MECCA SAUDI ARABIA - JANUARY 15: Saudi Special Forces attend a military show January 15, 2005 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Around two million Muslim pilgrims from around the world are expected to converge on the cities of Mecca and Medina for the holy Muslim day of Al-Hajj or Bilgirame Day.  (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images)

Pentagon mulls improving Iraqi troop training after fall of Ramadi – and that won’t work

Photo from a Jordanian site, dated 2011, entitled: Arab countries, wake up and reform your armies

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Thursday Pentagon officials have begun to examine how the U.S. military could better equip and train Iraqi troops after the recent fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi to Islamic State insurgents.

Carter told reporters on his plane to Asia that he had convened a group of defense policy officials and military officers from U.S. Central Command and the Pentagon’s Joint Staff to look at how “we can enhance, hasten” the mission to train and equip Iraqi forces.

The initial meeting took place on Tuesday before Carter departed on a trip to Asia.

“The events of recent weeks there (in Iraq) have highlighted the central importance of having a capable ground partner and that’s what the purpose of our train-and-equip program is. So we are looking,” Carter said...

This is an oldie but bears repeating in view of current circumstances: (1999) Why Arabs Lose Wars:

Arabic-speaking armies have been generally ineffective in the modern era.

Egyptian regular forces did poorly against Yemeni irregulars in the 1960s. Syrians could only impose their will in Lebanon during the mid-1970s by the use of overwhelming weaponry and numbers. Iraqis showed ineptness against an Iranian military ripped apart by revolutionary turmoil in the 1980s and could not win a three-decades-long war against the Kurds. The Arab military performance on both sides of the 1990 Kuwait war was mediocre.4 And the Arabs have done poorly in nearly all the military confrontations with Israel.

Why this unimpressive record? There are many factors—economic, ideological, technical—but perhaps the most important has to do with culture and certain societal attributes which inhibit Arabs from producing an effective military force…

…Including culture in strategic assessments has a poor legacy, for it has often been spun from an ugly brew of ignorance, wishful thinking, and mythology…

….I offer some assessments of the role of culture in the military training of Arabic-speaking officers.

Information as power: In every society information is a means of making a living or wielding power, but Arabs husband information and hold it especially tightly. U.S. trainers have often been surprised over the years by the fact that information provided to key personnel does not get much further than them…

Education Problems: Training tends to be unimaginative, cut and dried, and not challenging. Because the Arab educational system is predicated on rote memorization, officers have a phenomenal ability to commit vast amounts of knowledge to memory…

Officers vs. Soldiers: Arab junior officers are well trained on the technical aspects of their weapons and tactical know-how, but not in leadership, a subject given little attention. For example, as General Sa‘d ash-Shazli, the Egyptian chief of staff, noted in his assessment of the army he inherited prior to the 1973 war, they were not trained to seize the initiative or volunteer original concepts or new ideas. Indeed, leadership may be the greatest weakness of Arab training systems…

Decision-making and Responsibility: Decisions are made and delivered from on high, with very little lateral communication. This leads to a highly centralized system, with authority hardly ever delegated. Rarely does an officer make a critical decision on his own; instead, he prefers the safe course of being identified as industrious, intelligent, loyal—and compliant. Bringing attention to oneself as an innovator or someone prone to make unilateral decisions is a recipe for trouble. As in civilian life, conformism is the overwhelming societal norm; the nail that stands up gets hammered down…

Combined Arms Operations: A lack of cooperation is most apparent in the failure of all Arab armies to succeed at combined arms operations…

Security and Paranoia: Arab regimes classify virtually everything vaguely military…The obsession with security can reach ludicrous lengths.

Prior to the 1973 war, Sadat was surprised to find that within two weeks of the date he had ordered the armed forces be ready for war, his minister of war, General Muhammad Sadiq, had failed to inform his immediate staff of the order.

Should a war, Sadat wondered, be kept secret from the very people expected to fight it?…

Conclusion: It would be difficult to exaggerate the cultural gulf separating American and Arab military cultures. In every significant area, American military advisors find students who enthusiastically take in their lessons and then resolutely fail to apply them. The culture they return to—the culture of their own armies in their own countries—defeats the intentions with which they took leave of their American instructors…

…Change is unlikely to come until it occurs in the larger Arab political culture… Until Arab politics begin to change at fundamental levels, Arab armies, whatever the courage or proficiency of individual officers and men, are unlikely to acquire the range of qualities which modern fighting forces require for success on the battlefield.

For these qualities depend on inculcating respect, trust, and openness among the members of the armed forces at all levels, and this is the marching music of modern warfare that Arab armies, no matter how much they emulate the corresponding steps, do not want to hear.

Other evaluations: (2002) Dirty Little Secrets: Why Arabs Lose Wars

(2008) 1967 and memory

(2011) Murphy’s Law: Why Arabs Need Their Foreign Mercenaries

  • Arabs are irrational (due to their Islamic upbringing) and therefore incompetent.

    • k1992

      I agree that their islamic upbringing creates serious weaknesses in their societies, but if there is one thing that it seems to be good at, it is in creating a violent warrior caste. How else does one explain the success of ISIS? Are they successful in spite of their being muslim? I believe that islam in this case is powering their successful reign of terror and battlefield triumphs.

      • tom_billesley

        It’s a paradox. Arabs, with a terrorist religion, are prone to terror.

        • PeterR

          Yes, it’s odd. Arabs with a terrorist, inferior ideology swallowed a good chunk of the known world in the century or two after Mohamed’s death, thereby establishing the inferiority of their religion and culture to that of the peoples that they conquered.
          And they are expanding again into the western world through immigration. They are being invited in by the millions, presumably because their terrorist religion is so undesirable in the opinion of westerners. Very odd, indeed.

          • tom_billesley

            Initial expansion was against the Byzantines and Sassanid Persians who had already weakened each other in wars.

          • PeterR

            The Parthians had been weakened by centuries of warfare against Rome (particularly their humiliation at the hands of Trajan). That made them ripe for the picking – and the Sassanids took advantage, So what? The Sassanids proved to be the superior culture by their defeat of the Parthians, regardless of how it came about. Similarly, the Turks proved their culture superior to the Byzantine culture by destroying the latter’s empire and swallowing it.
            As to opinion polls showing that the immigrants arriving in Greece and Italy are unwanted – tell that to the leaders of western nations who continue to import muslims at record levels. Sweden, Canada, the US under Obama, all continue to flood their countries with muslims. It is well known that places like Belgium and Sweden will be muslim-majority nations by 2050, if not sooner. Canada is close behind.

          • Jay Currie

            Well the 4th Crusade didn’t help the Byzantines. They were holding their own until the Christians, eager for loot, sacked Constantinople.

          • PeterR

            That’s true – what a horrible betrayal from fellow “Christians”. But I think the disaster of Manzikert in 1071 was the real beginning of the end for the Byzantine Empire: I don’t think they ever recovered from that.

          • The Sassanids were in turn weakened by warfare with the Byzantines, and vice-versa, so that when the Muslims burst out of Arabia, they overcame two empires (part of the Byzantine) that were already very weak. It was not due to their superior culture (they were intellectually far inferior) or even their superior military power, but to their superior brutality and cruelty and their adversary’s weakened state. Similarly, the Turks overpowered the Byzantines over a period of two hundred years or so (from north and south) not due to superior culture but due to superior brutality and cruelty in battle and after.
            Likewise, if Muslims take over Europe and the West it will be due to the moral confusion and self-defeat of their victims rather than to any virtue of theirs. Essentially, all Muslims are backwards peoples, with nothing to offer the world other than fanaticism and violence. It is our weaknesses that offer them success on a platter.

          • MRHapla

            Parasites and vermin do out breed their hosts,,,,,,,doesn’t make them ‘superior” in the desirable fashion.

          • MRHapla

            Western “leadership” has been stuck on PCLib-ness for too long, the consequences of which are being felt, realized and , most importantly corrected.

        • MRHapla

          The Ottomans used Janissaries .(captive Christians)

      • Frau Katze

        ISIS succeeds by brute force terror.

      • Yes. If a thug breaks into your peaceful home, and you are not used to violence, he is likely by virtue of his habit of violence to overpower you. But if you are willing to fight back, you may overcome him. If say ‘you’ – I mean anyone of course (not intended as personal).

      • MRHapla

        psychotic murder monkey muslims for pislam is not a “warrior” caste.

        IS/Daesh is not a warrior concept,,it is a psychotic hostage taker, who gets put down when SWAT shows up

    • MRHapla

      I have always enjoyed how all them, The ME Muslim world, have been getting their azzizes handed to them, by lil ol Israel. Individually and collectively

      Talk about “God’s Will”.

  • Norman_In_New_York

    What would it take for the Pentagon to realize that you can’t shine shit?

    • Drunk_by_Noon

      You would have thought that they would have learned that after Vietnam.

      Not one drop of first-world blood should ever be spilled for the benefit of third-world people.
      Their fetid societies cause these problems, and they need to either fix them or be prepared to live with the consequences.

      • Minicapt

        The way it works is you create an Iraqi Army which has Officers and Senior NCOs from nations which have functioning militaries, and then man the ranks with Iraqis.
        It’s the traditional way.


        • Drunk_by_Noon

          Certain Gulf Countries are paying HUGE money right now for experienced Army and Marine NCOs.
          I mean crazy money.
          They do not have rank in their army, but they do have their own personal officer that follows them around to make sure the NCO’s orders are carried out.
          Very strange.

          • Jay Currie

            Love to see a link but it makes total sense. So does employing ex-IDF pilots to drive all those fancy jets effectively.

          • Drunk_by_Noon

            I don’t think they were running ads in the Wall Street Journal for those kinds of slots. They passed out lots of goodies and promised “more money per month than you would make as the highest paid general.
            They were recruiting HEAVY for the dudes rotating out of Afghanistan.

          • MRHapla

            Very Muslim.

    • MRHapla

      The Pentagon knows,,,the fault is in the electorate, those idiots who prize PCLibDemBS, diversity and self-loathing (going back to the hippie freaks of the 60s) that put such filth as Carter/Clinton/Obama in office.

  • simus1

    Ramadi’s “problem retreat” is much more likely to have originated in some sort of “misunderstanding” as to when necessary bribes to fight isis were to be distributed to the heroic defenders. So thousands of “well trained” security forces took off as a few hundred isis confronted them.

  • Alain

    The problem has never been a lack of training; it is everything except that.

  • Drunk_by_Noon

    “Why Arabs Lose Wars” is one of my all-time favorite citations.
    So much truth in one document.

  • Martin B

    Canada declared war on Germany on August 5, 1914. At the time there were only a couple of thousand men in the regular Canadian army. Within just a year or two, Canadian farm boys were turned into a fighting force that could face off against the Hun in the trenches and win:

    The Pentagon has spent 12 years trying to turn Iraqi farm boys into an army that isn’t a pathetic joke. It’s time to realize that’s never going to happen.

    • canminuteman

      Well said. I hadn’t read your post before I said the same thing. Great minds think alike.

  • tom_billesley

    Recruit women, they’d do better than Iraqi men.

  • canminuteman

    Canada effectively had no army in 1914. Within six months a division was raised, trained, equipped, shipped to Europe and fought it’s first battle against the best army in the world. And won. If Iraq hasn’t got effective troops now, they never will.

  • Xanthippa Socrates

    The only thing that was not explicitly mentioned in this article, but the effects of which were described, is the Islamic theological teaching that the locus of decisionmaking is external to the individual. Otherwise, excellent article!

  • Jay Currie

    The Arabs as ISIS is demonstrating make excellent fighters. They are quite capable of being trained but not in any way understood by American trainers.

    The cited article is excellent as far as it goes but the nature of Arab society simply means that the idea of forming units on a “nation state” basis is a non-starter.

    During the surge the Americans bribed tribes for their tribal allegiance. In so far as they fought, the bribed tribes fought as tribes. ISIS gets that.

    • Frau Katze

      True. They fight very well as tribes. After all, they’ve lived there, in a rough neighbourhood, for a long time.

      But they cannot form modern Western-style armies.

  • MRHapla

    Notice how our own Dear Leader, B. Hussein Obozo, Kenyan Khoomster , First/Last of his name…is micro managing the IS fight, double talking to suit whatever mob in front of him, self-serving,,but he’s not a “Muslim”,,,,,,,,,/sarc