Rumsfeld Says Iraqi Troops Better Prepared

ByABC News
February 8, 2006, 8:26 PM

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.