WASHINGTON – Buried in the middle of the scathing Army report on Abu Ghraib prison abuses is an unrelated item that has received little attention in the press, but one that is no less disturbing.
“The Iraqi guards at Abu Ghraib demonstrate questionable loyalties, and are a potentially dangerous contingent,” wrote Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba in the 53-page executive summary to his investigative report.
“These guards have furnished the Iraqi criminal inmates with contraband, weapons and information,” he said. “Additionally, they have facilitated the escape of at least one detainee.”
It’s not the first time U.S.-trained Iraqis have betrayed U.S. forces counting on them for security back-up.
In April, several hundred Iraqi soldiers refused to join U.S. Marines in an offensive against insurgents in Fallujah. And U.S.-trained police and members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps recently refused to engage militia loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. In fact, films show Iraqi police fighting alongside Sadr’s forces.
U.S. military intelligence officials say spies have infiltrated local security forces, and have tipped off the insurgents to U.S. convoy routes and even the locations of visiting U.S. officials.
And they question the wisdom of forging closer partnerships with local forces.
Nonetheless, the administration is pushing ahead with plans to train a total of about 260,000 Iraqi soldiers, police and other security personnel by the first quarter of next year to help stabilize the country and eventually start replacing U.S. troops.
Meanwhile, U.S. troops will continue to “conduct joint patrols with Iraqis” to put down rebel fighters, President Bush recently asserted.
“We want Iraqi forces to gain experience and confidence in dealing with their country’s enemies,” he said. “We want the Iraqi people to know that we trust their growing capabilities.”
But U.S. officials warn that some local forces may view their American trainers as the enemy, not the insurgents; and sharing too much information with them could expose American soldiers to even more treachery. Some 80 percent of the 816 GIs killed in Iraq have died since major combat operations were declared over in May 2003. Nearly half of the casualties have occurred since Saddam Hussein’s capture.
They say the Pentagon is even planning to share intelligence-gathering and interrogation techniques with Iraqi defense forces.
“Handing over our interrogation techniques to the IDF is insane,” one official told WorldNetDaily, “because we all know the Iraqi forces are rife with Baathists and former ISS,” or Iraqi Intelligence Services members, who could leak the tactics to the enemy.
The loyalty of local Arabic interpreters is also an issue.
A new Army training course warns soldiers gathering intelligence in Iraq to be wary of their interpreters and limit the amount of operations information shared with them.
“If your interpreter is a local national, he may be providing information on your operations to someone else,” say the course materials obtained by WorldNetDaily. “Operations security is paramount, so even if he seems to be a nice guy, limit what you tell him.”
“We know we’ve got Baathists and Fedayeen working for us as interpreters,” explained a senior Army official who recently returned from Iraq. “Except nobody knows how to get rid of the bad ones. There aren’t enough counterintelligence agents to run counterintelligence ops against the interpreters.”
In an internal report prepared last year by the Center for Army Lessons Learned in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., investigators in Iraq observed that local interpreters seemed to be holding back information from soldiers during interrogations of detainees.
“The foreign national would give a 10-minute answer, and the interpreter would translate ‘yes’ or ‘no,'” said the trip report, authored by Lt. Col. Robert L. Chamberlain, a top Army intelligence trainer. “Who knows what agenda the interpreter has?”
In another report, dated Sept. 17, Chamberlain
complained that some interpreters led soldiers to the
And some of the hired interpreters have tipped off
insurgents to U.S. raids on guerrilla safe houses and
arms caches, other Army officials say.
“We heard about dozens of cases where the infantry
would find out where stuff was, brief the interpreter,
but the interpreter would get out of sight,” according
to one official. “And when the infantry went on the
raid, the stuff wouldn’t be there.”
Anthony Cordesman, a senior defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies here, agrees that local assets have to be monitored closely.
“You still have the problem that all of these locals are both an asset and something you have to watch and maintain contact with,” he said, “or they could easily become a source of misinformation.”
The Army official who recently returned from Iraq says that U.S. forces are also making the potentially “dangerous” mistake of allowing Iraqis to protect U.S. facilities in Iraq.
He also notes that “almost all the labor on any installation is done by Iraqis, who are allowed to run around and use cell phones and GPS’s,” which could be used to coordinate strikes against those installations. The official, who asked not to be identified, said some installations assign only one soldier to escort as many as 20 Iraqi laborers, a ratio he says is unacceptably high.
While Bush admits U.S.-trained Iraqi forces “fell short” in recent enemy engagements, he said commanders are making it harder for subversives to join up. “We improved the vetting and training of Iraqi officers and senior enlisted men,” he said.
During recent congressional testimony, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also acknowledged that “there have been some big disappointments in the last couple of months” involving Iraqi security forces.
But he also cited “some big successes,” especially in Mosul, where Lt. Gen. David Petraeus trained and equipped the Iraqi security forces. Violence in Mosul has been subdued compared with Baghdad and Fallujah, and Petraeus was recently promoted to train the entire Iraqi military.
Wolfowitz also praised the 300 loyal Iraqi troops who have died in the line of duty.
The Pentagon seeks an additional $500 million from Congress to train Iraqi security forces.