Few Iraqi Battalions Are Operational?

In Yesterday’s post, Training the Iraqi Army, we took issue with New York Times characterization of the Iraqi units as not being ‘operational’:

The article documents the current and projected manpower in a section misleadingly titled “Few Battalions Are Operational” … It appears the author is referring to combat readiness, defined as “a unit’s ability to perform in combat. Includes the status of personnel, logistics, morale, and training.” A deficiency in any of the areas mentioned would make a unit less than ‘fully operational’, however this does not mean the units cannot perform certain duties such as patrols, garrison or others. The battalions which are not rated ‘fully operational’ are not able to operate independently of Coalition forces. This is the reason the military transition teams have been created. Also, many of the Iraqi units are currently deployed in the field and have been ‘sistered up’ with Coalition units  These Iraqi units may not meet the New York Times definition of ‘operational’, but they certainly possess the characteristics of an effective fighting force.

Fortuitously, Colonel Austin Bay, who touring the Middle East and is currently in Iraq, reports on a briefing he attended which included an assessment of the Iraqi Army’s capabilities:

The current chief of operations gave us a briefing in the Corps’ Joint Operations Center. I’ll comment on the difference in operational emphasis at a later date- but it’s clear the Iraqis are taking on a larger share of the operational burden. After the ops briefing we talked with the current corps commander, Lieutenant-General Vines, for about an hour. When asked about Iraqi participation in security missions, Vines gave us a rough percentage figure. In at least nine out of ten security operations, the new Iraqi military is providing half of the forces. The Iraqi units demonstrate tactical combat proficiency but -this is the short version- lack logistical support organizations and heavy weapons (eg, sufficient artillery).

The Iraqi Army as a whole does not lack “tactical combat proficiency” : – i.e. the ability to engage the enemy in battle and fight as a cohesive unit. So essentially, the two main problems keeping the Iraqi units from full combat effectiveness (or ‘operational’ if you work at the New York Times) are logistics and heavy weapons. The dearth in logistics is not surprising, as this is a problem that plagues established armies. The lack in heavy weapons is also not surprising, as this is a newly trained army.

Armor and artillery are weapons that require skill to field and use effectively as well as extensive logistics to supply them. The Iraqi Army is beginning to receive some armor, such as 77 T-72 battletanks from Hungary, but these will take time to refurbrish the tanks and train the units to operate them. It should be noted Saddam’s Army, with its numerical superiority in tanks and armored vehicles still lacked the capacity to use them effectively in combat (unless the enemy is Kuwait).

Perhaps the New York Times will issue a correction to set the record  ah, fuggetaboutit.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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