The Obama administration just announced that it was sending an additional 450 American soldiers to Iraq to train the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). That came after widespread criticism of America’s policy in the aftermath of the fall of Ramadi last month. Just beforehand the President mentioned that the U.S. had more training capacity in Iraq then Iraqi soldiers to be trained. The White House has also talked about the effectiveness of those Iraqis that have gone through the process, but then notes that none of them have been committed to battle yet. That might mean the administration’s new announcement was driven by the desire to do something in Iraq after the recent setback rather than being effective.
The United States just announced that it would be sending an additional 450 military trainers to Iraq. They would join the 3,080 trainers already in the country who are operating in camps in Irbil, Salahaddin, Anbar, and Baghdad. The new trainers are supposed to arrive later this summer and would go to the Taqadum base near Habaniya, which is in between Fallujah and Ramadi. The move was inspired by the fall of Ramadi in May, which led to a policy review within the White House. The training effort is one major part of America’s strategy in Iraq to rebuild the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) after their collapse during the summer of 2014. The U.S. also wants to organize and equip local Sunni tribal forces to oppose the Islamic State (IS).
The administration’s training program has two major problems, the first being that the forces that the U.S. has trained have not been used yet. On June 9, President Obama said that the ISF that were trained and equipped by the Americans were better than those who hadn’t gone through the process. None of those troops have been in combat yet however. That appears to be the Americans plan as U.S. officials said back in January that the new forces being put together should be used in defensive positions first rather than offensive ones because they would not be ready yet. This comes from previous experience in Iraq when the U.S. pushed Iraqi forces into combat as quickly as possible. Many of them were not ready and disintegrated in the face of insurgent attacks. This time around the Americans do not want to rush things. At the same time, the government forces are suffering from a manpower shortage and have not been able to hold many areas after they have been cleared. The American trained troops could be used in this capacity. Instead, it is unclear whether they are being used at all at this point.
The second issue involved shot comings with the Iraqi government. Obama recently mentioned that the U.S. had more training capacity in Iraq then soldiers to train. The Hill for example, mentioned in June that the Assad base in Anbar had not had any new recruits in six weeks. That followed other news that the government was not sending adequate troops for training. That’s probably why the U.S. has not been able to meet its goals. In December, it said it wanted to train 5,000 new recruits every six weeks. That would equal roughly 15,000 fighters by now. Instead, only 7,200 had finished the program with another 3,200 currently in training. Those soldiers and tribesmen that did arrive were not equipped by Baghdad either. At Camp Taji in Salahaddin, the Washington Post reported back in January that none of the trainees there had weapons or ammunition. Likewise, Al Mada noted that 200 tribal fighters at Assad in November had no guns either. The Iraqi government is notorious for its bureaucracy. The lack of soldiers showing up for American training and not being equipped are the negative effects of Baghdad’s red tape. The Defense Ministry always lacked capacity for basic needs such as logistics to supply its forces. More importantly this comes at a time when the government desperately needs to rebuild its army after it collapsed during the summer of 2014. Even during this crisis Baghdad can’t get the resources to where they are needed. This may be the reason why none of the U.S. trained forces have been used yet.
Given these issues it’s a wonder why the Obama administration would want to increase its training force in Iraq. None of the troops it has trained have been deployed yet, and it’s not getting the support from Baghdad necessary to make them effective. There are other actions the White House could have taken that would have an immediate impact upon the battlefield such as increasing the number of air strikes, easing the process to get them approved, committing forward observers to sport targets, etc. Instead it chose to increase its training program that already has a lot of excess capacity. It raises more questions than answers about America’s commitment to the fight against the Islamic State. It could be that the administration wanted to take a step that fit in with its current program rather than escalate things, and that could also blunt some of the criticism that it is facing.
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