Training the Iraqi Army

The training of the Iraqi military and security services is a crucial element to the defeat of the Iraqi insurgency and the establishment of a secure Iraqi nation. The New York Times weighs in on the issue of the status of the training of the Iraqi military, and estimates it will take upwards of two years or more for Iraqi forces to be able to operate independently from Coalition forces. This should not be surprising as building a competent fighting force, particularly in a nation subjected to over thirty years of oppressive rule, is a slow and difficult process.

The two main questions concerning the Iraqi Security Forces are the quantity of men serving, and their quality. There is no shortage of Iraqis to man the new security apparatuses. And it should be noted there is no draft in Iraq, the security services are a strictly volunteer force. So the real question is: how capable are the Iraqis to fight independently against a violent insurgency?

The answer is they are not quite ready, and are in need of coaching and better equipment. But the state of the Iraqi Security Forces is not as dire as the New York Times would like you to believe, and the Coalition is adapting to improve the fighting capability of the Iraqi forces.

We have already seen that Iraqi forces are being deployed outside of their local regions to minimize problems with insurgents threatening and attacking the soldiers families and reduce their loyalties to the local establishment. To compensate for the shortcomings in Iraqi units, American soldiers will be assigned to Iraqi units to assist with training and operations.

The American command has already created military transition teams of soldiers to work with Iraqi troops, and there are plans for up to 10,000 Americans to be attached to Iraqi units at every level from divisions down to battalions and companies, with up to 10 men at the battalion level, and 2 with each company.

The article documents the current and projected manpower in a section misleadingly titled “Few Battalions Are Operational” .

Few Battalions Are Operational

At three main training centers established at former Hussein-era bases – Taji, north of Baghdad; Kirkush, near the Iranian border; and Numaniya, southeast of Baghdad – a $5.7 billion American-financed program to train and equip the new forces is in high gear, graduating soldiers in battalion-size classes of 1,500 troops.

From a single American-trained Iraqi battalion a year ago, the American command says there are now 107 battalions of Iraqi troops and paramilitary police units, totaling 169,000 men. The total is set to rise to 270,000 by next summer, when 10 fully equipped 14,000-man Iraqi Army divisions are scheduled to be operational.

But figures alone tell only part of the story, since only three battalions are rated fully operational by the Americans, and many others are far behind in terms of manpower, training and equipment.

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.

The New York Times leads the article with two examples of failures of Iraqi forces in the field, a stupid rookie mistake made on cordon and search mission (leaving a detainee behind), and a deadly and unprofessional mistake made in even the most professional of armies (falling asleep at your post). Yet there are examples of success that go unreported, such as the one described by Captain Charles Ziegenfuss.

One of my checkpoints was attacked tonight. It was manned by one of my IA [Iraqi Army] partnership platoons. It was more of a drive-by and mortaring than an all-out assault, but the initial report (which is almost always wrong) said they were under attack.

Off I go with the QRF [Quick Reaction Force]. We arrive on site and all’s quiet. The IA had dispatched one of their platoons and they were already on the ground, securing the area. Good. They’re getting better every day  I sent three trucks to pick up DJ, (whom I thought they had when they rolled out) and secured the checkpoint with the IA (they didn’t need us there, but they feel better when we’re there.)

If you read the entire post, you will note CPT Ziegenfuss is frustrated with his Iraqi interpreter, not his sister Iraqi Army unit. Another example of Iraqi forces successfully defending themselves is given by ‘Phil’ who serves with the US Army in Iraq.

A few days ago, the enemy conducted a coordinated, complex, and violent attack against the headquarters of one of the Iraqi Army companies in our sector. However, I think it is a fair bet that most people did not hear about it, even though some of our guys did find it mentioned obscurely in an article online.

The attack started with a HUGE explosion from a VBIED — a flat-bed truck drove into the compound and detonated. After that, the AIF (our acronym for the enemy, since we have acronyms for everything, is AIF — anti-Iraqi forces) stormed the compound. In the past, if the only thing you read is the major media, you would assume the sequence of events for one of these episodes to be: (1) big explosion to begin (2) RPG, rocket fire and small arms fire (3) IP/IA run away (4) AIF take over compound until we come and kill them.

However, this time something different happened. After the initial blast, instead of running away the Iraqi Army soldiers at the guard towers got up, returned to their posts and repelled the attack. When the AIF stormed the compound, they undoubtedly expected little resistance, and they were gunned down. In fact, the fighting was largely over by the time our guys got there.

In both cases, the Iraqi forces fought off attacks independently, and their American sister units arrived after the Iraqi units repelled the attacks. These Iraqi units may not meet the New York Times definition of ‘operational’, but they certainly possess the characteristics of an effective fighting force.

Iraqi units are slowing being given independence from the Coalition: “Tiger Unit Given Control of Area in Baghdad” ; “Iraqi Army unit takes control of Forward Operating Base” ; Iraqi troops take control of the dangerous Dora neighborhood and Haifa Street in Baghdad. The last article on Haifa Street was published by the New York Times, demonstrating their remarkable deficiency in short term memory.

Congressman Curt Weldon and Senator Joe Biden recently returned from Iraq and conducted an appraisal of the Iraq Army’s capabilities (hat tip to Joe). Host Tim Russert interviewed them on NBC News Meet the Press to discuss the visit.

MR. RUSSERT: Realistically, Congressman Weldon and Senator Biden, how long in your estimation will it take for the Iraqis to have, say, 150,000 level-one troops so the Americans can come home?

REP. WELDON: I would say a minimum of eight to 10 months, maximum probably two years, and that’s assuming everything goes well.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden?

SEN. BIDEN: Yeah, I think two years, Tim. You may get to the point where you have a competent number, somewhere 70,000, 80,000 by the end of this year, but to get to the point where you have 150,000 or 163,000 as the vice president is taking about, you’re talking two years. There’s overwhelming consensus, nothing less than a year, some say as long as three years, and this is talking to the guys standing on the ground who can shoot straight and are getting shot at.

The availability of “70,000, 80,000 [Iraqi troops] by the end of this year” to independently operate and maneuver does not bode well for the insurgent’s prospects for victory. This will also free up an enormous amount of American troops for combat operations against the insurgency as well as securing the restive Anbar province.

In fact, it appears the planning for future operations is currently in place. Buried within a Telegraph article on an air strike in Anbar which killed over 40 insurgents is the following information:

In the past three months, US forces have mounted offensives against both places, but on a more limited scale than the major operations last year. A US military official said more intensive operations were being planned later in the summer in the province, which is overwhelmingly Sunni.

Iraq’s Interior Minister Jaber Solagh has also stated two more independent Iraqi operations are planned after the completion of Operations Lightning; “We are preparing for two more massive operations which we intend to launch once the current operation is completed.”

In the post Progressing in Iraq, the following overview of the current strategy against the insurgency was outlined:

For good or ill, the strategy in the Wild West of Anbar appears to be one of establishing distinct garrisons in locations such as Qaim, Haditha and other locations, patrolling the territory, conduct search and destroy missions at opportune times when targets and threats materialize, and waiting for Iraqi Security Forces to train up and deploy to fill the security needs of the region.

I fully understand the frustrations of Gregory Djerejian, and share some of these frustrations myself. Mr. Djerejian gives a fair critique against the Bush administration and the lack of troops available in the current Army. I am of the opinion the US Army should have increased in size by at least five divisions immediately after the attacks on September 11 (remember our Army consisted of 18 active divisions during the Cold War and was downsized to current 10 divisions during the drawdown after the defeat of the Soviet Union). Is it was clear military operations would commence in the Middle East and require long deployment that would stress the current force structure and call for an over reliance on National Guard and reserve unit. But the current troop levels in Iraq, particularly with the integration of Iraqi forces into the fight, do not spell defeat.

At this stage in the struggle in Iraq, there is value in waiting for the Iraqi Army to get up to speed and assist in defeating the insurgency. The Iraqi Security Forces will gain valuable experience in fighting the terrorists and will become cohesive fighting forces. The Coalition is taking political steps to offer the local tribes in Anbar the option to reject the insurgency or face the force of arms. Most importantly, the Iraqi nation will have taken the responsibility in defeating the terrorists who are brutally killing seniors and children. There is no greater way to appreciate your freedom than by fighting for it, and the Iraqis have the chance to fight the enemies of their nascent democracy.

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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