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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

VOICE OF AMERICA
SLUG: 2-321753 Pentagon-Iraq (L-only)
DATE:>
NOTE NUMBER:

DATE=1/13/2005

TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT

TITLE=PENTAGON / IRAQ (L-ONLY)

NUMBER=2-321753

BYLINE=AL PESSIN

DATELINE=PENTAGON

CONTENT=

VOICED AT:

HEADLINE: U.S. Officials Say Iraqi Forces Improving, But Coalition to Stay

INTRO: U.S. defense officials say the Iraqi defense forces are dramatically improving their capabilities, but that does not necessarily mean coalition forces will be leaving the country anytime soon. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

TEXT: The commander of coalition forces in northern and central Iraq, U.S. Major General John Batiste, says Iraqi forces are building their capabilities as planned in spite of an increasing number of attacks on them.

///ACTUALITY BATISTE 1///

"Every day, the Iraqi army, police and department of border enforcement demonstrate their ability to carry out their mission, while relying less and less on their coalition partners.

///END ACT///

Defense Department spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says that is true throughout Iraq, but he says it does not necessarily mean foreign forces will be leaving the country soon.

///ACTUALITY DI RITA///

"It's not timeline-dependent, it's situation-dependent. And as the commanders assess the progress of Iraqi security forces, they'll make recommendations on force levels."

///END ACT///

Mr. Di Rita says there is no timeline for the departure of coalition forces. And officials note that there are factors to consider beyond the readiness of Iraqi forces, including the strength of the insurgency.

Speaking from Iraq on Thursday, General Batiste was lavish in his praise for Iraqi forces in the four northern and central provinces where he commands coalition forces. He says they are conducting more independent operations, continuing training and adding to their numbers every day.

The general is particularly impressed by the Iraqi troops' reaction to the growing number of attacks on their colleagues.

///ACTUALITY BATISTE 2///

"They have killed some number of brave Iraqis. The incredible thing is though that these soldiers, these great soldiers in the battalions in the four brigades in the fourth division are undeterred. Their resolve is incredible. And I know that because I spend a lot of time with them."

///END ACT///

General Batiste told of one instance when Iraqi troops attended the funeral of some of their colleagues one morning, and then went directly to resume their training. He said there is no shortage of Iraqis volunteering for the security forces.

The Pentagon spokesman, Mr. Di Rita, confirmed on Thursday that a high-level team has arrived in Iraq to assess the progress of the Iraqi forces. The team is led by a retired general, and is to make recommendations on improving the preparation of the Iraqi forces. The official says the team will be in Iraq for about two weeks. (Signed)

NEB/AWP/MAR/PT



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