August 20, 2009

Cordesman report on Iraq army

Definitely worth the read.

A couple quotes and observations below the fold.

p. 140:

According to Ambassador Bremer, "it was increasingly clear that the Pentagon's apparent preoccupation with the spring [2004] troop rotation was creating unhealthy pressures to wish a competent Iraqi security force into being faster than possible." Lt. Gen. Sanchez echoed the point, noting that "at various times, the Department of Defense inflated the numbers of effective Iraqi forces," while ignoring the fact that "the enduring challenge was building capable and effective Iraqi forces rather than simply adding numbers."

There is a significant risk right now of history repeating itself here in Afghanistan. As the report correctly notes, raising troop quality and quantity rapidly at the same time is extremely difficult. A rapid rise in the number of security forces will almost always seem to result in a short-term decline in their average capability, as the few competent individuals are thin-sliced across a larger force. (See also Kitchener's Army, 1915.) This is why recent statements by Western leaders that we need to rapidly create Afghan forces capable of fighting a counterinsurgency, AND rapidly increase the numbers of them at the same time, are at least partially contradictory.

Same page:

Virtually all the brigades in the Iraqi Army can now be deployed throughout the country.

This is not not currently true in Afghanistan, where most ANA brigades cannot be effectively deployed far outside their home provinces. This is not their problem: it's a limitation of the multi-national ISAF mentorship approach, as explained in a previous post.

Same page:

In practice, many units were manning at actual levels of 80 percent, or 65 percent if personnel absent or on leave were dropped from the total.

About the same for the ANA. An infantry kandak (battalion) is generally about 400 effectives out of an authorized strength of 600-plus.

The April 2008 SIGIR report found a significant shortfall in officers and suggested that it may take a decade to address this problem. Even DOD stated that "the shortage of leaders will take years to close."

This is really why Iraq and Afghanistan army creation efforts are so different from previous attempts in history. When the British created the Indian army, it was to enrol locals at junior ranks to fight in a British regimental structure. As the decades past, gradually Indians took over larger and larger roles in their own leadership, to the point where in 1947 the Indian and Pakistani armies had no major issues transitioning at independence. We're trying to help these countries build large armies from zero in the space of a few years, without exerting any authority over their finances, logistics, administration or operations. Successful examples of this in history are extremely rare, and failures common (ARVN, etc.). If Iraq is successful, it will pretty much be the first, and Afghanistan the second. Graduating private/corporals is easy. Building an army to modern, counterinsurgency-capable standards is hard, akin in some ways to building a national railway system system from scratch.

As with railways, another successful model for this sort of major societal change is for the local nation hires foreign soldiers itself to command its armies, sometimes on varying degrees of "loan" from their own armies, to perform leadership roles until their own people have sufficient experience. To date this has not been suggested as an option in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and likely won't be.

p. 148:

[Iraqi political leaders] do not understand that battalion readiness is not the same thing as brigade or divisional readiness. Nor do they understand the role that U.S. support still plays in terms of airpower, mobility, and IS&R capabilities, or the potential need for support from U.S. armor or artillery in an emergency... these problems are not unique to Iraqis.

True dat.

p. 171:

Like a number of U.S. efforts in Iraq, the [police] aid effort now needs to focus on helping Iraqis improve how they do things their way instead of continuing to try to pressure them into doing things the U.S. way. The reality is that a HUMINT and confessions-based system of civil law has worked well in most of the Arab world... Iraqi policy and criminal justice can be improved through the use of "evidence-based" techniques, but it is far from clear that the United States should seek to replace most of the existing system... Legal efforts to eliminate all corruption and the black economy... will be equally pointless and impractical. The United STates needs to focus on essentials and not on trying to create a mirror image... in short, there seems to be too much U.S. emphasis on changing the entire culture and structure of the Iraqi legal system rather than in improving the existing system."

A valuable observation in the Afghanistan context, as well.

p. 108:

"Far too many Iraqis are recruited and promoted because they pay for the position, or on the basis of political, sectarian, ethnic and/or tribal favoritism. At the same time, competent officers can be denied promotion, forced out of service, or sidelined into meaningless positions or those without authority for the same reasons... this is a serious problem even at top command positions... Iraqi officers can often misuse or steal funds with relative safety... Iraqi security forces have problems at all levels in delegating authority and giving younger men independence and allowing them to take initiative. There is also a tendency for officers to avoid hands-on labor and getting "dirty," while treating other ranks as a de facto lower class..."

It goes on, but it gets too depressing to retype all of it. It's all true for Afghan troops as well. And remember, this is a successful army-building initiative, generally seen as a couple years ahead of the current Afghan effort.

p. 109:

"Unclassified MNF-I and Iraqi evaluations of readiness are misleading and often too high because they focus on assets and training... As a result, many of the ratings used to measure progress in the ISF, including those in this study, exaggerate the level of near-term progress... at the same time, they can underrate elements with proven combat performance."

A version of the same 4-point combat capability scale is used in Afghanistan. Our brigade HQ, as this press release correctly states was one of only a few rated at CM1, the highest rating possible. The same brigade HQ also deployed repeatedly during the same period on operations without any maps, or the plastic for waterproofing them, tents, chairs, or a working generator... even though in many cases we'd given a new issue of those items to them just before we left ourselves. Until you can keep those two facts in your head at the same time (and all those above, as well), you really haven't grasped the IA/ANA mentoring experience.

Posted by BruceR at 11:23 AM

Today's essential Afghan viewing

Good UK Channel 4 clip on British soldiers and mentors in Helmand.

The Captain's Journal says this is evidence that Westerners need to be allowed to search Afghan homes again. I'd settle personally for the ANA being allowed to search Afghan homes again... during our tour there was a blanket prohibition on army house searches from MoD in Kabul. That was seen as an ANP duty. Oh, the army would do it sometimes, of course: everyone likes to find a weapons or ammo cache and they had less of an issue with the grape huts or unoccupied ruins where those kinds of things could often be found, but if it got too hot, or too dark, or the mentors too tiresome, they could always pull out the "we don't search houses" card, and that would basically be that.

The Afghan army officers of 2008-09 I worked closely with had internalized at a deep level (I'm not really sure how we managed it) that suppression of internal unrest was really an activity for the police, while the army existed to repel foreign aggressors. In that sense, they were really sort of the opposite of COIN-trained. If the enemy ever gathered in large numbers, of course, they'd probably have been more inclined to do something. But the insurgents we were actually facing they saw as really none of their business, because the IED-layers were locals, and not Pakistanis, making it a "police matter." As far as the day-to-day counterinsurgency fight went, these attitudes often proved problematic.

The ANA at the time would not detain people, for instance. They had been told that any Afghan resident was entitled to his day in "court" within 72 hours. They had no authority to do anything but turn people they found over to the ANP and the "justice system". Because they had assessed (accurately, I believe) that that meant rapid release in almost all cases, they generally didn't put too much effort into that activity, either.

It's obviously difficult to fight an insurgency if you and your indigenous forces can't/won't either detain people or enter occupied dwellings. That's why by the end of tour I was seeing larger payoffs per unit of effort spent in military mentoring of ANP units than the ANA. I suspect that the army attitudes I saw on my tour towards their role in fighting the insurgency are going to be too deep and hard-wired for them to be "overwritten" easily now, whoever is in charge of the Western effort in Afghanistan.

UPDATE: Another factor here is that, as the piece relates, this is a new bunch of Brit mentors in their first weeks with their ANA, from a battalion which will have been fighting and dying in Helmand now a very long time indeed (and are probably on their third or fourth mentor team). You're going to have a learning curve on both sides at this point, so one really shouldn't be too alarmed about any terseness in their dealings with each other (or the Brit sergeant with his Brit private) displayed in the clip. It's normal.

Posted by BruceR at 09:49 AM