Facing Failure in Iraq

From Scout:

There are 2 articles on Iraq that give the bad news now and for the future in Iraq. The first is from McClatchy’s Tom Lasseter called “Rosy assessments on Iraq `not related to reality,’ some say”

Their worst fear, one that some American soldiers share, is that top officials don’t really understand what’s happening. Those concerns seem to be supported by statistics that show Iraq’s violence has increased steadily during the past three years.

“The American policy has failed both in terms of politics and security, but the big problem is that they will not confess or admit that,” said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of parliament. “They are telling the American public that the situation in Iraq will be improved, they want to encourage positive public opinion (in the U.S.), but the Iraqi citizens are seeing something different. They know the real situation.”

SNIP

Some U.S. soldiers in Iraq reluctantly agree.

“As an intelligence officer … I have had the chance to move around Baghdad on mounted and dismounted patrols and see the city and violence from the ground,” wrote one American military officer in Iraq. “I think that the greatest problem that we deal (besides the insurgents and militia) with is that our leadership has no real comprehension of the ground truth. I wish that I could offer a solution, but I can’t. When I have briefed General Officers, I have given them my perspective and assessment of the situation. Many have been surprised at what I have to say, but I suspect that in the end nothing will or has changed.”

Then there is a longer article in Spiegel Online by David J.. Morris titled “Inside the Iraqi Forces Fiasco.” Morris was embedded with US advisory troops, known as a Military Transition Team, or MiTT, who are tasked with training the Iraqi Army. His 3 part article gives a hopeless view of the future, given that future rests on the strategy of “As they stand up, we’ll stand down.”

But according to more than a dozen Marine and Army officers I spoke with, since its launch approximately a year ago, the MiTT program has been dogged by bureaucratic mismanagement, inadequate training, and an astonishing shortage of equipment and supplies — the latter a predicament I witnessed firsthand with McCollough’s team. Many servicemen assigned to the MiTTs are distraught by this state of affairs. One disillusioned lieutenant I spoke with said that despite his intense love of the Marine Corps, he would be leaving the service because of what he has observed during his advisory tour. A frustrated team leader told me, “Thirty years from now, when historians are trying to figure out how we lost this war, they’ll look to the MiTT program.”

SNIP

They were some of the most skilled soldiers I’ve seen, from my own service in the Marines to trips into Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Yet, as I would learn during this trip, optimism about the U.S. efforts to train Iraqi forces largely begins and ends with the top brass and Bush administration officials back in Washington. (emphasis mine)

I’ve put the details of the failing MiTT program after the cut but this is an article that should be read.

Our leaders need to own what the vast majority of the American public have come to recognize…..This War Is Over…. Save the very tragic question of how many more years and lives will be lost in this failure.

From Scout:

A survey of the MiTT compound revealed that much of the equipment had been acquired by scrounging or borrowing from other American units. The team’s two generators — without which the team would have no electricity, air conditioning or access to the U.S. military’s tactical intranet — were obtained by the team’s logistics officer, who twisted the arm of a friend stationed at a nearby Marine supply depot.

Much of the Marines’ gear was substandard. The doors of their dilapidated Humvees didn’t close properly and had inch-wide gaps at the top of them — potentially deadly in a sector rife with roadside bombs. At the beginning of my embedded tour I had noticed that all of the Marines at the public affairs office at Camp Fallujah had been outfitted with the latest fire-retardant combat uniforms — but McCollough’s Marines were all wearing less-protective cotton uniforms, despite an order from on high that all Marines in Iraq have the new ones.

In a document distributed to commanders after the MiTT program was launched, Lt. Gen. John Sattler, the head Marine general in Iraq, identified the advisor teams as “the main effort” — an official designation that should have given them head-of-the-line privileges for supplies, ammunition, communication equipment and all the sundry items that a combat unit needs to function in the field. However, when the logistics officer assigned to MiTT 3/5 first submitted support requests, he told me, the response from Marine supply officers was, “Who are you? What unit are you with? What’s a MiTT?” The disconnect between them and the larger American military apparatus drove the Marine advisors crazy — “the main effort” was the punch line to many jokes told by McCollough’s team while I was with them.

The MiTT program is strained by other fundamental issues. Historically, the mission of training indigenous troops has been handled by U.S. Army Special Forces, made up of experienced soldiers who have undergone years of specialized linguistic and culture-specific training. But with the military stretched thin by the Bush administration’s far-reaching war on terror, there simply aren’t enough Special Forces troops to go around, so the military has been forced to draw upon less seasoned troops from across the armed forces.

Despite an admirable track record in combating the insurgency in al-Jazirah, McCollough’s team had a less-than-auspicious beginning. Formed around a few handpicked officers and sergeants, a number of the men who joined the team had been assigned against their wishes and on short notice from other noncombat units within the Marine Corps. The team’s second in command came from the traffic-management office at Camp Pendleton and had never served in an infantry unit before. Only a third of the team had training in the foreign weapons the Iraqis use.

A senior enlisted Marine on the team described their mission preparation as “a joke.” The entirety of it consisted of a week’s lectures at Camp Taji, a forward operating base north of Baghdad. Most of the classes were hastily assembled slide presentations. One covered Iraqi radio equipment and was given by an instructor who had never seen the gear before. The sector-specific training consisted of a one-hour briefing given by an officer who had visited al-Jazirah only once.

One recent after-action report I saw, written by a MiTT team leader from elsewhere in Iraq, concluded that the Pentagon has “given lip-service to the importance of advisors but has not allocated resources (time, funding and command attention) to the training and equipping of the advisors.”

In Washington, the message about the MiTT program remains upbeat. “The [Iraqi] army has been improving by leaps and bounds in the eight months we’ve been here,” Army Col. Brian Jones, a commander in the Diyala province bordering Iran, said during a Pentagon press briefing on Aug. 4. “And truly I think we’re starting to see the evolution of a professional force.”

But McCollough’s team expressed concern about the long-term prospects for the Iraqi forces they’ve been training. Soldiers continue to desert, and the battalion is never at full strength because Iraqis expect to have at least one week of leave per month in order to ensure that their families are safe and provided for.

Several of the Marines said they’ve seen some progress with the Iraqis. Yet, despite the Marines’ continual hectoring, the Iraqis’ field discipline leaves much to be desired. A gunnery sergeant told me that, with few exceptions, the Iraqis were poor shots. The Marines were happy to have at least curtailed the infamous “death blossom” — the Iraqis’ indiscriminate spraying of bullets into the air. But many moments were frustrating for Marines accustomed to working with well-disciplined troops. A prime example occurred in June: In the middle of an extended gun battle, the Marines were flabbergasted to discover some of the Iraqi soldiers relaxing and eating watermelon instead of manning their weapons.

A number of veteran U.S. military advisors I spoke with believe that the training under way essentially will last only as long as American officers are physically present and directly supporting the Iraqi army units.