Successes and shortcomings in the 3/3-1 of the Iraqi Army
KHALIDIYA, IRAQ: This post discusses the successes and setbacks with the 3/3-1 “Snake Eaters” of the Iraqi Army in the Habbaniyah-Khalidiya region. Many of the successes and problems experienced with the 3/2-1 Iraqi Army in Fallujah are present here with the 3/3-1 in the Habbaniyah-Khalidiya region. See The Military Transition Teams and the Development Iraqi Army to compare and contract the two battalions.
In November and December of 2005, I embedded in the Qaim region with the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, which partnered with the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Division of the Iraqi Army, as well as the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines in the Haditha Triad, which partnered with the 7th Division, the youngest formation in the Iraqi Army. The Marines and Iraqi soldiers partnered with a platoon of each and lived in Battle Positions, forward bases inside the cities and towns in western Anbar province.
In December of 2006, I embedded with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Iraqi Army and its Marine Military Transition Team in Fallujah (as well as the Iraqi Police in Fallujah). This past week, I’ve embedded with the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Division its joint Army and Marine Military Transition Team in the Habbaniyah region. The Military Transition Teams are small groups of Marines (teams of about 15 Marines and soldiers) that embed in at the battalion level to advise, mentor and train the Iraqi Army as it works to achieve operational independence.
The shift from partnering with Iraqi battalions to the implementation of the transition teams in one year is dramatic, and there are both surprising developments and disappointing setbacks. Developing an Army from scratch is a difficult and time consuming process (building an Army from scratch a process and not an event, as Glenn Reynolds would say). The Army must first learn to crawl, then walk, then run. After viewing the Iraqi Army in Anbar over the past few months, I estimate they are somewhere between the crawling and walking phases, perhaps holding on to the coffee table while taking those first steps.
Iraqi Army Successes
Tactically Proficient The 3/3-1 manages a complex battlespace effectively, and is prepared to push out further into the cities to extend its influence. The MTT trainers believe they are more than ready. The 3/3-1 has run numerous effective operations, and conducts missions such as complex ambushes, cordon and search operations and night patrols. A recent cordon in Sadiqaya is believed to have netted 3 senior local al Qaeda leaders. The battalion scout were the best Iraqi troops I have encountered in Anbar province. The Snake Eaters tactical proficiency can be chalked up to several factors: this is one of the oldest units in the new Iraqi Army, with roots back into Saddam’s Army; strong leadership; extensive combat experience and a strong esprit de corps.
Relationship with Police The 3/3-1 works closely with the local Iraqi Police in the region. The Snake Eaters refer to the local police as “our wild little brothers,” according to Major West. Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed echoed this sentiment. The Iraqi Police have a firm presence in Civil and Coolie Camps (with 1,000 police) and work closely with the Army. The 3/3-1 are preparing to establish police stations in Khalidiya and Sadaqiya.
Intelligence network The Iraqi Army’s ability to speak the language and understand the local customs and culture cannot be understated when it comes to developing local intelligence networks. “No matter how superior we are tactically to the Iraqi Army, we can’t make up for their ability to develop their local networks,” said Major West.
Motivated, Initiative The jundi of the 3/3-1 do not lack a will to fight or a willingness to take the initiative. As the nighttime raid and occupation of homes in Khalidiya demonstrates, the Iraqi Army in this region is quite willing to conceive, plan and execute operations independently, and is taking greater risk without Coalition backup, despite a lack of heavy weapons and air support.
Leadership There are several officers in the battalion that are very effective in both the line infantry companies and in the staff work. The MTT is working to develop the NCO corps, the backbone on a modern, professional army. NCOs take the initiative on patrols, but do not operate in the same leadership capacity as U.S. Army and Marine NCOs.
Basic Maintenance The 3/3-1 performs its own “level 1” maintenance tasks on its vehicles effectively, said Major Perez. Level 1 maintenance includes tasks like oil changes, changing tires, and replacing basic parts.
Iraqi Army Shortcomings
Logistics Like in Fallujah, the Iraqi logistics is failing to properly supply the combat battalions. The 3/3-1 finds it difficult to obtain uniforms, boots, cold weather gear, batteries, fuel and even meat from higher up. The system is set up to “micromanage the supply process,” according to Major Perez. A supply request must filter from the battalion, up to brigade, division and finally the Ministry of Defense. Also, there is no system, either hand receipts or computer, to track supply requests.
Several theories on the supply problems exists, which include abject corruption in the MoD and at the division and brigade staffs, and a cultural inclination to horde supplies. The hording of supplies gives the person in possession “power” as he has items in need (I have seen this attitude to a lesser degree in supply rooms in the U.S. Army). But remember the 3/3-1 MTTs only see this at the battalion level, and are not privy to the inner workings at brigade level and up. The MTTs are forced to provide materials to the Iraqi soldiers. “We want to teach them to be independent and go through their supply system, but we can’t wait for that to work,” said Major Perez.
Fuel This is a subset of the supply problem, but deserves special mention due to circumstances that just occurred with the 3/3-1. On January 1st, U.S. units were directed to stop distributing fuel to the Iraqi Army. The idea is to force the Iraqis to solve the fuel resupply problem. The fuel supply is controlled at the brigade level, and the battalions (which run about 24 Humvees, plus other vehicles) are only allotted enough fuel to run their generators. On the 19th, the order was enforced. The 3/3-1 is now starved for fuel. This is directly impacting operations, as their vehicles cannot move troops into positions throughout the area of operations. The choice to conduct a foot patrol into the city the other night was driven by the lack of available fuel. “All it takes is for a couple of days of us off the streets for [the insurgents] to get bold and reassert themselves,” said Major West.
Pay Again, like in Fallujah, there are serious pay problems in the Iraqi Army. Pay is erratic, and some soldiers have not received pay for several months. Several dozen soldiers are currently “on strike” due to pay issues, which again impacts operations.
Undermanned The 3/3-1 is currently slotted at about 800 soldiers, but there are only 600 serving in the battalion. Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed directly attributes this to the pay and supply problems that plague the Iraqi Army. These problems are directly affecting recruiting at retention of troops, said LtCol Mohammed, which in turn negatively impacts the fight against the insurgency.
Heavy Weapons & Combat Support The Iraqi Army battalions in this region do not possess heavy weapons and combat support assets such as tanks, armored fighting vehicles, mortars, cannon, artillery, UAV support, helicopters, engineers, Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams, and higher level maintenance at the battalion or brigade levels. The 3/3-1 is working to develop a weapons company, and also has EOD units in training. The EOD, helicopter, UAV and maintenance support are more important than armor, artillery and mortars at this stage as the insurgents are not heavily armed in this region.
Higher Level Maintenance The more complex vehicle maintenance tasks (Level 2) have been contracted out to a company called National. Major Perez, the MTT logistics officer, said National is not fulfilling its obligations to repair the vehicles. National claims parts for the vehicles are not available. Major Perez said he has been at the garage and seen vehicles sitting in the bays not being worked on. The Iraqis are hesitant to turn their vehicles in to National lest they not get them back.
Leadership Development While the Iraqis possess good leaders, they still retain the top-heavy Soviet leadership system which places all of the responsibility in the hands of the officer corps. This makes them vulnerable if key leaders are killed. “There is no incentive structure to develop subordinates,” said Major West.
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