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Yesterday's White House "benchmark" report on Iraq noted some backsliding on Iraqi troop readiness, in particular on the important question of whether Iraqi troops can operate independently.
At his press briefing this afternoon, the outgoing chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Marine General Peter Pace, conceded the point, and clarified that the number of Iraqi Army battalions operating independently has declined from ten in January to six today. But he also cautioned against reading too much into the drop-off:
Let's concede Pace's point that as "units operate in the field" they incur casualties and equipment damage that impact readiness. That's military reality. But the broader question is why there aren't offsetting increases for those declines based upon improved capabilities among other battalions as they progress from being "in the lead" of operations to outright independence. Pace concedes the issue when he talks about wanting to see battalions progress through the overall readiness assessments. That, however, should probably make Pace more concerned about the backsliding than he emphasized this afternoon.