View Full Version : Army Expands Training for Advisers Who Will Try to Improve Iraq’s Security Forces

11-25-06, 07:42 AM
November 25, 2006
Army Expands Training for Advisers Who Will Try to Improve Iraq’s Security Forces

FORT RILEY, Kan., Nov. 18 — This wind-swept stretch of Kansas has become the hub of a major new push by the United States Army to overhaul its effort to advise Iraq’s fledgling security forces.

Following a disappointing performance by many Iraqi units and complaints that earlier efforts to train American advisers had been handicapped by bureaucratic inertia, the Army has handed the mission to Maj. Gen. Carter F. Ham, who had a previous stint as a commander in Iraq.

Along with nearly 1,000 soldiers from his First Infantry Division, General Ham has sought to improve the training of the advisers as the Army has moved to upgrade the quality of these teams.

The revamped effort began with little fanfare this summer, but has gained prominence in recent weeks as experts inside and outside the government have recommended that the military expand the advisers’ ranks as part of a renewed push to strengthen the Iraqi security forces.

The Army is “transitioning from an endeavor that has been less than a high priority to one that is of the highest priority,” said Jack Keane, a retired four-star general who served as the Army vice chief of staff during the first months of the war. “And it is long overdue.”

Senior American military commanders calculate that strengthening the Iraqi forces, paired with efforts at political reconciliation by the Iraqi government, will enable the Iraqis to take more responsibility for their security and allow the United States to eventually begin withdrawing its forces.

But to date, the Iraqi Army has had trouble providing all the reinforcements American commanders have requested for the stepped-up security operation in Baghdad, even as the level of sectarian violence there soars. At the same time, Iraq’s government has yet to confront the country’s militias, some of which have significant sway over police units. It remains far from clear whether increasing the number and caliber of American advisers can provide enough of the security gains the United States is seeking.

Still, in recent exercises, the would-be advisers were confronted with an early dose of reality, in training that included some of the vexing scenarios they are likely to face in Iraq: an Iraqi battalion commander quarreling angrily with his Iraqi police counterpart, Iraqi troops who roughed up a detainee and an Iraqi crowd irate at the troops who had conducted a surprise raid.

The American Army has long experience in training and deploying military advisers, most notably in Vietnam. There, the Army began with an active advisory program before the fighting escalated into a major conflict. In Iraq, however, the war began with major combat; American advisers, now called “transition teams,” were introduced later, almost as an afterthought. “When we first started this transition-team business in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it was very much a hit-and-miss proposition,” said General Ham, who acknowledged that the program faced early problems. “The selection of individuals for duty on transition teams was probably more haphazard than any of us would have liked. The training was not standardized across the various training locations. It does not appear that it was well-resourced across the force.

“I think that was what led to some of the earlier criticisms, and in my view the criticism was fair and justified,” General Ham added. “We need to do it better, and this initiative that started the training here at Fort Riley is a part of that.”

There are currently more than 4,000 American troops organized into more than 430 teams to advise the Iraqi Army, police forces and border guards. General John P. Abizaid, the head of the United States Central Command, said recently that the United States planned to increase the size of the teams, which generally have 11 members, so that they can better train Iraqi battalions, which can have more than 700 soldiers. General Abizaid also said that the plan was to attach the advisers not only to Iraqi battalions but also at lower levels, to companies and possibly even platoons. Those ideas, however, have yet to be incorporated in the advisers’ training program.

General Ham worked with senior officers from two of his brigades to organize the program, which lasts a jam-packed 60 days. Soldiers practice a variety of combat skills, including how to counter the ever-present roadside bombs. They also receive some cultural training and, for those headed to Iraq, 50 hours of Arabic language instruction — enough to provide only the most rudimentary skills but more training than most advisers had previously received. There is additional training in Kuwait and at the sprawling American military base at Taji, Iraq.

According to General Ham, the advisory teams include more active-duty soldiers than during the early days of the program, when reservists were more commonly used. As a matter of Army policy, staffing the teams is now a higher priority for Army personnel officers than filling the empty slots in units on alert to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to current plans, Fort Riley will train the majority of the Army teams that are sent to advise the Iraqi Army, national police and border guards. The rest of the Army teams are to be drawn from units in Iraq. (The Marines train their own advisers separately.)

In the field, the teams are managed by Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard, an assistant division commander, who provides feedback to Fort Riley. The expectation is that American advisers will still be attached to Iraqi military and police units even after the withdrawal of American combat forces is under way.

“I feel like we’ll be the last men standing at the end of the U.S. presence here,” General Pittard observed in August.

Maj. Andrew Yerkes, who is leading a team that is to advise Iraq’s National Police, was thrust in a difficult situation during a recent exercise. A squabble broke out between a person playing the role of an Iraqi battalion commander and another acting as an Iraqi police captain over how to secure the town, a possible situation since Iraq’s army is largely Shiite and the police in Sunni areas are recruited from local communities. Within minutes, the Iraqi battalion commander stormed off, leaving Major Yerkes and his soldiers to ponder how they might better defuse tensions in the future.

“It showed my team a different piece of culture we have not been exposed to and forced us to think our way through a problem,” he said.

General Ham is still looking for ways to improve the training. For instance, he hopes to arrange for the teams of advisers to do some training with the American combat brigades they will work with in Iraq.

Another constraint is the absence of actual Iraqis, or in the case of teams being trained for Afghan duty, Afghan soldiers.

Qualified Iraqi commanders are needed far more urgently in Iraq, so the roles of commanders, interpreters and townspeople in the exercises are played by American soldiers and contractors who were born in Iraq or are of Arab descent. (The battalion commander in Major Yerkes’s exercise lives in San Diego and left Iraq many years ago.)

Even so, the trainees say the exercises are useful. Maj. William Cotty, one of a small number of Special Forces officers who have volunteered to serve as advisers, is leading an advisory team that will be assigned to an Iraqi Army unit. A seasoned officer who served in Colombia and Afghanistan, Major Cotty was put to the test during a raid he conducted with a mock Iraqi battalion commander.

Major Cotty helped the “Iraqis” plan a raid to capture a suspected insurgent in the fictional town of Surdash, speaking through an interpreter to the battalion commander, in this case an Arabic-speaking American soldier who was born in Sudan. In the exercise, the operation led to a firefight in which a suspected insurgent was killed. The “Iraqis” hauled away a captive and began to pummel him as an angry crowd began yelling at the Americans. In an effort to disperse the crowd, Major Cotty fired several blanks into the air.

At a review conducted immediately afterward, the advisers were cautioned to make sure the suspected insurgents they planned to capture had not been picked out by Iraqi units as part of a sectarian or personal vendetta.

Officers observing the exercise also suggested that the major might have taken other steps before firing warning shots, since the shots might encourage Iraqi soldiers to fire wildly. The Americans, for example, might have brought along a loudspeaker and used their interpreter to talk to the townspeople about the point of the raid. Major Cotty said the exercise was helpful.

“According to the book on direct action, I had speed, surprise and violence of action,” he said. “The number one thing I probably took away from this was the loudspeaker,” he said.