Latest Catch-22 For US Military: Training Iraqi Troops Too Dangerous Due to Previous “Training”

The abject failure of US efforts to train troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has been one of my most frequent topics. Even though the US mission in Iraq has officially ended and the mission in Afghanistan is mired in a surreal form of purgatory as the government re-invents it vote auditing procedure and even the structure of its government, the US military just can’t kick its addiction to training and is now contemplating yet another attempt at training Iraqi troops.

The New York Times tries to come to the aid of the military this morning with a front page story dedicated to re-starting the training process. The problem though, is that as the Times dives into the idea, it becomes apparent that our previous failures in training may have made it too dangerous to start (and, of course, fail again, but the Times doesn’t go there) the process yet again. That danger even makes it into the headline: “US Sees Risks in Assisting a Compromised Iraqi Force“.

The story opens:

A classified military assessment of Iraq’s security forces concludes that many units are so deeply infiltrated by either Sunni extremist informants or Shiite personnel backed by Iran that any Americans assigned to advise Baghdad’s forces could face risks to their safety, according to United States officials.

The report concludes that only about half of Iraq’s operational units are capable enough for American commandos to advise them if the White House decides to help roll back the advances made by Sunni militants in northern and western Iraq over the past month.

Imagine that. Despite eight years of work and over $25 billion invested, two and a half years after we left Iraq only about half of Iraq’s units are even fit enough for the US to advise them in an effort to take on their latest existential threat.

But the real beauty in the current conundrum lies in who stepped up to fill the training gap when the US left:

Adding to the administration’s dilemma is the assessment’s conclusion that Iraqi forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki are now heavily dependent on Shiite militias — many of which were trained in Iran — as well as on advisers from Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force.

Shiite militias fought American troops after the United States invaded Iraq and might again present a danger to American advisers. But without an American-led effort to rebuild Iraq’s security forces, there may be no hope of reducing the Iraqi government’s dependence on those Iranian-backed militias, officials caution.

So when we left, Maliki supplemented his military with the very Shiite militias that US forces had been fighting. At least one reason for Maliki’s move was that these militias knew how to fight and the troops the US trained were useless. Those militias have been trained by Iran. And as much as the US would love to “rebuild Iraq’s security forces” through yet another ride on the training carousel, that could well be too dangerous because many of the people we would then be training might remember that less than three years ago, the US trained their weapons on them while training other Iraqi troops to go after them. The Times article rightly recognizes this situation as ripe for a resurgence of green on blue insider killings if the US tried to train such forces. They quote Michael Barbero, who was in charge of training in Iraq from 2009 to 2011 (funny, once again, while discussing training failures, David Petraeus is never mentioned):

“The advisory mission has inherent risks, but they can be mitigated,” he added. “You can put security with them. You can be selective about where you put the advisers. We can apply the lessons learned from dealing with the insider threat in Afghanistan.”

Gosh. Our military just can’t stop looking at hopeless situations and saying that they are at the turning point where they will get better. Despite all those previous failures, this time, by golly, we’ll get it right:

And General Dempsey also emphasized any American military involvement in Iraq would be different than in the past.

You see, this time we’ll call our guys advisers instead of trainers. That should make all the difference. Even if those we are advising know that we were trying to kill them very recently…

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
17 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    It sounds like we have a training failure right here in the US: our military officers aren’t trained well enough to recognize failure when they’re looking right at it. (Or at least, they’re trained not to admit to recognizing it when they’re looking right at it. Which is also a failure of training.)

  2. bevin says:

    US training is designed to teach officers not to obey orders from their own governments and to become agents for the US. In the fullness of time they are expected to carry out military coups.
    Africa and Latin America both furnish many examples of such training.

    The other great advantage of “training” is that it is a perfect excuse for maintaining cadres of junior officers and NCOs in places like Afghanistan. These are perfect places from which to spy and undertake missions of subversion, or as it is sometime called, ‘democracy promotion.’

    So far as the training of Iraqi militias is concerned, my guess is that much of this will be carried out by the Syrian Arab Army, or Hezbollah, both organisations with experience and success in dealing with wahhabi terrorists with US equipment.

  3. Don Bacon says:

    No mention of Davy Petraeus? He is available and he did such a good job back in ’04. Who can forget that WaPo editorial he wrote during the presidential campaign.
    .
    “Six battalions of the Iraqi regular army and the Iraqi Intervention Force are now conducting operations. . .Within the next 60 days, six more regular army and six additional Intervention Force battalions will become operational. . . Nine more regular army battalions will complete training in January.”
    .
    Gotta have that Petraeus moment. Moving on…
    .
    The problem in these countries the US invades (Vietnam is the best example) is that our guys never fight like their guys. That’s because “our guys” are fighting for us, or the puppet government we set up, and “their guys” are fighting for their own freedom from “our guys.” It just never works out.
    .
    You would think that the US military general officers would know that simple fact by now, since they’ve failed so many times. But what the hell, it’s a well-paying relatively safe job with a lot of perks so why not keep spinning the lies and spinning the wheels.

    • Jim White says:

      By the way, I threw that “turning point” bit into the post just in case you wanted to re-run your terrific list of turning point quotes.

      • Don Bacon says:

        By the way, I threw that “turning point” bit into the post just in case you wanted to re-run your terrific list of turning point quotes.
        .
        Thanks, Jim, I missed it, but “turning point” is so……Afghanistan. For Iraq we do “fragile and reversible.” Hit it, Davy:
        .
        WaPo, September 7, 2007
        General Petraeus’s view is considered overly cautious by some other senior military officials and some members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, officials said. But they said it reflected his concern that the security gains made so far in Baghdad, Anbar Province and other areas were fragile and easily reversed.
        .
        sinodaily, Dec 23, 2007
        “Obviously, we want to reduce the strain on our ground forces as much as we can while recognizing that what has been achieved here remains tenuous and is still fragile in a number of areas,” Petraeus said on Fox News Sunday.
        .
        limun, Dec 28, 2007
        Iraq has pulled back from the brink of civil war, but recent security gains are fragile and still reversible, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, said on Saturday.
        .
        Reuters, Dec 29, 2007
        Assessing the overall security situation in Iraq, Petraeus said progress toward curbing sectarian violence was “tenuous in many areas and could be reversed”.
        .
        humanevents, Mar 6, 2008
        Citing the reduction in violence in most areas of Iraq in the past six to eight months, a confident but cautious Gen. David Petraeus told me Thursday that the progress in Iraq is both tenuous and reversible.
        .
        WaPo, April 9, 2008
        During a day of hearings against the backdrop of a heated campaign for the White House, Petraeus called security in Iraq “significantly better” than before last year’s troop buildup but still “fragile and reversible.”
        .
        NYTimes, Aug 20, 2008
        “It’s not durable yet. It’s not self-sustaining,” he added. “You know — touch wood — there is still a lot of work to be done.”
        .
        Fox News, April 24, 2009
        Progress in Iraq is still “fragile and reversible,” Gen. David Petraeus warned Friday after back-to-back homicide bombings killed nearly 80 people one day earlier in Iraq’s deadliest day in more than a year.
        .
        Reuters, Mar 16, 2010
        “The progress in Iraq is still fragile. And it could still be reversed,” Petraeus told a Senate hearing.
        .
        See, Afghanistan, there’s hope there, because of all the turning points. Afghanistan is the good war, a war that couldn’t be avoided, 9/11 born, a valiant cause, so it just can’t go wrong. Even as it goes wrong, it’s still right. .
        .
        But Iraq was hopeless to begin with, just fragile and reversible, a ridiculous war of choice. Davy saw that, and even said it many times, but nobody responded. After all, the main goal was to completely weaken and destabilize Iraq, and that’s been done and is being done. Fragile and reversible is good!

  4. Snarki, child of Loki says:

    There’s been a bit of “training” of the US voting public, not to vote for war-mongering morons, of the type that turned Iraq into a province of Iran.

    Whether the training “sticks” or not, we’ll find out in 2016.

  5. bsbafflesbrains says:

    Now we know where all the lawyers at the justice dept. got their training as well.
    Do these trainers do birthday parties also?

  6. Don Bacon says:

    from defenselink, April 17, 2008:
    In the past year, the Iraqi army has transformed into a national force that has deployed across the country in operations that show its increasing combat capabilities, a senior commander there said today. “There should be no mistake on the behalf of anyone that the Iraqi army is a national army,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Robin Swan, commander of the Coalition Army Advisory Training Team. “Just over the past year, it has made a tremendous, tremendous impact in areas throughout Iraq. In as short as nine to 12 months ago, [it was unimaginable] that battalions and a division headquarters from al Anbar province would be utilized throughout … Iraq. But that is exactly what has happened.”
    .
    from Stars & Stripes, today:
    Five weeks after Islamist fighters stormed across northern and western Iraq in a surprise offensive that nearly reached the outskirts of the Iraqi capital, virtually every captured location remains firmly in rebel hands, while the central government’s meager efforts at a counteroffensive have met with failure on virtually every front.
    .
    from US Army, today:
    Mr. Robin P. Swan joined the Office of Business Transformation in January 2011. As Deputy Director, he directly supports the Director, Office of Business Transformation (D, OBT) in managing, supervising, and coordinating the OBT’s efforts in support of the Under Secretary of the Army / Chief Management Officer (USA/CMO) as he carries out all aspects of the Army’s business transformation initiative.
    .
    I wonder if Swan will transform the Army’s business as well as he “transformed” the Iraq army which has “made a tremendous, tremendous impact.”

  7. CTuttle says:

    Mahalo, Jim, for another excellent post…! Btw, Col. Lang went off on our Generals too…! ;-)

    …General officers of the US armed forces played a despicable role in deceiving themselves and everyone else by distorting reporting on Iraqi training and by punishing those who tried to tell the truth. They should be shunned and punished. pl

  8. Don Bacon says:

    Iraq Assessment Team Reports Arrive in Pentagon
    By Jim Garamone
    American Forces Press Service
    WASHINGTON, July 14, 2014 – Assessment teams working in Iraq have delivered their findings through the chain of command, and they have arrived at Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s office, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said here today.
    .
    “It will be a matter of some time here as we work our way through what … the teams had found before moving forward to any specific decisions about follow-on military assistance to the Iraqi security forces,” Kirby told reporters.
    .
    Yup — a matter of time. Like the F-16’s they’re going to deliver in … September? Meanwhile Iraq had to go Russian. How about stuffing a Hellfire missile up the new Caliph’s rear end? The US is considering it.
    .
    It’s enough to make one wonder if any other country is supporting this ISIS besides Saudi Arabia. The US perhaps? Since Iraq is an ally of Iran, that is, thank you very much Uncle Samuel.

  9. Lefty665 says:

    As early as 2004 our trainers found that every time they did marksmanship instruction/practice with Iraqi troops that shortly thereafter the hostile incoming fire they were receiving got more accurate. The guys I talked to said that somewhat dampened their enthusiasm for helping our Iraqi “allies” to become more effective fighters.
    .
    Wouldn’t be surprising to find that scaled up to most all the training we conducted.
    .

    • CTuttle says:

      I remember 10th SFG’s ODAs working intimately with the Kurds way back in the late ’80s/early ’90s…

      Expansion of ‘secret’ facility in Iraq suggests closer U.S.-Kurd ties

      …But U.S. officials have known for some time that it was likely that they’d need to coordinate any steps it takes both in Baghdad and in Irbil, where the peshmerga has worked closely over the years with the CIA, U.S. special forces and the Joint Special Operations Command, the military’s most secretive task force, which has become a bulwark of counterterrorism operations. Peshmerga forces already are manning checkpoints and bunkers to protect the facility, which sits just a few hundred yards from the highway.

      “Within a week of the fall of Mosul we were being told to double or even triple our capacities,” said one Western logistics contractor who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he’d signed nondisclosure agreements with the U.S. government on the matter.

      “They needed everything from warehouse space to refrigeration capacity, because they operate under a different logistics command than the normal military or embassy structures,” the contractor said. “The expansion was aggressive and immediate.” {…} “Most of our ‘mukhabarat’ worked directly alongside both the CIA and JSOC throughout the war in Iraq because of our language ability and long experience battling both Saddam and radical terrorists,” he said, using the Arabic term for “information office,” usually ascribed to local intelligence.

      “Peshmerga fighters fought closely alongside the American Green Berets throughout northern Iraq in places like Mosul, Tal Afar and Kirkuk because we are very professional and trusted,” he said. “And many of our men would work directly with the most secret units as interpreters and Iraqi experts.” {…}

      “A lot of those pesh guys were known and respected for their training and trustworthiness by ODA, OGA and the Secret Squirrels long before the 2003 invasion,” he said, using the acronyms for “Operational Detachment Alpha,” the official designation of the Green Berets, and “other government agency,” a common slang term for the CIA. “Secret Squirrels” is a term soldiers use to describe Joint Special Operations Command units that usually don’t have an obvious unit designation.

      A special operations officer, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he’s legally bound not to publicly discuss his career without specific Defense Department permission, said working with the Kurds would overcome a number of difficult issues that would be present as U.S. advisers worked with the Iraqi army.

      • lefty665 says:

        Don’t doubt Kurds were a special case.
        .
        The folks I knew were Marines, and they were taking it on the chin pretty hard early on (and later) in Iraq. They were training regular Iraqi army troops. Gunnys were in the right spot to both conduct training and gauge incoming.
        .
        That’s just an anecdote that illustrates a variation on the heading of Jim’s post. Seems one of many issues in our American Crusades has been that we have trained and equipped people who subsequently have been both remarkably ineffective in pursuing our objectives, and whose decisions about how to deploy skills and weapons have varied from ours.

        • Don Bacon says:

          we have trained and equipped people who subsequently have been both remarkably ineffective in pursuing our objectives, and whose decisions about how to deploy skills and weapons have varied from ours.
          .Because, as I said above:
          The problem in these countries the US invades (Vietnam is the best example) is that our guys never fight like their guys. That’s because “our guys” are fighting for us, or the puppet government we set up, and “their guys” are fighting for their own freedom from “our guys.” It just never works out.
          .
          That’s a fundamental factor that all this “advising” overlooks. Suppose there were an armed Chinese takeover in Washington, the US military was disbanded, and Chinese military advisors were trying to form a new US army?
          Forget it.

  10. Harry Weaver says:

    This is becoming standard.
    There’s always a hold-up somewhere.
    This is similar to the rationale supplied when the U.S. said that it was no good supplying the F-16s to Iraq as agreed, because their pilots were not qualified to fly them, although, with any deal of this sort there’s always an orientation programme that goes with the sales process.

    The competence level is totally lacking?
    Really?
    Then how is it possible that these same pilots were flying the Russian equivalents that same week, supplied from Russia and Belarus?

    Well before the ISIL became apparent, the U.S. point blank refused to supply, with Sunni insurgents pouring over the Iraqi southern border, and it wasn’t until Iran offered to supply them with hardware themselves that the U.S. jumped in with the bare minimum supply to maintain their market segment.

    They’re dragging their feet in this regard so much, it almost inclines you to believe the stories of the U.S. training the ISIL in Jordan, and they’re actually aligned, doesn’t it?

    • Don Bacon says:

      Yes, this ISIS offensive has been going since December and the US hasn’t done squat to help Iraq. Probably quite the opposite, because Iraq is an ally of Iran (like Syria).
      .
      It’s an implementation of the strategy the US started in Feb 2006 with the Samarra mosque bombing which exacerbated sectarian tensions in Iraq, and moved them to much higher levels. That’s what really started the Sunni-Shia conflict in Iraq.
      .
      Then three months later Biden in the Senate, now VP, suggested a breakup of Iraq into three parts, and now it’s essentially being done with US acquiescence. Destabilize and weaken Iraq, and Iran by proxy — that’s the policy.
      .
      This “advisor” BS is simple a coverup to placate those stupid loudmouths, in the Senate especially, who still think the US ‘won” in Iraq.

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