The Australian Military and Iraq
Given Australian PM John Howard’s appearance with Bush in Washington on Tuesday, the question of the role of Australian troops in Iraq remains a live one– especially in view of British plans to draw down their contingent to only 3,000 in the next year.
Brian writes from Australia:
‘ You write “I remain unconvinced that the new Iraqi army will actually be able to take up the slack, even if the Australians help out.”
I am an Australian. A former Australian army officer, indeed. And I say that Australia could not send more than two battalions (it has only six, most understrength) to Iraq or anywhere else for more than a year without suffering terminal damage to its structure. And two battalions would not make the slightest contribution to the internal security of the country.
Further, I was a trainer of soldiers at one time. (For two years after I returned from Vietnam, in fact.) And I state without fear of contradiction by any professional that the Iraqi army will not be in any shape to operate effectively for many, many years, given the present training program, such as it is.
There was no pre-war planning for establishment of a new Iraqi army, and Rumsfeld has been fooled by pathetic yes-men generals to believe that an Iraqi army can be trained from scratch to be a useful force in a couple of years. This is nonsense. (Just as it is nonsense to say that the Afghan National Army is anywhere near being effective.) Let me tell you what it takes to train a soldier who comes off the streets and into barracks:
We have to presuppose clean barrack-room accommodation, including decent beds, lavatories, mess halls and showers; arrangements for pay that result in families receiving cash on time; and a welfare system that caters for both recruits and their families. There must be padres for all religious denominations. (Please stop laughing.)
In a recruit training battalion of a thousand or so young men (in Iraq it will be only men) there must be a headquarters staffed by skilled administrators and experts in imparting military skills. Then the requirement for each company of 200 (or so) is for a dedicated staff of six officers, a sergeant major and 4 company office staff, a quartermaster sergeant (and staff), five sergeant instructors, and about 12 corporal instructors. All of these soldiers must have been specially selected for their expertise in administration and instruction. (Not every skilled and brave soldier is by definition either an administrator or an instructor : some of the most courageous soldiers I have ever known have found it impossible to convey their knowledge to others or even understand how they are administered. This tends to frustrate personnel selectors. Mind you : How many personnel selectors has the Iraqi army got?)
All these instructors work their asses off for 12 weeks, for at least 12 hours a day, to produce a basic soldier. And let me emphasize that what they produce is the absolute BASIC soldier — no more. The product is not a fighting man. He is incapable of employing his individual skills immediately in a team — a fighting platoon – because there is much more to learn before joining his battalion.
The soldier (we are talking infantry, here ; forget the much longer training for technical arms and the administrative services) then has to go off to specialist training to fit him for his unit. This takes another two months or so. Then his theoretical knowledge is put into practice in the battalion, in which he is a member of a platoon. — But he will only function reasonably if he joins a trained platoon of skilled soldiers who are themselves a team and who trust their commander and non-commissioned leaders.
Then he is trained in sub-unit tactics and shown where he stands in relation to such grand events as a company attack and so forth. He receives detailed and painstaking instruction about the various phases and types of conflict, such as counter-insurgency warfare. The recruit will not be a reasonably efficient soldier for at least a year. And then he starts to really learn his trade.
And my picture is that all this instruction of recruits takes place in peacetime, in a non-threatening environment, with instructors who are not only highly-skilled but speak their own language (training in Afghanistan is a linguistic nightmare for Afghan instructors, never mind the foreigners).
I could go on and on. But I think you might get the message : the training system for Iraqi soldiers is a very sad joke. Rumsfeld’s pronouncements about the number of “trained” soldiers are ridiculous and wicked lies. The man is not in touch with reality.
There are some Iraqi military units in uniform. At best they are brutally incompetent. They are not soldiers because they have not been trained to be soldiers. This is a terrible legacy by the invaders. But what else did we expect? ‘