even more time, the gen­er­al not­ed. The new Iraqi mil­i­tary has had sev­en years to devel­op a pro­fes­sion­al non­com­mis­sioned offi­cer corps. “They have some great junior NCOs,” Buchanan said. Still, he added, it will take more time to devel­op those out­stand­ing young NCOs into senior, bat­tle-test­ed NCO leaders. 

The Unit­ed States is on track to leave Iraq by the end of the year, Buchanan said. Iraq and the Unit­ed States signed a bilat­er­al secu­ri­ty agree­ment in 2008, and one of the arti­cles of that agree­ment calls for the U.S. pres­ence to tran­si­tion com­plete­ly to a civil­ian-led author­i­ty by the end of 2011. “This means that our troops would with­draw com­plete­ly and USFI would fold its flag,” the gen­er­al said. 

At the same time, the Unit­ed States and Iraq signed the Secu­ri­ty Frame­work agree­ment, which charts a long-term, endur­ing part­ner­ship between the two coun­tries. This cov­ers every­thing from edu­ca­tion, sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, to cul­tur­al exchanges, to defense and secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion. All this would fall under the con­trol of the U.S. ambas­sador to Iraq. 

Iraq has sig­naled an inten­tion to dis­cuss keep­ing some Amer­i­can force in the coun­try after the Dec. 31 with­draw­al date. Iraqi mil­i­tary lead­ers are dis­cussing their vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and what they would need to fill the gaps. 

Iraqi nation­al lead­ers have pledged to begin dis­cussing the process to request U.S. aid. 

“On the mil­i­tary side we pro­vide options up the chain so our civil­ian lead­ers can make the deci­sions,” Buchanan said. “The Iraqi government’s assess­ment of its own vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties mir­rors ours.” 

The gaps include lit­tle abil­i­ty to inte­grate com­bined arms against con­ven­tion­al threats or exter­nal threats, lit­tle capa­bil­i­ty to defend Iraqi air­space, and mar­itime secu­ri­ty shortcomings. 

The Unit­ed States can pro­vide some of those capa­bil­i­ties, but the Iraqi gov­ern­ment has to ask, Buchanan said. “The longer it takes, the more expen­sive and hard­er it is to accom­plish,” he noted. 

The U.S. mis­sion has­n’t changed since Oper­a­tion New Dawn began in Sep­tem­ber 2010: advise, train and assist Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces; con­duct part­nered coun­tert­er­ror­ism oper­a­tions; and sup­port and pro­tect the civil­ian mem­bers of the U.S. mis­sion in Iraq as they work to build civ­il capac­i­ty through­out the country. 

Just more than four months are left for Oper­a­tion New Dawn, and more of the U.S. effort will be focused on tran­si­tion­ing bases, rede­ploy­ing equip­ment and re-pos­tur­ing per­son­nel. Progress has been going for some time. The Unit­ed States had 505 bases in Iraq in 2008, and at the start of Oper­a­tion New Dawn the num­ber was down to 92. Today, there are 47. 

U.S. forces in Iraq are ready to do what is nec­es­sary, Buchanan said. The effort has been worth it, he added. “The Iraqi peo­ple have made a num­ber of sac­ri­fices over the years,” he said. “They are build­ing a set of val­ues that did­n’t exist there before. As it grows and matures, Iraq’s gov­ern­ment will be bet­ter able to deliv­er what the peo­ple need — a coun­try that is sta­ble, that is sov­er­eign and self-reliant. 

“It’s good for the peo­ple of Iraq, it’s good for the region, and it would be good for the Unit­ed States as well.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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