Last week, NYT reported that the U.S. May Scrap Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police. We blogged about it in State Dept May Dump Multi-Billion Dollar Iraqi Police Program; Noooooooo! Not So Says Embassy Baghdad.
During the Daily Press Briefing of May 14, the State Department Spokesperson clarified that “we have no intention to cancel our police training program in Iraq,” and told reporters that the department “had considerable difficulties with that story.”
If that is so, how come it has not requested a retraction of this NYT story? But more to the point, why it its contractor handling the police training program in Iraq, packing up?
Assistant Secretary of State for the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, former Ambassador William R. Brownfield visits with Iraqi Ministry of Interior officials at the Baghdad Police College forensics lab to discuss the future training of Iraqi police forces. 03.16.2011
Photo by Spc. Breeanna Dubuke (via dvidshub.net)
Here is the back and forth during the DPB:
QUESTION: I realize this was addressed by the Embassy yesterday, but I just want to get from here – you know what I’m talking about, yes? – in terms of the elimination, or reported elimination, of the Iraqi police training program. This – the report said that it was being considered that the whole program could be – could vanish, that it could go away. The Embassy, while it denied that, didn’t say that it wouldn’t be substantially cut or whittled down to a mere fraction of what it originally had been planned to be. Can you just clarify what exactly is – what are the plans for the police training program?
MS. NULAND: Well, first let me clarify we have no intention to cancel our police training program in Iraq. What we are engaged in, in collaboration with the Iraqis, is a right-sizing exercise for this program along with all of our programs. As you know, we are absolutely committed to, first of all, supporting Iraqi self-reliance. So if they tell us they need less support, we are going to downsize. And in this case, they are asking us to continue the advisory and training program but to downsize it, and also to saving the U.S. taxpayer money wherever we can. So I can’t give you a final size for this. We are in the evaluation process now, working with the Iraqis. But we do anticipate we’re going to be able to downsize it considerably while continuing to be able to support the Iraqis on the police training side.
QUESTION: Okay. This is the second time in – since the beginning of the year that this particular publication has written something about the Embassy which you had a serious dispute with. Both times it has been cast – the reports have cast these reductions or slashing of personnel as serious miscalculations by the Administration in terms of its Iraq policy. What’s your feeling about that, that characterization of it?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, it’s important to appreciate that we are in a new phase with Iraq. We’re in a phase where it is up to the Iraqis to decide precisely what kind of footprint they want by foreign support, foreign countries offering support, offering assistance in the context of their overall approach to their sovereignty. So we very much need to respect that this is a collaborative decision how much support they want on the police training side.
So we’re trying to be in step with their increasing self-reliance. We’re trying to do this in a negotiated, phased, managed way. But we’re also trying to make clear to Iraqis that we think we have valuable training, valuable advice to offer, as we do to some hundred countries around the world. So we’re going to work this through, but I think folks need to get on the program that we have a sovereign Iraq who’s going to make its own decisions about how much outside support it wants.
QUESTION: All right. So you agree or disagree with the characterization that this is – that this represents a serious political – or a serious policy miscalculation?
MS. NULAND: Well, of course I’m going to disagree with that. Thank you.
QUESTION: Was the report correct that the Administration has spent $500 million so far on the police training program?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have the total amount here, but as you know, we’ve been involved in police training from the beginning of the Iraq operation, as far back as 2003. I can take the question if it’s of interest to you to sort of tote it all up. But we were involved in police work ourselves, police training for the Iraqis from the beginning, the standing up of their own professional police forces. I don’t think anybody in that country wanted to submit themselves to the old Saddam-ite police, so it needed a bottom-up work and cleansing. So —
QUESTION: One other thing. The report alleged that much of the training provided by the United States, and in particular by the State Department since the departure of the U.S. military from Iraq, was not helpful to the Iraqis, that it consisted of retired or late-in-their-career American state troopers telling war stories about how they conduct their activities in the United States.
And it cited one anecdote in which it said that the two key indices of someone possibly going to – planning to launch a suicide bombing were: one, that they would withdraw a lot of money from the bank; and two, that they’d go out and get drunk. And it suggested that those were perhaps not very apposite indicators for Iraq where: one, a lot of Iraqis don’t have bank accounts; and two, a lot of Iraqis don’t drink. Do you – how do you address the criticisms in the story that regardless of how many millions were spent on this, that the training wasn’t actually all that useful?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I’m not going to get drawn into parsing the anecdotes in a story with which we took considerable issue, both in its macro assertions and in many of its details. We had considerable difficulties with that story, as the statement from Embassy Baghdad made clear.
With regard to the integrity of the police training that we do – we have done in Iraq over these many years, we stand by it. The Iraqis have a new, modern, more democratic police force largely as a result of the support of the international community led by the United States. I’m obviously not in a position to speak to every individual involved in this, but all over the world we rely on the expertise of retired officers from the United States, from other countries, who are willing to participate in these training programs. And they participate on the basis of their experience in democratic law enforcement, not to hang around and tell inappropriate war stories. So we stand by the program. And if you’d like more on the numbers, et cetera, we can get you a separate briefing.
QUESTION: Can I just – the last one this?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just given the severity of the differences that you had with this, has there been any contact between the Department or anyone – any senior officials in the Department and the editorship of the publication in question?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into our discussions with the —
QUESTION: Well, have you asked for a correction or clarification or —
QUESTION: Or a retraction?
MS. NULAND: We have made absolutely clear in our public statements and in our messages to that publication how we feel about the story.
QUESTION: But does that mean that you’ve asked for a retraction or a correction or some kind of – I mean, after the first one, you demanded one. And you were quite open about it, and you got one.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I think we’re still working on that set of issues.
Either the NYT got this right or the NYT got this wrong.
And while State is working on “that set of issues” we heard from an official familiar with the program both under DOD and State that the contractor for the Police Development Program is packing up and will be out of there by this summer.
“If DoS intends to continue the program, they had better let the primary contractor know this because it is shuttering their operation as we speak.”
Our source says that there are less than 50 police trainers currently working under this contract, and by August 2012, all of them, will leave Iraq and finally end their embassy compound sequestration.
Somebody please send this tip to the spokespersons in Foggy Bottom and the US Embassy in Baghdad, in case this item was deemed “need to know.”
Here’s what we suspect will happen this summer. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), the department’s bureau with oversight of this program, will continue to staff its police development program at the US Embassy in Iraq. For sure, the FSOs assigned to work on this program are already preparing his/her pack out at his/her post for this summer’s rotation into Baghdad. The incumbents currently working on this program in Baghdad are preparing to leave and polishing up their accomplishments for the year in their EERs. So certainly, even without the trainers, as long as the program is “open,” and “right-sized” to a skeleton crew of less than the fingers in your hand, we can all pretend that “we have no intention to cancel our police training program.”
So — we’ll not end this program even when the Iraqi trainees have stop showing up, and what bony remains of the staff are all holed up in the embassy compound? The pesky details from this DPB will be addressed in a separate post; DBP is giving me a giganotosaurus migraine as huge as embassy Baghdad.