In a rare blast of reality in the Democrat-loving New York Times, a guest column Thursday shredded President Obama‘s decision to send an additional 450 troops to the Middle East to train Iraqi soldiers as a failed strategy of “tokenism that reflects confusion at the top.”
Owen West, a Marine veteran who served two tours in Iraq, said the troops will live “inside secure bases nicknamed ‘lily pads,'” where they’ll train the Iraqis before sending the graduates outside the wire to fight the Islamic State.
But he believes that strategy is doomed for failure.
Mr. Obama has declared that advisers are not combat troops. But in fact, to influence battlefield performance, the adviser’s first job is to set the example in combat. The goal is to instill in the local force a sense of professional aggression — of seizing the offense — that must be demonstrated firsthand.
West said Obama will have to “renege on his ephemeral pledge not to engage in ground combat” if he truly wants to destroy ISIS. Pointing to the “surge” in 2007, West wrote that it was effective “because it partnered Americans with Iraqi soldiers and tribes.”
He then shared his own experiences in Iraq:
In 2006, I joined an adviser team in Habbaniya, halfway between Falluja and Ramadi, where the 450 Americans are headed. Our rotating group of 13 advisers lived on a remote outpost with 500 Iraqi soldiers, patrolling side by side. Even then, it took us three hard years to mold the battalion.
In 2005 and 2006, insurgents were shooting from houses where children were sleeping and blowing up themselves and dozens of bystanders in the market. No locals informed on the insurgents in their midst. Only by insisting on daily combat patrols were the advisers able to persuade the Iraqi soldiers that they could win the fight. We shared the risk; adviser casualties were over 30 percent.
West explained the Iraqis “gradually took pride in their own performance, mimicking the cocky Marines and their relentless advisers.” He said the Iraqi battalion eventually destroyed the insurgents, returning Habbaniya to “its peaceful existence as a lakeside retreat.”
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While proud of the battalion they worked hard to build, West said they were unnerved by the U.S. plan to withdraw all American troops by 2011, leaving no residual force.
Now the Islamic State controls the corridor. Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter publicly shamed the Iraqi Army, saying it had “no will to fight.” We should be careful about attributing blame. We advisers watched Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and his cronies gut the army when we precipitously left, using it as a sectarian collection agent fueled by favoritism. The intrepid young nationalists we groomed were left exposed at war’s sharp edge, year after year…
Mr. Obama, despite warnings of Mr. Maliki’s intentions, made no sincere effort to leave a sizable number of troops in Iraq past 2011. Now we’re sending in tiny groups, a few hundred at a time, to live on lily pads. That’s no way to instill the will to fight, yet Pentagon officials brag about numbers of “troops trained.”
But West insisted that the political problem of Iraq must come before the fighting.
Before entering ground combat, we have to fix the political problem. It would be insane to repeat our previous mistake and train an army to fight for the current Shiite government. Last year we trained not a single Sunni soldier, and our dollars continue to flow through Baghdad to Shiite militias…
Even with a thousand American advisers, Shiite soldiers today won’t fight for desolate Sunni lands. If we’re committed to a yearslong effort, money should flow directly to the end recipient of our choosing — whether that be the Iraqi Army, Kurds or Sunni tribesmen. Our current half-strategy opposes one enemy — the Islamic State — but benefits a much bigger threat, Iran.
West concluded by saying the U.S. needs to get the politics aligned with a commitment to destroy the Islamic State.
And if we fail to do that, he warned that “our advisers should expect the same heartbreak as those of us who fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and our fathers before us in Vietnam.”
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