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Iraqi special forces need more training, equipment.

IRAQI COMMANDO UNITS, KNOWN AS SPECIAL FORCES, continue to be hampered by equipment and training shortcomings, a Washington think tank expert contends.

"The effort to create special forces in Iraq was rather slow," Anthony Cordesman, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told National Defense. The United States together with the Iraqi leadership "did not see how urgent the need was."

At press time, Cordesman was drafting a study on "Strengthening Iraqi Military and Security Forces."

While equipment deliveries to the Iraqi military have picked up pace compared to last spring and summer, Iraqi special forces still need secure vehicles and better intelligence aids, said Cordesman.

The special operators are elite forces selected from the former Iraqi special forces and the national guard. "Special forces units rely on integrity," said Cordesman. Establishing that integrity takes time in a volatile environment such as Iraq, he added. In the past, U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers have deserted or have turned against U.S. soldiers and their compatriots.

The special operations force was created at the behest of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to give the Iraqi military an edge.

The special forces consist of two battalions, including the 36th Commando Battalion--an infantry-type strike force--and the Iraqi counterterrorism battalion. The force will add a third support battalion to its ranks in the coming months.

Selection for the force begins in the Iraqi National Guard and Iraqi army units already operating in the country. The effort resembles typical multinational special forces recruiting efforts, according to U.S. Army Sgt. Jared Zabaldo. Recruits have to pass extensive background checks, skill and unit evaluations along with literacy, psychological and physical tests.

Operators are run through various team-building and physical events. Mental toughness, aptitude and team play are the three most important attributes necessary to be part of the elite group. The selection process lasts about 14 days.

While selection for the counterterrorism battalion was built completely upon individual applicants from the ground up, the 36th Commandos began with the identification of a particular Iraqi national guard battalion, which fought with unusual distinction in Fallujah and other hot spots during the summer.

Recruiting still depends heavily on the expertise of multinational advisors. The intent is for the Iraqi units to become fully operational without outside support, but so far international help is essential to avoid failure, said an MNSTC-I advisor.

Training, meanwhile, consists of physical fitness instruction, land navigation, small-unit tactics, live fire, unconventional warfare, direct action, air mobility and counterterrorism. Just like U.S. special operations forces, the Iraqis undergo survival, evasion, resistance and escape training.

Soldiers in the unit routinely negotiate live-fire, building-clearing exercises involving helicopter rooftop insertions and quick ground assault strikes on buildings, said Zabaldo.

The U.S. Marines with Task Force Naha at Camp Korean Village in western Iraq instructed members of the Iraqi special forces in the basics of patrolling, hasty defense, building searching and room clearing. The training ultimately was designed to give Iraqis a better understanding of military techniques necessary to defend the borders of Iraq, said a Marine Corps spokesman.

The Marines also had a hand in training the so-called Al Hillah special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team. Based on training received from the Marine force-reconnaissance units, Al Hillah is comparable to U.S. special operations forces. Force-recon Marines are experts in direct-action, close-quarter fighting and reconnaissance operations. The force-recon Marines started training a handful of specially picked men from the Al Hillah province. These soldiers receive training in marksmanship, tactics, but also mission planning and decision making. The SWAT team ran missions with the Marines in the province of Babil, the site of the ancient city of Babylon.

The team now has 175 members. For additional experience, some of them have been training in Jordan.

Other specialized units include the special police commando battalions, which represent the Iraqi ministry of interior's strike-force capability. The commandos, ultimately to be composed of six full battalions, are vetted Iraqi officers and rank-and-file servicemen.

All members of the unit are chosen based on loyalty to Iraq and its new democratic model, said Cordesman. The unit focuses primarily on raid operations, counter-terrorist missions, including responding to airplane hijackings and kidnappings. The force is equipped with heavy weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47 assault rifles, mortars and 9mm Glock pistols.

The Iraqi intervention forces form the counterinsurgency wing of the Iraqi army. After graduation from basic military training, IIF battalions spend several weeks in urban terrain exercises, where they learn the art of street fighting and building clearing.

As of November 2004, 590 special operations forces were trained and equipped versus an approved number of 1,967. Of 2,019 special police commandos, only 900 are fully trained and equipped. And from an authorized total of 6,859 members, intervention forces have 1,816 people trained and equipped, according to Cordesman's study.

While the United States no longer reports equipment deliveries to the Iraqi military and itemized reports covering special forces are not available, the Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq reports that, for November 2004, deliveries included 44 Panhard M3 armored personnel carriers, four T-55 heavy tanks, nearly 1,000 PKM and RPK machineguns, 1,000 9mm pistols, more than 2 million RPK/PKM machine guns rounds, 1.2 million 9mm pistol rounds, 5,400 AK-47 assault rifles, 2.8 million AK-47 rounds, 1,150 smoke and riot grenades, 78 rocket propelled grenade launchers, 16,000 sets of body armor and 7,400 helmets.

"These figures may seem mundane and trivial, but a careful reading shows a far more rapid rate of delivery does seem to be taking place, and that the mix of equipment reflects a considerably better effort to meet the overall needs of Iraqi forces," Cordesman wrote in his paper.

Nevertheless, a look at the deliveries "reveals how lightly armed and equipped most Iraqi forces are, as well as delivery rates that raise real questions about the level of equipment shortfalls tolerated during 2003 and the first half of 2004," Cordesman added.

When asked about equipment needs for the Iraqi special forces, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kevin Buckingham, a public affairs officer assigned to the Iraqi special forces, declined to comment about anything related to training and equipping those troops.

While fast recruitment, training and equipment play an immense role in the ability of the Iraqi specialized forces to quell the insurgencies, political and economic events reinforce the need for effective Iraqi troops, said Cordesman.

"The coalition's persistent inability to deliver a popular political message, its failures to use economic aid effectively, have continued to aid the insurgents," he said. "The lack of highly visible Iraqi forces, and the fact that U.S. occupiers [...] still dominate most security activity have also reinforced the image of a nation where fighting is done by foreigners, non-Muslims and occupiers."

Based on Cordesman's research, the trends in equipping and training the Iraqi forces on the whole seem positive since the fall of 2004, but he said the steady cutbacks and censorship of U.S. reporting makes it impossible to know the truth.
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Title Annotation:Special OPS
Author:Tiron, Roxana
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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