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Carter Seeks to Improve Iraq Training  05/28 06:24

   U.S. military leaders are looking for ways to improve and speed up the 
program to train and equip Iraqi forces, including options to better prepare 
Sunni tribes to join the fight, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Thursday.

   ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT (AP) -- U.S. military leaders are looking for 
ways to improve and speed up the program to train and equip Iraqi forces, 
including options to better prepare Sunni tribes to join the fight, Defense 
Secretary Ash Carter said Thursday.

   Getting equipment to the battlefield more quickly and enhancing the training 
could help build the Iraqi forces' confidence, Carter said, just days after he 
publicly chastised them for showing "no will to fight" when they fled Ramadi 
last week even though they greatly outnumbered Islamic State militants.

   "One particular way that's extremely important is to involve the Sunni 
tribes in the fight --- that means training and equipping them," said Carter, 
who called a special meeting of his top advisers on Tuesday and tasked them to 
come up with options. "Those are the kinds of things the team back home is 
looking at."

   Iraqi officials have complained that they are not getting the heavy military 
equipment they need fast enough. And on Tuesday President Barack Obama said the 
U.S. and its allies must examine whether they are deploying military assets in 
Iraq effectively.

   A senior defense official said Carter is not considering providing weapons 
directly to the Sunnis, and still wants to work through the Iraqi government. 
The official was not authorized to discuss the options publicly so spoke on 
condition of anonymity.

   Speaking to reporters traveling with him to Asia, Carter said that the 
events in Ramadi "highlighted the central importance of having a capable ground 
partner" in Iraq.

   "I think training and equipment effect the effectiveness of the forces and 
therefore their ability to operate, and their confidence in their ability to 
operate," said Carter. "So, there's a direct relationship."

   Carter spoke at the start of an 11-day overseas trip that includes stops in 
Singapore for an international security conference and visits to maritime 
facilities in Vietnam and India.

   According to officials, Carter met with Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Joint 
Chiefs chairman, Gen. Lloyd Austin, his top Middle East commander, and other 
key policy officials to the Tuesday session and told them he wanted options for 
improving and hastening the training and equipping program.

   Carter's criticism of the Iraqi forces triggered a quick response from 
Baghdad, where leaders defended their troops. And the White House moved to 
temper his comments a bit in the days that followed.

   It's unclear, however, how quickly the U.S. will move to adjust the training 
or speed up the delivery of equipment, even as the Iraqis mobilize to try and 
retake western Anbar Province. The Obama administration has so far shown no 
inclination to commit more U.S. forces to Iraq or allow train and assist teams 
to move closer to the battlefront with smaller Iraqi units.

   On Tuesday, just as Iraqi forces prepared their offensive, Islamic State 
militants launched a series of suicide bombings outside Fallujah, killing at 
least 17 soldiers.

   Islamic State extremists seized large parts of Anbar in early 2014 and 
captured Ramadi earlier in May --- marking a major defeat for Iraqi forces, 
which had been making steady progress against the group with the help of 
U.S.-led airstrikes.

   The retreat of the Iraqi forces in Ramadi prompted comparisons with the 
military's collapse last year, as troops fled in the face of the Islamic 
State's march across portions of Syria and Iraq. And it raised questions about 
U.S. efforts to train Iraq's forces amid ongoing sectarian tensions between the 
Shiite-led government and the Sunnis.

   The campaign to retake Anbar is considered critical in regaining momentum in 
the fight against the Islamic State group.

   The U.S. has said it will provide airstrike support to government-led Iraqi 
forces, but not any Shiite militias operating outside government control.


(KA)


 
 
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