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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Why training will fail

. REUTERS/US Army/Spc. Joshua R. Ford/Handout

U.S. soldiers from 505th Parachute Infantry
Regiment and Iraqi soldiers from 4th Iraqi Army
Division gather near rocket-propelled grenade
launchers they recovered while on patrol in a
village north of Samarra

Flaws Cited in Effort To Train Iraqi Forces
U.S. Officers Roundly Criticize Program

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 21, 2006; Page A01

The U.S. military's effort to train Iraqi forces has been rife with problems, from officers being sent in with poor preparation to a lack of basic necessities such as interpreters and office materials, according to internal Army documents.

The shortcomings have plagued a program that is central to the U.S. strategy in Iraq and is growing in importance. A Pentagon effort to rethink policies in Iraq is likely to suggest placing less emphasis on combat and more on training and advising, sources say.

In dozens of official interviews compiled by the Army for its oral history archives, officers who had been involved in training and advising Iraqis bluntly criticized almost every aspect of the effort. Some officers thought that team members were often selected poorly. Others fretted that the soldiers who prepared them had never served in Iraq and lacked understanding of the tasks of training and advising. Many said they felt insufficiently supported by the Army while in Iraq, with intermittent shipments of supplies and interpreters who often did not seem to understand English.

The Iraqi officers interviewed by an Army team also had complaints; the top one was that they were being advised by officers far junior to them who had never seen combat.

Some of the American officers even faulted their own lack of understanding of the task. "If I had to do it again, I know I'd do it completely different," reported Maj. Mike Sullivan, who advised an Iraqi army battalion in 2004. "I went there with the wrong attitude and I thought I understood Iraq and the history because I had seen PowerPoint slides, but I really didn't."

Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top U.S. military commander for the Middle East, told Congress last week that he plans to shift increasing numbers of troops from combat roles to training and advisory duties. Insiders familiar with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group say that next month the panel will probably recommend further boosts to the training effort. Pentagon officials are considering whether the number of Iraqi security forces needs to be far larger than the current target of about 325,000, which would require thousands more U.S. trainers.

Most recently, a closely guarded military review being done for the Joint Chiefs of Staff laid out three options for Iraq. It appears to be favoring a version of one option called "Go Long" that would temporarily boost the U.S. troop level -- currently about 140,000 -- but over time would cut combat presence in favor of training and advising. The training effort could take five to 10 years.

Despite its central role in Iraq, the training and advisory program is not well understood outside narrow military circles. Congress has hardly examined it, and training efforts lie outside the purview of the special inspector general on Iraq reconstruction. The Army has done some studies but has not released them. Even basic information, such as how many of the 5,000 U.S. military personnel involved are from the National Guard and Reserves, is unusually difficult to obtain.
The fact is that MTT's are a popular political statement, but most careers are not enhanced by them. You don't get points for working well with the Moroccan Army. It doesn't get you a write up in Army Times.

In Vietnam, advisory tours were often used to season young officers. Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf both did advisory tours in Vietnam, but most hard chargers did not. One gets promoted in the US Army by leading US Army formations in combat. Which is why outside special forces, most soldiers are not eager for this job unless they can get promoted doing it.

Training is not a mission everyone can do. Lt. Col Paul Ciesinski, a former advisor with the Iraqi Army describes some of the problems he had with his American team

Some of my soldiers had problems with it. For example, during my first week in Iraq I lost a captain for the entire year. He became ineffective. In the first week he was in tears. He couldn’t understand how these Iraqi soldiers could sleep on the ground; he felt they should have cots.

He was basically in culture shock, and I had warned them all about this. One of my subordinates had gotten an SF contractor-produced, non-doctrinal and unofficial guide on advising; it was the only thing we had on advising. We were the only team that had it so I gave it out electronically to some other MiTTs. There was a section on culture shock.

One of my captains, who I thought would be extremely effective because he came from a background that would lend to being particularly effective in advising, within the first week he was utterly ineffective and remained that way for the entire year. He could not adapt to their culture. The second week we were there he saw Arab and Kurdish soldiers sleeping on the floor of the tent. He broke into tears and said, “How can they live this way? I have to fix this.”

It’s not that easy to just come up with 500 cots, and they didn’t necessarily want the cots anyway. Then as we started doing cordon and searches in the villages, we started seeing that people just sleep on the floor. It didn’t upset them. But this captain could not handle the fact that these soldiers were sleeping on the floor, that they were eating the way they did and that they were defecating where they did – which, by the way, was nowhere near as bad as we had been led to believe.

The Arab and Kurd soldiers were a lot cleaner than we were led to believe they were. I couldn’t see what the big problem was. I’d heard such horror stories, but when we got there the level of cleanliness may not have been what we expect, but when you live that way your entire life, your body is able to handle it. So the biggest surprise my soldiers had was just dealing with people from a different culture who value different things – and we had minimal cultural training in CONUS. None. Nothing for soldiers lower in rank than master sergeant for NCOs and major for commissioned officers, and precious little for those more senior in rank. I made my officers read a book called The Arab Mind written by Raphael Patai. I would recommend that anybody who goes to Iraq read that book. It was an eye opener. It helped me.

This is another problem. Special Forces has a rigorous training program for their members because they need to know a great deal before advising other soldiers. Language training is key among them.

There are soldiers who were great at the military aspects of the SF Q Course who don't get selected because they simply cannot deal with cultures other than their own.

But because the US Army now wants to send advisors into many more Iraqi units, people who may not be suited to the mission may be sent to do it.

Maj. Jeffrey Allen had a different complaint.

JA: I’d have to start with a couple assumptions. I’d have to start with the assumption that the people who were selected to go would know how to do training, training management, understand training, those types of things. That being said, most of that is done now. All the battalions are trained. Now there is a schoolhouse, kind of like we have here – you know, basic training that’s done with a replacement individual augmentee as you take casualties or whatever.

The battalions are formed and now you fill in one-sies and two-sies as they come. So the model now is a little different than it was. But working off the model I went through, again, the assumption that the training methodology was fairly well understood. You would have to have courses that were focused on the culture and the capabilities and interacting with the Iraqis – or whatever culture you were dealing with.

So language, cultural training, you got a little bit of that at CRC but not nearly enough – that would have been critical. If I could have gone in and had a conversation with an Iraqi in Arabic – and I don’t need to be proficient. I’m not proficient in Turkish, but if you spoke Turkish, I could talk to you and get my point across. There was no language training whatsoever. So that would have been critical, because of the fact that interpreters were a commodity and in very short supply. Probably a review of training methodology, leadership, be, know, do – all those types of things.

Another complaint that Maj. Allen had was the way the Iraqi units actually were staffed

JA: I’m sorry, a proportional mix. Twenty percent of the population was Kurd, so 20 percent of each of the units should be Kurd, and so on. We did face a challenge early on that, as the battalion filled – they would come from recruiting centers and I gave very clear instructions early on that as the soldiers started arriving, fill the companies equally. So if a busload of 40 soldiers comes in, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta each get 10 soldiers.

They didn’t do that. That did lead to problems down the road because of the fact that, on a certain day, we might have gotten all of the guys from Baghdad. Tomorrow we might get all of the guys from Mosul. So you put all of the Mosul guys in one company and that created some challenges, especially when you had all the guys from Mosul under a guy that was former Republican Guard. That’s huge, huge problems.

After our mid-cycle break, I had them reshuffle the companies. I didn’t realize they had done that that way – again, because of the language barriers and everything else – until we had started basic training. And so we’re totally reshuffling everybody in one day, and tomorrow you’re in a different company. We said, “We’re going to go on leave and when you come back, you’re going to reshuffle the companies.”

And I thought that would do a couple things. One, realign them so that it was equitable. Two, potentially break up any little cells of less desirables that might be forming, which we did have. We had insurgents that we detected and arrested in the battalion that were planning an operation against me and my team. So that helped. This is something I’d trust to my team and then asked them to use the same model, that when the soldiers were on break and you’re observing training, to grab the interpreter or somebody that speaks English – because we were short interpreters – and talk to the collective group.

Try to impress upon them that, “Look to your left and your right: These are the guys you’re going to combat with. It doesn’t matter if you come from Basra or Mosul or Baghdad, because you have to trust the guy on your left and right and they are now your new family. You have gained another family. You haven’t lost your family or your clan or your tribe that you’re a member of back home. They’re still there, but now you’ve gained another family. You’ve gained in this process.” Try and take the Iraqi and Arab culture of belonging to a clan and translate that into a military context. Sure, there was still infighting, there were still challenges with that – and my Kurdish officers always felt downtrodden – but they were dedicated to staying the course because this was their hope for a new future for them.

posted by Steve @ 12:41:00 AM

12:41:00 AM

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