A U.S. military official says although Iraqi military forces are taking on more responsibility for security, they suffer from leadership shortages and other weaknesses that make the job of transitioning major security burdens to them more difficult. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.
Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey, former Commanding General of the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq, says Iraqi forces have improved their capability to assume a greater share of the burden from U.S. forces.
By the end of this year the U.S. hopes to have developed a trained Iraqi military of just over 190,000, with police forces of about 195,000, while taking into account attrition rates of between 15 and 22 percent.
But while General Dempsey says Iraqi forces are improving their tactical performance in battle, he adds that weaknesses continue to hamper the overall effort.
"They continue to be hampered, however, by a lack of depth. Iraqi Army and police units do not have tactical staying power or sufficient capability to surge forces locally," he said. "The ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] also have shortages of leaders from the tactical to the national level which I've already touched upon. In addition, their logistics infrastructure is immature which limits their ability to function effectively against a broad array of challenges, particularly when asked to deploy around the country."
Dempsey told the House Armed Services Oversight subcommittee that transition in Iraq is a balancing act in which passing responsibility too soon can overwhelm the system, while doing so too late could create dependency.
Among other things, he points to the need for a coherent, accountable, and responsible Iraqi chain of command, adding that Iraqi government business practices are horribly inefficient and ineffective with no pool of skilled civil servants to overcome this in the near term.
Despite this, Dempsey says the Iraqi government is now spending more on its security forces than the United States, and U.S. officials want to transition equipment, sustainment and other support to Iraqi control this year.
The hearing was the last in an investigation of the effectiveness of Iraqi security force training by U.S. and coalition partners.
Subcommittee chairman Democrat Marty Meehan offered this overview of what the panel has found.
"Our sense is that the military has shown some progress," he said. "The Iraqi police are not operating effectively, and the ministries are not even close to taking over responsibility."
"One thing this investigation has demonstrated is that transitioning security responsibility simply for the sake of transitioning will not stabilize Iraq, in face it may slow progress down," said committee Republican Todd Akin.
Lieutenant General Dempsey told lawmakers it has become clear that for Iraqis to assume security responsibilities in the event of any withdrawal of U.S. troops would require increasing the number of Iraqi forces, plans for which are now being implemented.
Failure to address Iraqi military shortcomings, from leadership to logistics, brings the risk that U.S. forces will have to continue shouldering these responsibilities.
"Coalition forces currently cover these capability gaps," said General Dempsey. "Failure to address these Iraqi security capability gaps will lock U.S. forces into tactical battle space and greatly increase the risk to Iraqi security forces should the coalition presence decline in the near future."
Meanwhile, Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs, emphasized U.S. impatience over the lack of Iraqi government progress on steps toward political reconciliation.
"We are certainly not pleased at this point that the space that the military has bought, the space and time that the military has bought for the Iraqis themselves to take on the hard questions of reconciliation that they have not yet used this opportunity in not recognizing that there is as General Petraeus has said many times, a difference between the Baghdad clock, and the Washington clock, the American clock," said Mark Kimmitt.
Lawmakers say a report on the conclusions of the subcommittee's work will be issued by the end of this month, adding they hope it will contribute to the public debate on Iraq.