TRAINING REPORT….Four months ago the Pentagon reported that the number of “level one” Iraqi battalions had dropped from three to one. On Friday they reported that although that number has now dropped to zero, 53 battalions are at level two, up from 36 in October. There’s reason to be skeptical that this is good news, though. Note the definitions:

“Level one” means the battalion is able to fight on its own; “level two” means it requires support from U.S. troops; and “level three” means it must fight alongside U.S. troops.

I suspect it’s fairly easy to fudge the difference between level 2 and level 3, but you can’t do that with level 1. A battalion can either operate on its own or it can’t. The fact that not one single level 2 battalion has made it to level 1 in the past year suggests that perhaps games are being played with the level 2 designation.

There’s another reason to treat these figures with caution. Last November the Washington Post reported that military planners have a “rule of thumb” for gauging whether it’s possible to draw down American troops in Iraq:

The formula estimates that for every three Iraqi battalions and one Iraqi brigade headquarters achieving a readiness rating of level two, a U.S. battalion can be dropped.

We’ve got 17 more level 2 battalions than we did in October, so why isn’t anyone talking about cutting back on U.S. troops? Either “level 2” doesn’t mean much, or else events on the ground have gotten so much worse that we need all the extra troops we can get.

Neither of these thoughts is very comforting. And given the fact that Iraqi troops appear to be mostly private armies run by local theocrats anyway, you have to half wonder if all this training is even doing any good. Are we just guaranteeing a more efficient civil war?

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