Thursday, September 29, 2005

About Those Battalions: The Un-training of an Army

I have been wondering since at least the beginning of August (based on statements from Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, General Meyers, Donald Rumsfeld, etc.) whether the Bush Administration had made up its mind to begin the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq at some point in late 2005/early 2006 regardless of the situation on the ground. Then Iraqi President Jalal Talabani got into the act stating that United States could withdraw as many as 50,000 troops from Iraq by the end of the year because there are enough Iraqi forces ready to begin taking control of parts of the country. That statement was even bolder than those that came before.

The fog of withdrawal is still too thick to determine whether or not withdrawal in the near future is a fait accompli, but most of the parties are at least going through the motions in terms of referring to benchmarks - like the ratification of the Constitution and the national elections slated for December - as well as the levels of insurgent activity and to what extent there is a competent Iraqi army able to replace our own departing forces. That being said, I
have noted, with some degree of unease, the impression that the Bush Administration was intent on hurrying through the Constitutional ratification in the interest of keeping the schedule of benchmarks moving along despite the long term risks of alienating the Sunni minority in the process. It seems as if form was trumping substance.

Only time will tell what the real game plan is, and much will be learned from how the Bush team handles obstacles and setbacks to their timetable that will inevitably arise in the near future. One such problem area has been, and will remain, the readiness (or lack thereof) of the new Iraqi armed forces - the group that will supposedly step into the vacuum created by our withdrawal. As Bush has said repeatedly, "As they step up, we will step down." But as
Swopa might say, "What if the cavalry never arrives"? Will the Bush Administration place the timeline ahead of the facts on the ground if the Iraqi army never materializes in a suitable form?

Such a crisis might be more imminent than some in the Administration have been letting on. Here is this
disturbing account of a not altogether insignificant setback in the effort to stand up an Iraqi army capable of defending the country and staving off widespread violence and mayhem (via the Armchair Generalist):

The number of Iraqi battalions capable of combat without U.S. support has dropped from three to one, the top American commander in Iraq [Gen. Casey] told Congress Thursday, prompting Republicans to question whether U.S. troops will be able to withdraw next year.[...]

The Bush administration says training Iraqi security forces to defend their own country is the key to bringing home U.S. troops. But Republicans pressed Casey on whether the United States was backsliding in its efforts to train Iraqis.

In June, the Pentagon told lawmakers that three Iraqi battalions were fully trained, equipped and capable of operating independently. On Thursday, Casey said only one battalion is ready.

"It doesn't feel like progress," said Sen. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record), R-Maine.
That depends on how you define "progress" Senator Collins. I'm not exactly sure how battalions become "untrained" - but I'd love an explanation. The most plausible answer is that previous reports of progress were inflated for propagandistic purposes. Further, this admission from such a high source (keep in mind, Rumsfeld was sitting next to him during the testimony), gives credence to the recent reporting on the great difficulties in forming the Iraqi military forces. In terms of credibility, these journalists have a leg up on the three transformed into one crowd in the Pentagon. First, an account from an embedded journalist with Knight Ridder (via Needlenose):

Many of the Iraqi troops were in poor condition, unable or unwilling to complete long foot patrols without frequent breaks. They often didn't know what to do in complicated situations, standing back and letting American Marines and soldiers take the lead.

...The Iraqi National Guard, heralded last year as the answer to security in the area, has been disbanded because morale was low and insurgents had infiltrated it. The old national guard trucks, with their blue emblems, now sit rusting. As with the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, the predecessor to the national guard, American officials say the new Iraqi army and police will establish security in places such as Anbar.

However, the police force has collapsed in Ramadi, the provincial capital. Two divisions of Iraqi soldiers - a total of 12,000 men - are to establish security, but so far only 2,000 are available, and half of them lack basic training.

...So far, a little more than 5,900 police officers have been screened for all of Anbar, about half the number needed. Most of those still must be trained, said [Marine Capt. John ] LaJeunesse, 30, of Boise, Idaho.
And then this from the Boston Globe:

In April 2005 I had the chance to visit the center, the world's largest international police training camp. I am a military officer and have been deployed throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, but this was one of the nicest training posts I have ever seen. However, the comprehensive training I witnessed was disheartening. The Iraq coalition constituency deserves to know why this mission is likely to fail.

There are three main reasons why these forces will never be ready to defend their country: The wary, uncommitted recruits are immature and lackadaisical about the mission; the parsimonious training is inadequate; and accountability once recruits return to Iraq is inconsistent at best and lacks the return on investment that one would expect.

The recruit pool. According to international instructors at the camp, the troops are often recruited from among intimidated teenagers or disillusioned, desperate unemployed men left with few job prospects in their chaotic country. We aren't always getting the highest quality '"volunteers" because many of those have already joined the insurgency. Others are understandably concerned about their life expectancy if they join the police. In spite of most of the high-quality, experienced instructors, I learned that a clan relative of the Jordanian terrorist mastermind Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi was also an employee at the camp, adding an interesting element to operational security.

Return on investment. Purportedly, about 40 to 60 percent of these graduates never actually join the Iraqi police force when they return from Jordan. They defect, taking their coveted pay and their new skills to the insidious insurgency, according to liaison officers in Iraq. Some are forced to give up the weapons they were issued at this camp to corrupt local police chiefs; these often end up on the black market. Others lose their firearms in insurgent raids on police stations. Sadly, too many are targeted immediately upon return to Iraq. Forty-six newly returned graduates on a bus were executed point-blank by insurgents this spring; more than 1,500 of those who have made it into the police force have died just this year.

...Instructors admitted to me that their work was more about pumping out numbers, not about quality, reinforced training. One would think that high proficiency at firearms training, armed reconnaissance patrols, and perhaps self-defense would be requirements for graduation, yet the training for each skill lasts one week. Furthermore, there was no scheduled follow-up training in Iraq.
Nevertheless, Casey (ever the good soldier), stays on message:

Casey, the most senior commander of coalition forces in Iraq, said the result of the upcoming Iraqi referendum on a new constitution on Oct. 15 and December elections will affect whether conditions on the ground will be appropriate for withdrawing U.S. troops.
I guess. But it is just as likely that regardless of the outcome of those benchmarks, there will still be raging insurgencies and a mostly inept Iraqi military to deal with it (unless and until they release the sectarian and ethnic militias). And if the results from the elections and constitution ratification in any way resemble the results of our efforts to train, equip and make ready an Iraqi military and police force capable of replacing our troops, I'm not overly optimistic. So, Mr. President, will we ride off into the sunset if the cavalry never shows? Onward to Crawford?

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?