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.
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|
|Security Service||Number of Battalions|
|Police, Public Order||12|
|Police, Emergency Response (SWAT)||1|
|Total Security Sorces||197,000|