- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The general in charge of training the much-needed Iraq army and police said yesterday that the final target of 325,000 personnel will be met before the end of this month, with “dramatic improvement” in performance envisioned by July.

“The sooner we can give Iraqis responsibility for the security of their own country, the better off we’re gong to be,” said Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey.

His assessment comes as President Bush weighs options for changing strategy and tactics for 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq as a surge of violence threatens to drag parts of the country into chaos.

The strategy talk has expanded to include what the entire U.S. armed forces needs to continue fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, while keeping its commitments around the globe. The Army has increased its active force by almost 30,000 to more than 500,000. But the increase can be drawn back without congressional approval.

Adding to “end strength,” as it is called in the yearly defense authorization bill, would be the first major departure from the policies of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who resisted permanent increases.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said yesterday that the president is considering the idea of a temporary surge of troops to quell violence in Iraq, but the president must first be convinced that there is a specific military objective.

The linchpin of any new strategy will continue to rely heavily on the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to mature and shoulder more counterinsurgency missions.

“I think the progress you’ll see among the legitimate Iraqi security forces here in the next six months will be dramatic,” Gen. Dempsey told reporters via a conference call from Baghdad.

While the Army makes progress, the national police force is riddled with corrupt officers. Gen. Dempsey said about one-quarter of them needed to be weeded out. Its nine brigades are undergoing re-evaluation and retraining that includes lie-detector tests.

New Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is due to visit Iraq this week and hear from Gen. Dempsey and other top commanders before making final recommendations to Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bush told The Washington Post in a story posted on its Web site yesterday that he has decided to increase ground forces in the Army and Marine Corps as a whole but provided no specifics. Gen. Peter Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, told Congress last week that the Army was near the breaking point unless new soldiers were added.

“I’m inclined to believe that we do need to increase our troops — the Army, the Marines,” Mr. Bush told the Post. He said Mr. Gates is drawing up such plans.

Gen. Dempsey said that by June, all 10 Iraqi army divisions will be commanded by Baghdad, not the U.S. They will also have received new armored vehicles, weapons and helicopters with $1.5 billion in newly committed Iraqi funds.

The general repeatedly mentioned the need for a political solution in Iraq, a theme repeated by other commanders in recent weeks as it appeared that counterinsurgency missions alone will not stop the fighting.

“On the Sunni side and on the Shia side, make no mistake about it: There’s a core of extremists who have no desire for that political process in the middle to work,” Gen. Dempsey said. “That’s not a large number but, you know, it doesn’t take much to get three or four suicide bombers to drive into a marketplace and kill 150 people.”

Gen. John Abizaid, the top commander for Iraq, told Congress that he wants more U.S. trainers embedded with the ISF above the current 4,000. Gen. Dempsey endorsed that idea, but added he has recommended changing the teams’ missions so they do not prevent the Iraqis from taking action on their own.

During the heat of the battle for Baghdad this summer, as sectarian violence raged, the U.S. requested two brigades of army troops, but the Iraqis only delivered two battalions. Units refused to come to the capital.

Gen. Dempsey said he investigated “what went wrong” and found a number of answers. The units did not feel they had been trained for urban combat, and no one had consulted with the tribal and political leaders in those regions. Also, there was no personnel at the front end to prepare them for the move and no one at the receiving end for indoctrination.

“It was an indictment, frankly, on the training program, and I take some responsibility for that,” he said.

Now, there are bonuses paid to soldiers redeploying out of home districts, he said.

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