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In two August 8 reports, Fox News White House correspondent James Rosen falsely implied that American military commanders have claimed that 136,000 Iraqis are properly "trained and equipped to combat the terrorist insurgency there [in Iraq] by themselves." While it is true that Pentagon officials now report that more than 178,000 Iraqis have completed individual training and received basic equipment, Gen. Peter Pace, the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently informed the Senate that only "a small number" of Iraqi units are capable of combating insurgents without assistance from coalition forces.
During the 9:30 p.m. ET and 11:34 p.m. ET Fox News Live newsbreaks on August 8, Rosen reported:
Officials have said our fighting men and women will come home when Iraqi security forces are trained and equipped to combat the terrorist insurgency there by themselves. U.S. commanders have said there are 136,000 Iraqis properly trained and equipped, but some critics of the administration have put that figure as low as 3,000.
Rosen's repeated use of the same phrase -- "trained and equipped" -- to describe both the current status of 136,000 Iraqi troops and the conditions under which Iraqi forces would be able to combat insurgents by themselves is misleading, suggesting that all 136,000 soldiers are prepared to fight without coalition help.
Rosen's report appears to be based on a misrepresentation of statements -- now outdated -- made during a February 10 Pentagon press briefing. Lt. Gen. David Patreaus, who is in charge of training the Iraqi security forces, stated that approximately 136,000 Iraqis had been trained and equipped to serve in the military and the police force. Patreaus did not specify how many of the troops could fight without coalition assistance.
Since then, the Pentagon has updated its figures. According to the publicly released version of a July 21 Pentagon report, as of July 4, roughly 171,300 Iraqi Defense Ministry and Interior Ministry troops had "completed individual entry training, and are equipped with basic equipment." At an August 9 press briefing, Gen. Richard B. Myers, current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated, "There are more than 178,000 trained and equipped forces, and that number continues to grow."
But the vast majority of Iraqi units cannot, in Rosen's words, "combat the terrorist insurgency by themselves," as Media Matters for America has noted. The July 21 Pentagon report outlined criteria for grading each Iraqi unit 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 Iraqi military and paramilitary battalions had reached "level one" status by the end of June.
In the same article, the Times reported that Pace had sent a declassified written statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee describing the classified portions of the July 21 report. Quoting Pace's statement, the Times reported 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." The remaining two-thirds of operational military units were "partially capable" of fighting insurgents with coalition assistance.
At a July 21 press briefing, Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, the Pentagon's director of strategic plans and policy, was asked to confirm the report "that only a small number of Iraqi security forces are taking on the insurgents and terrorists by themselves." Sharp responded, "Right."
From Patreaus's February 10 press briefing on the training mission in Iraq:
Q: To follow up on the numbers --
PATREAUS: This is -- you want to know how many we're training and equipped -- to Iraqi security forces [inaudible]: 136,000. But they're trained for what they're trained for, you know.
Q: [inaudible] specific timeframe, but you can quote that 136,000 now, going to 200,000 by October 1. Maybe half of those police as opposed to military. How close is that -- and all of them very green -- how close is that to whatever it is Iraq would need in order to take care of its own --
Q: Can you just clarify one thing? Is [inaudible] by October 1 and the ultimate goal --
PATREAUS: First of all, though, let me say that this is not about just numbers of trained and equipped. And again, I want to be very clear that we have always specified that there's trained and equipped to a specific standard, you know. For a new policeman, it's an eight-week academy course. For the intervention force, it's the officer and NCO [noncommissioned officer] training that took place, six weeks each, then it was four weeks of cadre training where they get together, then it's eight weeks of basic training, and then it's five weeks of follow-on urban operations/counterinsurgency training. So there are very different levels of training for these people that are in that 136,000 number. Then they have their individual equipment.
Over time we obviously want to start focusing on the combat capabilities of units, and it's units that are really the coin of the realm in many respects in counterinsurgency operations. It's difficult for individual police to stand up to a determined insurgent attack. So we also have to change the construct within which those police operate, hardening the police stations, increasing the armaments, providing good communications to quick reaction forces that will respond and that are themselves trained. So we've done, for example, training in a number of five provincial SWAT teams, a number of provincial emergency response units.
There are some very, very highly trained units in that number of 136,000. There are Iraqi counter-terrorist force operators that are truly close to special mission unit operators. There's nearly close to 200 of them on the military side and about roughly the same on the police side in what's called the Emergency Response Unit, a national force.
From the Pentagon's July 21 press briefing 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.