Friday, September 30, 2005

US generals: Iraqi security capability has shrunk

WASHINGTON, Sept 29 (Reuters) - The number of Iraqi security battalions able to fight without help from American forces has shrunk, senior U.S. generals said on Thursday, arguing that this was not a backward step.

At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. George Casey, top U.S. commander in Iraq, also said bringing home a substantial number of troops from Iraq next year will depend on political events there in the next 2-1/2 months.

The United States currently has 149,000 troops in Iraq. The Pentagon has said training Iraqi security forces -- who number about 192,000 -- so they are able to defend their own country is a prerequisite to an eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces.

But just one of the 120 U.S.-trained Iraqi army and police battalions was able to operate without U.S. forces,

Casey and Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, told senators.

The Pentagon said in July the number was three.

Calling this discouraging, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins said, "That contributes to a loss of public confidence in how the war is going and whether this strategy is the appropriate one and it's being executed properly, (and) whether or not we're making progress."

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