Friday, December 15, 2006

"We're Seeing Positive Results"

Major General Caldwell's latest op-ed on the training of the Iraqi Security Forces in Friday's USA can be found here.

The piece we are "rebutting" is here, although in reality it isn't really a rebuttal, since we didn't get to see the editorial while drafting our response, whereas the USA Today editorial board was able review our draft before sending theirs to press. (To their credit, however, they did accept our counterpoint without edits or cuts.)

There are two further points to be made on this subject:
1- USA Today writes, "Training appears to have achieved meager results so far." That is true as far as the overall level of violence in Iraq, especially Baghdad. But it is not true as far as the actual operational capacity of the Iraqi Army. For example, in August 2004, when Mahdi Army forces attacked Najaf, the Iraqi Security Forces there fled without a shot being fired. When a replay of this incident occurred in Diwaniyah this August, the Iraqi Army not only stayed and fought, but inflicted more than three times as many casualties as it sustained, and successfully completed one of the most complex operations known to modern militaries -- a nighttime battle handover in the middle of a firefight. This is merely one example of many we see reported everyday here.

2- Most of the problems with the training of the trainers cited were recognized in a 2005 report, even though some reporters (I'm talking to you, Thomas Ricks) cast them as new or ongoing in recent reporting. To their credit, the USA Today acknowledges that the program has undergone a complete overhaul since then and is now putting experienced and better prepared leaders into the mentoring positions.

One final point: The operation by the 9th Iraqi Army Division cited in the editorial was a success, not a failure. The Military Transition Team did not take the lead, but rather called for Coalition air support and advised the Iraqi commanders during the mission. This is exactly what they are supposed to do when their Iraqi units get in over their head. The expectation that they will occasionally get into operations that exceed their capabilities is precisely why they have American advisors. In the end, the operation was a success: 20 Anti-Iraqi Forces were killed or wounded, and more than 40 were detained, including several foreign fighters.

Okay, one final, final point (and my apologies for turning this into a Monty Python sketch: The Pentagon has never misrepresented the progress of the Iraqi Security Force. What we did do in 2004 and 2005 was to change the methodology by which progress was measured. Originally, the strength of the Iraqi forces was measure by total troop strength. But then once it was realized that many Iraqi commanders had scores of "ghost soldiers" on the books in order to receive more money, we began to only count those we had trained and equipped. Then once it was realized that these numbers could be misleading because of the high rates of absenteeism in the Iraqi Army (Iraq has no ATMs, so soldiers have to travel home to deliver their cash salaries to their families) we began rating units as to their capabilities. So there hasn't been any "misrepresenting," only an honest and continual reassessment of what exactly we were trying to measure.