The One Thing the U.S. Can’t Train the Iraqi Army To Do
by Lt. General Robert Gard
The U.S. armed forces have spent considerable time, resources and talent building up and training Iraqi security forces to enable them to maintain a reasonable degree of stability in that war-torn and divided country. Why, then, did tens of thousands of Iraqi troops, including two army divisions, discard their weapons and uniforms, abandon their equipment and flee from a small attacking force of lightly equipped fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria?
The major reason was lack of a parallel effort to establish governing institutions capable of earning the loyalty and commitment of its soldiers.
At the time that ISIL took over Mosul without even token resistance, and continued its advance toward Baghdad, Iraqi active duty armed forces of the Ministry of Defense numbered over 200,000, with more than 500,000 police under the Ministry of the Interior. The Iraqi army had more than 300 main battle tanks, including 140 U.S. M1A1 Abrams Tanks, about 3,000 armored personnel carriers, including more than 400 U.S. M113A2s, and more than 70 helicopters.
The collapse of Iraqi security forces certainly was not due to an insufficient number of trained troops or inferiority in equipment and firepower. There is no doubt that our trainers successfully inculcated in the Iraqi soldiers the tactical combat skills necessary to deal with numerically inferior hostile insurgent forces.
What cannot be taught, however, is motivation or incentive that can be called morale or confidence in, and commitment to, the nation’s institutions and leadership, both military commanders and political authorities. This intangible element, essential to success in combat, depends on the legitimacy of domestic governance, not admonitions from foreign military advisors.
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