New Joint Chiefs chairman says U.S. military has contributed to confusion over Iraqi troop readiness |

New Joint Chiefs chairman says U.S. military has contributed to confusion over Iraqi troop readiness

WASHINGTON – If the American public has a distorted picture of the combat readiness of Iraqi troops, the U.S. military is largely to blame for it, the most senior American military officer said Thursday.”We have done ourselves a disservice in the way that we have defined how we are tracking the progress of Iraqi forces,” Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an audience of military and civilian students at the National Defense University.It was his first public speech focusing on Iraq since he became Joint Chiefs chairman on Oct. 1, and his remarks came one day after President Bush outlined his administration’s strategy for achieving victory in Iraq.Also Thursday, Bush’s chief of staff told GOP congressional leaders that the White House would communicate more with lawmakers about Iraq. The leaders welcomed Andrew Card’s commitment and followed it by providing “constructive criticism,” said a Republican official who attended the GOP retreat in St. Michaels, Md. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.Pace was among several senior officials who spoke publicly Thursday about the strategy for winning in Iraq. Eric Edelman, the under secretary of defense for policy, spoke to and fielded questions from members of the Council on Foreign Relations, along with Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the senior assistant to Pace.Edelman, whose predecessor, Douglas J. Feith, was considered one of the architects of the Iraq war, said senior U.S. military commanders told him on a recent visit to Iraq that they are very optimistic about stabilizing the country.”Overall, when one considers the challenges that Iraq faces – not least that of overcoming the political and social effects of 3 1/2 decades of monstrous tyranny – what is most impressive to me is not how much remains for them to do, but rather how far they have come in less than three years,” Edelman said.Edelman also emphasized the benefit of eventually reducing the American troop presence in Iraq.”We need to, over time, bring down the number of U.S. troops to lessen the feel of occupation in Iraq,” he said.An important element of Bush’s strategy is building Iraqi security forces that can defend the country on their own.Pace said the U.S. military’s own means of measuring progress in training Iraqi forces have created confusion in some quarters.”In an attempt to be very precise with ourselves, to give ourselves metrics that we could all understand, we have done ourselves and everyone who is listening to us a disservice,” he added.Pace made the remark after mentioning that people often ask him, “How can there be only one – count them – only one Iraqi battalion capable of independent operations?”He was referring to the public stir that arose when Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told Congress in September that the number of Iraqi army battalions rated at “level one” proficiency – meaning capable of combat with no U.S. support – had dropped from three to one. Some interpreted that as evidence the Iraqis were regressing.Pace indicated that Iraqi units do not have to reach “level one” proficiency to be capable of fighting the insurgency, and said that even some battalions in the American military would be rated below “level 1.”He cited his own experience as a Marine battalion commander from 1983-85 and noted that his unit was reliant on either the Navy or the Air Force to transport it to the battle front and that if required to remain in combat for more than 60 days, his battalion had to rely on the Army for resupplying.”So if you asked me then to grade my own battalion on a piece of paper as far as level one, level two, level three, level four, I would have to put level two,” he said. “Why? Because I’m very capable but I do need some outside help.”Pace’s point was that even though only one Iraqi battalion is rated at “level one,” there are nearly 40 rated at “level two,” which is defined as capable of taking a lead role in fighting the insurgency with some degree of U.S. support. About 80 others battalions at rated at “level three,” meaning that are capable of fighting, but with U.S. troops in the lead.—Associated Press writer Liz Sidoti contributed to this report.Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism