Taking Off the Training Wheels

There’s a good article in the Washington Post about the transition of control from American to Iraqi forces. It seems that the American forces are somewhat dismayed over the limitations placed on their operations by the Iraqi government.

In a curt missive issued by the Baghdad Operations Command on July 2 — the day after Iraqis celebrated the withdrawal of U.S. troops to bases outside city centers — Iraq’s top commanders told their U.S. counterparts to “stop all joint patrols” in Baghdad. It said U.S. resupply convoys could travel only at night and ordered the Americans to “notify us immediately of any violations of the agreement.”

The strict application of the agreement coincides with what U.S. military officials in Washington say has been an escalation of attacks against their forces by Iranian-backed Shiite extremist groups, to which they have been unable to fully respond.

Granted, I’m not a grunt, but I don’t think the increase in attacks has so much to do with limitations placed on the US Forces, as it does with testing the Iraqi forces and their resolve/capability to respond.

U.S. commanders have described the pullout from cities as a transition from combat to stability operations. But they have kept several combat battalions assigned to urban areas and hoped those troops would remain deeply engaged in training Iraqi security forces, meeting with paid informants, attending local council meetings and supervising U.S.-funded civic and reconstruction projects.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, at some point, we may have forgotten what the desired end-state of this entire operation was. From what I can recall, the goal was to get the Iraqi government back on its feet, preferably with some form of democratic rule, and a military and police force capable of maintaining some semblence of peace without US Assistance.

That being said, I’m sure the list of bullets on the US COA’s under “End State” include things like “JAM Neutralized” and “Shia insurgent support removed”. Problem is, that’s not something that will be achievable. Would we like to do it? Hells yes, but if the goal is getting Iraq moving on its own, then implied tasking shouldn’t involve items that cannot be completed.

What I mean is, if you won’t be able to neutralize JAM, or eliminate Shia insurgent support, and those are pre-requisites for achieving the mission of restoring Iraq, you’ve set yourself up for failure. Or at least to be dissappointed.

Those bullets should say things like “Iraqi forces capable of managing insurgent attacks.” Keep it focused on them. But then comes the hard part.

You have to let them do it. It may not be perfect. It certainly won’t be pretty. But we have to let them take the reins of their own destiny.

Of course, we reserve the right to shoot back when attacked. That’s only fair.

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