U.S. Special Forces teams in Iraq will have to consider the "insider threat" posed by the Iraqi military before working more closely with them in an advisory role against Islamic militants, Pentagon officials said Monday.
"It would be imprudent, it would be irresponsible" to assign special operations teams to be advisors without considering the possibility that the faction-ridden and disorganized Iraqi security forces could pose a danger to them, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.
Kirby said the Special Forces teams, who have worked out of Joint Operations Centers in Baghdad and northern Irbil, have completed their assessment on the status of Iraqi forces and their ability to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The report was forwarded through Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of the U.S. Central Command, and reached Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Marin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Monday, Kirby said.
"It will be a matter of some time here as we work our way through" the assessment before decisions are made on putting Special Forces teams in advisory roles and possibly employing U.S. air power against the militants, Kirby said.
"It's more important to get this right than to get this quick," Kirby said of the possibility of an advisory mission against ISIL fighters who have taken control of Iraqi territory from the Syrian border to the outskirts of Baghdad.
The U.S. has also said that Iraq must show progress in forming a more unified government that includes representatives of the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities before more military advice and assistance would be considered.
Kirby did not dispute a New York Times report saying that the 120-page assessment concluded that only about half of Iraqi military units were capable of accommodating Americans in advisory roles.
The Times' report also said that the assessment found that the Iraqi forces were now dependent on Shiite militias in the ranks and advisors from Iran.
The assessment was overseen in Iraq by Army Maj. Gen. Dana J. H. Pittard and reportedly included grades for the strengths and weaknesses of units down to the brigade level.
The ultimate decision on the U.S. role in Iraq will come from President Obama, who authorized up to 300 special operations troops to go to Iraq for the assessment.
The insider threat was a major concern for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The so-called "green-on-blue" incidents in which Afghan troops turned their weapons on coalition forces at one point threatened to scuttle talks on a continued NATO presence in the country.
Insider attacks peaked in 2012, when the International Security Assistance Force recorded 46 separate insider attacks that killed a total of 62 coalition troops.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@monster.com.
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