In Move to Equip Iraqi Force, Questions Linger Appearing with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki earlier this week, President Bush vowed to provide more equipment to Iraq's security forces. There are no specifics yet, but defense analysts say the forces are woefully under-equipped -- and the cost is estimated at $5 billion.
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In Move to Equip Iraqi Force, Questions Linger

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In Move to Equip Iraqi Force, Questions Linger

In Move to Equip Iraqi Force, Questions Linger

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

President Bush this week promised Iraq's Prime Minister more U.S. troops to help combat the increased violence there. The move would push U.S. troop levels to roughly 135,000. That's a setback for the president's hopes for reducing that figure by tens of thousands before the fall Congressional campaign. The president also promised the Iraqi Prime Minster more weapons, equipment and other resources. Details were still emerging, but both Iraqi officials and American defense analysts say Iraqi forces have long been ill-equipped.

NPR's Tom Bowman reports.

TOM BOWMAN reporting:

The day before President Bush's White House meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the number two in Iraq's armed forces was in a Washington think tank. Lieutenant General Nazir Abadi said his forces need more equipment, especially aircraft, but he wasn't hopeful.

General NAZIR ABADI (Iraqi Army): I think the coalition's thinking of giving us, you know, things like Humvees and everything, but not aircraft.

BOWMAN: For two years, retired Army general Barry McCaffery and others have pushed for a drastic increase in weaponry and aircraft for the Iraqi forces. McCaffery says that's the only way Americans will be able to turn over security to the Iraqis and eventually withdraw U.S. troops. Right now, he says, they are poorly equipped.

General BARRY MCCAFFERY (U.S. Army, Retired): And when you look at an infantry battalion on the ground, they've got 30 light vehicles, no mortars, no artillery, no light armor, no heavy armor. There's no Iraqi air force, nor is there really one planned.

BOWMAN: McCaffery, who advises the Pentagon, has a shopping list of what he says is the low end of what Iraq needs. 24 C-130 cargo planes, 120 Black Hawk transport helicopters, 2,000 armored Humvees, 2,000 armored personnel carriers, also artillery.

Others echo McCaffery's concern, saying Iraqi security forces need everything from better weapons to body armor. But the top American trader in Iraq, Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey, denies Iraqi forces are woefully underarmed. Dempsey told reporters in June that the Iraqi forces have been getting what they need.

General MARTIN DEMPSEY (U.S. Army): They are lightly, but not poorly, equipped. They've been equipped adequate to the task of fighting an internal security challenge. They are equipped with durable weapons and affordable weapons, and that's not affordable by us, but at some point affordable by them. And also, equipped with weapons they are familiar with from their former training.

BOWMAN: Dempsey says there are plans to provide the Iraqis with light mortars this year and about 2,800 armored Humvees over the next five years. He made no mention of any aircraft and says artillery is not needed.

McCaffery says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others in the administration have repeatedly blocked more equipment. There are worries of civil war and there are concerns about cost.

General MCCAFFERY: I think it was believed to be unaffordable. And the answer would come back, hey, that'd be as much as $5 billion to buy that amount of equipment. And I'd say, for God's sakes. That's less than one month's operational cost.

BOWMAN: Pentagon spokesman Brian Whitman says such allegations are baseless. He says the Pentagon and the Iraqi government are working on what their troops need, both immediately and for the long term. McCaffery says he met with President Bush and his advisors two months ago to press his case, just after returning from Iraq.

General MCCAFFERY: And I told the president, you have got to direct the Pentagon's civilian leadership to equip the Iraqi security forces with equipment appropriate to allow them to carry out this mission.

BOWMAN: At his meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister this week, Mr. Bush appeared to be moving in that direction.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We also agreed that Iraqi security forces need better tools to do their job. And so we'll work with them to equip them with greater mobility, firepower and protection.

BOWMAN: What those better tools are remains to be seen.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, the Pentagon.

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