Here are the findings of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces in Iraq, a group of military and law enforcement men sent out by Congress to examine the status of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF):
“The Commission finds that in general, the Iraqi Security Forces, military and police, have made uneven progress, but that there should be increasing improvement in both their readiness and their capability to provide for the internal security of Iraq. With regard to external dangers, the evidence indicates that the Iraqi Security Forces will not be able to secure Iraqi borders against conventional military threats in the near term.
“While severely deficient in combat support and combat service support capabilities, the new Iraqi armed forces, especially the Army, show clear evidence of developing the baseline infrastructures that lead to the successful formation of a national defense capability…. In any event, the ISF will be unable to fulfill their essential security responsibilities independently over the next 12-18 months…
“In some areas, they have been vulnerable to infiltration, and they are often outmatched in leadership, training, tactics, equipment, and weapons by the terrorists, criminals, and the militias they must combat.”
The Commission presented these findings at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier today. They are the kind of lukewarm results that either party can use to their advantage. And that they did.
In questioning, Ranking Minority Member John McCain focused on the good. According to the Commission’s report, the Iraqi Army’s efforts to weed militias out of its ranks is “achieving some progress.” It’s “operational effectiveness is increasing.” The Air Force is “progressing at a promising rate.” The Navy is “making substantive progress.” (The Ministry of Interior, the National Police, and the border security forces are subject to strong criticism in the report.)
McCain repeatedly asked if these achievements are due to the surge. The military men seated at the witness table, who agreed with McCain that the surge is producing military results, conceded that this was true only “in part.”
Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and other Democrats highlighted the language within the report that appears to support a withdrawal. According to the report, recent success with the ISF presents
“the opportunity for considering a shift in the disposition and employment of our forces. This could be characterized as a transition to a “strategic overwatch” posture. Such a strategy would include placing increasing responsibility for the internal security of the nation on the ISF, especially in the urban areas. Coalition forces could be re-tasked to… the eastern and western borders and the active defense of the critical infrastructures essential to Iraq.”
Levin’s main thrust was this: What reductions in American troops can result from the realignments and retaskings of the Iraqi security forces and the coalition forces that the Commission recommends?
The generals ducked the question, and none of the Democrats pushed. There was a universal acknowledgement in the room that the Iraqi security forces would be better off with some political clarity at the top of the Iraqi government, and that without it the ceiling for progress would be kept low. Political reconciliation would be “the most positive event that can occur in the near term” said the lead general at the witness table, James Jones. “Everything seems to flow from this event.”
Until then, the Iraqi Security Forces won’t be able to act independently, and the Americans will be stuck doing their work.