Friday, April 20, 2007

"Training Iraqi troops no longer the top priority"

Say what?

Military planners have abandoned the idea that standing up Iraqi troops will enable American soldiers to start coming home soon and now believe that U.S. troops will have to defeat the insurgents and secure control of troubled provinces.

Training Iraqi troops, which had been the cornerstone of the Bush administration's Iraq policy since 2005, has dropped in priority, officials in Baghdad and Washington said.

No change has been announced, and a Pentagon spokesman, Col. Gary Keck, said training Iraqis remains important. "We are just adding another leg to our mission," Keck said, referring to the greater U.S. role in establishing security that new troops arriving in Iraq will undertake.

But evidence has been building for months that training Iraqi troops is no longer the focus of U.S. policy. Pentagon officials said they know of no new training resources that have been included in U.S. plans to dispatch 28,000 additional troops to Iraq. The officials spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they aren't authorized to discuss the policy shift publicly. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made no public mention of training Iraqi troops on Thursday during a visit to Iraq.

Okay, on the one hand, there is less here than meets the eye. We're still training them; we've just shifted top priority to the "surge" and U.S. combat operations.

But consider this:

In nearly every area where Iraqi forces were given control, the security situation rapidly deteriorated. The exceptions were areas dominated largely by one sect and policed by members of that sect....

Earlier this month, U.S. forces engaged in heavy fighting in the southern city of Diwaniyah after Iraqi forces, who'd been given control of the region in January 2006, lost control of the city.

Also consider the "our strategy sucked" revelation implicit in the following paragraphs:

Casey's "mandate was transition. General Petraeus' mandate is security. It is a change based on conditions. Certain conditions have to be met for the transition to be successful. Security is part of that. And General Petraeus recognizes that," said Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of the Iraq Assistance Group in charge of supporting trained Iraqi forces.

Um, didn't we have that exactly backwards? Shouldn't we have established security first, then begun the transition? Four years later, we're back to square one.

I suppose you can still blame Democrats:

Military officials say there's no doubt that the November U.S. elections, which gave Democrats control of both houses of Congress, helped push training down the priority list. The elections, they said, made it clear that voters didn't have the patience to wait for Iraqis to take the lead.

"To the extent we are losing the American public, we were losing" in the transition approach, said a senior military commander in Washington.

But that doesn't address the fact that we tried to leap straight to transition without first securing the country, or that military and administration officials fed expectations with their relentless "happy talk" about the progress of the training program -- talk that turns out to have been more than a tad overoptimistic.

So our exit strategy is in disarray, and our response is to send 23,000 more troops and think that will make a difference.

Or as a State Department official put it: "Our strategy now is to basically hold on and wait for the Iraqis to do something."

Color me pessimistic.

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