WASHINGTON – None of the 10,000 American-trained Iraqi troops in western Iraq are yet capable of fighting the insurgency without U.S. support, but some should be ready by next year, a senior U.S. commander said Friday.
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Stephen Johnson (search), in charge of the 30,000 U.S. forces in western Iraq, said he is encouraged about prospects for stabilizing a region that has been among the most troubled in the country.
The former insurgent stronghold in Fallujah (search) was the scene of heavy combat last November, a fight in which the insurgents suffered heavy losses but Iraqi government troops fell short of expectations. Several Iraqi battalions collapsed.
In a two-way audio link with reporters at the Pentagon, Johnson acknowledged that because of the strength of the insurgency in Anbar province, which stretches west from Baghdad to the borders with Syria (search) and Jordan (search), the rate of progress in training Iraqi troops and police has been slower than elsewhere in Iraq.
But he said he remained optimistic.
"Next year, in 2006, by then some of the forces that are here now I believe will be ready to assume battle space on their own," he said.
Pentagon officials said on Thursday that only three of the 107 Iraqi army battalions are capable of operating on their own, without U.S. support. About two-thirds of the battalions are rated as "partially capable" of battling the insurgency, but only with U.S. support, the report said.