An Army of some (Part One)

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
I know this is a long article, but it was to good to pass up. This should be a must read.

Media: New York Times Magazine
Byline: Michael R. Gordon
Date: 20 August 2006

The rules posted on the wall of the Marine base in Barwana concisely summed
up the American predicament in Iraq: Be polite, be professional, have a plan
to kill everyone you meet.

Barwana was a way station for a joint Iraqi and American convoy as it
traveled to a stretch of hard-packed sand overlooking the Euphrates in the
Haditha triad, one of the more challenging areas in Anbar, the most
dangerous province in Iraq. The convoy's goal was to inspect a company of
Iraqi soldiers who had been involved in an American-directed operation to
round up insurgents. With Iraq engulfed in bloody turmoil, any prospect of
establishing a modicum of order depends heavily on the new Iraqi Army and
the small cadre of Americans that is training it. The rules at Barwana
hinted at one rationale. For all of the U.S. military's fighting skills, the
Iraqi troops are better able to differentiate among the welter of tribes,
self-styled militias, religious groupings, myriad insurgent organizations
and militant jihadists who populate Iraq. But there are other important
rationales as well. With American forces stretched perilously thin, the
development of Iraq's armed forces is the best hope for putting more boots
on the ground. Fielding an Iraqi military - along with the parallel effort
to build up the Iraqi police - is also the closest thing the Bush
administration has to an exit strategy.

Before arriving in Iraq earlier this summer, I got the basic facts from
Pentagon briefings. There is, American officials said, to be a 10-division
Iraqi force. The effort to raise and train the troops, they stated, is 85
percent complete. Statistics like these convey a sense of measurable
progress in a region that otherwise appears to be a caldron of violence.
"The hope of the Americans, the hope of the troops, is that the Iraqis will
continue to take over responsibility for the security in their country - and
that over time we'll be able to draw down our forces as conditions permit,"
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said earlier this month.

What I saw in more than three weeks in Anbar Province was not reassuring.
Dogged efforts were being undercut by a dysfunctional Iraqi bureaucracy in
Baghdad. The American advisers were able and extremely dedicated, and the
Iraqi troops under their tutelage were making strides toward becoming an
independent fighting element. But Iraq's Ministry of Defense has been slow
to issue promotions for the new soldiers and to distribute proper pay. A
goodly number of the Iraqi soldiers have voted with their feet and gone AWOL
- or left to join the Iraqi police, so they could live close to home.

In the Haditha triad, Col. Jebbar Abass, a beefy man with a drooping
mustache, commanded an Iraqi battalion that started out with about 700
soldiers in the fall of 2005. It was now down to about 400 troops. Since
almost a third of his battalion is on leave at any one time, that means that
Colonel Abass can field about 270 soldiers on any given day, a useful
supplement to the Marine forces in and around Haditha but hardly enough to
enable the Americans to draw back.

Lt. Col. Norman Cooling, commander of the Third Battalion, Third Marine
Regiment, which has responsibility for the Haditha area, says that the Iraqi
Army has been making important strides in terms of tactical proficiency.
"The problems that have made that the most challenging are problems with
leave, pay - those things that relate to Iraqi government decision-making
and execution," he told me. "Because of that the Iraqi Army throughout Al
Anbar has attrited." Figures provided by American military commanders show
that the two Iraqi divisions in Anbar Province are about 5,000 short of
their authorized strength, while some 660 soldiers are currently AWOL.

The Americans have some genuine Iraqi partners in one of Iraq's most hostile
regions, and Marine commanders believe that Iraqi troop levels in Anbar have
finally bottomed out and may be slowly starting to improve. But what kind of
exit strategy is this when Iraqi soldiers in some of Iraq's most contested
areas have been leaving faster than the Americans?

Anbar is a vast region in western Iraq that borders on Syria, Jordan and
Saudi Arabia. The Sunni-dominated area has been a base of operations for
Iraqi insurgents and serves as a transit route for foreign fighters who have
come to Iraq to wage jihad against the Americans. According to American
statistics, there are more attacks in Anbar on a per capita basis than in
any other part of Iraq.

For all this, Anbar has long been what the military calls an "economy of
force" operation, which is a polite way of saying that troop requirements
elsewhere in Iraq have led American commanders to employ fewer forces in the
province than the situation warrants. As a consequence, counterinsurgency
operations have taken on the quality of a whack-a-mole arcade game. Every
time the Americans have massed force to put out one fire, they have created
a vacuum elsewhere that the insurgents have rushed to fill. When the Marines
gathered forces to clear Falluja in 2004, they drew troops from the Haditha
area, where the insurgents promptly moved in and executed the defenseless
local police near the town's soccer field. The Marines returned in strength
to Haditha and established several forward bases, including the one at
Barwana, but then many of the troops were sent to the far west when
commanders decided to clear Al Qaim, near the Syrian border. And the
insurgents filtered back to Haditha.

This lethal game would be more manageable if the insurgency were weakening.
Instead, it is stronger than ever. In July, 2,625 I.E.D.'s (improvised
explosive devices) were found throughout Iraq, almost double the January
number and the highest monthly total to date. (Of these, 1,666 exploded,
while 959 were discovered before they detonated.) And by now the entire
nation is caught in a vicious circle: terrorist attacks have encouraged the
development of Shiite militias, which have carried out assaults against
Sunnis, who have in turn provided support for insurgents. The Marines have
enough combat power in Anbar to operate where they please but not enough to
stop the insurgents from intimidating the population, Marine commanders say.

Some of the Marine officers I talked with were frank about the need for more
American troops. Lt. Col. Ronald Gridley, executive officer with Regimental
Combat Team 7, which has responsibility for a major swath of the province,
told me during a visit to the unit's headquarters at Al Asad that the
regiment has recommended that additional troops be allocated to its section
of Anbar. A battalion or two, he said, would help a great deal. "What we
recommend and what we get is going to be two different things," Colonel
Gridley said. "In our perfect world, we could use some more infantrymen to
be able to patrol the streets and partner with the Iraqi Army."

In fact, with concern rising about the sectarian strife in Baghdad, American
military commanders are diverting military police officers that had been
earmarked for duty in Anbar to the Iraqi capital. An American unit equipped
with Stryker armored vehicles has also been shifted to Baghdad. These moves
reflect conscious decisions to assume more risk in Anbar - a province
already overflowing with danger - to try to prevent Baghdad from sliding
into civil war.

Nor are significant numbers of non-American coalition troops available for
duty in Anbar. The only international forces I saw there were a small
contingent from Azerbaijan manning checkpoints at the massive Haditha dam,
where Colonel Cooling's battalion is headquartered, and a collection of
extremely diligent Ugandans, who were hired as contractors and were pulling
guard duty inside the wire at Camp Falluja.

That leaves the Iraqi Army, called the I.A. by American troops. To
strengthen the coalition's control over Anbar and improve the effort to
train the Iraqi military there, the number of Iraqi troops and American
forces in the province each need to be increased, Colonel Gridley said.
"From my perspective, if we had full battalions right now of Iraqi Army, we
couldn't give them a good-quality partnership," he said. "The security piece
of this is the I.A."

Officially, the Bush administration's strategy is: Clear, hold and build.
But with limited American forces to do any clearing, the war in western Iraq
looks much more like hang on and hand over. Hang on against an insurgency
that seems to be laying roadside bombs as quickly as they are discovered,
and hand over to an Iraqi military that is still a work in progress.

The project to field a new Iraqi Army was greatly hampered by clumsy
political engineering in the months following Saddam Hussein's fall. From
the start, American generals realized that they lacked the troop strength to
seal the borders and control a country the size of California. They counted
heavily on the cooperation of anti-Hussein Iraqi troops to carry out the
task. The plan to enlist the support of Iraqi troops to control the country
was approved in March 2003 by President Bush himself.
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