Friday, February 09, 2007

Train Iraqis?

One of the more controversial points in Thursday’s presentation was the recommendation for the US to abandon, temporarily at least, the training of Iraqi security forces. The argument is that training Iraqis at this time has a higher opportunity cost than does focusing solely on a US led counterinsurgency. This viewpoint has a few flaws.

It is argued that the US should exercise caution in training and equipping Iraqi forces since such accoutering may be turned against the US down the road. But unless the US plans to provide security in Iraq indefinitely, it must eventually outfit and train an effective Iraqi security force. The longer this is delayed, the more turbulent will be the transition from a predominantly US military administration to an Iraqi one.

A well trained Iraqi security force would also provide a strong boost to the counterinsurgency. An Iraqi force would come naturally equipped with local knowledge—language ability, cultural and geographical awareness, understanding of community norms—and would also enhance domestic support for the war, two advantages that are highly valuable (perhaps vital) to waging counterinsurgency.[1] Indeed, Krepinevich argues that a key error in General Westmorland’s approach to the Vietnam war was his reluctance to improve coordination between the US and the ARVN. While there are salient differences between Vietnam and the current situation in Iraq, the principle of cooperating with indigenous anti-insurgency forces still applies.

Finally, training Iraqi forces is consistent with the nature of the ongoing conflict. The US is fighting a counterinsurgency, not against itself, but on behalf of another government. Accordingly, making full use of that government’s forces, cooperating with them and training them, is not only judicious but more or less demanded by the conventions of interstate relations. By relegating the role of Iraqi forces in the defense of their own nation, the US will only give credence to the criticisms of those who have described Iraq as a pawn on the US chessboard of international statecraft.

It may be that training Iraqis decreases the resources available for a purely US counterinsurgency. But the advantages that would be realized through an effective Iraqi force, not to mention the satisfaction it would give to international opinion, more than compensate for the loss.
[1] Joes, Anthony, Resisting Rebellion, The University Press of Kentucky, 122-155.

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