WASHINGTON - A senior military commander told a House panel yesterday that Iraq's security forces are on track to add another 80,000 personnel by the end of the year, putting them well within reach of their goal of more than 600,000. But, he said, the forces are still a long way from becoming self-sufficient.
Lieutenant General James Dubik, head of Multi-National Security Transition Command, said the Iraqi defense minister has stressed to him that the country probably won't assume responsibility for internal security until as late as 2012. It would be unable to defend its borders until at least 2018.
There are "positive signs, indeed, and steps forward, but the truth is that they simply cannot fix, supply, arm, or fuel themselves completely enough at this point," Dubik told the House Armed Services Committee.
At a news conference yesterday, Army Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the number two commander in Iraq, said, "In terms of them being able to fight, they've really increased their capacity to do that."
Equipping the Iraqi force, however, has lagged, Odierno told reporters by videoconference from Iraq. He said Iraqi forces also need US help with logistics.
In private discussions, Dubik said, the Iraq defense minister, Abdul-Qader al Obeidi, continually stresses that the Iraqis need to buy more air and fire support, helicopters, and logistics equipment. These purchases will probably take several years, and training Iraqi soldiers and other personnel on the new equipment will take more time after that, he said.
Last year, the United States spent about $5.5 billion to train and equip Iraqi security forces, while the Iraqis designated $7.5 billion. Mark Kimmitt, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said he expects the Iraqis will devote $9 billion this year to the effort, with the US commitment at $3 billion.
The training and equipping of Iraqi security forces have long been considered the linchpin in the Bush administration's exit strategy in Iraq.