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News Comment: Training the Iraqi Army

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Iraqi Unit Flees Post, Despite American’s Plea

This is an interesting snapshot of the challenges we face in training the Iraqi army. An extensive quote to capture the mood of the story:

Abandoning the stronghold, however, would allow the militias to move in again and seed the road with roadside bombs. Other Iraqi units had stood their ground through several long firefights, and [U.S. Army] Captain Veath was surprised that the major’s unit was leaving after holding off another militia attack.

“You went through a whole battle and are now removing yourself?” Captain Veath asked incredulously. “Are any of your men dead?”

[Iraqi Army] Major Sattar acknowledged that his unit had several wounded but none killed. But he and other Iraqi soldiers insisted that they were poorly equipped to battle the militias. Iraqi forces, they said, were short of ammunition, had only a few armored vehicles and were up against militia fighters they said were equipped and trained by the Iranians.

“We are not afraid,” the major responded.

No one seems to be getting the bigger picture, which is that the United States has never had much success in training non-Western forces.  For instance, despite years of efforts, the South Vietnamese military was never more than sporadically effective.

The key insight comes from Victor Davis Hanson, who has argued that there exists a “Western Way of War” that is focused on annihilating combat.  Hanson, whose political views are often quite extreme, is nonetheless a superb military historian.  He argues that the “Western Way of War” is culturally contingent, not universal.  And he’s right.  Look at how we fight in Iraq.  Most of our engagements are movements to contact, meaning we deliberately seek out engagements, giving our enemies the first shot.  We then seek cover, lay down suppressing fire, and slowly advance on enemy positions in order to destroy them.  Fix, close, and kill.

This is simply not the way Arab — or indeed most non-Western — militaries fight.  Warfare in most of the world is based around the concept of the raid and the use of hit and run tactics.  This is not a form a cowardice, but rather simply an alternative form of warfare that is also quite effective in its own way.

The United States will only consider the Iraqi Army effective when it fights as we do, but realistically it is never likely to become an American-style military adept at close combat and annihilation. Training them in this form of warfare is simply not culturally appropriate.

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