U.S. forces in Hungary will turn volunteers into translators for coalition troops in war with Iraq
STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. European Command soon will begin training Iraqi exiles in Hungary at facilities currently under construction.
As many as 3,000 Iraqi exiles living in the United States and in Europe, who are loyal to groups opposed to Saddam Hussein, should arrive later this month at the Taszar air base, about 120 miles southwest of Budapest to begin training as part of Task Force Warrior.
Their immediate task will be to undergo training as translators and logistical support personnel for U.S. soldiers in a potential war with Saddam Hussein. Their instructors will be U.S. Army reservists.
Army Lt. Col. Matt Beevers, a Task Force Warrior spokesman, said the exiles will not be trained in combat skills.
“The goal of training the volunteers is to provide them with the skills necessary to support functions for potential coalition forces, such as translation and liaison work,” Beevers said. “While it wouldn’t be prudent to discuss the specific timing, length and details of the training program … the volunteers will be instructed on basic skills, including self-defense.”
As a condition to the Hungarians allowing the training in their country, the United States has pledged not to conduct combat training.
The Hungarians have limited the training to six months.
Beevers said he could not say how many U.S. military personnel would be involved in the operation because of force-protection concerns.
In the past — such as in Africa and in the Republic of Georgia — U.S. Special Forces soldiers have conducted similar training. But recently, Green Berets have been pulled and replaced with other units.
EUCOM spokesman Navy Cmdr. Ike Skelton said the reservists would provide “fantastic training.”
The Iraqi National Congress, a major exile group outside of Iraq, provided the United States with a long list of names of exile candidates to assist with any invasion, including serving as communicators between allied forces and Iraqi civilians and troops. They could assist in translation while guarding prisoners and serve as airstrike spotters.
Christopher Langton, an analyst with the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, said that the exiles “could make contact with other Iraqis on the ground and deal with the very real problem of what happens if army commanders want to” defect.
Use of opposition members has been controversial in Washington. Many analysts fear their ranks may be infiltrated by members still loyal to Baghdad, Langton said.
The program to train Iraqi opposition forces was authorized when the U.S. Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998. Beevers said he does not have a final cost for Task Force Warrior, but the funding comes from $97 million earmarked by the Iraq Liberation Act for equipment related to this training.
Construction crews at Taszar, which has been used by the United States since 1995, are working on “life support” projects, Beevers said, which include things like barracks.
“The use of Taszar air base symbolizes the long-standing cooperative relationship between Hungary and the U.S., a relationship built on friendship and trust,” Beevers said. “Hungarian support for this operation demonstrates its increasing role as an important ally in the global war against terrorism.”
Taszar is a remote hamlet of about 2,100 people in southwest Hungary and horse-drawn carts along dirt roads are common.
Hungary has rented the Taszar base to the United States for the past seven years. It was a staging area for U.S. peacekeepers in the Balkans in the 1990s. Later it was a stopping place for morale trips offered to U.S. troops deployed in the Balkans, but in the past month those excursions were halted.
“Hungarian and U.S. soldiers are working side-by-side to protect the volunteer trainees, as well as providing security for the training area and the area in and around Taszar Air Base,” Beevers said.