Pentagon report warns of security risks for US advisers in Iraq
By Rebecca Shabad - 07/14/14 11:50 AM EDT
A classified Pentagon review of Iraq’s security forces warns that U.S. advisers assigned to advise them could face significant safety risks, jeopardizing efforts to help Baghdad combat a growing insurgency.
U.S. officials familiar with the assessment said Iraq’s security forces have been deeply infiltrated by either Iranian-backed Shiites or informants for Sunni extremist groups, placing American advisers in danger, according to a report published Sunday by The New York Times.
The review found only about half of Iraq’s operational units are capable enough for U.S. forces to advise them if the Obama administration decides to ramp up support.
Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, is now reviewing the 120-page report, which examined the Iraqi army’s strengths and weaknesses. The assessment was delivered to the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey on Monday morning.
"Secretary has not had a chance to review them," Pentagon press secretary Adm. John Kirby told reporters on Monday, adding that senior defense leaders will review the report and make recommendations about next steps.
"There will be a matter of some time here as we work our way through what the assessments say, what the teams have found before moving forward to any specific decisions about follow-on military assistance to the security forces," he said.
The initial Pentagon review found Iraqi forces who are loyal to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, are heavily dependent on Shiite militias — many of which have been trained in Iran. U.S. officials said there may be no way for Washington to reduce Iraq’s dependence on those groups.
At a congressional hearing last week, the head of the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Votel, told lawmakers that there might also be risks if the U.S. doesn't intervene to help Baghdad turn back advances by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Sunni militant group.
“There’s risks to allowing things just to try to resolve themselves, particularly when there are interests that could affect our country,” he said.
Earlier this month, President Obama dispatched 200 more U.S. troops to Iraq to protect diplomatic facilities, bringing the total number of U.S. advisers deployed there to 750.
The leaders of ISIS, which controls parts of both Iraq and Syria, recently declared a caliphate or Islamic state, in their territory and renamed themselves the Islamic State.