By Tina Susman, Times Staff Writer
May 3, 2007
BESMAYA RANGE, IRAQ — Teams of Iraqi soldiers huddled outside the doors of two small homes across a narrow road from each other. Their AK-47s were ready, and so were they.They kicked in the doors of each house, burst in, and began searching the rooms for insurgents, aiming their weapons as they moved crab-like through the maze-like structures.”Stop! Stop! Stop!” someone hollered in English from a catwalk above them.
It was U.S. Army 1st Lt. Andrew Fuller, trying to break the soldiers of a potentially lethal habit. Simultaneous, side-by-side searches such as these often can end up with soldiers pointing their guns at each other.”You always want to have your clearing operations going in the same direction,” Fuller explained through a translator as the Iraqi teams regrouped in the dusty alley to try another approach.
For almost three years, training the Iraqi army has been among the top priorities for the U.S. military. And for nearly that long, U.S. officials have considered it among their chief frustrations.Now, with President Bush under steady pressure to begin pulling U.S. troops from Iraq, the administration once again is emphasizing the need to train Iraqi forces to take over the country’s security.
But despite some signs of progress, both Iraqis and their American advisors at this training range are blunt about how much work remains: If a U.S. pullout comes anytime soon, most say, the Iraqi army will collapse.”Honestly put, I think Iraq would be challenged to remain a unified country,” said Marine Lt. Col. William Redman, the senior advisor at the range.