Sunday, January 23, 2005

Training of Iraq Soldiers Up to Luck, that is General Luck

The retired four-star Army general who was sent to Iraq two weeks ago to assess operations there has concluded that American troops must speed up and strengthen the training of Iraqi security forces, by assigning thousands of additional military advisers to work directly with Iraqi units, said senior defense and military officials here and in Iraq.

The officer, Gen. Gary E. Luck, largely endorses a plan by American commanders in Iraq to shift the military's main mission after the Jan. 30 elections from fighting the insurgency to training Iraq's military and police forces to take over those security and combat duties and become more self-reliant, eventually allowing American forces to withdraw, the officials said.

The aim would be to double or even triple the number of trainers now at work with Iraqi security forces, up to as many as 8,000 or 10,000, though General Luck has not mentioned a specific number. A senior defense official who has been briefed on General Luck's initial conclusions and recommendations said the plan would draw on a mix of officers and senior enlisted troops from Army and Marine units already in Iraq.

Many commanders say that providing more trainers is meant to bolster the Iraqi will to fight, help train officers who would lead, curb desertion and provide Iraqi forces with the confidence that American units would back them up - in some cases fighting alongside them if needed, military and Pentagon officials said. Two American advisers have died fighting with Iraqi units.

But the training would follow a step-by-step approach that would take months if not years, proceeding at different paces in different parts of the country, depending on the troops' performance. American forces would work closely with Iraqis in the most dangerous parts of the country, but would still take the lead combat role there.

At her confirmation hearings this week, Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's nominee to be secretary of state, was repeatedly asked to defend the training program. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the Foreign Relations Committee's ranking Democrat, dismissed as "malarkey" Ms. Rice's assertion, backed by commanders in Iraq, that 120,000 Iraqi troops had been trained.

General Luck is emphasizing that Americans tailor their assistance or partnership to an array of Iraqi security forces. Some need more advanced weapons and soldier training. Junior Iraqi officers in more capable units may need to hone leadership skills. The best Iraqi troops may need Americans to call in airstrikes, much as American Special Forces did for Afghan allies to help defeat the Taliban.

"Luck and the commanders are looking across this spectrum to see over time how do you start providing that enabling capability to make the Iraqis more self-reliant," said a senior defense official who has been briefed on General Luck's initial conclusions and recommendations.

As Iraqis take on more security responsibilities, General Luck is recommending that American troops be freed up to be quick-reaction forces to back up the Iraqis or to help tighten Iraq's borders, especially with Syria and Saudi Arabia, where foreign fighters and couriers carrying cash for the insurgency often cross with impunity. Ultimately, as overall security improved, American forces could draw down, officials said.

General Luck is also expected to recommend that American and other allied military officials fill several adviser positions in the Iraqi defense and interior ministries, that those ministries' responsibilities for various security forces be reassessed to ensure effective operations, and that American commanders be given greater flexibility on spending their budgets, defense officials said.
con·cept: Training of Iraq Soldiers Up to Luck, that is General Luck