A U.S. State Department official was on hand this week for the inauguration of a new training base in Jericho for an emerging Palestinian Authority army. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs David T. Johnson and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad formally opened the Presidential Guard Training Center in Jericho.
The base is part of an American policy to strengthen the PA armed forces with American training and equipment, except for weapons, which are provided by Arab countries. The objective is to change an overstaffed and corrupt system to an orderly authority that can take over security in Judea and Samaria and prepare the PA to become an independent country.
However, the security forces that have been deployed in several PA-controlled Arab cities generally do not confront terrorists, leaving the IDF the task of rounding up wanted men. The United States has been careful to call the trainees “police officers” or "special forces" instead of an army.
Johnson praised the work of the Presidential Guard, considered the most capable soldiers in the PA force and which is responsible directly to PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The new army was instrumental in squashing Arab riots during Israel's recent Operation Cast Lead counterterrorist campaign in Gaza.
The training base has also served as a public works project for the PA, providing work for contractors and laborers the past 16 months, under the supervision of a United Nations agency. It includes sleeping and eating facilities, parade grounds and an obstacle course. Hamas has accused the forces of torture.
The Jericho center is capable of training up to 700 men at a time and is the first of several facilities planned for Arab security forces throughout Judea and Samaria. By the summer, 1,700 soldiers will have completed the training under the supervision of U.S. army General Keith Dayton.