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We Broke It, You Pay For It
From a story by Michael R. Gordon in The New York Times, Gen. Casey appears to either need some bed rest or fewer bong hits. We're going to hand off Iraq to the Iraqi army? And something good is going to come of it? Now, I was never for going into Iraq, and always for going in getting Osama (flattening Afghanistan is how I believe I put it). And I think it's terrible our soldiers have been sent in on a bogus mission. But, now that we've broken the stranglehold Saddam had that kept the peace at a minimum of bloodshed (compared to what the Iraqis have now), we're simply going to pull out? And what, the Iraqi army is going to convince the Sunnis and Shiites to shake hands and play nice?

Mmmm...maybe not. An excerpt from Gordon's article:

Given the rise in sectarian killings, a Sunni-based insurgency that appears to be as potent as ever and an Iraqi security establishment that continues to have difficulties deploying sufficient numbers of motivated and proficient forces in Baghdad, General Casey’s target seems to be an increasingly heroic assumption.

On paper, Iraq has substantial security forces. The Pentagon noted in an August report to Congress that Iraq had more than 277,000 troops and police officers, including some 115,000 army combat soldiers.

But those figures, which have often been cited at Pentagon news conferences as an indicator of progress and a potential exit strategy for American troops, paint a distorted picture. When the deep-seated reluctance of many soldiers to serve outside their home regions, leaves of absence and AWOL rates are taken into account, only a portion of the Iraqi Army is readily available for duty in Baghdad and other hot spots.

The fact that the Ministry of Defense has sent only two of the six additional battalions that American commanders have requested for Baghdad speaks volumes about the difficulty the Iraqi government has encountered in fielding a professional military. The four battalions that American commanders are still waiting for is equivalent to 2,800 soldiers, hardly a large commitment in the abstract but one that the Iraqis are still struggling to meet.

From the start, General Casey’s broader strategy for Iraq has been premised on the optimistic assumption that Iraqi forces could soon substitute for American ones. In February 2005, General Casey noted that in the year ahead the United States would begin to “transfer the counterinsurgency mission to the increasingly capable Iraqi security forces across Iraq.”

Gordon writes of some reasons for optimism. Slim and slimmer:

Certainly, the Iraqi security forces have made some gains. The Iraqi military is larger and better trained, and has taken control of more territory in the past year. Some Iraqi soldiers have fought well. But in Baghdad, which American commanders have defined as the central front in the war, it is still a junior partner.

To improve the Iraqi forces, the American military is inserting teams of military advisers with Iraqi units. American officials also say their Iraqi counterparts are trying to use the lure of extra pay to persuade reluctant troops to come to the aid of their capital.

But longstanding problems remain. A quarter or so of a typical Iraqi unit is on leave at any one time. Since Iraq lacks an effective banking system for paying its troops, soldiers are generally given a week’s leave each month to bring their pay home.

Desertions and absenteeism are another concern. According to the August Pentagon report, 15 percent of new recruits drop out during initial training. Beyond that, deployment to combat zones, the report adds, sometimes results in additional “absentee spikes of 5 to 8 percent.”

As a result, the actual number of Iraqi boots on the ground on a given day is routinely less than the official number. In areas where the risks and hardship are particularly great, the shortfall is sometimes significant. In fiercely contested Anbar Province in western Iraq, the day-to-day strength of the Seventh Iraqi Army Division in August was only about 35 percent of the soldiers on its rolls, while the day-to-day strength of the First Division was 50 percent of its authorized strength.

Another complication is that the even-numbered divisions in the 10-division army have largely been recruited locally and thus generally reflect the ethnic makeup of the regions where they are based. So, much of the Iraqi Army consists of soldiers who are reluctant to serve outside the areas in which they reside. Several battalions have gone AWOL rather then deploy to Baghdad, an American military officer said.

Leave that to us Americans. Dying and coming home in pieces, on George Bush's bad errand.

Posted by aalkon at October 25, 2006 9:47 AM

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Comments

Step 1 is the Goldberg suggestion: Hold an electiont to ask the Iraqis if they want us to leave.

Posted by: Crid at October 25, 2006 3:48 AM

A bit more detail...

But those figures ... paint a distorted picture. ... [O]nly a portion of the Iraqi Army is readily available for duty in Baghdad and other hot spots.

The first distortion is that the numbers reported are just a tiny bit more than double the actual figure. That is, if the number reported is 115,000, you should assume the number is 57,000.

The second distortion is that at any given day or time, fully 25% of the force is home on leave. The Iraqi Army soldier gets 1 week of leave per month. In fact the duty cycle is 1 week each of leave, training, combat duty, recovery.

So the third distortion is that of the actual number of about 57,000, only one-fourth is actually on combat duty at any given time - or about 14,000, the equivalent of a division and a brigade.

Important note here is that there is no logistical supply line for these troops. So they can't actually operate on their own without the American logistical support. That is Not.At.All.

We Americans tend to think in a traditional military command and control "top down" structure, where high ranking officers command field officers who command junior officers who command senior non-commissioned officers who command rated soldiers. The Iraqi Army is not that way.

This is the next distortion. The Iraqi Army may be structured similarly on paper, but on base it is one officer and a mob of barely effective soldiers who are mostly there for the job and the check. The officer is there to collect as much graft as he can. He does not go on patrol and definitely does not lead from the front. Thus he reports double the number of soldiers and skims the ghost soldiers pay into his own pocket. Remember that point - one officer back at base and a mob... (Note: This is not the case for the Kurdish forces which are disciplined, trained, and stellar fighters. But they too steal the American supplied equipment and ship it home.)

Another distortion is in the definition of joint operations. Some American commanders take an Iraqi soldier along in the back of a humvee on patrol and on return to base they call that a successful joint operation with Iraqi forces.

So the number of 115,000 is really just another Bush fiction. In all fairness we cannot blame this one on Bush. It's really a fiction created by the US military staff officers to meet their numerical goals (and Iraqi officers to line their pockets), and by American politicians as a shiny trinket with which to distract the American electorate as alleged "proof" that the program of "When they stand up we'll stand down" is working.

But it's all bravo sierra.

And to the dipstick with the Goldberg suggestion, when the Iraqi electorate votes overwhelmingly for the Americans to get out, will that be your excuse to cut and run? Yeah, I thought so. But you're wrong. We're going to be there for a long time, or why else are we building large permanent bases.

Posted by: AC at October 29, 2006 8:02 PM

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