Biden questions fitness of Iraqi security force
Senator accuses Bush administration of misleading public
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee challenged the Bush administration Sunday over its assertions about the size and capability of the Iraqi security forces.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday that 95,000 trained Iraqi forces were taking part in security operations -- less than half the number the administration had been publicizing.
"In fact, to the best of my knowledge -- in my trips there recently, my staff trips there just a couple weeks ago, talking with General Petraeus -- not one single, solitary Iraqi policeman has completed the 24-week training course on the ground," Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus is in charge of recruiting and training operations.
An official who works with Petraeus said the 95,000 figure is accurate and includes police and military personnel.
He could not immediately say whether the police included in that figure have gone through the 24-week field training regimen, which follows eight weeks of classroom training.
Biden, a frequent critic of the Bush administration, said officials "continue to mislead the American people about the state of affairs. And it's incredibly, incredibly, incredibly dangerous."
He said he was "dumbfounded" by Rumsfeld's remarks Friday at the National Press Club in which the defense chief said, "We have gone from zero to 95,000 Iraqis that are fully trained, fully equipped, providing their own security."
Rumsfeld said the forces included the police, army, national guard and border patrol.
By the end of the year, another 50,000 Iraqis will be fully trained and equipped, Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld acknowledged that the administration had previously been saying 206,000 Iraqi security forces were at work.
"That number included people, as we said, that had uneven training and uneven equipment. We improved our analysis, and we've gotten much better visibility into the situation," Rumsfeld said.
"We figure we may still have that many people on the rolls. But of the ones that are trained and equipped, the number now looks to be, the latest number -- last week it was 105,000 -- now it looks to be 95,000, that is to say that are trained and equipped."
After Biden's comments Sunday, a Pentagon spokesman referred questions about Iraqi forces to the coalition press office in Baghdad.
Capt. Steven Alvarez, who works with Petraeus, said there were slightly more than 96,000 trained and equipped police and army personnel.
Alvarez said he did not know whether the police in that figure have completed the 24 weeks of field training.