Sunday, February 12, 2006

"Why is building the Iraqi Army taking so long?" 
A reader comments on the last post:

I have a question about training the Iraqis. How come it is taking so long? A great many Iraqi army vets should have at least some basic infantry skills, so what's the deal? Why is it taking 2-3 years? In about the same amount of time, from 1942-44, the US went from essentially no army to an army capable of crushing the Wehrmacht. And right now we're not even asking the Iraqis to take on a task that is as challenging as that...

Well, I would come back with another question:

Armies fight as brigades. In modern military organization, the brigade is the smallest combat element capable of sustaining itself in the field. And they typically contain somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers.

If you don't have proficient brigades, you don't have an army to speak of. A bunch of separate battalions will run into logistical trouble real quick, and will be unable to sustain a fight for long. Hell, without a proficient brigade command and staff function, two out of your three battalions will not be able to get into the fight in a timely manner, because battalions cannot typically self-transport. On a good day they can move a company at a time, max. And then you have to plan for the return trip and rest planning for the drivers.

No, you have to have good brigades.

So the question is, "how long does it take to build a brigade staff?"

The answer, if you start from scratch, is years. Consider:

In the US army, we take for granted that our brigade staff officers have already spent 1-3 years as successful platoon leaders in their areas of specialty. They've also already attended 4 years of college, 4 years of ROTC (or a similar time on active or reserve duty as enlisted prior to attending OCS, in most cases), 4-8 months of officer basic course training, and that's just the bare minimum to get them propped up in front of a platoon. And they're usually STILL not ready. It takes a few field exercises before most new lieutenants really find their legs. As soon as they do, they move on to XO positions and specialty platoons.

It takes a year or two as a company XO, directing the logistical efforts of the company and ensuring it's synched up with the battalion CSS plan for a young officer to figure out just the bare bones of logistics.

It takes a year or two on the battalion staff to figure out how to synchronise operations at the battalion level, and integrate them with the brigade effort.

After his time on Battalion staff, he's ready (hopefully,) to take on company command. It takes two years to figure that job out. It takes a year of screwing it up, followed by a year of (mostly) getting it right.

Only after a successful company commmand does an officer belong on the brigade staff, in most cases. Without that background, they won't have a feel for synching operations or for the real-world capabilities of the units on the ground, nor will they know what is logistically important to the troops in the field. All they'll do is sit around and dream up new reporting requirements and refine the Brigade TACSOP beyond all usefulness.

So the answer: It takes seven to nine years to build a successful brigade staff officer. It takes longer than that to develop the NCOs that are able to function at that level and at the same time coach the younger soldiers along. It takes 11-13 years to build a successful brigade chief of staff. And 15-18 years to build a successful brigade commander.

The WWII analogy is inapt. You're confusing the creation of a military command and staff structure from scratch (Iraq) with an industrial mobilization on an existing command and staff structure (WWII).

In WWII, we did have the basic cadres to create battalion and brigade staffs. Typically, the regular army would slice off a few key officers and NCOs, and then they'd direct training for the conscripts.

Even then, pound for pound, we NEVER caught up to the quality of the German Wehrmacht in terms of the strength of its officer and NCO corps. And indeed, we got our asses handed to us the minute we took on the Germans directly in a force-on-force fight, even two years after Pearl Harbor.

The German army was not defeated by the quality of the US army, man for man. It was defeated by the sheer, inexorable, overwhelming mass of war materiel.

Even at the very end, it still often took five or six Sherman tanks to match a single German tiger tank.

But we had fuel, almost unlimited ammo, and more and more guys pouring into the theater every week. We also had air supremacy at the end - indirectly thanks to materiel: The strategic bombing campaign severely restricted the German supply of aviation fuel, and they couldn't counter with a strategic bombing campaign of their own.

The US Army, again, was built on an existing corps of roughly competent division and brigade level staff officers and commanders. The Iraqi army did not have any such luxury. We FIRST had to train a cohort of conscripts, THEN identify the strongest conscripts for NCO positions. THEN we had to create NCO academies. You can short-circuit the selection of junior officers to some extent by relying on the existing tribal structure. But you cannot short circuit the selection and training of NCOs. It doesn't matter how good the officer corps is if the NCO corps cannot successfully execute the direction and orders of the officer corps. You need both.

And no, it wasn't a mistake to disband the Iraqi army. The Iraqi army had no NCO corps to speak of, and its officer corps was truly foul and corrupt, and its hands were dripping with the blood of Shia and Kurdish women and children. The majority population of Iraq would never have bought into the existing Iraqi army. The old Iraqi army could not have evolved into anything worthwhile. It was a monster and a retard, and a rabid one at that.

I'm surprised we've been able to create independent brigades as quickly as we have - and my chief concern is not that it's going too slow, but whether the process has been rushed because of political considerations back in the U.S.

My sense is we should just now be arriving at the stage where we've got good companies in the Iraqi army, and selecting the best company leaders for battalion jobs.

Hope that answers some of your questions.

Splash, out,


Another major cause of delays would be desertion, no? I've seen several articles/documentaries/news clips showing freshly trained Iraqi soldiers getting their paycheck and immediately hopping the next truck back home. The logistics of punishing desertion, at this point, would seemingly be impossible.
Naw, desertion would cause inefficiency, but not delays in development. You're not going to draw leaders for higher echelons from the ranks of deserters, anyway. The desertion question at this stage is largely irrelevant.

I haven't heard much about large scale desertions, anyway. There were some in 2004, when some Iraqi units were thrown into pitched battles prematurely anyway. Iraqis aren't dumb. Some of these guys knew their leaders weren't up to the fight then. They are now - at least up to company level.
You would obviously know better than I. Articles like these, especially when mirrored from multiple sources from multiple countries (coalition and non), make me wonder:

I train the IA in logistics and that is a very long leg on the table. Building a functional (not efficient, not totaly reliable, just functional)distribution system for all classes of supply from NOTHING is very challenging and it ain't quick. It's turning my hair gray but it will get done...in time. It seems we have turned our nation into a pack of instant gratification junkies to detriment. As they say Rome wasn't built in a day and just becasue it exists on powerpoint don't mean its really there.

An excellent reply about the military difficulties. I would like to add the damage done to Iraqi society by saddam that were greatly magnified by the UN sanctions. From Christopher Hitchens, in the June 2003 issue of Vanity Fair:

"Those 12 years were eaten by the locusts. The trunk of the tree of Iraq was allowed to rot, and its branches to wither. And all the time, a huge and voracious maggot lay at the heart of the state. Trade turned into a racket, the market was monopolized by the mafiosi, the sanctions screwed the poor and fattened the rich, and palaces with gold shithouses were constructed to mock the slumdwellers and the conscripts. A class of lumpen, uneducated, resentful losers was bred. When the Great Leader wanted to be popular, as on the grand occasion of his last referendum, he declared amnesty for the thieves, rapists, and murderers who were his natural constituency. To his very last day, he continued to divide and rule: to pump gangrene and pus into the society, disseminating lies and fear and junky religious propaganda. And there his bastard children were when the opportunity for hectic destruction and saturnalia presented itself."

Keep up the good work.

I would suggest that we aren't turning out competent battalion staffs. I find it much more likely that we're turning out "competent enough" staffs that are sufficiently trained for 2 requirements:
1. Defeat the even more poorly organized enemy.
2. Impress upon the civilian government, no matter who is on top, that Iraq needs many years of US/Western training to form a truly competent army, possibly the ME's first in centuries.
Well, like I said - declaring Iraqi units proficient to the battalion level - much less the Brigade level - is really pushing it. At least by any timeline I can imagine.

The key, of course, is simplicity. Iraqi brigade staffs should know their limits, and not try to plan anything beyond the capabilities of their units to execute.

I couldn't plan a successful air assault tomorrow. It just takes time and practice to get a complex operation right. I could do OK with a ground operation, though not nearly as well as the company commanders and platoon leaders I served with who went out and executed raids every other night.

The key is simplicity. Simplicity and plagiarism.
In many cases the "desertions" aren't desertions. The troops get paid then go home to give the money to their families. Some of these guys have to walk damn near across teh country. Same problem in Afghanistan.

The mark of a great officer is that he know what we NCOs do and can do for him. This is one of \the best articulations of that I've seen. I'd work for you, Sir.

SGT White
Come on down, RTO Trainer! I can use a dedicated commo NCO. As a matter of fact, short on commo and I've got an E-6 and E-7 slot sitting vacant with no immediate qualified prospects to fill.

It's wide open, stud!
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I find it much more likely that we're turning out "competent enough" staffs that are sufficiently trained for 2 requirements:...

You've just described how 99% of the real world operates. Good enough is good enough. Only a very small percentage of human endeavor requires perfection or even excellence.

The burger flippers at McDonalds aren't Cordon Blue graduates
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