Deeply buried in the Bush administration's 97-page supplemental budget request for $81.9 billion ($75 billion of it for the Pentagon), mainly to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is one sentence that expresses—more succinctly and shockingly than any official statement to date—just how little progress we've made toward making Iraq a stable nation.
It's there in the section dealing with the $5.7 billion requested for the "Iraq Security Force Fund," which notes that the interim Iraqi government, with assistance from coalition nations, has already created a security force of 90 battalions, but then adds:
All but one of these 90 battalions, however, are lightly equipped and armed, and have very limited mobility and sustainment capabilities.
In other words, 89 of Iraq's 90 battalions essentially cannot fight.
This is a far worse state of affairs than even President Bush's critics have imagined. During Condoleezza Rice's confirmation hearings last month, Sen. Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the foreign relations committee, said he'd been told that of the 120,000 security forces that Rice maintained existed, only 4,000—or 3 percent—were well-trained. Now the administration is admitting, in the pursuit of seeking more money to improve matters, that the real number is more like 1 percent.
This section of the document goes on:
These limitations, coupled with a more resilient insurgency than anticipated … have led the Prime Minister of Iraq to request forces that can participate in the "hard end" of the counterinsurgency, and to do so quickly.
The $5.7 billion requested, it adds, will allow the Iraqi government to "begin to train, equip, operate and sustain its own security forces." (Italics added.)
It makes you wonder: What the hell has been going on here? It's been 18 months since Iraq's insurgency emerged in full force. Yet only now is the Bush administration seeking funds to "begin" training Iraqi security forces to "participate" in the "hard end" of fighting the insurgency.
How long will this training take? The American in charge of the training, Gen. David Petraeus, who was commander of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division during the battlefield phase of this war, is a superb officer, maybe the smartest we've got. But the Army's rule of thumb is that it takes two years to train a trainer. The U.S. military doesn't have enough certified trainers at the moment. Most of Petraeus' assistants are soldiers who have been redeployed from combat to training. Knowing how to fight is one thing; teaching others how to fight requires a different set of skills. Will his guys be up to it? I hope so. But it will take years, under the most optimistic forecasts, to whip the Iraqi security force into shape—unless, perhaps, an internal political settlement ends the insurgency sooner.