Sunday, July 08, 2007

Opinion (Joel Brinkley): We can't wait for the Iraqi army to stand up

Above: A specialist with 2-15th Field Artillery, 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division lectures members of the Iraqi army on how to use a 60mm Mortar MK-1 model 1979 at Mahmudiyah in June.

BY OCTOBER 2005, the Iraq war was almost 2 years old but already seemed to have been under way forever. The United States had been training Iraqi troops for about a year, and in an assessment for Congress that month, the military said the Iraqi army would not be ready for "autonomous operations for at least a year."

To defeat the insurgency, the Pentagon said then, the United States would have to train and equip 325,000 soldiers and police -- by 2007.

Last month, the House Armed Services Committee noted in a report that Iraq's army and police now number almost 350,000. And yet, in congressional testimony last month, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who was in charge to the training program, offered a highly qualified new estimate of when Iraqi forces might be able to take over control of the country.

"By the end of the year, potentially," he said. But autonomous operations, the 2005 goal, still remain "a ways off." Brig. Gen Dana Pittard, who is still in Iraq, training Iraqi troops, predicted: "It'll take years."

The United States cannot easily withdraw its forces from Iraq until the Iraqi army and police are ready to take up security responsibilities. But as the training drags on and on, at a cost so far of $19.2 billion, it never seems to produce results. The goal always seems to be just over the horizon. In fact, the way the Pentagon describes it today, the goal is farther off now than it was two years ago.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle