Feb. 8, 2006 — -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Peter Pace today dismissed claims that Iraqi troops are not adequately prepared to take over for U.S. forces when they leave Iraq.
Rumsfeld, Pace and other military officials were on Capitol Hill for a second day of testimony to defend the Pentagon's record $439 billion budget request.
After the hearing, Rumsfeld and Pace told reporters they were particularly upset by the oft-repeated claim that only one Iraqi battalion is fully independent. Rumsfeld called it a "red herring" that gets "into somebody's talking points and if it's repeated often enough people start mouthing it back."
Last year Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, told a congressional panel that only one Iraqi battalion was at the top-scale, level-one rating. Since then, Casey's testimony has been repeatedly cited as an indicator that the majority of Iraqi troops are not up to the job, especially since no additional Iraqi units have reached that high-level rating.
A level-one rating means units are considered self-sufficient in transport, medical and logistics. Military officials say a better gauge of Iraqi troop abilities is the level-two rating, which means units are "in the lead" in conducting their own military operations, with U.S. support. There are now 60 Iraqi battalions at level two. As an indicator of increased Iraqi troop capabilities, Pace said that in December there were more independent Iraqi-led operations than U.S.-led operations.
Rumsfeld said that "the Marine Corps can't operate independently; the Army does the combat support for them."
Pace echoed Rumsfeld's comments, noting he was once a battalion commander in charge of 750 Marines. He said if he had to use the same scale that was used for Iraqi troops today he'd have to rate his Marines at level two, because they'd need Air Force help to transport them and Army assistance to support them.
"Our NATO allies don't operate independently," Rumsfeld told reporters. "The idea that a police unit in some city in Iraq should be fully capable of conducting a totally independent operation anywhere in the country is utter nonsense."
"It is simply a misrepresentation of what's taking place," Rumsfeld continued. "The Iraqi security forces are getting better every day, every week, every month. They are doing a very good job."
Rumsfeld's echoed comments made earlier before the House Armed Services Committee that Iraqi troops were improving their training. According to the defense secretary, there are currently 227,000 Iraqi security forces, 106,000 of which are Army troops; the remainder are police forces.
The Defense Secretary told committee members the Iraqi army "won't look like ours," but "they're going to have, for that part of the world, a military force that will be appropriate." Rumsfeld said that Iraqi security forces are just one part of the "three-legged stool" on which Iraq must stand, along with political and economic progress and an inclusive government.
As was the case yesterday before a Senate panel, defense officials did their best to ease the concerns of lawmakers that an ongoing restructuring of the National Guard would leave states with fewer resources to deal with emergencies.
Rumsfeld attributed the tough questions to "misinformation circulating around that just simply is not correct."
During the hearing, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, told lawmakers that restructuring the National Guard would leave the force with greater combat capabilities and resources. Members of Congress have expressed concern that the budget request doesn't fund the National Guard to its top limit of 350,000 personnel, but only to the existing troop strength of 333,000.
"We don't need to fund things that aren't there," Schoomaker said. "This is business management."
Rumsfeld also defended the restructuring because it will give National Guard units the full resources they need for combat while at the same time making them better prepared to deal with emergencies, more so, he said, than the current mix of National Guard troops.
In the end, Rumsfeld expressed confidence the Pentagon's plan would overcome the doubts of legislators. "We just need to tell them truth and hopefully they'll get it," he told reporters.