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Profile: Thom Shanker
Thom Shanker was a participant or observer in the following events:
Major General Paul Eaton, who retired last month after being in charge of training new Iraqi military personnel, says the Bush administration’s strategy to use those new Iraqi troops to replace departing American troops was crippled from the beginning. Eaton says that the replacement program was never given the planning, funding, or staffing it needed to progress. The first year of the occupation was a critical time, Eaton says, and the US and Iraqi military might be much closer to President Bush’s goal of Iraqi forces “standing up” as US forces “stand down” had so much of that first year not been lost. Former military officials interviewed by the New York Times agree with Eaton’s assessment, as do a number of civilian officials involved in US operations in Iraq at the time. Eaton was replaced as the senior US official in charge of training Iraqi troops by Lieutenant General David Petraeus. Eaton began his yearlong stint on May 9, 2003, and now recalls: “I was very surprised to receive a mission so vital to our exit strategy so late. I would have expected this to have been done well before troops crossed the line of departure. That was my first reaction: ‘We’re a little late here.’” Eaton was told that training Iraqi troops was fifth on the priority list for Iraqi security forces, behind a civil defense corps, police, border guards, and guards for government and commercial facilities. “We set out to man, train, and equip an army for a country of 25 million—with six men,” Eaton recalls. He worked into the fall of 2003 with what he calls “a revolving door of individual loaned talent that would spend between two weeks and two months.” He never received even half of the 250 professional staff members he was promised. Between the chaos that ensued immediately after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the decision by Coalition Provisional Agency head L. Paul Bremer to dissolve the Iraqi army (see May 23, 2003), and the insurgency that arose shortly thereafter, Eaton and his small staff were never able to build the army they had hoped. Perhaps the worst blow was the wholesale dissolution of the Iraqi army. This left Eaton to train an entire military force essentially from scratch, without any Iraqi noncommissioned officers. New York Times reporter Thom Shanker observes, “Training an army without noncommissioned officers to serve as drill sergeants is like pitching a tent without poles.” [New York Times, 2/11/2006]
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