Thursday, May 28, 2015

Once Again, You Go to War with the Army You Have

Iraqi soldiers will fight if supported and well led. It is unfair, as Secretary of Defense Carter did, to make them the post-Ramadi official fall guy for the failure of our measures to have more of an impact:

"What apparently happened is the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight," Carter said. "They were not outnumbered; in fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. That says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves."

Iraqi soldiers will never be Prussians on the Tigris and Euphrates. I freely admit that. But during the long Iran-Iraq War they did prove they could fight and die in large numbers against jihadi foes.

And the notion that a decade of our training proves it was a waste neglects that training has to be continuous and effective. An army is not something you equip and train, and then set on a shelf until you need it. It deteriorates once you leave it alone.

When we left in 2011, the Iraqi army was a decent counter-insurgency army. That's what we designed it for and it got the job done. With the caveat that it was not yet a full spectrum army, it might have been the best army, man-for-man, that they've ever had.

But when we walked away and left it up to the State Department to maintain our gains, several things happened.

One, training faltered. We weren't there to keep the Iraqi army on track and to make it an adequate full spectrum force capable of finishing off al Qaeda and capable of deterring an Iranian conventional invasion.

Two, leadership deteriorated. Without our presence to balance Iran, Maliki felt he had no choice but to rely on loyal officers without regard to their competence.

Three sectarianism's fissures were reopened. Without us, Maliki's sectarian impulses (which were under control before we left--remember he did take on the pro-Iran militias in Basra in spring 2008) were unchecked.

Just as bad, Sunni Arabs lacked our presence as a safety net and so assumed the worst and were more willing to operate outside of politics to defend their perceived interests. Siding with ISIL in 2014 sure looks like a big error now to many of them, but that doesn't alter the current problem.

Four, we weren't there with special forces, our intelligence network, and air power to spearhead an Iraqi effort to finish off the mostly defeated al Qaeda in Iraq. We didn't learn the lesson of our own Afghanistan campaign of 2001 where we provided support to the mostly defeated Northern Alliance holding on in their corner of Afghanistan to lead them into Kabul with our special forces/CIA effort using air power and cash.

And don't forget the problem of ISIL rising in Syria. Perhaps we could not have altered that event by arming non-jihadi rebels back when they dominated the rebellion. But we didn't try. Syria became a staging area for the ISIL invasion of Iraq.

Our army broke and ran at Kasserine Pass. It broke and surrendered east of St. Vith. With poor training and leadership, and lack of sufficient weapons and outside support, troops will break and run.

Rather than complaining that Iraq's army isn't up to our standards (and most NATO states should be grateful that their armies don't face the tests the Iraqis have), let's provide the Iraqi army the advisors, fire support, training, and weapons that they need to be effective enough to defeat ISIL.

Remember, Iraq's army has been fighting for Ramadi for a year and a half--until ISIL provided better fire support than we provide our allies when ISIL hit the Iraqis with the equivalent of a carpet bombing:

"Over the course of 96 hours in Ramadi, and what we've been able to collect ... (ISIL used) about 30 suicide VBIDs in Ramadi and the environs. ... Ten of them, I've been told, had the explosive capacity of an Oklahoma City type attack. So just to put that in perspective."

One VBID (actually, that should be VBIED) attack leveled an entire block of Ramadi.

As a wise man once said, you go to war with the army you have and not the army you wished you had. It is within our power to make the army we have more effective.

Work the problem, people.

UPDATE: More on the ISIL VBIEDs (Or SVIEDs--with the S standing for "suicide"):

The jihadists used about 30 explosives-rigged vehicles in the Iraqi city of Ramadi this month, blasting their way through positions government and allied fighters had managed to hold for more than a year. ...

The jihadists used about 30 explosives-rigged vehicles in the Iraqi city of Ramadi this month, blasting their way through positions government and allied fighters had managed to hold for more than a year.

What I find most horrible about this more than the Iraqi rout is that ISIL was left unmolested and allowed to build this phalanx of truck bombs and then move them to the front and use them on the Iraqi defenders despite our absolute aerial supremacy.

Which shows that we have to seize the initiative and make ISIL react to our side rather than granting ISIL the precious commodity of time to carry out their plans against us.