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ARLINGTON, Va. — The United States plans to upgrade existing Iraqi helicopters to help Iraqis operate independently of Coalition forces, said Lt. Col. Frederick P. Wellman, spokesman for the command in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

The Iraqis currently have three C-130 Hercules aircraft along with some helicopters.

The United States plans to upgrade the Iraqis’ 16 Huey UH-1H helicopters to the Huey 2 configuration by the end of 2006, Wellman said Friday.

The upgraded aircraft, which were originally donated from Jordan, will provide an interim solution for some of the Iraqis’ airlift needs, Wellman said.

President Bush said Wednesday that one reason that only one Iraqi battalion has become fully independent is that they must be able to provide for their own support elements, such as airlift capabilities, through their ministries.

“As a matter of fact, there are some battalions from NATO militaries that would not be able to meet this standard,” Bush said.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman noted Thursday that even the Army’s vaunted 82nd Airborne Division is not completely independent in battle, but must be resupplied by the U.S. Air Force after being deployed.

Nevertheless, Whitman said, the Defense Department is not backing away from the metrics it has developed to assess how many Iraqi security forces can fight independent of U.S. assistance, because some uniform method of measurement is necessary to mark progress.

“The bottom line is that we recognize that Level 2 units can control their own battle space and take over large swaths of Iraq,” Wellman wrote in an e-mail Friday. “But for the Iraqi Security Forces to be truly independent of coalition support, it will take a focus on ministerial capabilities and national level functions which is why that focus is MNSTC-I’s major mission since 1 October.”

Right now, more than 40 Iraqi battalions are “in the lead” in the fight against insurgents, said Gen. Martin Dempsey in a teleconference with reporters on Friday.

The president’s plan for victory in Iraq calls for Iraqi security forces taking the lead in defeating terrorists and providing security for their country in the “medium term,” Dempsey said, adding he could not say exactly when that would be.

Dempsey said he received the report Thursday and has “not yet made sure that I completely understand the time horizons.”

When a reporter tried to ask Dempsey a follow-up question, Dempsey said, “What you’re asking for is dates and I’m not prepared to give you those.”

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