San Francisco talk radio host Melanie Morgan falsely suggested on the August 1 edition of MSNBC's Hardball With Chris Matthews that the Iraqi armed forces have reached 60 percent "readiness." In fact, while Iraqi forces have reached 60 percent of their recruiting goals, a recent Pentagon brief contradicts Morgan's claim of readiness. The brief indicates that only a small fraction of current Iraqi units are capable of fighting insurgents without coalition support.
Morgan recently traveled to Iraq with other conservative radio hosts as part of the " 'Voices of Soldiers' Truth Tour" that, in Morgan's words, was intended to "get the story straight from them [the troops] without the filter of the liberal media." The tour was organized by Move America Forward (MAF), a conservative activist group co-chaired by Morgan, and the RighTalk Radio Network. Other "Truth Tour" reporters included MAF co-chairman Howard Kaloogian -- a former Republican state assemblyman and U.S. Senate candidate from California -- and Sacramento radio host Mark Williams. A FoxNews.com article about the "Truth Tour" quoted Williams as saying, "We are Americans first and journalists second, as opposed to the crop of 'pinkos' that tell us on the news every night that America is going to hell in a handbasket."
Responding to a question from host Chris Matthews, Morgan said that "the Iraqi general in charge of training troops" gave the radio hosts "some very good news." Morgan then conflated two distinct measurements -- troop strength and military readiness -- asserting, "They're at 60 percent troop strength now in terms of where they are trying to attain a goal of 100 percent readiness. They're at 60 percent."
According to a recent Pentagon report -- the unclassified portion of which was publicly released on July 21 -- roughly 171,300 members of the Iraqi armed forces have "completed individual entry training" and are "equipped with basic equipment." That amounts to 63 percent of the 270,000 soldiers, paramilitary troops, and police officers the Iraqi armed forces need to recruit by next summer to meet their goals. But this is not the same as 60 percent "readiness."
The Pentagon report, titled "Report to Congress: Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq," lays out criteria for grading Iraqi military units on a scale of "one" to "four," with "level one" indicating that a unit is "capable of planning, executing, and sustaining counterinsurgency operations independent of Coalition forces" and "level four" indicating that a unit is still being formed and has no operational capabilities. Although unit grades are classified and are not included in the public version of the report, The New York Times reported on July 21 that, according to "American commanders," only three of the 107 existing military and paramilitary battalions had reached "level one" status by the end of June.
In the same article, the Times also reported on an unclassified brief that Gen. Peter Pace, the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee. According to the Times, Pace's brief described the classified portion of the Pentagon's report and indicated that "[o]nly 'a small number' of Iraqi security forces are capable of fighting the insurgency without American assistance, while about one-third of the army is capable of 'planning, executing and sustaining counterinsurgency operations' with allied support."
In addition, Pace's brief indicated that, according to the Pentagon's report, the remaining two-thirds of Iraq's operational army battalions and half of Iraq's new police battalions are only "partially capable" of conducting missions in conjunction with coalition forces. According to the Times article, half of the new police battalions are "still being established and cannot conduct operations."
At a July 21 Pentagon press conference, Peter Rodman, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, and Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, the Pentagon's director of strategic plans and policy, confirmed the contents and accuracy of Pace's brief. Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said he did not know whether reports that only three Iraqi army battalions could operate independently were accurate.
From the Pentagon's July 21 press conference on the "Report to Congress: Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq":
Q What he [Pace] says here, only a small number of Iraqi -- this is June 29th -- only a small number of Iraqi security forces are taking on the insurgents and terrorists by themselves.
SHARP: Right. And that is the Category 1. But I will go on to read what he said: Two-thirds of the army battalions and half of the police battalions are partially capable of conducting insurgency operations in conjunction with coalition units. That is what I was talking about in this other levels. And I don't want to minimize what "partially capable" means, because again, every one of the individuals, every one of the Iraqis in those two-thirds of the units out there are fighting. What it means, though, is that we are alongside them helping them, enabling them to be able to do that. You should not minimize this as far as Iraqi security forces' bravery or capability. It's what we take in order to make sure that those units are capable of actually executing operations and helping them effectively do that.
Q Based on General Pace's comments and what you're saying, that two-thirds of the soldiers are in level two and level three? Is that -- or is it two, three and four?
SHARP: It's one, two and three.
Q One, two and three are -- two-thirds are in one, two and three.
SHARP: That are partially capable, Roger. Again, the level four units are not out fighting, they are just now being formed. So when we say capable of conducting insurgency, counterinsurgency operations, that includes the top three levels.
Q: Is it true that only three of 28 Iraqi army battalions are now prepared to operate independently?
DiRITA: I don't know. I don't know. I don't know where you got that number from.
Q: I heard it.
DiRITA: I just don't know.
From the August 1 edition of Hardball:
MATTHEWS: Do you believe there's a -- to me - I'm not over there. I haven't been over there. The question I want to know is, who is going to win this war based on fighting zeal? We saw for years, as you described and everybody else knows, for years, the minority in that country were the bullies of that country. They ran it because they were good, smart, vicious bullies. How do we know that those bullies won't eventually grab control again the minute we leave, Melanie?
MORGAN: We have no idea what's going to happen. I'm not a psychic. I can't read the future.
But what I can tell you is that, when I talked to the Iraqi general in charge of training troops over there, he was telling us some very good news. They're at 60 percent troop strength now in terms of where they are trying to attain a goal of 100 percent readiness. They're at 60 percent. They're making progress every day.