Thursday, July 02, 2015

Good Enough for Government Work

It is true that no Arab army is that good when compared to a Western army actually trained to fight. It is also irrelevant to rebuilding an Iraqi army to defeat ISIL.

Retired General Robert Scales, when reflecting on our victory in Desert Storm, is right about the challenge of preparing Iraq's ground forces to fight ISIL--Arab armies historically haven't been very good:

“You know, Bob, Arab armies really can’t do this very well."

From memory, I recall a story of an American officer looking over the well-constructed bunkers in Kuwait that Iraq's army abandoned when we attacked in 1991. He said thank goodness they weren't held by North Vietnamese.

And he is right that it is futile to try to make the Iraqi military fight like our Army. You go to war with the army you have and not the army you wished you had, right?

But there is a bright spot, as that same officer cited by Scales indicates:

"Remember we not only fought an Arab army, we fought with Arab armies, and the Saudis and Syrians weren’t any better than Saddam’s Republican Guard.”

The Iraqi military doesn't have to beat a Western army. It will be fighting fellow Arabs, for the most part, who share the same deficiencies.

Yes, the jihadis have fervor that makes them fairly eager for death. But they aren't soldiers. They don't do that very well, either.

With American-led planes in the air over them, Iraq will have firepower.

And Iraq does have a clear numerical advantage over ISIL.

With sufficient numbers and training to make some of them reasonably adequate soldiers, backed by our air power (I assume we'll have somebody reliable with those units to call in air strikes) they'll be good enough for government work.

Remember that Iraq did finally break the will of Persian jihadis during the Iran-Iraq War when the Iraqis built up sufficient firepower (including poison gas, which is ruled out now) and trained mobile forces (the Republican Guards) to supplement their expanded number of static infantry formations that held the line to erase Iran's numerical edge.

Despite the drubbing they gave the Iranians during Karbala Five and the meager Iranian efforts that had followed, the Iraqis were nonetheless compelled to man a long front, albeit with greater confidence. Although the pattern of Iraqi defenders facing repeated Iranian land offensives was apparently continuing unabated, the strategic balance was shifting in Iraq's favor. Less visible than the stalemate and the Iranian attacks were Iraq's ground force expansion, the Republican Guard's secret training in the summer of 1987, and Iran's quiet collapse due to the Karbala Five slaughter that killed off the bulk of Iran's experienced and trained Pasdaran. Just as Iran's ground forces lost the will to make the type of "final offensive" that Iran's religious leaders believed was necessary to win the war, Iraq's army had expanded sufficiently for Iraq to take the initiative once again.

Our air power has inflicted attrition on a far smaller ISIL army. But this attrition has not reached the point where jihadi will to fight is cracked--as their capture of Ramadi shows.

But the firepower potential is still there. And we are sending new weapons to help with the frontline direct firepower deficiency that helped ISIL super-car-bomb their way through the Iraqi defenses at Ramadi.

And perhaps we are secretly training and expanding Iraq's reliable mobile forces.

Iraq beat jihadis once before--Iranian Shia jihadis--with Russian arms and advice and American intelligence support. It wasn't pretty. But it worked.

Iraq can beat Sunni jihadis, too. It would be nice if we really could regain the initiative and get on with that mission.