Flaws Cited in Effort To Train Iraqi Forces

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By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The U.S. military's effort to train Iraqi forces has been rife with problems, from officers being sent in with poor preparation to a lack of basic necessities such as interpreters and office materials, according to internal Army documents.

The shortcomings have plagued a program that is central to the U.S. strategy in Iraq and is growing in importance. A Pentagon effort to rethink policies in Iraq is likely to suggest placing less emphasis on combat and more on training and advising, sources say.

In dozens of official interviews compiled by the Army for its oral history archives, officers who had been involved in training and advising Iraqis bluntly criticized almost every aspect of the effort. Some officers thought that team members were often selected poorly. Others fretted that the soldiers who prepared them had never served in Iraq and lacked understanding of the tasks of training and advising. Many said they felt insufficiently supported by the Army while in Iraq, with intermittent shipments of supplies and interpreters who often did not seem to understand English.

The Iraqi officers interviewed by an Army team also had complaints; the top one was that they were being advised by officers far junior to them who had never seen combat.

Some of the American officers even faulted their own lack of understanding of the task. "If I had to do it again, I know I'd do it completely different," reported Maj. Mike Sullivan, who advised an Iraqi army battalion in 2004. "I went there with the wrong attitude and I thought I understood Iraq and the history because I had seen PowerPoint slides, but I really didn't."

Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top U.S. military commander for the Middle East, told Congress last week that he plans to shift increasing numbers of troops from combat roles to training and advisory duties. Insiders familiar with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group say that next month the panel will probably recommend further boosts to the training effort. Pentagon officials are considering whether the number of Iraqi security forces needs to be far larger than the current target of about 325,000, which would require thousands more U.S. trainers.

Most recently, a closely guarded military review being done for the Joint Chiefs of Staff laid out three options for Iraq. It appears to be favoring a version of one option called "Go Long" that would temporarily boost the U.S. troop level -- currently about 140,000 -- but over time would cut combat presence in favor of training and advising. The training effort could take five to 10 years.

Despite its central role in Iraq, the training and advisory program is not well understood outside narrow military circles. Congress has hardly examined it, and training efforts lie outside the purview of the special inspector general on Iraq reconstruction. The Army has done some studies but has not released them. Even basic information, such as how many of the 5,000 U.S. military personnel involved are from the National Guard and Reserves, is unusually difficult to obtain.

But the previously unreported transcripts of interviews conducted by the Army's Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., offer a view into the program, covering a time from shortly after the 2003 invasion until earlier this year.

One of the most common complaints of the Army officers interviewed was that the military did a poor job of preparing them. "You're supposed to be able to shoot, move and communicate," said Lt. Col. Paul Ciesinski, who was an adviser in northern Iraq last year and this year. "Well, when we got to Iraq we could hardly shoot, we could hardly move and we could hardly communicate, because we hadn't been trained on how to do these things." The training was outdated and lackadaisical, he said, adding sarcastically: "They packed 30 days' training into 84 days."

Sullivan, who advised three infantry companies in the Iraqi army, called the U.S. Army's instruction for the mission "very disappointing."

Nor were the officers impressed by some of their peers. Maj. Jeffrey Allen, an active-duty soldier, noted that all other members of his team were from the National Guard, and that his team was supposed to have 10 members but was given only five. He described his team as "weak . . . in particular the brigade team chief."


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