Contact: Josh Holly; 202.226.3988
Hunter Opening Statement for Hearing on the Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces in Iraq
Washington D.C. – U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, issued the following opening statement for the full committee’s hearing on the new report released today by the Independent Commission on the Security Forces in Iraq:
“Let me first welcome General Jones back to the Committee. I want to thank you for your continued service to the country and for devoting so much of your time and energy to this critical subject. Someone with your background and experience is truly a national asset. We appreciate that you continue to work on our country’s national security issues during your so called ‘retirement.’
“You and your fellow commissioners have put together a first rate report that is balanced and well informed, and confirms what many on this Committee have come to believe about the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF): the progress of the ISF is mixed, they are maturing at varying rates, they remain critical to securing Iraq, and that an independent ISF is vital to reducing the number U.S. forces in Iraq.
“The fact that the Iraqi Security Forces have made uneven progress is not a surprise. The Committee’s Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee, led by our now former colleague Marty Meehan and Todd Akin, produced a detailed report earlier this year with similar conclusions. I am pleased that your report is an independent confirmation that the Iraqi armed forces—Army, Special Forces, Navy and Air Force—are becoming increasingly effective and are capable of assuming greater responsibility for the security of Iraq.
“Context is critical when discussing the progress of the Iraqi Security Forces. We must remember that it was not until April 2004 that the Coalition forces were given the Herculean task of building the Iraqi Security Forces from scratch. Less than three and half years later, the Coalition has trained and equipped over 350,000 Iraqi Security Forces.
“More impressive than the sheer number of trained and equipped forces is the dramatic improvement in the quality of these forces since April 2004 when Iraqi forces failed to show up at the battle of Fallujah. Today Iraqi units are leading the fight in surge operations in Baghdad and elsewhere. Iraqi forces, particularly the Army, are fighting the enemy and dying for their country.
“To be sure, more work needs to be done. My own view is that the ISF will make the most progress if all of the Iraqi Army’s 131 battalions are rotated through a three month operational combat tour in a contentious zone, such as Baghdad. The key to fielding an effective Iraqi Army is to ensure that this force has seen combat and has become battle-hardened. This battlefield experience will strengthen the chain of command and build unit cohesion and professionalism in Iraq’s armed forces. Only when combat has matured these forces will they be able to shoulder fully the security responsibilities in Iraq and allow U.S. combat units to transition elsewhere, including back to the United States.
“This report identified other areas that need work before the ISF can operate independently. While the Commission acknowledged that the Iraqi armed forces ‘show clear evidence of developing the baseline infrastructures that lead to the successful formation of a national defense capability’, it confirmed what General Dempsey, who had responsibility for building the ISF, has previously told this Committee that the Iraqi Army is ‘severely deficient’ in combat support and combat support services capabilities.
“To a certain extent this ‘deficiency’ is by design. The emphasis until recently was on the tip of the spear – making the Iraqi Army an effective combat force. Now that we’ve gotten the Iraqis into the fight, Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq (MNSTC-I) is focusing on the tail of the force. Nascent militaries typically do not possess many of these key enablers and they exist primarily within more mature militaries. So I expect that we will be working with Iraqis on developing their combat support (aviation support, intelligence, and communications) and combat service support (logistics, supply chain management, and maintenance) for quite some time.
“One recommendation found in the report that has received a lot of attention is that the National Police and its 26,000 members should be disbanded and reorganized under the Ministry of Interior. While I share the view that ethno-sectarianism is a serious problem within the National Police, I am not convinced that the solution is disbanding the entire force. Not all of the National Police’s ten divisions are linked with Shia militias. Go to Anbar and you see National Police making a positive contribution. As of May 2007, the National Police were still going through a phased transformation plan to ‘re-blue’ the force. I think it would be prudent to give this effort more time to work.
“In contrast to the National Police, I note that the Commission found that the Iraqi local police are making progress. Most people do not appreciate that almost 70% of all the Ministry of Interior’s forces are local police. This is welcome news, as they are a critical to establishing rule of law and safe neighborhoods. I hope that you will take an opportunity to talk about this progress and remaining challenges for the local police during your testimony.
“Finally, I was pleased to see that the Commission chose to offer some additional thoughts about the new strategy and the surge that, although not part of your tasking, is very much related to your work. The report states that there are ‘…signs of encouraging tactical successes in the Baghdad capital region’, and notes that ‘successful [enemy] attacks receive disproportionate coverage relative to some very real progress achieved in other areas of the country, such as Anbar province.’ Your report also states that new Sunni allies ‘have dramatically improved the security situation in Anbar province, providing Coalition forces with valuable intelligence leading to the captures of top al Qaeda in Iraq leaders. There are positive indications that popular support for al Qaeda in Iraq is decreasing dramatically in other provinces as well.’
“With respect to progress in Anbar, I believe that the ‘tribal revolt’ against al Qaeda in Iraq, as one expert has called it, is a development that warrants cautious optimism. How we capitalize on this development remains a critical policy question. Reports in the press indicate that some 40,000 Sunnis are now working with Coalition forces. Whether these ‘auxiliary forces’ integrate into the Iraqi Security Forces is an outstanding issue, and I hope that over the course of this hearing you will address this question.”