Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Iraqi Army is our ally, right?

ABC reports:

"The United States Senate has confirmed the appointment of Lieutenant General David Petraeus as the new commander of US forces in Iraq. He will have the job of implementing US President George W Bush's decision to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq to crack down on the violence. The vote was unanimous, even though many Senators oppose the idea of sending more troops to Iraq - something the army General supports."

So our modern General Grant is flying to Iraq with the full backing of the president and the US Senate. He's got the wind at his back and he has a plan. Of course, one small problem with the plan is that it doesn't provide enough troops to get the job done. According to General Petreaus' own counterinsurgency manual he needs 120,000 troops to secure Baghdad. All he's going to have is 35,000. He claims that will be fine because the real number including Iraqi forces will somewhere near 85,000. On top of that he says he can rely on private security contractors to make up the remainder..

This sounds like wishful thinking to me, especially, the part about expecting the Iraqis to be of any help at all. After reading the article in the NYT by Damien Cave and James Glanz describing their time with the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team [those poor bastards!] on patrol in Haifa Street with an Iraqi unit, I get the impression the Iraqis will be a bigger hindrance than anything else.

Glanz and Cave write that while the U.S. troops were dodging small arms fire from every direction the Iraqi unit kept disappearing. In fact, at one point the Americans thought their Iraqi "partners" might be the ones actually doing the shooting. When the Iraqis did show up they were pretty much worse than useless. Door to door searches were pretty much left up to the Americans to get done. [Justlike their families tried to tell Rummy they were doing back in August, when he canceled their trip home.]

Glanz and Cave report: "Many of the Iraqi units that showed up late never seemed to take the task seriously, searching haphazardly, breaking dishes and rifling through personal CD collections in the apartments. Eventually, the Americans realized that the Iraqis were searching no more than half the apartments: at one point the Iraqis completely disappeared, leaving the American unit working with them flabbergasted."

The article highlights the fact that the Iraqis are something less than properly equipped and disciplined. "One Iraqi soldier. . .pointed his rifle at an American reporter and pulled the trigger. There was only a click: the weapon had no ammunition. The soldier laughed at his joke."

Lt. Col. Avanulas Smiley of the TSCT, 2nd ID, "Conceded that the cost of letting the Iraqi forces learn on the job was to add to the risk of the operation. 'This was an Iraqi-led effort and with that come some challenges and risks,' Colonel Smiley said. 'It can be organized chaos.'"

I should think any type of chaos, organized or otherwise, in a military operation is a recipe for a lot of casualties. But my question is, why are they still learning on the job? Haven't we trained over 300,000 of them in the past three and a half years, according to the pentagon? And wasn't General Patreaus himself in charge of that task for most of that time? Retired General Douglas Macgregor gave this stinging critique of Patreaus' tenure as Iraqi army trainer on the NewsHour saying: " The Iraqi army today is, by anyone's definition, a disaster, and it is substantially his creation."

So this is the guy who is now going to go in there and save the war? He's going to go right into the neighborhoods, setting up district bases behind 12 ft. high blast walls with an emphasis on heavy patrolling. Some say his supposed success in Mosul was mainly due to the fact that there was no insurgency there to begin with. By the time he left, though, his heavy handed patrols had actually created an insurgency, which subsequent units going in had to deal with.

But getting back to the Iraqis: Reading Glanz and Cave's report is like de ja vu all over again. Absolutely nothing has changed since Dexter Filkins wrote about his experiences being embedded with US troops who were working with Iraqi units in Fallujah back in 2004(just before Fallujah II): [From a post on this blog 11/13/04]

Filkins writes of the Iraqi troops "fighting along side" the Marines, 'the farther south the marines push through this rebellious city, the more often they notice that the men shooting at them are wearing tan uniforms with a smart-looking camouflage pattern that is the color of chocolate chips.'

There have been incidents of insurgents fighting against our troops in these National Guard uniforms, so now the "good guys" are being made to wear a piece of red tape on their right arm and a white piece on their left leg.

He continues, "When members of the First Platoon, B Company, First Battalion, Eighth Regiment of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, turned onto a street on Thursday, they saw the chocolate-chip camouflage pattern and hesitated. There was no red tape on the right arm or white tape on the left leg. It did not matter. Before that registered with the marines, the insurgents opened fire, killing one and wounding two. The rebels fled. "'They should just take these guys out of here,' Staff Sgt. Eric Brown of the First Platoon said, 'because they're causing my men to hesitate.' He added, 'That hesitation cost my marine his life.'"

Sound familiar?

Any way you look at this surge, its one big disaster waiting to happen. I hear Gen. Patreaus is wicked ambitious and he's probably thinking that if he can pull this off he'll be on the fast track to the top. Perhaps, though, General Patreaus should be thinking less about the example of a General Grant and more about what happened to General Custer. The Iraq war has ruined the reputations and careers of many generals who have gone before. In a couple months I think he's going to be seriously asking himself why he didn't just show up for his confirmation hearing in diapers and a propeller hat.


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