Training the Iraqi Army – Revisited, Again

The issue of the number of “fully operational Iraqi Army units” has raised its ugly head yet again. The “news” that the number of “fully operational” Iraqi battalions dropped from three to one has created quite a stir in media and political circles, however the hyperventilation over this issue is misplaced. Iraqi Security Forces rated as Level 2 or 3 units are fully engaged in the counterinsurgency effort.

This issue is not new to longtime readers of The Long War Journal. In June, we discussed the meaning of “fully operational” and the media’s misrepresentation of this term. This article was followed with information obtained from Austin Bay’s visit to Iraq, which verified that the media’s definition of fully operational is seriously flawed.

In August, we discussed the meaning of Levels 1 thru 4, which define the operational readiness of the Iraqi Security Forces, explained that Level 2 and 3 units are fully engaged in the fight, and discussed the Iraqi Army’s efforts to create their own logistical capabilities.

Two days ago, Lieutenant General David Petraeus, the recent commander of Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq [the man responsible for training the Iraqi Security Forces], gave a detailed briefing on the state of affairs in the training program and the progress of the Iraqi Army [well worth reading in full]. He summarized the status of the Iraqi Security Forces and defined the meaning of the level designations.

There are now over 197,000 trained and equipped Iraqi Security Forces. As folks have noted over the past week, that should be close to 200,000 by the referendum in the middle part of this month. There are over 115 police and army combat battalions in the fight. Most — about 80 — are assessed as fighting alongside our forces. That is level three, by the way, in this discussion of levels of readiness. Over 36 are assessed as being “in the lead” — that’s the term for level two — including the one that is assessed as needing no coalition assistance whatsoever; i.e., fully independent. That does not mean, by the way, just fully independent operations, it means it doesn’t need anything from the coalition. And again, it is not surprising that there are very, very few of those. Of those 36, a substantial number — some seven just in Baghdad alone — have their own areas of operation and, of course, that obviously includes a large number of level two units.

General Petraeus provides some examples of how Level 2 and Level 3 units participated in combat, despite not being “fully operational.”

More than 10 Iraqi battalions of the 3rd Iraqi Division, the Border Force and the Police Commando Division were operating in western Nineveh province during the fighting in and around Tall Afar. Sixteen Iraqi battalions from several different divisions — police and army — are now fighting in Anbar province with our forces. Now, the bulk of those are in eastern Anbar province in the Fallujah/Ramadi area, but a number are also now out in the western in those three operations that are being conducted out there. Some of these are level two. There are actually some that are level three. An Iraqi Police Mechanized Battalion — level three, by the way — now helps coalition forces secure the Airport Road. Three Iraqi battalions, all level two — one, by the way, is a former level one that was just reassessed as part of the process — those three secure Haifa Street, which was known as “Purple Heart Boulevard.” And Iraqi Security Forces, as I’m sure you all know, now control the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala and a number of other locations.

Additional (and excellent) commentary and analysis on this issue can be found at The Belmont Club, Murdoc Online (with a follow-up post), Major K and Tigerhawk.

I have assembled a map and a few charts which hopefully help clarify this issue. The map from a CENTCOM briefing on September 29 shows the positioning of the Iraqi battalions in Iraq, by province. At the time this map was created, there were only thirteen battalion in Anbar, the number has been reported to have been increased to sixteen. This bears repeating: The Iraqi Army has yet to meet its full potential in Anbar, and the Coalition is already making progress against the insurgency.

A disclaimer on the charts below: MG Petraeus is a bit vague on the exact number of Iraqi battalions (“There are over 115 police and army combat battalions in the fight. Most — about 80 — are assessed as  level three  Over 36 are assessed as being  level two.” ) For simplicity’s sake the number of 115 battalions will be used. The breakdown of units in the second chart, “Security, Services, Number of Battalions” , seems to indicate 115 is the correct number. The discrepancy may be due to some esoteric units such as a Secret Service unit being organized as a battalion but not actually counted as a line battalion. All speculation, of course.

Level Number of Battalions at Level Definition of Level
1 1 Units are completely independent; Units do not require air, armor, artillery, logistical support (supplies).
2 36 (estimate) Units are capable of independent operations, requires some level of logistical or heavy weapons support.
3 about 80 (estimate) Units are capable conducting combat operations alongside Coalition forces.
4 Undefined Units currently in training, not in combat
Total 115

Security Service Number of Battalions
Iraqi Army 80
Police, Commandos 12
Police, Public Order 12
Police, Mechanized 3
Police, Emergency Response (SWAT) 1
Police, Other 7
Total 115

Security Service Manpower
Police 68,000
Border Police 17,000
Army 91,000
Secret Service 600
Other 20,400
Total Security Sorces 197,000

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

34 Comments

  • Excellent Analysis Bill and I hope the positive trends will continue. I would personally like to take a copy of your post and smack Bill Oreilly in the forehead with it because last night, he did a poor job of debating the issue with some leftwing nut. All he kept saying was “level 1, level 1”.
    I like Bill, but he should do a little more digging.

  • Matthew says:

    Bill,
    What is the Combined Arms Center (CAC) out in Leavenworth, Kansas that General Petraeus is now assigned to?
    Is he taking a “break” from the intensity of leading the effort to train Iraqis?
    Or is this a bona-fide assignment to train officers in the lessons learned in the management of the training process?

  • GJ says:

    I don’t think much of O’Reilly anymore. I hear him on his radio show and all he can say is how bad the war is going. He listens to Other media that have no clue and just repeats the same. I Would like to see this Bill (Roggio) give updates on the Factor or any other Fox news program. I have sent them numerous e-mails but they seem not to want to hear any criticisms. So I’ve come to the conclusion that Fox is worried of so being labeled ‘Conservative’ that they will go out of their way to present All the Other sides, Left, New Left, Far Left, Communist Left, and Anarchist Left. Their balance is giving a ‘Voice’ to the right, or more appropriately ‘Support our Troops and their Mission’. I’ve really gotten tired of O’Reilly saying if everything isn’t working by next year it’s all over. This operation will take years and years. We can’t fully pull out even if all battalions are at level 1 or 2. We have to realize that Iraq will need a ‘Full’ military capability. This would include air power, land power etc, to be brief. Otherwise with just ground troops, and we left, any country in the region would overwhelm them. They need the ability to defend themselves against another country. We can’t have another Iran, Iraq war. That would be a strategic disaster. So we’ll need to be there a good while. Hopefully not engaged in rooting out terrorists.

  • cjr says:

    Bill:
    A few nitpicking comments:
    From a previous press confernce: there are 14 battalions in training (Level 4)
    The “Police, Other” catagory is mostly special border police(at least 4 battalions). For SWAT, there are 20 teams of 27 each, which is about 1 battalion.
    For future reference, the “Iraqi Weekly Report” reports the number of Iraqi troops each week. Here is the link to this week. (see page 6):
    http://www.defendamerica.gov/downloads/Iraq-Weekly-Report-10052005.pdf

  • cjr says:

    There’s something wrong with the map. It says that there are 115 combat battalions fielded, but if you add up the number of little Iraqi flags, you get 194……

  • Matthew says:

    It’s really breathtaking how smart and well-informed General Petraeus is – my goodness, police payroll protocols within the Minsitry of Interior?!? This guy just blews my mind and it was clear that the Press Corps in the briefing was impressed as well.
    I’m glad to see that our Armed Forces, for the most part, do really have the leaders they need to lead the GWOT.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Matthew,
    You can get info on the CAC here:
    http://www.leavenworth.army.mil/
    This is an important posting.
    cjr,
    You’re not nitpicking, clarity is good. I have to try and review that briefing again. I am hhoping Soldier’s Dad weighs in, he probably knows the answer to the map issue off the tops of his head. I suspect the difference is projected battalions, which may include service support (logistics) and perhaps local defense forces. I’ll see if I dig up the briefing.

  • TallDave says:

    Looking at the progress so far, it makes me think about where they will be in a year. All indications are they will be able to take over the the bulk of the counterinsurgency work by then.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    cjr,
    If you notice the map, there are two different Iraqi flags(1 has a border). One of those is Iraqi police battalions(minstry of interior), the other is Iraqi Army battalions(ministry of defense). I don’t know which is which.

  • Al says:

    Do you have a reference to an overview of how long it takes to stand up a full _American_ battalion of, say, ‘light cav’?
    I seem to remember that getting to our own ‘level 1’ of full readiness was estimated to be quite long – senior NCO’s / higher officers take awhile to fully train. But I can’t recall where I saw that.

  • Murdoc says:

    Great post, Bill. You and Austin Bay are the ones that really enlightened me to the games being played with reporting the status of the new Iraqi army. It’s truly shameful.
    One thing that everyone should keep in mind is that the bulk of most armies in the world are not truly Level 1, or at least not all units graded “Level 1” are such at once. Any given unit may be completely capable of operating totally independently, but then those support resources are not available to other “Level 1” units if needed. The press is spouting off about Iraqi units not being useful since they aren’t Level 1 when much of the US military isn’t Level 1, at least at any given time.
    It would be really interesting to see how much of Europe’s armies and Russia’s army is Level 1.
    If I were Iraq’s neighbors, I’d be just as happy with the Iraqi army at Level 2. Level 2 armies don’t go rolling across borders nearly so often…

  • Reg Jones says:

    1. 7 Police (Other) SWAT battalions: source? [Petreaus’ brief was ambigious on this issue].
    2. One of the most important counter-insurgency institutions is Iraqi intelligence. What is public? Back in July 2004 Iraqi sources said the intelligence agency was just being formed. Do we know anything else? What about relationship to Defense and Interior ministries?

  • TallDave says:

    The amount of disinformation being spread by the MSM is just breathtaking. I’m seeing headlines like “Only One Iraqi Battalion Fit to Fight.” Unbelievable.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    The “7 Police (Other) SWAT” was a typo, an artifact of cut & paste…. There is only 1 SWAT batallion. The “other” are police battalions I could not identify.
    Corrected & thanks.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Keep it clean, TallDave. I deleted the offensive comments. Please read the comments policy.

  • TallDave says:

    Sorry Bill, my bad.

  • Mosey says:

    Not having military experience thie Level 1-4 thing is all new to me, and very, very useful.
    Someone mentioned that that Level 1 is kind of a pipedream for most armies.
    Considering that there are (according to my math) now more trained Iraqi troops in Iraq than US troops in Iraq.
    A) what is their death toll? (is someone has a source)
    b) how many US troops are level 1, 2 and 3? (guesstimate)

  • hamidreza says:

    I believe the CENTCOM map includes “local police forces” (LPF) and border police (BP) which are not counted in the 36 IP Bn figure.
    The lower flags (smaller ones with yellow halo) are probably the IA. It adds up to about 80.
    The upper flags (larger ones) I think are a combination of the IP, BP and the LPF, even though the LPF is probably not organized as battalions (?). I believe IP Bn are deployable units, and excludes the LPF and BP which are local and stationary.
    The upper flags are closer to Ministry of Interior 106,000 than it is to 36 IP Bn.

  • hamidreza says:

    I think the key to the Level-1 and Level-2 reclassification and ensuing debate is “how much control do you wish to have”? Of course this is a sensitive issue and the Pentagon would rightfully prefer that the MSM not get into this debate – hence the Pentagon cannot adequately answer the MSM RE the two L1 downgrades.
    As Petraeus has said softly, L2 is superior to L1. Because they are controllable. Do you really wish to see 100 Bns of L1 troops that depend on no one, but its loyalty is under question? Remember that the average soldier is closer to his Imam, religious party, or militia than he is to his government or state. Much less to the MNF. Do you really want 100 Bns of L1 IA?
    L2 + MNF logistics and command can do everything that an L1 can do. Why would you need L1, except for maybe the SWAT team?
    Petreaus has said: “the focus should be on L2 not L1”. I think the anti-war press (actually “pro-war but on the other side”) has taken whiff of this, and that is why they are subconsciously pushing for L1, thinking incorrectly that it is an issue of preparedness. Well, it is better that the MSM remain under this illusion, IMO.

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  • Diggs says:

    As you read about the combat readiness, and “level” of each of these Iraqi battalions, keep in mind a few things.
    1. The level of readiness (FOC, IOC, MOC) is different from the Level 1 thru 4 that each battalion is rated. They are related, but not interchangable.
    2. A battalion can be rated differently from any of the battalion’s companies. A battalion may have three very effective companies, rated at FOC, and one company just forming. The battalion as a whole may be rated at Level 3, and IOC, but still have three companies out there, in the fight.
    3. The rating can change quickly, and for very different reasons. A battalion may lose a bunch of soldiers in a fight, and drop in both level and capability. If the officers and NCOs are still ready to go, the battalion can get right back into training and into the fight in a very short time.
    4. The capability rating (MOC, IOC, and FOC) is very subjective, and is based upon a “best guess” of the coalition team that is training and fighting with the Iraqis. The ratings, both readiness and capability ratings, were never designed to be used by the general public as an indicator of how the New Iraqi Army is doing. They are to be used by the decision makers as a quick aid to help make some of the thousands of decisions that need to be made by the senior officers and NCOs in the coalition armies and the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.
    5. US units are not rated this way, but there are other ratings used. Many US units that performed well on the battlefield had gotten poor ratings for readiness at NTC and JRTC just months before.
    6. No matter what the ratings are, these Iraqi soldiers are training and begging to get into the fight for their country. Just joining the NIA makes them targets for execution by the terrorists. Despite this, they are still joining, and they are fighting, and they are dying (at a very alarming rate) in the effort to keep terrorists away from their families.
    7. There is no way to measure, much less rate, the ability of a unit to stand fast and fight against an enemy. No amount of training can guarantee that a soldier will stay in the fight. The Iraqi soldiers are staying in the fight, something they did not do just a year ago.
    Just thought you ought to consider these things.

  • mariro says:

    Do you think it is wise to give so much detail?

  • exhelodrvr says:

    Other reasons why a unit’s readiness level could drop:
    If equipment is going through overhaul;
    A number of the unit’s members are going through an extended training period for something
    Just received new equipment and not everyone is “up to speed” on it.

  • Jamison1 says:

    Bill, the map is very hard to read. Any way of blowing it up?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Diggs, exhelodrvr,
    All good points indeed. We could write a book on this… The point I am trying to get across (and I am sure you understand) is Level 2 is fine enough for counterinsurgency. But by all means discuss this, it is very important. Thanks for the feedback.
    Jamison1,
    Let me see what I can do on the map, but no promises. It wasn’t easy to read from the slide.

  • Stu says:

    Your definitions are flawed…. All combat Battalions require air, armor or artillery support. The level of support depends on the mission and objective. One battalion does not possess its own independent air, armor or artillery capability.
    Based on Petraeus’ statement: at this point after two and one half years of our effort: Iraq has ONE 500 man battalion to replace the 150,000 troops we have in Iraq. At this rate it will take another 20 years for them [Iraq] to adquately train 150,000 combat ready troops.
    Just as an aside we used your method of counting combat ready troops in Viet Nam and hopefully you remember what happenrd there.

  • Stu says:

    Your definitions are flawed…. All combat Battalions require air, armor or artillery support. The level of support depends on the mission and objective. One battalion does not possess its own independent air, armor or artillery capability.
    Based on Petraeus’ statement: at this point after two and one half years of our effort: Iraq has ONE 500 man battalion to replace the 150,000 troops we have in Iraq. At this rate it will take another 20 years for them [Iraq] to adquately train 150,000 combat ready troops.
    Just as an aside we used your method of counting combat ready troops in Viet Nam and hopefully you remember what happenrd there.

  • hamidreza says:

    Stu – the Iraqi soldiers that managed to dislodge the entrenched terrorists in Talafar were all Level-2 and did not have artillary or Iraqi aircraft – and they did not need it either.
    The MNF is more than prepared to provide the backup armor and air support.
    The issue is NOT one of replacement. The issue is one of securing the country so Iraqis can get on with their lives in peace.
    Petraeus says that Level 2 is more than adequate for counter insurgency operations, and there are more than 80,000 soldiers and policemen in qualified Iraqi battalians today and who are up to the job and are doing the job.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    #17 Mosey.
    What is the ISF Death toll.
    The casualty rate for the ISF has been running at 200+ per month since March. They are definitely not standing behind US Soldiers.
    http://icasualties.org/oif/IraqiDeaths.aspx
    #26 Stu –
    The big killer of US and Iraqi security forces is IED’s. Artillery,Aircraft and all the rest do very little to effect how many IED’s are planted.
    Having “boots on the ground” patrolling, setting up checkpoints, talking with residents,doing cordon and searches is the MOST critical part of the equation.

  • Matthew says:

    Thanks Bill for that link about the CAC,
    Wow, it is a really important post, The Army is
    really intent on cummunicating the lessons of Iraq to their leaders.
    Check it out if you haven’t (it does take some looking into), but very interesting and complex organization dedicated to the training of the doctrines and applications of “U.S. style” war-fighting.
    Seeing this makes me feel safer in the knowledge that the U.S. Armed forces are pushing as far as they can to keep that edge in military training on a global scale.

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  • Dean's World says:

    A Brief Correspondence With Simon Jenkins Of The Guardian

    This just baffles me. How can anyone at a major publication write something this baldly counterfactual and not be fired from his position?

    I’m afraid I lost my temp…

  • Dean's World says:

    A Brief Correspondence With Simon Jenkins Of The Guardian

    This just baffles me. How can anyone at a major publication write something this baldly counterfactual and not be fired from his position?

    I’m afraid I lost my temp…

Iraq

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