By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA, American Forces Press ServiceDecember 16, 2006
WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2006 - To speed the development of Iraqi security forces, the United States is accelerating its use of military, police and border transition teams, a coalition spokesman in Baghdad said today.
"Iraqis need capable and honest security forces that are loyal to all of their people," Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, said in a news conference with U.S. and Iraqi media. "They need forces that can run complex operations against terrorists and criminal elements. And the best way for Iraqi security forces to enhance these capabilities is through the mentorship and partnership of our coalition transition teams."
The coalition has done a great job in training and equipping a large number of Iraqi forces in a relatively short time, Caldwell said, and now the emphasis needs to be on developing those forces further. The Iraqi force is filled with junior leaders with little experience, so the daily influence of coalition advisors is helpful in developing basic leadership skills, he said.
The military transition teams already are making the Iraqi forces more capable and competent, Caldwell said. The coalition influence has decreased the amount of absences in the Iraqi force and has increased the attention to detail.
"The (military transition teams) provide on-the-job training out there, where they continue to work improving the professionalism and leadership," Caldwell said. "That's why it's so important to have more of them out there than we do today, because we're seeing the benefit from that."
While there isn't a lot of quantifiable data showing the effectiveness of the military transition teams, reports from commanders on the ground are consistently positive, Caldwell said.
"When you have commanders on the ground at the lowest level -- company commanders, young captains, young sergeants -- that are telling you that they see an improvement, that's probably one of the best measures you can possibly use," he said.
The Iraqi security forces, though still not at the level of being able to conduct independent operations, are making progress and becoming more competent, Caldwell said. In a Dec. 7 operation, Iraqi army, national police and local police forces worked together to detain 10 suspected insurgents and seize three weapons caches. Iraqi forces also worked together to free 23 kidnapping victims near Abu Ghraib yesterday, he said.
"This is significant because it demonstrates that Iraqi forces are making progress in working more together," he said.
The Iraqis want to assume greater control over their security, Caldwell said, and the Iraqi government is working on plans to transition responsibility away from coalition forces. Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, are working closely with the Iraqi government on these plans, he said.
"The challenge we have is they want to take greater control of their security," Caldwell said. "If that's a problem, it's a great problem to have on our hands -- that they want to assume greater control and be more responsible for their overall security. Our mission is to figure out how we can best help them achieve that as rapidly as we can."
As the transition to Iraqi security forces begins, the level of violence is rising in Iraq, as coalition leaders expected it to, Caldwell said. He acknowledged that the level of violence in Baghdad is unacceptable, but emphasized that the solution cannot be only military.
"Ultimately, this is going to require a political solution," he said. "It's going to require political parties and political leaders coming together and reconciling their differences. Our military will not lose a battle; they just won't. But we can't win the peace. It's going to take the Iraqis finding a solution to the Iraqi problems."
The thing that is always reassuring, Caldwell noted, is that the Iraqi people are dedicated to peace and are rejecting violence every day. "The overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people want to live in a safe and secure environment," he said.