Pauline Jelinek / Associated Press – 2007-06-17 00:22:55
WASHINGTON (June 13, 2007) — About one in six Iraqi policemen trained by US-led forces had been lost through attrition by last year—they were killed or wounded, deserted or just disappeared, a senior US military commander said.
And continuing violence is prompting officials again to increase the size of the Iraqi army, said Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who until recently headed the training effort.
That will mean 20,000 more soldiers to be trained this year and yet another increase in 2008, Dempsey told a Pentagon press conference Wednesday. He didn’t give the amount of increase planned for next year.
Dempsey said the 2008 increase would take into consideration the continuing violence, “which remains elevated,” lessons learned during the U.S. buildup for the ongoing Baghdad security operation, and the fact that “at some point we should anticipate a decline in U.S. forces and should build the Iraqi army … in anticipation of that.”
“These forecasts are not written in stone,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters traveling with him in Europe. He said they are only estimates of what commanders expect will be needed, and that the latest change appears to come from “a realistic assessment” of the situation in Iraq.
Dempsey was expanding on his testimony Tuesday before a House subcommittee. And his comments came as Iraqi police were detained in the investigation of a spectacular bombing at a Shiite shrine in Samarra—bringing to the fore again the question of how much of the new force has been infiltrated by militants.
Still, Dempsey asserted Wednesday that Iraqi security forces have come a long way since the training program began in 2003.
Dempsey said on Capitol Hill Tuesday that 32,000 Iraqi police had been lost from the newly trained force of 188,000 in the 18 months before January.
About 8,000 to 10,000 were believed killed in action and 6,000 to 8,000 wounded severely enough so they cannot serve, he said Tuesday.
Another 5,000 “probably … had deserted.”
The remaining 7,000 or 8,000 are unaccounted for. One lawmaker wanted to know if they could be among militants causing the violence in Iraq. “Is there any basis to believe that some portion of those … are fighting our people?” asked Rep. Robert E. Andrews, D-N.J.
Dempsey said he didn’t know.
He said Wednesday that the pace of attrition is in keeping with what has been seen in other conflicts.
Training Iraqis to take over security for their own country has gone slower than U.S. officials expected, a problem since it is considered a key factor in when U.S. forces will be able to begin to withdraw from a war that has become increasingly unpopular with the American public.
The House Armed Services subcommittee on investigations has struggled for months to get details about the training program.
By the end of this year, officials want the Iraqi forces to stand at some 390,000. That includes 170,000 in the army, with the others spread among police forces, customs and border agents and other security jobs.
Officials have adjusted the size of the army a number of times, approving last year the addition of 45,000 more troops on top of the original goal of 325,000. Based on experience with Iraqi troops that showed up to take part in the four-month-old Baghdad security push, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has decided in the last month that another increase—the 20,000—is needed, Dempsey said.
Officials earlier had planned to staff the force at about 110 percent of what was needed to help make up for absenteeism and other problems.
“On average, about 25 percent of the force is on leave at any given time, and they’re not going on vacation. It may sound simple, but a significant portion of this is for soldiers taking leave to physically take money home to their families in the absence of things like direct deposit and electronic banking,” Dempsey told lawmakers.
He said Petraeus now believes there is a “clear need to increase manning levels of these combat battalions up to 120 percent strength, or an additional 20,000 soldiers.”
On top of that will come another increase in 2008, he told reporters Wednesday.
“Another … assessment this spring, not yet publicized” suggests that “some additional growth will be necessary in 2008″—some growth of scope and scale about the same as we did in 2007.”
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