Friday, January 29, 2016

Reinventing the Modern System

There has been some news about promising progress in the training program for new Iraqi Army brigades. US commanders are talking about applying the lessons learned from the Ramadi battle and how this will become the new standard for churning out the 8 brigades need to retake Mosul. This, combined with the shaping operations need before taking the plunge in Mosul (think Hawijah, Sharqat, and surrounding areas) means Mosul will likely go through 2016 still in ISIS hands.

As a student of war and history, I can't resist drawing analogies to WWI (while fully aware of the astronomical difference in scale). Almost exactly a 100 years ago, European armies and their generals struggled to find ways to break the bloody stalemate that gripped the western front in 1915-1916. That excruciatingly painful learning process eventually produced what many today call the modern system of warfare (thanks, professor Biddle!).

The Iraqi military today is not relearning skills and methods they had known before but forgotten since the 2003 war. The Iraqi military, in my view, never fully internalized the modern system, and is therefore learning from scratch. There are good reasons the 1980-1988 war with Iran is sometimes called "the last battle of WWI." Similarly, the strategic posture of the Iraqi army during the Gulf War 25 years ago also reflected pre-modern system way of doing business. Of course, some units in the army had been able to conduct maneuver warfare during the late stages of the Iran war and during the invasion of Kuwait, but the overall posture and doctrine were outdated. The situation only got worse during preparations for contact with the US military in early 2003.

After 2003 the building of the new built military also missed an opportunity to include training needed to produce a force capable of conducting proper modern system/combined arms warfare. The result was a "checkpoint army" that, putting aside corruption and morale issues, was ill-prepared for the job.

There were several years of *relative* peacetime during which this kind of training could have been done...but it's better late than never. I hope this effort will continue to retrain the whole army, not just the minimum required for Mosul.

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