Yesterday, there was a very depressing article in the Washington Post, on the subject of our attempts to train the Iraqi army. Training them to "stand up" so that we can "stand down" is obviously central to most of the proposals about what to do in Iraq that are currently being floated. I have generally been pretty pessimistic about training: it seems to me that training the Iraqi army is only a solution if lack of training is their central problem. But if, as I suspect, their central problem is that they are not loyal to the Iraqi government, then unless our training is somehow able to transform, say, a lifelong member of the Pesh Merga or the Badr Brigade into someone who takes direction from the government in Baghdad, then all the training in the world will not produce the results we need.
Still, it would be a good thing if our training were actually being done well. But apparently, like so many other things in this misbegotten war, it isn't:
"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. (...)
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."
A separate internal review this year by the military's Center for Army Lessons Learned, based on 152 interviews with soldiers involved in the training and advisory program, found that there was "no standardized guideline" for preparing advisers and that such instruction was needed because "a majority of advisors have little to no previous experience or training."
Lt. Col. Michael Negard, a spokesman for the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, the headquarters for training, said he has not seen the Lessons Learned report and so does not know whether the training has been improved or standardized since that report was issued.
After arriving in Iraq, advisers said, they often were shocked to find that the interpreters assigned to them were of little use. Ciesinski reported that at his base in western Nineveh province, "They couldn't speak English and we would have to fire them."
Nor were there enough interpreters to go around, said Sullivan. "It was a real juggling act" with interpreters, he said, noting that he would run from the headquarters to a company "to borrow an interpreter, run him over to say something, and then send him back."
But he was better off than Maj. Robert Dixon, who reported that during his tour in 2004, "We had no interpreters at the time."
The Center for Army Lessons Learned study, whose contents were first reported by the Wall Street Journal, found one unit that learned after 10 frustrating months that its interpreters were "substandard" and had been translating the advisers' instructions so poorly that their Iraqi pupils had difficulty understanding the concepts being taught.
Trainers and advisers also reported major problems with the Army supply chain. "As an adviser, I got the impression that there was an 'us' and 'them' " divide between the advisers and regular U.S. forces, said Maj. Pete Fedak, an adviser near Fallujah in 2004. "In other words, there was an American camp and then, outside, there was a bermed area for the Iraqis, of which we were part."
Replacing basic office materials was one of the toughest problems advisers reported. "Guys would come under fire so they could get computer supplies, paper and things like that," Sullivan said. "It was a surreal experience.""
Surreal is the word.
According to our President, we are training the Iraqi army to stand up so that we can stand down. One might imagine, then, that the army would be focussing a lot of attention on making sure that its training mission was carried out competently, and that it had the supplies it needed. One might also imagine that the civilians in the Pentagon might be trying to make sure that the army was doing this: that important issues were not slipping through the cracks. Apparently, one would be wrong.
I just have to ask: is there anything this administration does competently?