Training local forces is no way to secure Iraq
By William Odom and Lawrence Korb
Published: July 19 2007 03:00 | Last updated: July 19 2007 03:00
Once again, as in previous times when the US has supported a battle against insurgencies, our political leaders are suffering from the illusion that success can be won by training local security forces.
All sides to the debate about Iraq agree that we should continue training and equipping Iraqi security forces. Both the bipartisan Iraq StudyGroup and President George W. Bush, through his surge strategy, support this policy because they believethat these forces will prevent theoutbreak of a genocidal conflict aswell as a regional conflict when we withdraw.
But continued training and equipping of the security forces will have the opposite effect. In effect we are arming different sides in a civil war. It is no accident that as the number of trained Iraqi security forces has grown, so have attacks on coalition forces, Iraqi civilians and the Iraqi security forces themselves.
For example, in July 2005 the total number of attacks on coalition forces, Iraqi civilians and Iraqi security forces was about 2,500. Two years later, the number of attacks had more than doubled. During that same period, the number of Iraqi army and police trained and equipped had grownfrom about 150,000 to more than 350,000. Arming the Shia-dominated security forces makes about as much sense as arming the Bosnian Serbs to provide security after the Nato withdrawal.
The reason for this spike in violence is obvious. It is a result of a sectarian struggle for power overlying several lesser civil conflicts, and the security problems are part of this struggle.
Training or equipping these forces is not a solution. Many Iraqi soldiers have more training than some young American men and women who are being sent to Iraq right out of basic training so that our overstretched ground forces can support this ill-conceived surge. The fundamental problem with the Iraqi security forces isthat they lack allegiance to the national government and the will to fight and die for a non-existent Iraqi nation.
The 350,000 security forces are not being asked to fight against a big foreign conventional military power but to deal with an insurgency that consists of a tiny section of the population totalling no more than 20,000. They are already equipped well enough for that task. Giving them more weapons and training will only increase the level of violence.
Even assuming that the armed and trained Iraqi security forces do not continue to turn on each other, there is also the possibility that Shia-dominated national security forces could quite quickly turn their weapons against American troops as they begin to withdraw. Or after the US does leave, their forces could wage war against our Sunni allies such as Saudi Arabia in support of Iran.
There are alarming signs that the Iraqi security forces are turning against each other as well as our forces. In March of this year, Shia police in Tal Afar killed dozens of Sunnis after a bombing that left some 150 Shia dead. US officers have accused the Iraqi fifth army division of engaging in an "ethnic cleansing" campaign.
In the summer of 2006, Iraqi security forces killed American soldiers who were training them and, on July 13 this year, uniformed Iraqi police opened fire on American forces. As First Lieutenant Steve Taylor, serving at a joint Iraqi-American security station in Sulakh, noted in March: "There is no way to know who's good and who's bad, so we have to assume that they're all bad, unfortunately."
In Vietnam, training the South Vietnamese forces failed, not because they were incompetent, but because the government lost the banner of nationalism to the Viet Cong. In El Salvador in the 1980s, elections and the training of government forces ended up putting back into power the very politicians who had provoked the insurgency with death squads. Soon afterwards, their death squads were back in action. The insurgency failed because all outside supplies were cut off, not because of US military assistance training.
In Iraq, the same politically naive illusion of success through training the local security forces will yield the same or worse results. We must set a deadline to withdraw our troops and cease supplying weapons and training to all sides, or our forces will be in jeopardy as we leave and the violence among all sides in the civil wars will be greater after we depart.
Lt General William Odom, a former director of the US's National Security Agency, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. Lawrence J. Korb, a former assistant secretary of defence, is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007