Monday, November 26, 2007

Iraqi Army Surging in Numbers and Competence

Yesterday I mentioned that I was seeing some positive news on the state of the Iraqi Army. It took me a while to remember where I had seen the links but I finally found them again via Ace.

First from the Long War Journal

While the "surge" of five US brigades plus their accompanying support elements, about 30,000 US troops total, is the main focus of commentators when discussing the current situation in Iraq, the real surge in Iraq is happening behind the scenes. The rapidly expanding Iraqi Army is where the real surge in forces is occurring.


Over the last year the Iraqi Army has grown to 12 divisions, 41 brigades, 123 battalions, and four ISOF battalions. This is a 20 percent increase in units and a doubling of the ISOF. This does not include the three former strategic infrastructure brigades (17 battalions) that have been transferred to the Iraqi Army and are currently being retrained. While the Iraqi Army officer and NCO ranks remain undermanned, the overall unit manning has grown to 108 percent during that time. This does not mention the steadily increasing Iraqi Army competence that can only come from combat and counterinsurgency experience.


This is the real surge -- a surge in training and building of the Iraqi Army. Security in Iraq improves with an increased long-term security presence; a security presence that will increasingly be shouldered by Iraqi troops. The five US surge brigades were not only brought in to buy the Iraqi government time to sort out the political situation, they were brought in to buy the Iraqi Army time to expand. The five US surge brigades are doing some much needed housecleaning in Iraq's problem areas, freeing up Iraqi Army formations to provide cadre for new forming units, and providing additional training partners for the new Iraqi Army formations thus facilitating the accelerated expansion. The Iraqi Army is replacing the US forces departing Iraqi by the end of 2008 at rate of two Iraqi brigades for one US brigade.

While the surge brigades will eventually depart, the Iraqi Army is not leaving Iraq.

Meanwhile in support of this expansion of the Iraqi Army we have the US Army shifting more combat troops to training roles (via Hot Air):

The plan, not yet in final form, is intended to transfer more of the security burden in Iraq to the Iraqis without giving up the gains that the Americans have made in recent months in pacifying the most violent areas and weakening the Sunni insurgency.

The approach is strikingly different from the plans advocated by many United States politicians, including some Democratic presidential contenders, who have called for a rapid withdrawal of American combat brigades from Iraq — the very units that American commanders see as playing a central role in the transition toward Iraqi control.

It is intended to supplement the longstanding American efforts to recruit, equip and advise Iraqi forces by strengthening their ability to deal with a diverse array of threats. The plan also reflects the vision of American commanders of the evolving role of American combat units after President Bush’s troop reinforcement plan runs its course next summer.


The precise arrangements would vary depending on the threats and the quality of Iraqi forces in specific regions, and brigade commanders would have considerable leeway in deciding how many soldiers to commit to mentoring. But the shift toward training would be gradual, reflecting what commanders say have been lessons learned from the failure of earlier, overhasty efforts to transfer responsibility to the Iraqis.

Even after President Bush’s “surge” of troops is over in mid-July and the number of brigades shrinks to 15 from the current level of 20, American units in some of the more highly contested areas would continue their combat roles. That is based on an assessment that the situation in Iraq is too uncertain and the Iraqi security forces in many areas too unsteady for an abrupt transfer of responsibilities.

The proposal for a new mix of forces is part of a broad review of the projected American military posture in Iraq for a phase that would begin in the second part of 2008. No final decisions have been made on the pace of further reductions or the details of how the plan would be carried out in Iraq. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior American commander in Iraq, has told Congress that he will not issue new recommendations until March after an assessment of conditions. The basic approach, however, has begun to emerge.

After discussing the expansion of the Iraqi Army that was noted above the Times continues:

In Mosul, only a single battalion of American troops — in concert with a large number of Iraqi soldiers and police officers — helps provide security for a city of more than a million. Still, considerable challenges remain. The Iraqi Army has only about half the noncommissioned officers it needs. Another important weakness, said Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, who recently completed his tour as the senior American commander in northern Iraq, is that Iraqi military training has been focused on developing the skills of individual soldiers, not on fighting as a unit.

“They don’t have a collective training program right now,” General Mixon said in an interview. “They put a jundi out there and the way he learns to fight is by getting shot at,” he added, using the Iraqi term for a soldier.


A number of efforts are under way to improve the training and quality of Iraqi forces. A national network of training centers is being expanded to train Iraqi units near their home areas. To address the shortage of noncommissioned officers in the army, 10 percent of the most promising recruits are being promoted to corporals while efforts are being made to encourage former army officers to rejoin.

A chronic shortage of officers also afflicts the Iraqi police, which is no small problem since only officers are authorized to make arrests. Two new police academies are to be established, and the normal three-year training program is being shortened for college graduates.

There are some criticisms but the Army seems to have anticipated them and is learning from past mistakes:

Some experts also remain skeptical that a largely Shiite army and police force can ever reliably enforce the peace equitably if American forces rapidly draw down. “The binding constraint is sectarian politics,” Stephen Biddle, a military expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said.

American officers acknowledge the problems but assert that progress can be made if the United States does not rush the process.

“Don’t do it too fast,” said Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik, who oversees the training of Iraq’s security forces. “Transfer those responsibilities that you can to the organizations that can handle them and withhold responsibility from organizations that can’t.”


The Americans are also trying to adjust the sectarian balance of the Iraqi police by pressing the Iraqi government to recruit more Sunnis, though such efforts have been frustrated in some areas like Diyala Province.


An American official said that each brigade commander would be allowed to decide how many soldiers to assign to expanded training and advising efforts, when American forces should carry out military operations and when they should stand back and let Iraqi forces take the lead.


In some areas, the commanders might allocate an entire battalion to augment training efforts. In others, one company in the battalion might focus on training while the remaining companies carry out combat operations with the Iraqis.

The type of training could vary. General Mixon, for example, said that a brigade might concentrate on collective training: teaching Iraq platoons and companies to fight effectively as units. The brigade commanders, officials say, are in the best position to evaluate the threats in their areas, the abilities of the Iraqi forces they work with and the local political situation. Previous efforts to shift responsibility to the Iraqis faltered in part because the efforts were influenced by American officials too removed from the battlefield, officials say.

“We had too-centralized this process a couple of years ago when we were in the transition business,” the senior official added. “We got it wrong in too many local places like Diyala and segments of Baghdad.”

So reading between the lines, we have an improving and expanding Iraqi Army that will be reinforced by a core of American combat troops. I still think that selecting the best Iraqi battalions and running them thru quick courses at the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin or the Joint Readiness Training Center at Ft. Polk would be enormously beneficialbut that's just my opinion.

It should be noted that this is precisely what General Petraeus said he was going to do in his report to Congress in Sept. '07 (page 7) shown graphically below.

So once again we have a situation where we have to ask, "Is everything perfect?", of course it isn't. Are improvements being made? Yes. Are the long term prospects good? I think so, especially now that the Shi'a are starting to reject the Iranian influence (more here).

Oh BTW the Mid-East Peace Conference at Annapolis starts today. Syria, which was holding out is participating. Wouldn't it be nice if we could come to a reconciliation with them and really isolate Iran in the region?

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