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American Forces Press Service

Multinational Security Command Trains, Equips Iraqi Forces

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

MOSUL, Iraq, Jan. 21, 2005 - "It's like building an airplane while you are already in flight" is how one official at Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq describes building the Iraqi security forces.

The command is responsible for training and equipping the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police. The coalition formed it following the disappointing showing of the Iraqi security forces during radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's uprising in April. U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus is the commander.

Petraeus led the 101st Airborne Division from Kuwait to Mosul during the initial phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. He returned to Iraq in 2004 to assume his current multinational command. He came back to Mosul to assess the readiness of the Iraqi military to protect the population during the Jan. 30 election.

The Iraqi 2nd Division is responsible for Mosul and is based in Al Kidni - where a brigade of the 101st Airborne had its headquarters. But control is a relative thing. The headquarters has a skeleton staff right now. The normal personnel- intelligence-operations-logistics system Americans are used to is nonexistent. "They are building this under fire, so to speak," Petraeus said, "like all aspects of the Iraqi military."

Iraqi soldiers are trained primarily as light infantrymen for now. They run through an eight-week basic training and then go into unit training. They then deploy against the insurgents. Where there are capable leaders, there are capable units, said officials. And, they added, that at the company, battalion and brigade levels, there are many capable leaders.

The units did well in fighting in Fallujah, said coalition military officials. The units held various parts of Fallujah and helped Marines and soldiers clear mosques, schools and other sensitive areas. Now those units are building on those hard-won lessons and continuing the fight.

And the coalition has learned as well. Iraqi units have coalition advisers embedded in them as they enter combat. The 98th Training Division - an Army Reserve unit based in Rochester, N.Y. - has provided the bulk of the advisers. "This allows the Iraqis to call for fire or air support or medical evacuation more easily," Petraeus said.

It also allows the coalition to continue on-the-job training as the Iraqi unit goes operational.

In addition, the units often are paired with coalition forces. For example, at the Kisik Military Training Area northwest of Mosul, the U.S. 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, works with an Iraqi division's units. The American soldiers set an example for the Iraqi troops and help them as they plan and initiate operations.

But problems exist above the brigade level. Building a staff and a command and control apparatus under fire is tough. Divisions also have to develop the infrastructure needed to assign troops to a unit, pay them and get them health care.

There is little in the way of intelligence analysis and in operational planning, and the division level has too little expertise and even less infrastructure to supply the forces with food, fuel and ammunition.

No army infrastructure exists above the division level. The Iraqi army has to develop a finance corps, training cadre, personnel system and so on, officials said.

Beyond army level is the government, and that is just starting out. For example, no banking system is in place, so Iraq is a cash economy. At the battalion level, this means that when soldiers get paid, they have to travel home to deliver that pay to their families.

The Iraqi military forces continue to grow and continue to gain experience, Petraeus said. But they are only part of the equation. The Iraqi police also are part of the security solution.

The police have not covered themselves with glory in combating the insurgents, and in some cases actually colluded with the enemy. In fighting in Fallujah and Samarra, police refused to engage insurgents in any fashion. In Mosul, police stations came under attack from insurgents, and most policemen simply melted away.

Part of this was because the police are locally hired and insurgents can get to families, if not the police themselves, and part is because police typically work individually or with one partner, Petraeus said. They are on their own, and susceptible to intimidation.

In Mosul, between 1,200 and 1,500 police remained on their beats. They must form the core of any rebuilding, officials said. After the elections, police units brought in from other areas will remain to combat the insurgents and give the local authorities a chance to rebuild the police.

Other initiatives are in the works. In Samarra, the police refused to move on insurgents and again melted away. Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, the 1st Infantry Division commander, said in a recent interview that 350 police will be trained as a unit and deployed as a unit to Samarra. He hopes that will give the police the cohesion needed to combat the insurgent threat in the city.

Building the army and police to take over the security mission is the "exit strategy" for Iraq in a nutshell, officials said. The effort will continue and accelerate in the weeks and months ahead, they added.

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