Political cronyism seems to be the cause of much of the lost Iraqi combat capability as Prime Minister Maliki’s administration replaced many competent officers with politically reliable ones since US military force left Iraq. Recent reports tell of soldiers finding themselves under attack by ISIS learn that commanders at higher headquarters have fled. The immediate impact, an inability to reinforce, resupply or withdraw Iraqi Army units who melted into the populace.
The NYT reports a general assessment of the Iraqi Army today. Over 35% of the Iraqi Army’s 14 divisions are “combat ineffective” which means they are below 70% strength and/or are unable to conduct combat operations. Almost 25% of all of Iraq’s 243 army battalions have disappeared with all their equipment lost.
Iraq is cobbling together units from soldiers who were on leave at Taji, a military base north of Baghdad. Hundreds of thousands of untrained volunteers have stepped forward but incorporating these untrained men into units is problematic. As a direct counter to ISIS, a small number of experienced and highly trained militias exist courtesy of Iran. There are also two battalions of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Iraq securing Shite holy sites.
Iraq is down to two AT-6 prop driven light airplanes for close air support. The NYT also reported from January to May that the Iraqis have lost six helicopters to ISIS and had another 60 damaged in the fighting. 28 M1 tanks were damaged and five actually had their armor penetrated likely by Kornet anti-tank missiles brought over from Syria.
The only silver lining seems to be Iraq’s elite counterinsurgency forces which have continued to be trained by the US but unfortunately even their skills have atrophied and are much more adept at conducting checkpoint ops than taking the fight to the enemy as reported by the NYT.
Unfortunately ISIS has captured over 50 Iraqi army howitzers and the capture of Mosul gave ISIS a virtual smorgasbord of ammunition. Volunteers continue to stream into the fight and ISIS makes it a point to liberate prisons to fill in the ranks.
The Iraqi Army is broken at the highest levels. Morale is terrible. Leadership is lacking at all levels but especially at the higher levels which are absolutely imperative to successfully conduct any operations of scale. Companies do not take cities alone.
The President has sent up to 300 US troops to assess the Iraqi army and the situation. Rebuilding the Iraqi Army is possible but shouldn’t the first question be why? Without a vision as to what the US wants to achieve in the region wouldn’t just rebuilding the Iraqi Army to walk away again just push problems down the calendar a bit (hopefully to 2017) or worse be plowing the field for Iran to harvest more influence in Iraq? Neither of these futures is in our interest and portend even greater and more expensive US involvement down the road.