Fri, Jul 23, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Equipment shortages plague new Iraqi security forces

AP , WASHINGTON

Iraqi national guardsmen and US troops withdraw after conducting a raid in central Baghdad yesterday in which dozens of people were arrested in a massive sweep of suspected criminals and insurgents.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Just under two-thirds of the new Iraqi police and security troops have completed some form of training, although many of them lack weapons, vehicles and other equipment necessary to do their job, Pentagon figures show.

In addition, about half of the troops in the country's reconstituted military are trained, but many of those units also face equipment shortages, the Pentagon says.

The Pentagon projects that both the security services and military will be fully trained and equipped by next spring, with certain units being fully capable sooner, according to the figures, which were posted on a Pentagon public relations Web site.

Military officials pointed to the figures as a sign of progress that Iraqis are growing more capable of managing their own security, although they acknowledge the job is far from finished. The more Iraqi forces are capable of fighting insurgents on their own, the fewer US and allied troops will ultimately be needed in the country, they say.

Pentagon officials blamed the difficulties on getting equipment to Iraqis on the red tape that goes with US government contracting. But they expect that to change and say money is now flowing to buy body armor, weapons, radios and vehicles.

So far, the new Iraqi security and police forces have a mixed record in facing insurgents. In April, when US forces faced concurrent uprisings in two parts of Iraq, some Iraqi units refused to fight and a few deserted to the insurgents. US officials say this has hastened efforts to create a wholly Iraqi chain-of-command.

In some cases, the insurgents have been better armed than the Iraqi security forces. Insurgents have repeatedly targeted police and local officials, viewing them as collaborators with US forces.

But defense officials point to other operations as a sign that well-equipped Iraqi units are up to the job. In recent months, Iraqi security forces defended a northern governor's office during an insurgent raid, and they have conducted successful large-scale sweeps for insurgents in Baghdad.

Reports of any progress are coming far too late, according to Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has reviewed the Pentagon's figures.

Cordesman, a former Defense Department intelligence official, said in a paper that the US military should have trained and equipped Iraqi security forces to this point far sooner.

"The US wasted precious time waiting for its own forces to defeat a threat that it treated as the product of a small number of former regime loyalists and foreign volun-teers, and felt it could solve without creating effective Iraqi forces," Cordesman writes.

Pentagon officials disputed Cordesman's assertions, saying they had made progress in the areas he cited as lagging: training and equipping security forces, cooperation between US and Iraqi forces and intelligence collection.

Iraqi internal security forces fall into three categories: police, border patrol and facilities protection. Of the 188,851 needed, more than 180,000 have been hired. Of those, 121,943 -- about 64 percent -- have finished some form of training.

The Iraqi Police Service constitutes the largest of the internal security forces. While more than 88,000 have been recruited, less than 30,000 have completed training, the Pentagon says.

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