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Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey explains just how far along the Iraqi Security Forces are

Wednesday, June 28, 2006
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HH: Hi, it’s Hugh Hewitt. Welcome to the program, General. Good to have you on.

MD: Thank you.

HH: General Dempsey, can you give us a quick rundown on where the Iraqi Army stands today, in terms of numbers and by specialty. I know you’re aiming, for example, ten divisions. How far along is the Iraqi Army?

MD: Yeah, it’s about 85% complete, and let me put a little sharper edge on that. There are ten divisions, and they’re geographically disbursed. They’ve got on average ten battalions in each, but a few of them, the Baghdad division, notably, has seventeen battalions. The support structure that provides them their necessary logistics is developing, but I’d fairly characterize it as immature at this point. Communications, architecture’s good. The training base that provides the soldiers that come in off the street, recruting and get pushed into the army is complete, and largely transitions are Iraqi control. So in other words, Iraq has its own capability now to recruit, vet, as they call it, induct, basic train, and then distribute soldiers throughout the force.

HH: So if I’ve got my numbers right, you’ve still got about another 25,000 to recruit and train and deploy to the divisions. Is that about right?

MD: That’s about right.

HH: All right. In the December briefing you gave, which I’m working off of, you also went to the special police, and you said look, we need 25,000 of those. We had 27 battalions in December. Where are you now with the special police?

MD: We’re at about 22,000. And again, both the army and the national…well, actually, our goal is to complete army, national police and local police by the end of the calendar year.

HH: You had a goal of 135,000 regular police. You were 60,000 short in December of ’05. Where are you now?

MD: We’re…I don’t have the number right in front of me, but we are…actually, I can get it for you here. On local police, we’re at 104,700, and we’ve got another 2,300 in training right now that are ready to graduate.

HH: I was fascinated in the February briefing, and the December briefing as well. You need 6,000 highway patrolmen. I hadn’t thought about Iraqi Chippies. You had 3,000 at the time. Where are you now?

MD: Well, that’s…actually, we had some problems with the highway patrol. It…as most things occur, you adapt. And one of the things we had problems with is that the highway patrol, because it was less supervised than it needed to be, had some problems with corruption, and actually criminal activity. We had some highway patrolmen in Baghdad that were kidnapping for ransom. And so, we actually encouraged the Ministry of Interior, this is probably four or five months ago now, to disband the highway patrol, and simply distribute the capability, the patrol cars and the patrolmen, to the provincial governors. And so now, each province has its own highway patrol, and it’s largely finished.

HH: Oh, that’s very interesting. I’m talking, by the way, America, with Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, in charge of the national security transition command in Iraq. And finally, the border police…again, I hadn’t thought about this until I read your December briefing. You need 18,000 of them guarding hundreds of border ports, and dozens of ports. You had 27,000 as a goal. Are you there yet?

MD: No, we’re not there yet. We’re at right about 21,500. We’ve got 254 of the 258 border forts complete. The other four will be completed by August. We’ll have the border police completely built out by September. The other matter related to borders is, of course, ports of entry. There’s 14 ground ports of entry throughout or around Iraq. And we’ve got 6,000 customs police covering down on them, with some of our own Department of Homeland Security folks helping them how to figure out how to control their legal border crossings. That’s a work in progress, though, frankly. In that region of the world, border crossings are more like a speed bump than anything that actually screens things coming across the border. So we’re working on that with them, and that’ll take some time.

HH: Now General Dempsey, it sounds like, quantitatively, you’re pretty close to topping off the tank in all categories.

MD: We will have topped off the tank, as you describe it, by the end of the calendar year.

HH: Okay. Now let’s go to the qualitative assessment. I’m going to use the old G’s classification, because that’s what I know. You have G-1 through G-5 kind of functions. Are their personnel functions adequate? Do they know how to recruit and retain and pay and promote?

MD: Well, let me start by saying that all of the necessary processes and systems are in place today. But they are all immature at some level or another. But let’s take pay. You bring up pay. If we were having this conversation 18 months ago, if the coalition didn’t transport the pay and oversee the paying, they wouldn’t be paid, and you might have in a given month, 18 months ago, you might have 10 or 12 thousand soldiers who didn’t receive their pay. In May, first of all, that’s entirely transitioned to Iraqi control. We don’t have any role in paying their soldiers or policemen now. And in the army’s case, in May, the number of soldiers that didn’t receive pay was about 1,050, which is a little less than 1% of the total force. So this is a little bit like weightlifting, you know? You let them perform some reps, and they get a little stronger. And over time, they take complete ownership of these processes. They are eager to take control of the processes.

HH: Let me skip over the intelligence and security function. We’ll come back to that, but go to operations and combat tactics, the traditional G-3. Are they planning their own missions now?

MD: They are planning their own missions in those battalions that have taken ownership of their own battle space. And there’s 69 battalions right now that own their own battle space. And so they’re responsible for everything that happens, or fails to happen inside of their battle space. But let me mention that this is an army that, like our army pre-1991, was really kind of a Cold War, doctrinal relic, in the sense that they had a very high-end, high intensity, kinetic energy solution to everything. Just as we’ve adapted, or learned to adapt over time to the counter-insurgency environment, they’re beginning to learn what it means to perform military operations in a counter-insurgency. And that’s going to take them some time. I mean, we’ve run some exercises with them, where we present them some tactical situations, you know, a particular city, you’ve got three or four or five save havens, terrorists…the insurgents are denying movement through the city, what are you going to do? And often, the answer is well, we’ll go in and crush the city, and no so much how do we use other elements of national power? How do you get ready for the reconstruction effort following it? How do you engage with local leaders? But they’re coming, they’re coming around to it. And I think it’s another one of the things that we are being very successful in helping them understand, is the difference in fighting in different kinds of environments.

HH: How about logistics capability, General Dempsey, in terms of moving the mountain of supplies to feed 160,000 soldiers, and 125,000 special police, etc., etc. Does the stuff they need come in and get to where it needs to go in an efficient fashion?

MD: Well, again, if we were having this conversation in January, the coalition was probably providing about 40% of their life support, and I’ll define life support as food, fuel, sanitation, emptying port-o-potties…I don’t mean that our soldiers were doing it, but we were providing the contracting capability to do that. We embarked with them on a transition strategy to get them to take responsibility for life support, and our goal was by the end of June. And actually, they achieved it in May. And you know, it’s a bit uneven across the country. There are parts of Iraq, and al Anbar Province is probably the most familiar to you, where providing life support is just flat difficult, because you’ve got a very active enemy there, and you’ve got the tyranny of distance. It’s a fairly open desert, even if there wasn’t an enemy presence there. So we’ve been working on adaptations to the template in the most contested areas, and I think that it’s fair to say that by the end of the year, they’ll be fairly efficiently providing their own life support.

HH: Let’s drop back then to the G-2, the intelligence and the security function. Are they handling 10% of the intelligence gathering? 50%?

MD: I don’t know that I’m in a position, because I don’t deal with that on a daily basis, to actually speculate about their percentage. But I will tell you that the intelligence system is probably the most immature of all. And it tends to be a bit stovepiped, and a lot less transparent than we would be comfortable with, if it were our intelligence system. And that’s going to take some time to overcome, and they’re coming out of, as you know, 35 years of complete mistrust, even within similar parties. And so it’s going to take some time for them to be willing to knock down those barriers. The intelligence system is probably our, after logistics, our next biggest challenge.

HH: Let’s switch over to the professionalism of your non-commissioned officers and your officer corps in the Iraqi Army that you’re training, General Dempsey. How is that?

MD: Well, first of all, we have a very…when I say we, I mean, this is all about our Iraqi counterparts, and us collaboratively putting in place institutions to develop leaders, because we’ve both come to the conclusion that these young men that were generating out of these basic training centers and police academies, if they’re not well led, then they’re not going to accomplish what we hope to accomplish. And so, we’ve got about 30 training centers, institutes, academies, colleges. Of that number, probably in both the army and the police, 25% of them are dedicated to the development of leaders. I’m also the NATO commander in Iraq, and we’ve got a small NATO contingent that oversees the officer development, both in the basic 2nd Lieutenant military academy, and in what they call the joint staff college, which is kind of an intermediate grade education system. And then eventually, here, in September or so, we’re going to run our first pilot course of a war college, which is for senior leaders, and senior civilians as well. But frankly, leader development is probably both the most important thing that we do, meaning the command that I’m part of, and it’s also the one that will take the longest to see any positive outcomes, because you know, let’s face it. In the former regime, leadership was an entitlement. And now, we’re trying to convince them that leadership is a responsibility, and it’s going to take us some time to do that.

HH: General Dempsey, how do you develop, and how successful have you been, in developing that hardest to quantify thing, which is an institutional committment to civil authority? The Arab world has had a lot of generals walk into a lot of offices with a lot of pistols drawn. How do you stop that from happening?

MD: Well, I think that first of all, principally, our presence here, or there, is what is fundamentally, the greatest single hedge to that happening. And it is something we reinforce all the time. But you’re exactly right. I mean, I’ve had conversations with the previous minister of defense, and with my counterpart Iraqi generals. And they actually reject the term civilian control of the military, which is…we refer to civilian control of the military, they won’t buy civilian control of the military. They’re content to accept civilian oversight of the military. And so, we’re walking them toward a more complete understanding of the role of the ministry of defense, and its civilian civil servants, and the role of the joing headquarters, and its military leaders. But without question, there is both some blurred lines of responsibility, there’s some parochialisms, there’s some mistrust. And all that has to be overcome, but just talking about it is not going to cause it to be overcome. What’s going to lead it to being overcome is a series of issues that they have to deal with collaboratively over time. And they’re into it. They’re a nation at war, and trying to build a military and an institution to support it simultaneously. And I think, and I have reason to believe, that that challenge will actually do more to help them understand the interplay of civilian and military than anything else.

HH: General Dempsey, last question. Thanks for the time today. It’s a comprehensive overview, and I appreciate it. The big story this week in the United States is of course how newspapers released confidential data on financial tracking. As you follow that story, did you hear from people on the ground how the impact that is on our operations against the insurgency? Did that hurt our operations against the insurgency, to tell them stuff like that?

MD: You know, I’m not saying this to dodge the question, but I’ve been on leave, and was invited in here today to take part in this. And I made a committment to my wife that while on leave, I would avoid all stories about Iraq, under all circumstances. So I really haven’t followed the story, and therefore won’t comment on it.

HH: All right. General Dempsey, thanks for your service, and thanks for spending time with us, especially since you’re on leave. I appreciate your being on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

MD: My pleasure.

End of interview.

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