Tuesday, December 21, 2004

President Bush on the ISF

During yesterday's press conference the President had this to say in response to a question of whether Iraqi troops are (in the reporter's words) "lacking in the willpower and commitment after they receive military training":

The ultimate success in Iraq is for the Iraqis to secure their country.

Now, I would call the results mixed, in terms of standing up Iraqi units who are willing to fight. There have been some cases where when the heat got on, they left the battlefield. That's unacceptable. Iraq will never secure itself if they have troops that when the heat gets on, they leave the battlefield. I fully understand that. On the other hand, there were some really fine units in Fallujah, for example, in Najaf, that did their duty. And so the -- our military trainers, our military leaders have analyzed what worked and what didn't work

Here's what -- first of all, recruiting is strong. The place where the generals [GEN Abizaid and GEN Casey] told me that we need to do better is to make sure that there is a command structure that connects the soldier to the strategy in a better way, I guess is the best way to describe it. In other words, they've got some generals in place and they've got foot soldiers in place, but the whole command structure necessary to have a viable military is not in place. And so they're going to spend a lot of time and effort on achieving that objective.

First of all, the reporter's question is very condescending towards the Iraqi people. It's one thing to question training, equipment, or leadership, but it's different to infer that Iraqi troops (who represent the Iraqi people as a whole) lack willpower and commitment.

The NYTimes, as well as others I'm sure, are framing the President's response as a no confidence vote:

With the first elections in Iraq six weeks away, Mr. Bush's public criticism of how the Iraqis had performed reflected mounting concern, voiced from the White House, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill, that the strategy for training 125,000 Iraqi forces to secure the country is failing.

I think the President's response is a fair assessment, and nothing at which to be disheartened. The "command structure" he's referring to is the platoon leaders and company and battalion commanders - middle management. In the US Army, a young officer's first assignment may be platoon leader, but he relies on his platoon sergeant (an experienced NCO) to keep him straight. A company commander normally has 5-7 years experience, and a battalion commander about 15 years.

Bottom line is that leading Soldiers effectively takes experience, and that requires time. Iraqi troops are gaining experience, but it's hardly realistic to expect them to be fully effective right now. For the most part they performed quite well in Fallujah, and as the President said, the recruiting is strong.

Experience and effectiveness will come with time, and as long as Iraqis are volunteering to fight the thugs trying to destroy their country, the victory will come.