Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Work the Problem

This article describes our effort to create a "spearhead" force in Iraq and national guard forces to hold gains, which tracks what I've been describing for quite some time. But what really is shocking is the description of the rapid deterioration of the Iraqi security forces in the short time of our absence after 2011.

How bad a shape were Iraq's security forces when ISIL struck in June 2014? This bad:

At their peak, Iraqi combat forces, painstakingly built and paid for by the United States during the last Iraq war, numbered about 400,000 troops. By the time the Islamist militant group launched its advance across northern Iraq in June, the Iraqi forces had shrunk by as much as half, depleted by years of corruption, absenteeism and decay.

When the Islamic State completed its seizure of the city of Mosul, four Iraqi army divisions and another from the federal police had disappeared, shrinking the original combat force to as few as 85,000 active troops, according to expert estimates.

That's just an amazing collapse in strength in the field. Although some of the losses could be made good as troops absent (which was common even when we were there as a method of letting troops take their pay home) and troops who fled are gathered up. As long as leadership can do a better job at leading, these guys can be salvaged as good soldiers and police.

I know that many people here say we wasted our money training the Iraqis, but that is not so. We wasted our money training the Iraqis because we left Iraq in 2011. We left Iraq with a decent security force geared for COIN and security rather than against conventional enemies, and left an enemy beaten down enough for these security forces to handle.

These critics forget that a military is a dynamic organism and not some static product that is built and then stays shiny and nice. Trained people leave and new people come in who must bet trained. Bad actors can thrive while others in the middle become bad and even the good go bad or leave in disgust (making room for more bad), and even the few good people who remain prove too few to hold it all together.

We blew it by leaving Iraq. I guess I'm relieved that we've intervened belatedly to avoid final defeat, but don't forget that the cost of staying to preserve our gains would have been far lower than the cost of re-engaging to claw back our lost gains.

Note that the article writes we will also add in 15,000 (using the same math) Kurds, for a total of 60,000 in the spearheads.

Also, given that Iraqi brigades have generally been much smaller than that, does this mean we are enlarging them for purposes of the offensive to maximize the effect of our training team limits?

This is fine. Remember that the spearhead of Germany's army was a minority of panzer and motorized formations that led the masses of horse-drawn infantry.

And even when we were looking to build a high-tech Objective Force, it was seen as the spearhead of an Army which would mostly consist of modernized legacy equipment. I may not have had any post specifically on that topic--although I thought I did--but I mention the notion in this long post. And I explain the concept here.

So a spearhead of 60,000 troops if supported by our air power and logistics assistance is more than adequate to defeat ISIL in Iraq--as long as the enemy is atomized enough for the lower quality army, police, and national guard troops to hold.

UPDATE: The possibility of a coordinated attack on ISIL-held Mosul by Iraqis advancing from the Baghdad region and Kurds is increased by this good news:

Iraq's government and the autonomous Kurdish region say they've resolved their longstanding disputes over the budget and oil exports, boosting prospects of closer co-operation against jihadists.

Despite months of bad blood, the deal shows that the federal and Kurdish regional government still need each other.

Good. The last thing we need is Iraq split up to have the parts fought over by predatory neighbors.