Hans' News and Politics Blog

A Blog of Conservative News, Politics, and Foreign Affairs

Friday, October 07, 2005

Building Iraqi Security Forces
By HansMarc Hurd

Missteps prior to the war

Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom there have been complaints about the lack of effective indigenous security forces in Iraq. Much of the criticism has been justified, but those in the media and politics who grumbled at the slow rate of improvement have either offered no solution to the problem or misidentified the disbanding of the Iraqi army as the cause of it.

Despite frequent reports to the contrary, there was indeed a plan for post-war stability in Iraq, the changing situation on the ground and some planning delays unfortunately doomed those efforts. The Pentagon had planned to train “Free Iraqi Forces” (FIF) in Hungary to enter Iraq alongside our troops during the invasion. However, delays in decision making and opposition from the State Department delayed the training of the FIF to the point than only about 500 were ready at the outbreak of war, instead of the several thousands initially envisioned. A second pillar in the US strategy was to induce the surrender of large portions of the Iraqi army and then reconstitute those forces after removing the politically suspect leadership. During the war we ended up with very few surrenders, contrary to prediction, since the Iraqi soldiers in large part simply deserted the army, discarded their uniforms, and went home, effectively disbanding the army. When Ambassador L. Paul Bremer declared the old Iraqi army disbanded he didn’t make a blunder as many talking heads at that time argued, he only formally recognized the reality on the ground. Prior to the war the Pentagon believed that the Iraqi police could be largely left intact and simply receive retraining, preferably by an International Police Task Force (IPTF) under the UN, as has often been the case in past conflicts. Here too there was a serious miscalculation based on poor information on the ground. The Iraqi police was an extension of the Ba’ath party and deserted along with the Iraqi army at the end of the war, fearing reprisals from the population for decades of abuse. The Iraqi police force enforced the dictates of the Saddam regime through force, intimidation, and bribery, and had little true police capability to begin with. As for the IPTF, it never materialized since the UN never provided substantive assistance after the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

These miscalculations left the US Military in a bind. Virtually the entire Iraqi security apparatus had ceased to exist and had to be rebuilt from scratch. This problem did not exist in the major post-war efforts in the past that served as a model for our planning in Iraq. Both Germany and Japan, even though they suffered severely from the ravages of war, had a professional police force that could be quickly reconstituted in order to reestablish order. To make matters worse, Saddam’s strongest loyalists from the Sunni tribal region, as well as foreign Jihadists, launched an insurgent campaign against our Army of Occupation within weeks of the collapse of the regime, forcing our military to shift resources into confronting this new threat and distracted further from building new security institutions for Iraq.

First attempts to train the Iraqis fail

To adapt to the situation on the ground the Pentagon quickly brought in civilian contractors to train the new Iraqi force, while our military forces focus on fighting the insurgency. However, these efforts are largely unsuccessful. The training is of inconsistent quality, and the Iraqi forces do not learn how to work with allied forces due to lack of experience working with the foreign military forces. The training is of short duration, it focuses in large part of retraining former members of the Iraqi military, who are believed to be already trained and only require a little refresher course. Alas, the regular Iraqi army was extremely poorly trained (if at all) during the last decade of Saddam’s reign due to a lack of faith in their loyalty. The limited training those troops had received was in no way sufficient for the task at hand. The first time those forces were faced with a challenge, as it occurred in March of 2004, most of the broke and fled the scene.

As poorly trained as the Iraqi soldiers were, their officers were even worse in many respects. Initially, we relied on recruiting former Iraqi officers to lead the new units, but their previous experiences created serious problems. Iraqi officers had a tendency not to delegate any authority to subordinates because they felt that would weaken their own position. To make matters worse, those officers also frequently refused to make any decisions, a habit bred into them during Saddam’s reign when a bad decision could quickly end an officer’s career and freedom, if not his life.

The police was in no better position. The training for the Iraqi police was just as truncated as that for the military, with the focus being on such simple tasks as traffic control and serving arrest warrants. The insurgents quickly realized that the lightly armed police was an easy target and focused much of their efforts on assaulting police stations and overwhelming the badly outgunned officers.

The Army adapts its approach to training

After the fiasco of the spring 2004 uprising by Moqtada Al Sadr the US moves away from relying on contractors and takes a more direct control of the training effort of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Future training of the ISF would be conducted by the US military and a systematic approach to assessing the capabilities of the trained battalions was put in place.

By the summer of 2004 when Sadr tried to rebel again the ISF responded far more effectively as it had just a few months earlier. The reason for this improvement was threefold. US trainers had identified which units were the most reliable and only used those that had achieved a somewhat higher level of proficiency. Those ISF units had better communications with the US military, and lastly, the ISF was employed within the limitations of their capabilities.

A novel approach was tried in Falluja as well; an Iraqi brigade of mostly former Saddam loyalists was formed to gain control of Falluja. That approach ended in dismal failure as much of the brigade deserted and joined the insurgency. The experience of the Fallujah brigade should serve as a warning to those who argued that the disbanding of the old Iraqi army was a mistake. If it had been possible to retain the old army at the end of the war we could have expected large formations to desert at critical times and even join the insurgency. The dissolution of the old Iraqi army was probably the best outcome in this situation.

A new, old way of doing things

By the fall of 2004 several ISF units had reached a level of proficiency that allowed them to engage in support functions in assaults on urban centers such as Samarah and Fallujah. However, there were still serious shortfalls within the ISF, particularly in leadership. It takes the US Army approximately 17 years to train a battalion commander, yet in Iraq we were hoping to accomplish the same task in a matter of months, a near hopeless endeavor.

To adjust to the lack of leadership in the ISF we started to embed a larger pool of advisors directly into the Iraqi units in February of 2005 to provide much of that missing leadership. Prior to this change we used military advisors sparingly, and mainly at higher echelons. Now, we embedded about 1,500 soldiers directly into the Iraqi units, to provide the leadership and experience to make the ISF effective. In this we adopted a policy that had long been en vogue in the Marine Corps, which they had employed during their various expeditions into Central America during the 1930s and put into writing in the Small Wars Manual of 1940. Over six decades after the Marine Corps had already written the book on how to train indigenous forces the Army had relearned that lesson.

The Iraqi police started faring better as well. Improved training in heavy weapons and reinforced police HQs heralded a dramatic shift. As late as October 2004 police stations were attacked and overrun on an almost daily basis. After mid-November the insurgents failed 14 times in a row to penetrate police security. By late January they all but gave up attacking police stations directly.

The way forward

As of the summer of 2005 there are over 100 battalions in the ISF, only a handful of which are capable to operate independently of US assistance. However, about a third of the force is able to function with the help of embedded advisors, giving us a significant Iraqi military presence. The first Iraqi brigade has assumed operation control of a relatively peaceful sector in eastern Iraq. By the end of the year large parts of Baghdad are expected to be under the control of ISF, at which time we can either increase the number of US maneuver brigades in the most hostile regions of Iraq if necessary, or start to withdraw several brigades and reduce our footprint to a in the long term more sustainable pace.

The training of the Iraqi military has been focused more on small unit scale SWAT style tactics to clear buildings and Mounted Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) instead of emphasizing the traditional maneuver warfare of larger formations. In addition, applying simple police procedures such as evidence gathering will become increasingly necessary. Those arrested for insurgent activity need to have a paper trail attached to them so that they can later be prosecuted for crimes, instead of the “catch and release” system often employed in the past. The police force needs to be trained to engage in more complex criminal investigations, to attain the level of professionalism necessary to win the confidence of the public.

The US has to be deeply involved in that training for at least several years, in order to ensure the building of an efficient law enforcement and defense infrastructure. In the long run the DoD needs to reorganize the military to address the lack of capacity in nation building.

Nation building’s past misperceptions

Since Vietnam the concept of “nation building” has, unjustifiably, received somewhat of a bad name. In Vietnam General Westmoreland ignored the advice of the commander of the USMC to embed US forces into the countryside to slowly build up the infrastructure of South Vietnam. Gen Westmoreland considered that approach as taking too long and sought a decisive engagement for a rapid victory. That approach was a failure which ended up prolonging the war. We pushed aside the Vietnamese and took control of the war and the responsibility for the security of the South Vietnamese people, something we could never accomplish. Only after Westmoreland’s departure did we start to correct the earlier mistakes through a program of “Vietnamization” of the war. The program was a success, resulting in a clear defeat of the North Vietnamese forces and the pacification of most of the south by 1972, which allowed us to withdraw our forces by 1973 after reaching a peace deal with North Vietnam. Unfortunately, a hostile Congress cut off all aid to South Vietnam in 1975, dooming the country to the better equipped NV. A fatalistic misperception started to take root within the military and the general US society that the victory of the North was assured from the start and our efforts in the South always doomed as too complex and unrealistic.

In 1990 we adopted the “Powell doctrine”, based largely on the experience in Vietnam, where we would limit our military objectives to easily and quickly achievable goals. This doctrine seemed very successful during the first Gulf War, when the conflict was brought quickly to conclusion. However, its limited goals ended up achieving only limited success, leaving an antagonistic regime in place in Iraq.

Only two years later this doctrine was violated in Somalia, when an ever changing
Mission came to be known as “mission creep”. After nearly a score of soldiers laid dead in Mogadishu we beat a hasty retreat, while the Army became even more fervent advocates of the Powell doctrine due to that failure. Nation building was considered a bad fit for the Pentagon, something that will usually end up in disaster and should be avoided as an improper mission for the military. The truth was that there never was a serious effort of nation building in Somalia. The Army only deployed its singular active duty Civil Affairs battalion since it didn’t want to call up the reserves. No plan was ever developed to reconstruct the nation of Somalia; instead we punted the job to the UN, which immediately dropped the ball. Somalia failed not because nation building doesn’t work; it failed because we never tried it. Thus, we walked away with precisely the wrong conclusion.

Our experiences in the Balkans lend us to become dependent on international institutions to provide the nation building component to our military operations. However, this dependency became our Achilles heel in Iraq when such support wasn’t forthcoming. We had also glossed over the failure of international institutions to achieve lasting success in most instances. Somalia and Haiti were clear failures, Bosnia and Kosovo showed little improvement even after years of engagement.

The way into the future

To adapt to this changed environment the Pentagon needs to place a much larger emphasis on post-war reconstruction. The DoD cannot try to outsource this critical component of future warfighting to agencies not under its control. The experiences of the post-cold war era have shown us that virtually all our future engagements will require some post-war reconstruction commitment by the US military.

The US Army should greatly expand its Civil Affairs forces, both in number and in mission role. A three-star Civil Affairs Command (CACOM) should be established, with four regionally aligned reserve CA Divisions as well as one active duty CA Division.

The Divisions should each include

2 CA brigades, with 4 CA battalions, similar to the current organization. These brigades would essentially be unchanged from our current CA brigades.

1 basic combat training brigade with 3 or 4 battalions, which would conduct the basic infantry training of foreign forces. These brigades would imbue new recruits with basic infantry skill.

1 advanced combat brigade including a basic leadership battalion to train NCOs, 1, advanced leadership battalion to train officers, and 1 combat support battalion to train the basic support personnel needed to operate infantry units.

1 combat advisory brigade with 3 or 4 battalions of infantry advisors to be embedded in trained units. These troops would provide the necessary leadership for host nation forces to operate until their leadership acquires the necessary training and experience to assume the burden of leadership themselves.

1 law enforcement brigade with 2 police training battalions, 1 CID battalion, and 1 JAG battalion. The police training battalions run police academies to train new recruits in basic skills, while the CID battalion trains detectives to conduct investigations. The JAG battalion trains judges and lawyers in the proper conduct of court rooms.

1 police advisory brigade with 3 or 4 battalions of MPs to be embedded in trained police units. These MPs would be placed into police departments to provide the leadership these units need to operate efficiently until such time as they attain sufficient experience to conduct independent operations.

1 civil reconstruction engineer brigade. This brigade would be able to conduct a range of infrastructure improvement projects and demining missions, as well as conduct training in host nations.

The Army CACOM would fall under a four-star joint Civil Military Command (CMCOM). This unit would include some of the new Naval Infantry battalions being formed by the Navy along with some Seabee units, and brown water training units. CA elements from the USMC and appropriate units from the Air Force would be assigned as well. During war time element from the Coast Guard and even some State Dep’t assets such as USAID would fall under its control.

Only a complete rethinking of the way we conduct reconstruction operations will ensure that we can avoid some of the pitfalls previously encountered, and given the central role ‘failed states’ play in harboring threats to the United States such operations will only become more likely in the future.

Recommended reading:
Small Wars Manual USMC 1940
The Savage Wars of Peace by Max Boot
The Pentagons New Map by Thomas P.M. Barnett


Post a Comment

<< Home

Website Counter
Hit Counters