24 September 2014

Advise and Assist… Again?

I read an article titled “Dempsey: Half of Iraqi Army not OK as US Partners” and it really got me thinking.  In it, GEN Dempsey concluded only 26 of the 50 Iraqi Army Brigades are capable partners for the U.S.  With that in mind, I do not ever see a time in the future where U.S. elements partner alongside Iraqi elements in training and exercises at JMRC or a venue like that.  What I do see is a step back to the Military Training Teams (MTTs), Border Transition Teams (BTTs), Embedded Training Teams (ETTs), Security Force Assistance Advisory Teams (SFAATs), etc. that were utilized to advise, assist and train the Iraqi security forces.  Some of these were very successful.  Most were not.

I was the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of a Border Transition Team for the 6th Iraqi Border Police.  They were headquartered in Sinjar in northwestern Iraq.  Our team was the fifth team to fall in on this unit.  It was a long year, much like it was a long year for many who deployed and did this sort of mission.  My point is this.  We were the fifth team to train this particular unit.  Were they any more capable of securing their border after a year with us?  I don’t think so.  Were they any more capable after completing a year with the team that replaced us?  Again, I don’t think so.  Evidence is the amount of contraband, weapons, and foreign fighters that move freely across the border between Syria and Iraq.

We now have about 1,600 military advisors on the ground again in Iraq with more being identified.  These folks will not have a “combat role.”  That phrase always gets to me.  Every time you go outside of the wire, you assume a combat role.  To prepare for anything shy of that is inviting disaster.  These advisors are out there with their Iraqi counterparts without the aid of dedicated Quick Reaction Force (QRF), without the aid of dedicated infantry, armor, or field artillery support.  They not only have to be cognizant of the ISIS and the external threat that those forces possess, but they also have to sleep with one eye open because the insider threat is as real as it ever was.

GEN Dempsey said that this is about “training them in protected locations and then enabling them (Iraqi security forces)” so that they can “fight the fight” required to beat ISIS militants back across the border into Syria.  Are U.S. trainers the answer?  What improvements in training aids, or additional resources, will these trainers have that my team and the many others who have done this mission in the past didn’t have?  Would you volunteer to deploy on one of these training teams?

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*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

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