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

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