08 October, 2005

Iraqi Military Readiness

This last week it was widely reported that only a single Iraqi battalion was completely ready to take over. My first mental image upon reading that was of the rest of the Iraqi military units just running around in training exercises, unable to do any "real" work.

Major K has been involved in training the Iraqi military forces. As is more and more frequently the case, the true story is behind the media spin. The major sets the record straight:

In the initial months of our operations here, most major raids and searches were conducted jointly by an Iraqi unit with an equivalent-sized US unit, a company with a company or a battalion with a battalion. US units were still in the stage of carrying their Iraqi counterparts through these operations as the Iraqis still had a reputation for cutting and running if enemy contact got hairy. Support for Iraqi units was needed in almost every area...

But after nine months...

Battalions and companies are seldom, if ever matched with US battalions and companies for "strike operations" - raids, searches, etc. Many Iraqi Battalions operate with a small US MiTT (Military Transition Team) that is squad-sized (9-15 men). The MiTT advises, rides along, and provides limited training, logistical and communications support.

...The Iraqis constitute over 95% of the manpower on any operation, and no longer cut and run from enemy fire, even after sustaining casualties. The US MiTT helps to coordinate to overcome logistical snarls...The MiTT also provides communications infrastructure to link the Iraqis with other Iraqi units and the US higher command....Metaphorically speaking, the MiTT is the father running along side of his child riding without training wheels for the first time to scoop the child up if the child crashes.

...As I write this, two sectors of Baghdad are controlled by Iraqi Army Brigades (4000-5000) assisted by a platoon-sized (30-40) MiTT. The number of Iraqi Battalions operating with only a small MiTT adviser group as I described is in the dozens, and that is only here in the Baghdad area.
Just stop and consider the kind of military culture that existed in Iraq before 2003. And remember that it's been only two and a half years since the first shots of OIF were fired. Dozens of battalions living by new rules and operating with mere training wheels in Baghdad alone (among the bigger "problem areas" in Iraq) is awfully impressive.

Major K also shares this:

While visiting 1st Brigade a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Mini-NCO Academy that they had set up with the help of their MiTT Team. It was one of those experiences that really gives one hope.

Tough, competent, professional NCO's are what the Iraqi Army has been lacking for many years. The culture of the old Iraqi Army was one of an aristocratic officer corps and subservient but tightly controlled enlisted force with no real NCO corps in the middle...In this little NCO Academy, of which 1st Brigade is very proud, Iraqi Sergeants are taught professionalism, leadership, ethics, initiative, map reading, training concepts and planning, to name a few of the courses.

...Now, the courses are taught exclusively by Iraqi NCO Instructors. Several of these instructors are female.

...As we stood at the back of the classroom watching one of the classes being taught by a graduate of the Academy...[I looked] over at my interpreter, Jay, who was born in Iraq but has lived in the USA for over ten years, and he was wiping away tears of joy from his eyes.
Major K also writes about some of the challenges involved in training Iraqi military forces (illiteracy and fatalism), and some great related pictures on the left hand side bar of his blog. For a ground-level view of the emerging Iraqi military, go read it all.