Experts mixed on increased US training effort in Iraq
‘What we’re likely to see is a continuation of what we’ve seen over the past year’, says one expert
The Obama administration’s plan to bolster its train and assist program for Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters is unlikely to have a significant impact on the tide of the conflict with Daesh, but it may enable previously limited outreach to Sunni groups, according to experts.
The White House announced the plan to deploy roughly 450 additional troops to Iraq Wednesday in a bid to offset recent battlefield losses and help Iraqi forces prepare for a campaign to retake western Iraq’s Anbar province from Daesh militants.
"What we’re likely to see is a continuation of what we’ve seen over the past year – a back and forth in Anbar Province between the Islamic State [Daesh] and the Iraqi military plus the Shia militias,” Mark Perry, an independent military and foreign affairs analyst said.
The additional training will take place in Anbar’s al-Taqaddum military base, according to the White House.
Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, fell back into the hands of Daesh on May 14, with U.S. officials initially scrambling to minimize the significance of the strategic defeat.
But Defense Secretary Ashton Carter strongly critiqued the performance of Iraqi forces as they fell to Daesh last month, questioning if they have the determination to meet Daesh in the battlefield.
"What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” Carter said. "They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight, they withdrew from the site, and that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL [Daesh] and defend themselves.”
The fall of the densely populated city exposes critical difficulties in pursuing the administration's strategy without a reliable military partner in Iraq.
"When the Islamic State [Daesh] militias come out in the open we kill them. When they burrow down into urban areas we can’t. The only way to really remove them from these urban areas is to fight them on the ground and the Iraqi army seems incapable of doing that,” Perry said.
The Obama administration has emphasized that the troops that retreated in Ramadi were not coalition-trained forces.
More than 9,000 Iraqi troops have completed training while an additional 3,000 are currently in the process, according to the White House. The U.S. and coalition partners are currently training Iraqi forces in al-Asad, Besmaya, Erbil and Tajib.
Hardin Lang, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said that while the increased U.S. training presence will "have a positive impact on their capability,” the boosted troop number "isn’t that large of an actual presence that is going to be focused on the fight.
"I don’t think the introduction of a couple hundred force protection and 50-60 trainers is going to be a game changer one way or the other, and I don’t think the administration thinks its going to be,” he said while breaking down estimates of the actual number of trainers that will be sent to Iraq apart from support personnel.
In addition to the increased training, however disputed its extent, the administration has sought to play up the potential outreach with Sunni tribes that could result from training in Anbar’s al-Taqaddum base.
"The Iraqis have quietly been saying to us ‘actually our focus is Anbar,’ and I think there’s a logic to that,” Lang said. "The insurgency against U.S. forces in the last decade was born in Anbar. ISIS was born in Anbar. The awakening originally happened in Anbar. The trends in Sunni politics take place in Anbar."
Sunni tribal groups in Iraq's restive Anbar Province proved invaluable in defeating militants widely seen as Daesh’s precursor – al-Qaeda in Iraq – during the U.S.-led invasion of the country.
"Many of these advisors will be people who they’ve known, who they’ve worked with before, who they may potentially trust. So it’s a bridge to a constituency that will be necessary if the Iraqi security forces are going to be able to, at any point, take ISIS on in a coherent fashion in Anbar,” Lang added.
Last Modified: 2015-06-11 08:19:57
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