Monday, June 23, 2014

Rebuild and Counterattack

My estimate that perhaps 10% of Iraq's army collapsed in the north (plus other security forces) may or may not be in the ball park, but based on that initial collapse and other problems that have gone unchecked the last two years, it seems that a quarter of the Iraqi army is combat ineffective.

This is bad but still not something that dooms the Iraqi army to defeat in the face of the ISIL-Baathist offensive:

Michael Knights, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote recently that 60 out of 243 Iraqi Army combat battalions “cannot be accounted for, and all of their equipment is lost.”

American officials said their assessment was that five of the Iraqi Army’s 14 divisions were “combat ineffective,” including the two that were overrun in Mosul. Remnants of shattered units and soldiers who were on leave when the ISIS offensive began have been sent to the military base at Taji, north of Baghdad, to be cobbled together into fresh units.

What we've continued to train is still good. And others are fighting hard, too, but overall the Iraqi military is a glorified police force:

One bright spot, officials say, is Iraq’s elite counterterrorism force, which the United States has been quietly training at the Baghdad airport. Yet since the withdrawal of American troops at the end of 2011, the skills of Iraqi forces have atrophied, American officials said. The Iraqi military is not practiced at maneuvering on the battlefield and has become a “checkpoint army,” a force that is adept at checking identification but not at taking the fight to its enemy, Western officials said.

Lots of armies in the Third World are nothing but glorified police forces, to be fair. But our interest is in the one in Iraq that we need to be an army right now and fight for territory. They aren't going to be great. They never were. But we can get them in good enough shape to take on the enemy.

People too eager to write off the Iraqi military don't understand what the army was trained to do and the deterioration that has taken place since 2011.

After we first defeated Saddam, we began to create a small Iraqi army of 40,000 designed to fight external enemies. This would have been a conventional army.

But the insurgency and terror campaigns led us to add what eventually were called National Guard units--light infantry designed to fight insurgents--and then integrate them into an army designed to fight internal enemies rather than external foes.

We successfully built that army (to about 280,000, if memory serves me) so that it could fight alongside our troops and with our support. Security forces much larger than the army (over 600,000) that could guard communities, lines of supply, and facilities, complemented the counter-insurgency-focused army. The small counter-terrorism force was the spearhead for leading other units into battle. That's the army and security force that we left in Iraq at the end of 2011.

The plan was to keep training the army to become one that could also fight as a conventional army against other large units rather than chase insurgents and terrorists.

Iraq is not there yet. Yes, they are buying F-16s and Abrams main battle tanks and other equipment, but the organization and training to use these weapons in maneuver warfare just isn't there yet.

Without us, that transition is taking longer.

Worse, the army has deteriorated a great deal from sectarian policies and corruption that has undermined the units' capabilities and morale.

It isn't just the sectarian nature of the Iraqi army that is causing problems.

The Kurdish army--based on a narrow sectarian base--is apparently still good. The ISIS are sectarian on steroids. Mere sectarian dominance did not cripple the Iraqi army.

It contributed. But corruption in leadership, supply, and pay seem to have undermined the northern divisions that collapsed after facing months of attacks that sapped their morale as they perceived themselves left on their own. Indeed, northern units were stripped of some assets that were sent to Anbar, according to other reports I read.

And these weaknesses clearly affect other units of the Iraqi army if a quarter is combat ineffective right now.

Work the problem, people. We really don't want jihadis owning their own country.

UPDATE: More on over-stating the sectarian divisions as the source of the problem. Dividing Iraq on that mistaken notion would lead to more bloodshed and misery.