Iraqi army will take years, says coalition official
ARLINGTON, Va. — It will be years before an Iraqi army will be able to defend its nation against foreign enemies, said Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, commanding general of the Coalition Military Assistance and Training Team, tasked with building the future Iraqi Army.
With unlimited funds, it would take at least three to five years to train and equip enough soldiers to constitute a viable Iraqi army.
But that access to money to hire and equip troops isn’t a reality, especially with various agencies competing for money to rebuild all facets of the country, Eaton said from Baghdad during a Wednesday press briefing with Pentagon reporters.
And the time line, Eaton cautioned, doesn’t directly translate to the duration for which U.S. troops will be needed in Iraq.
So, in the short-term, and as U.S. and coalition forces occupy Iraq some 10 months after the war started, the few thousand Iraqi soldiers who have graduated from boot camp are being trained to take on the mission of internal security.
Coalition forces are working on a long-term plan to stand up 27 infantry battalions, employing between 35,000 and 40,000 Iraqi soldiers, and more to stand up a coastal defense force and an air corps. Coalition forces focused first on standing up light infantry battalions, which don’t need a lot of equipment, Eaton said.
Three recruiting stations, in Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, have been set up.
So far, 1,200 have graduated basic training and another 2,500 are in training. The monthly pay ranges from $120 for junior enlisted to $240 for senior officers. The attrition rate is 20 percent to 25 percent.
The enlisted and officer ranks train simultaneously but separately for two months before pulling together for a final 3-week session, Eaton said. Soldiers are trained at the Kirkush Military Training Base, some 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, near the Iran border. Some officers receive training in Jordan.
The 1st Battalion, which Iraqi soldiers dubbed “Freedom Battalion,” graduated Oct. 4, and is assigned to the U.S. 4th Infantry Division operating in and around Tikrit.
The 2nd Battalion graduated Jan. 6, and is operating under the U.S. 1st Armored Division in Taji, just north of Baghdad.
The 3rd Battalion is set to graduate this week and will be assigned to the northern region near Mosul.
Equipping the battalions with new gear will take a long time, and will be costly. Instead, some of the hardware will be updated weapon systems. For example, Eaton said, updating a 50-year-old Soviet T-55 tank runs about $1 million, versus buying a new M1A1 Abrams for $600 million.
Once trained, commanders of U.S. divisions that take control of the battalions and either continue to train or assign missions as they see fit, Eaton said.
For example, Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno put the 1st Battalion soldiers through “mission rehearsal exercises” before they can join coalition forces in the fight to secure Iraq, Eaton said.
In addition to training in tactics and procedures, the soldiers also are schooled in tolerance and values, Eaton said.
“This is not the old Army … that oppressed and terrorized people.”