Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Stephen Hawking has a better chance of "Standing up" than the Iraqi Army according to US Generals

Supposedly, the training of an effective, independent Iraqi army has been the lynch-pin of the US's exit strategy in Iraq (excuse me, "Victory Plan"), indeed it could be argued it IS the strategy..

As the President himself has said nearly, ad nauseum:

Our approach can be summed up this way: As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down. And when that mission of defeating the terrorists in Iraq is complete, our troops will come home to a proud and grateful nation

So how that's whole "getting them ready so we can get the hell out of Dodge" thing going anyway?

Well, to paraphrase A series of unusually blunt, interviews with US officers overseeing the program; Steven Hawking has a better chance standing up than the Iraqi army does.
So how bad is it really? Even worse than you are imagining:

The U.S. military's effort to train Iraqi forces has been rife with problems, from officers being sent in with poor preparation to a lack of basic necessities such as interpreters and office materials, according to internal Army documents...In dozens of official interviews.., officers who had been involved in training and advising Iraqis bluntly criticized almost every aspect of the effort.

And when they say EVERY aspect they mean EVERY Aspect:

Sullivan, who advised three infantry companies in the Iraqi army, called the U.S. Army's instruction for the mission "very disappointing."

Some officers thought that team members were often selected poorly. Others fretted that the soldiers who prepared them had never served in Iraq and lacked understanding of the tasks of training and advising. Many said they felt insufficiently supported by the Army while in Iraq, with intermittent shipments of supplies and interpreters who often did not seem to understand English.

Yes you read that right, the first major hurdle these advisors attempting to re-mak the Iraqi Army faced was one of communication. Most of their "interpreters" couldn't actually ,you know, technically , speak and understand English:

After arriving in Iraq, advisers said, they often were shocked to find that the interpreters assigned to them were of little use. Ciesinski reported that at his base in western Nineveh province, "They couldn't speak English and we would have to fire them."...

"It was a real juggling act" with interpreters, he said, noting that he would run from the headquarters to a company "to borrow an interpreter, run him over to say something, and then send him back."

The Center for Army Lessons Learned study, found one unit that learned after 10 frustrating months that its interpreters were "substandard" and had been translating the advisers' instructions so poorly that their Iraqi pupils had difficulty understanding the concepts being taught.

However even if there Hadn't been a language barrier, there was the slight problem that few if any of the US officers training the soldiers trainers really knew what the hell they were doing in the first place:

[the] Center for Army Lessons Learned, (CALL) , found that there was "no standardized guideline" for preparing advisers and that such instruction was needed because "a majority of advisors have little to no previous experience or training."

reported Maj. Mike Sullivan, who advised an Iraqi army battalion in 2004. "I went there with the wrong attitude and I thought I understood Iraq and the history because I had seen PowerPoint slides, but I really didn't."

said Lt. Col. Paul Ciesinski, ..." when we got to Iraq we could hardly shoot, we could hardly move and we could hardly communicate, because we hadn't been trained on how to do these things." ..., adding sarcastically: "They packed 30 days' training into 84 days."

and those were the Senior commanders talking. On the brigade and company levels the US personnel's lack of experience became even MORE glaring leading to a "don't teach your Grandma to suck eggs" problem with the Iraq officer corps:

Iraqis also had some complaints about their U.S. advisers, most notably that junior U.S. officers who had never seen combat were counseling senior Iraqi officers who had fought in several wars."

And that's only when and IF the Unit could actually find/trust qualified officers:

Many worried that the Iraqi units being advised contained insurgents. An Iraqi National Guard battalion "was infiltrated by the enemy," said Maj. Michael Monti, a Marine who was an adviser in the Upper Euphrates Valley in 2004 and 2005.

Some advisers reported being personally targeted by infiltrators. "We had insurgents that we detected and arrested in the battalion that were planning an operation against me and my team," Allen said.

But Iraqi officers may have had even more to fear, because their families were also vulnerable. "I went through seven battalion commanders in eight weeks," Allen noted. Dixon reported that in Samarra both his battalion commander and intelligence officer deserted just before a major operation.

"Numerous teams have lieutenants . . . to fill the role of advisor to an Iraqi colonel counterpart," the Lessons Learned report stated.

It got so bad for some that:

Farrell, the officer in east Baghdad, said some advisers were literally "phoning in" their work. Some would not leave the forward operating base "more than one or two days out of the week -- instead they would just call the Iraqis on cell phones," he said.

Still, there IS one bright spot in this report. Unlike their poetical leaders in Washington, the generals and officers involved in this effort are and capable of learning from their mistakes

Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, a staff officer with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 who worked with Iraqi units, came away thinking that the Army fundamentally is not geared to the task of helping the advisory effort.

"The thing the Army institutionally is still struggling to learn is that the most important thing we do in counterinsurgency is building host-nation institutions," he told the interviewers, "yet all our organizations are designed around the least important line of operations: combat operations."

Yingling came to a broader conclusion. He recommended an entirely different orientation in Iraq, both for trainers and for regular U.S. units. "Don't train on finding the enemy," he said. "Train on finding your friends, and they will help you find your enemy. . . . Once you find your friends, finding the enemy is easy

One part of me, of course, wants to chalk this story up to "another day, another display of Katrina-Like competence from this Administration". Unfortunately, aside from a full-on "screw you guys I'm going home" pull-out; whipping the Iraqi Army into shape is basically the only hope we have for leaving Iraq anytime soon. In fact according to the Pentagon's new document on how to pull our heads out of the quagmire:

Pentagon officials are considering whether the number of Iraqi security forces needs to be far larger than the current target of about 325,000, which would require thousands more U.S. trainers.

Unfortunately, according to what we know now, adding those trainers under current conditions would be almost counterproductive. Now if I wasn't suffering from nearly chronic outrage fatigue, this is the point where I'd start getting PO'ed and demanding to know how the hell this could have been allowed to happen. Alas, I've come to almost accept lethal incompetence as par for the course from this Administration. So instead of figuring out how we arrived here I'm really left with only one question:

now what do we do?


Blogger RoseCovered Glasses said...

You make many good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information:

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, “Odyssey of Armements”

The Pentagon is a giant,incredibly complex establishment,budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Adminisitrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the Sec. Def. to be - Mr. Gates- understand such complexity, particulary if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?

Answer- he can’t. Therefor he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.

From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.

This situation is unfortunate but it is ablsolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.

This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won’t happen unitil it hits a brick wall at high speed.

We will then have to run a Volkswagon instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.

11:27 AM  

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