The commander of the U.S. military unit training Iraqi opposition forces in Hungary has acknowledged the volunteers will participate mainly in post-war relief efforts and not frontline combat roles as originally anticipated.
President Bush cleared the way for the start of a military training program for several thousand members of the Iraqi opposition late last year, authorizing the expenditure of some $92 million for the effort.
At the time, Pentagon officials said the goal would be to place native Iraqis into U.S. combat units to act as interpreters as well as guides to help in an eventual attack.
But Army Major General David Barno now acknowledges the trainees will mainly play a non-combat role. "The fundamental purpose of the training program is not to train them to accompany frontline units... so it's really a little bit different from perhaps what I saw in initial reports some months ago on the program," he said. "I think it's more accurate to describe their role as being primarily in a humanitarian sense in assisting in working with our U.S. and coalition civil military affairs organizations once combat has passed through an area."
General Barno is commander of the Training Task Force operating out of a military air base in Hungary. He says that so far, one class has completed the month-long training course for what are called the Free Iraqi Forces.
He declines to say how many trainees graduated, citing security reasons.
But reports earlier this month from Hungary said the first group numbered about 50. General Barno says these graduates have now been placed with forces arrayed in the Gulf region.
The training included self-defense and small-arms instruction, as well as first-aid, land mine identification and use of chemical protective equipment.
The Iraqi volunteers were also trained to work with humanitarian groups, both military and civilian, learning to deal with victims of a war, including displaced persons.
General Barno says the trainees have ranged in age from 18 to 55 and have come from North America and Western Europe. He says they come from all ethnic and religious groups. They receive a small stipend and are given distinctive uniforms.
Although only one class has graduated so far, General Barno says as many as 3000 could be trained this year.