July 20, 2005
On Iraq: The Question of the Army-in-training
Juan Cole printed a letter today from "Brian", who claims to be a former Australian army officer involved in the training of soldiers. Brian is not impressed with the training regimen in Iraq:
I state without fear of contradiction by any professional that the Iraqi army will not be in any shape to operate effectively for many, many years, given the present training program, such as it is.
Let me tell you what it takes to train a soldier who comes off the streets and into barracks:
We have to presuppose clean barrack-room accommodation, including decent beds, lavatories, mess halls and showers; arrangements for pay that result in families receiving cash on time; and a welfare system that caters for both recruits and their families. There must be padres for all religious denominations. (Please stop laughing.)
In a recruit training battalion of a thousand or so young men (in Iraq it will be only men) there must be a headquarters staffed by skilled administrators and experts in imparting military skills. Then the requirement for each company of 200 (or so) is for a dedicated staff of six officers, a sergeant major and 4 company office staff, a quartermaster sergeant (and staff), five sergeant instructors, and about 12 corporal instructors. All of these soldiers must have been specially selected for their expertise in administration and instruction.
All these instructors work their asses off for 12 weeks, for at least 12 hours a day, to produce a basic soldier. And let me emphasize that what they produce is the absolute BASIC soldier -- no more. The product is not a fighting man. He is incapable of employing his individual skills immediately in a team -- a fighting platoon - because there is much more to learn before joining his battalion.
And my picture is that all this instruction of recruits takes place in peacetime, in a non-threatening environment, with instructors who are not only highly-skilled but speak their own language (training in Afghanistan is a linguistic nightmare for Afghan instructors, never mind the foreigners).
I could go on and on. But I think you might get the message : the training system for Iraqi soldiers is a very sad joke. Rumsfeld's pronouncements about the number of "trained" soldiers are ridiculous and wicked lies. The man is not in touch with reality.
There are some Iraqi military units in uniform. At best they are brutally incompetent. They are not soldiers because they have not been trained to be soldiers. This is a terrible legacy by the invaders. But what else did we expect?
Now, speaking from a standpoint of no expertise whatsoever, I wonder how effective armies in third-world countries are EVER formed, if all of that is what it takes to make a competent soldier. (Possibly the answer is, no effective armies exist in third-world countries. But clearly there are armies and security forces sufficiently competent to enforce some level of internal stability greater than is currently evident in Iraq.)
Still, the only remotely plausible scenario in which Iraq fails to turn into a total disaster with or without a US pullout is one in which an effective Iraqi army is trained. This critique suggests that this is not happening, and that it might not even be possible for it to happen.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Further, I was a trainer of soldiers at one time. (For two years after I returned from Vietnam, in fact.)
Dec. 72 was the last year Australians were in Vietnam. Perhaps I'm reading this wrong but it is not clear Brian was ever in Iraq training soldiers. His points may be valid but then again he could be projecting his prior experience 30-years back onto to Iraq.
Posted by: Judy at July 20, 2005 09:18 AM
Brian is pretty clearly not claiming insider knowledge of how the Iraqi training is going, but expertise related to how troops need to be trained in the first place.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at July 20, 2005 09:24 AM
I think Brian makes a good point - presumably from the perspective on how training works in most developed countries (those that are most proficient in training high-caliber troops). It takes a long time to build up an army sufficient enough to do the minimal requirements that are expected of an army (what this is depends on the circumstances).
Something to consider - the army that's currently being trained is being trained to defend itself against elements of the former army. What the current army lacks is the experience, organizational capabilities, and leadership that elements of the insurgency do possess.
Posted by: eponymous at July 20, 2005 03:04 PM
What Epon said plus:
Militaries in third-world countries don't have to pay as much attention to PR as the Iraqi army does. The US can't pull a Hama like Syria did in 1982. Domestic public support would plummet with several My Lais.
Posted by: Baal Shem Ra at July 22, 2005 02:37 PM