Operation Inherent Resolve is mostly conventional troops

Posted on: January 24th, 2015 by Will Rodriguez 15 Comments
1st Armored Div soldier, trains Peshmerga fighter Kirkuk, Iraq, on June 14, 2010. - U.S. Army

Operation Inherent Resolve has been largely reported as a special operations effort to stop ISIS’ progress in Iraq and assist the Iraqis in taking the offense against them.  Not counting the significant Navy and Air Force conventional forces supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, the surprising and largely unreported truth is the majority of ground troops committed to Iraq are not special operations forces but conventional ones!  Actually, since we started our return to Iraq the deployment of troops has largely favored conventional troops.

After analyzing the deployments of the last year, the difference between what has been reported by the media and the government and what’s on the ground will be obvious.  That begs the question, why?  Why are the reports of who we are sending to Iraq differ so much from what America is being told?  Further, why are conventional troops taking such a leading role in training a foreign military again?

A timeline and analysis of the types of US troop deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in 2014:

June 16:  A week after ISIS took Mosul and Tikrit the President ordered 275 troops to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, most likely Marines from the 22nd MEU.  The 22nd MEU had been on amphibious ships in the region since February and Marines are traditional tasked with the protection of US embassies.  These troops joined about 160 troops already in Iraq (50 Marines and a little over 100 soldiers).

June 19: 300 military advisors are dispatched to advise Iraqi forces at joint operating centers in Baghdad and in Irbil.  A contingent of this group were six Special Forces teams tasked to conduct an assessment of the Iraqi Army.  It would be expected that the majority of troops operating in joint operations centers (which typically control large formations of troops from brigade to corps size) would largely be conventional forces and their supporting elements.  Senior ranking conventional officers, their staffs and supporting troops (e.g. communications) would be accustomed to coordinating, synchronizing and logistically supplying the Iraqi conventional forces in the field as well as the big picture planning necessary to facilitate the employment of air strikes.  Given that kind of a mission breakdown it would be safe to say there were 100 Special Forces troops (six twelve man assessment teams though they were likely smaller and 12-24 special operations troops split between the two joint headquarters) and 200 conventional soldiers.

June 30:  300 additional troops are dispatched to reinforce security at U.S. installations in Baghdad.  Obama described these troops as “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support” and included six Apache helicopters and Shadow UAV’s.  The Apaches and Shadow UAV’s came out of the Army brigade deployed to Kuwait in Feb as part of a rotational force maintained in the region.  These three hundred troops would almost exclusively be conventional troops considering the manning requirements for an Apache helicopter company and support, drone operators and support, security for the Baghdad airport and other security requirements.

August 12:  130 military advisers fly into Iraq to assess the humanitarian crisis at Mt. Sinjar and develop a plan to evacuate Yazidis trapped on the mountain.   Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren, described a force consisting of approximately four Ospreys, an unspecified number of other U.S. helicopters that transported the troops, a force including about 80 Marines.  Simple math dictates that the total force consisted of about 50 special operations troops though this operation was consistently described as a special operations mission.  It is worth noting Marines routinely conduct noncombatant evacuations and the 22nd MEU on the ships of the USS Bataan’s group have 12 MV-22B Ospreys, four CH-53E Super Stallions, three UH-1Y Venom helicopters and four AH-1W Cobra helicopters.

September 2:  350 troops deployed to Iraq as per a State Department request for additional protection for U.S. personnel and facilities in Baghdad.  The Pentagon statement stated the troops “will come from within the U.S. Central Command area of operations and will include a headquarters element, medical personnel, associated helicopters and an air liaison team.”  Of 1,100 troops in Iraq up to this point 820 are providing security at U.S. Embassy and airport in Baghdad and the Consulate in Irbil.  That’s 75% of the force dedicated to security.  While some of these may be special operations troops the majority are not as well as a percentage of the troops not assigned a security mission for the reasons described previously.

September 10:  475 more troops authorized to deploy to Iraq.  Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division Headquarters are targeted for the deployment.  They will perform command and control function for US forces in Iraq and be operating out of Baghdad and Irbil.

December 20:  As part of a 1500 troop increase announced on 7 November 320 Marines from the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) assigned to the U.S. Central Command were tasked to conduct an advise and assist mission at al-Asad airbase west of Baghdad..  The Marines are training units from Iraq’s 7th Division.  Simultaneously, 175 1st Infantry Division soldiers from Fort Riley were conducting similar training at Camp Taji 20 miles north of Baghdad.  They are training Infantry and tank crews in a compressed 6-week basic training course for Iraqi recruits assisting in standing up several new Iraqi battalions.  According to Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren there are approximately 2,140 troops in Iraq.  About 800 of those troops are engaged in providing security and force protection, and 1340 are executing the training, advising and assisting role.  Just the 10 September and 20 December deployments of conventional troops account for 970 troops of the 1340.  That’s approximately 82% of the ground element of Operation Inherent Resolve consisting of conventional troops.

That does not include the 1000 troops from the 82nd Airborne’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team slated to deploy in January for the Iraq train, advise and assist mission.  That would boost the percentage of conventional troops to almost 90% of the “boots on the ground” in Iraq.

The stark difference in representation and the specific roles assigned to conventional troops begs two questions.  First, why is the press and the administration and military representing Operation Inherent Resolve as a primarily a special operations initiative?  Next, why are conventional troops being pressed into being the primary trainers of the new Iraqi Army?

Some of the misreporting of who’s actually in Iraq can be attributed to ignorance.  Remember we have media that refers to armored cars being used by police as “tanks” and misidentifies orange foam earplugs with rubber bullets.  Most reporters, even those assigned to report on defense issues are woefully ignorant about the military they report on.

That said, what’s the military’s and administration’s reason for misreporting?  Well, the military is subordinate to the administration.  It’s rare to find a General that would contradict the administration’s talking points.  Sad but too unfortunately true.  So what’s the motivation to portray conventional troops as predominately special operations?  The payoff is its subliminal messaging.

Portraying our current involvement as primarily special operations creates some distance in public perception with our previous experience in Iraq.  It also lends credence to the often stated canard of “no boots on the ground”.  The administration moves the goal posts by implying since the troops are “special ops” there are no boots on the ground because that would be conventional troops.

Further the public is enamored with our highly capable special operations forces that have generally not  been held responsible for the results we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.  That helps create a false sense of confidence in the public of a future success.  Sadly, the special operations community is accepting risk for the short term benefit of supporting the narrative that special operations can in many cases be deployed instead of conventional forces.  A narrative embraced by the current administration and a sure path to continued funding levels for the special operations community which has been left largely unscathed during our current defense cost cutting measures.  When Iraq goes bad, and it will, the military and the special operations community run a real risk of being held responsible.

For the record, I’m a special operations fan and supporter.  They just aren’t capable of doing everything which leads us into why conventional troops are taking such a leading role in training a foreign military, again.  Today over 80% of the troops training, advising and assisting the Iraqi military are conventional troops.  The plan is to train nine Iraqi army brigades and three Peshmerga brigades at four training sites according to Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.

Why aren’t special operations troops doing the training mission predominately?  Well the often unstated reasons are twofold.  First we don’t have enough special operations troops and historically (especially since Vietnam) our special operations forces typically train indigenous irregular and special operations troops.  Training large formations of indigenous troops that must not only conduct offensive operations but also defensive ones isn’t a special operations forte.

There has also been a propensity since 911 for special operations to embrace the direct action role than conduct pure training missions.  Even the indigenous forces trained by special ops troops are typically led by their trainers in real world direct action type missions well after they have completed their training.  It’s a technique special operations forces use to make up for their lack of bulk when the mission requires a lot of troops.

Some will have fears that “our conventional troops are not up to the task which is why Iraq is where it is today”.  CSM Micahel Grinston, the senior enlisted NCO at Camp Taji repeats a message I’ve stated before.  The way we trained the Iraqi military wasn’t done poorly.  The problem, he believes, was that after U.S. forces withdrew, training was not properly maintained.   Something we could have done had we maintained a residual force in Iraq.

The near term prognosis for Iraq is cloudy.  Gen Ordierno, the US Army’s Chief of Staff is looking at an offensive to recapture some of ISIS’ territory in the summer using two Iraqi divisions that will undergo training this summer.  He’s hoping the Iraqis will allow these better trained, experienced and equipped Iraqi forces currently defending Baghdad to go on the offensive and be replaced by the troops being trained now.  The question has been raised if US troops will be allowed to accompany Iraqi troops in the offense.  The US military says it will be prepared to do what is necessary.  The administration continues to reiterate that we will not put US troops in a combat role in Iraq.  Given the history of portraying the current operation in Iraq as a special operations initiative when it’s clearly not demonstrates we have a precedent for doing things in Iraq and describing them as something else.

In the meantime, Iran continues to grow its influence and credit for saving Iraq .  When we sent 275 troops to defend the US Embassy in June, Iran sent 2,000 Quds troops to protect Baghdad.  No one knows what will happen as we wait for the Iraqis to increase their combat capability.  ISIS is recruiting in Afghanistan, a cell has been arrested in Israel and they are present in Yemen as that government has fallen.  On the positive side, a summer offensive will be six months closer to Inauguration Day 2017. Reaching that date with no greater degradation of the situation in Iraq has always been the real strategy directing our actions in Iraq where a real effort to roll back ISIS would need 15k US troops according to some.

Be Respectful, Candid and Pertinent. No Posers, No Trolls…
  • YankeePapa

    …Number of issues raised. “…for special operations to embrace the direct action role than conduct
    pure training missions…”
    …Between the two Gulf Wars, I remember a Marine Colonel being interviewed.  He was speaking about regular Marine recon unit.  Said, “Some people think that we have them out ‘blowing up castles…’  That’s not what they’re about.  They can do what the most expensive satellite can’t… they can tell you what is under a bridge.  If we have them ‘blowing up castles’, then they can’t do their regular job…” 
    …I do not claim to be an expert on the evolution of Special Operations in the “direct action” mode since 9-11…  I don’t know if there was a plan… or if it took on a life of its own. I do know that they were given far too much work, sent on too many  deployments, and not given enough rest time.  Hopefully this time will be used to fall back and regroup… not gut or hobble… 
    …It is a very bad world out there and it is getting worse.  Saudi general killed in northern part of the country… Seem ISIS had his travel itinerary…  Meanwhile, as to our top political leadership in this country (nothing wonderful will happen without their intelligent and courageous efforts…), I can only paraphrase Indiana Jone’s father… “I’d have done better to have handed the matter over to the Marx Brothers…”

  • YankeePapa 
    It appears things took on a life of their own.  Direct action is a “sexier” mission and there was plenty of demand but there was also a self inflicted aspect to this as direct action is also the path to publicity and a greater budget which can become it’s own self feeding cycle.
    were given far too much work, sent on too many  deployments, and not
    given enough rest time.” 

    Absolutely true but so were our conventional forces who typically deployed for 3-4 times as long with as limited dwell time between deployments.
    Overseas service is often measured by the number of deployments one has and while special operations can boast more deployments the time spent in theatre is generally equal.  The average infantry unit has 3-4 deployments over the last decade.  That doesn’t sound as impressive as the Ranger Regiment soldier that may have 12.  What the average person doesn’t know is that special operations deployment was 3 months long.  Both served 36 months in theatre and a year long deployment places much more stress on families than shorter ones.  FTR my intent is not to degrade our special operations forces superb service.  I’m trying to spotlight the conventional side that has often been forgotten in the celebration of our special operations forces.   
    Things haven’t changed much from WWII when Bill Mauldin observed, “http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/billmauldi180968.html?src=t_infantry”

  • YankeePapa

    majrod YankeePapa ,
    …The tendency for Special Forces to sometimes hold themselves out as a force that could launch precision strikes, rescue prisoners and other such “Ranger” missions dates back to the 1950s when funding tight and some of the top brass did not understand the real usefulness of Special Forces.
    …As I have said many times… all of the “elite special units” in American uniform could not (without nukes) have stopped a Soviet armored move through the Fulda gap… nor could they have taken back Kuwait on their own.  On the other hand, it is just as well that regular U.S. Army/Marine divisions not inserted into El Salvador.   Sometimes a straight razor is better than a chainsaw…  But you can’t chop down a forest with a straight razor… tends to lose its edge in no time…


  • YankeePapa majrod 
    Speaking of El Salvador the very significant conventional contribution to that era is mostly unknown.  Without the conventional Army conducting basic training at Ft. Benning for Salvadoran forces or the large unit (BN CDR and above) Commander,  Staff/Military Decision Making Process training conducted by conventional forces the effort in El Salvador would have turned out much different.
    My point remains not to ding special ops but illuminate the critical conventional contribution to these previously characterized exclusively special operations efforts.

  • YankeePapa

    majrod YankeePapa ,
    …Conventional Army contributions re El Salvador valid.  Army/Marine infantry divisions might well have taken us someplace that we really didn’t want to go… again…


  • LauraKinCA

    I didn’t realize that there were that many troops in general deployed there. It would make sense that with those numbers the majority wouldn’t be SF. I think the admin is enamored with SOF and agree with you that by saying SF is leading the mission, can gloss over the numbers of conventional troops to keep the narrative of “no boots on the ground.”

  • clluelo

    If the current pace of Advisors being sent over by the West we should have 15,000 troops and their boots on the ground by 2016

  • toril

    I also wonder if the press tends to focus on the SOF forces more as it sounds much more sexy in media speech.  This of course also helps make the politicians happy as they can continue to suggest there are no (or very few) boots on the ground.

  • Luddite4Change

    majrod YankeePapa Will,
    I’ve wondered if much of the lessons of El Sal WRT the conventional contribution could have transferred to the fights of the last decade plus.  Why not conduct the conventional training for Iraq/Afghanistan forces in a secure third country, rather than in the middle of the fight?

  • LawyerHandle

    With the Canadian SOF contingent of Iraq “advisors” engaging in a firefight the other day for a second time in as many weeks, I fear it’s just a matter of time before the reality of the situation hits home for US Americans in the form of something like an Apache being shot down. While they will undoubtedbly try, I can’t see the White House successfully talking their way around the loss of an American attack helicopter as an unfortunate loss of life of troops serving in an “advisory role, away from the front lines.”

  • LawyerHandle 
    Besides the raids we’ve conducted I have little doubt that our “non-combat” troops have been in combat.  We’re not going to hear about it unless there’s media there when it happens or someone gets killed.  
    The administration is adept at keeping firefights it doesn’t want published out of the public eye.  Look how long it took to get first hand reports from Benghazi.

  • Riceball

    Luddite4Change majrod YankeePapa I think that the problem is that militaries like the Iraqi’s are best taught in the field where the trainers can not only just simply show and tell them what to do but actually continue to advise when they’re under fire. Generally speaking, with most 3rd rate military forces it’s not so much that the individual troops aren’t capable it’s just that they lack proper training, discipline, and (most importantly) good leadership and that’s what a lot of these trainers provide in the field, solid leadership. I don’t know about Iraq but I’ve read that in Afghanistan the local troops do fine when attached to US units and the American’s provide all of the leadership.

  • Riceball Luddite4Change majrod YankeePapa 
    Agree but this isn’t unique to third world countries.  First world countries just have less international strife to demonstrate the holes in their militaries.  Look at Ukraine.

    People also fail to realize that building an indigenous Army takes years.  Not so much to train privates but to train leaders and the systems necessary to support an Army in the field.
    While providing the locals leadership can shortcut the path to creating an effective Army it doesn’t create a stable/independent one.
    I agree with you about US trainers accompanying the Iraqis into combat but if I was a decision maker I’d be very vocal about three things.
    1.  We’re going to lose people
    2.  We’re going to have to send a lot of people to include US combat units to secure critical victories (the French Army had troops at Yorktown).

    3.  If we don’t stay until the Iraqi Army/Gov’t is stable we’ll be doing it again.
    BTW, sending some US combat units also serves as insurance for specific battles we can’t afford to lose and sets the example for what an Army should look like…

  • Luddite4Change

    majrod LawyerHandle Concur. Just wait a few months and check the HRC awards page.  If the numbers of CIB/CAB/CMB awards have changed since 1 OCT, then we will know the answer.

  • toril 
    I was trying to make that point.