Iraqi Security Forces and the Numbers Game

Well-trained Iraqi security forces go hand-in-hand with U.S. efforts to reduce troop levels in Iraq. But Iraq's government and U.S. authorities are far apart on the numbers needed to handle increased violence.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, a campaign tactic that turns a telephone poll into a political attack. A look at push polling.

CHADWICK: First, is there mission creep for U.S. forces in Iraq? Here's the story. More than 300,000 Iraqi security forces are set to be armed and trained by year's end. Now the Iraqi government says it needs more, perhaps 100,000 more, and it wants the U.S. government to provide that training.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld faced questions yesterday about what this would mean for the U.S. military. Here's some of what he had to say.

Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD: I'm very comfortable with the increases they've proposed and the accelerations in achievement of some of their targets.

CHADWICK: NPR Pentagon reporter Tom Bowman joins us. He was at that briefing. Tom, first of all, the simple question of the number of Iraqi security troops, will there indeed be more than 300,000 by the end of this year?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, there are two things: There's the numbers on paper, the numbers actually on the ground. They claim right now to have 310,000 soldiers and police, and they expect to have 325,000 by the end of the year.

But in actuality the forces on the ground are fewer than the ones on paper. I was out in Anbar province and I was with two Iraqi battalions. Each is supposed to have 750 soldiers; the numbers they actually had on hand were 120 in one battalion and 140 in another.

CHADWICK: This is within the last couple of weeks you've been out there.

BOWMAN: That's - well last month I was there. Correct.

CHADWICK: So the Iraqi government says it needs 100,000 more troops. It sounds as though from your experience indeed they may. Would that require some extension of the presence of American soldiers in Iraq as trainers if this goes through?

BOWMAN: Probably not the extension of U.S. forces. If anything, you may shift more U.S. soldiers to training duties. Right now there are about 4,000 soldiers and Marines taking part in training the Iraqi security forces. Some have suggested doubling that number.

But we have no sense from the Pentagon about what exactly they plan on doing.

CHADWICK: So this wouldn't necessarily mean longer time spent in Iraq by American forces, which is what I heard reported, or at least speculated on, a little earlier this week in the first news reports about this.

BOWMAN: No. No one expects U.S. forces to be extended for training duty. Clearly, U.S. forces are going to be in Iraq for years to come. Marines are there for seven-month tours; soldiers are there for 12-month tours. There's no sense that this would need extending either the overall U.S. presence or the presence of soldiers or Marines in particular units.

CHADWICK: The New York Times reports today that the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq is now 150,000. That's a bigger number than its been in recent months. That's a number that has grown.

BOWMAN: Exactly. And part of this is due to overlap. New units are coming in to replace the older units. The new troops coming in are getting a sense of their area, how they operate there; they're getting tips from the soldiers who are there now. So we always see a bit of an overlap when new forces come in and the others are set to leave.

CHADWICK: But you're saying that's not necessarily the target level for U.S. troop levels in Iraq at the moment. Not 150,000. What is that number, do you know?

BOWMAN: Well we don't know. General Casey in the summer had hoped to reduce forces in Iraq, U.S. forces, by 20,000. Clearly, he was heading in the other direction that he realized that more troops were needed.

And we're hearing that maybe after the election they may send additional troops to Iraq to try to tamp down the violence. But there's no details on that at this point.

CHADWICK: NPR Pentagon reporter Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: Thank you.

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