BAGHDAD, Iraq – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) saw some of Iraq's security forces in action Friday as he shuttled around the country to view an array of Iraqi units and meet with U.S. and Iraqi commanders.
At Camp Victory outside of Baghdad, Rumsfeld watched an Iraqi counterterrorist team assault a compound in a demonstration that included live weapons fire, stun grenades and a squad of masked commandos rappelling from a helicopter.
"There's no question progress has been made," Rumsfeld said later of Iraqi forces. "The professionalism of these units is advancing."
In talks with soldiers, both Iraqi and American, Rumsfeld emphasized the importance of handing over security to Iraqi forces so American troops can come home. But he acknowledged that it takes time to train and equip the Iraqis.
"Once they have that confidence, that capacity and capability, our forces, coalition forces, will be able to go home," Rumsfeld told U.S. troops in Mosul in northern Iraq. "And go home with the honor you will have earned."
Ultimately, American forces can only help, he said. "It is the Iraqis who will have to over time defeat the insurgency."
Later Friday, with Rumsfeld watching a few feet away, members of Iraq's Emergency Response Team, a special police assault unit, fired AK-47s and sidearms at targets on a firing range outside of Baghdad.
After the demonstration, he told them, "If you all do your jobs well, you'll end up in a fine country with a bright future."
After a review of an Iraqi army unit, Lt. Gen. N. Abadi, Iraq's deputy chief of staff, told U.S. defense officials Iraq's military needed two things: more equipment, and time to get his forces trained.
U.S. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus (search), chief of the effort to create independent Iraqi security forces, said Thursday at a NATO conference in Nice, France, that Iraqi military and police amounted to about 136,000 trained and equipped personnel. The goal is to reach 200,000 by Oct. 1, and ultimately create a force of 270,000 or more.
The forces run the gamut — from urban police officers and highway patrolmen to military special forces and counterterrorist operators.
About 40,000 of the troops are capable of deploying around Iraq and operating directly against he insurgency, Gen. Richard Myers (search), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said recently. Other analysts put the figure of effective counterinsurgency fighters much lower.
American, British and other coalition forces are serving as trainers and advisers to Iraqi security personnel. U.S. generals are planning to enhance the program with additional advisers to assist various Iraqi units.
The Iraqi counterterrorist team Rumsfeld viewed in action Friday is one of Iraq's best, U.S. military officers said. It has been a part of many of the recent offensives against insurgent strongholds, and recently took down a large criminal operation outside of Baghdad.
However, hundreds of Iraqi security personnel have been killed in recent months, and others have quit, sometimes due to intimidation from insurgents. Defense officials say that some insurgents have also infiltrated the security forces.
Rumsfeld's first stop in Iraq Friday morning was a combat surgical hospital in Mosul in northern Iraq, where he spoke briefly with Sgt. Sean Ferguson, a California native with the 25th Infantry Division who was recovering from a gunshot wound in his hand. He had been hit by a sniper the day before; for it, he received his second Purple Heart.
He also gave the Army Commendation Medal to a group of American and Iraqi soldiers during a ceremony.
He then met with Duraid Kashmoula, governor of Niveneh province, and quizzed him and other Iraqi officials on the elections there. In Baghdad, he met with President Ayad Allawi (search).
Rumsfeld is the most senior U.S. government official to visit Iraq since the Jan. 30 election. While marred by violence in some places, and less-than-hoped-for turnout among Sunnis in others, U.S. and Iraqi officials have generally declared it a success in that millions voted without incident.
Gen. George Casey Jr., who commands all coalition forces in Iraq, said in a press conference that the number of attacks in Iraq has dropped to 60 a day since the elections.