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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part III

Toward the Objective: Building a New Iraq

Chapter 11
Training the Iraqi Security Forces


CJTF-7 Creates the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC)

While the CPA and CMATT were planning and beginning to create the NIA in the summer of 2003, Coalition units throughout Iraq were confronted with a deteriorating security situation. Faced with an increasing number of security tasks, Army commanders exercised their initiative to create ad hoc paramilitary units to deal with local and regional security problems. Lieutenant General Sanchez and General John Abizaid, the commander of CENTCOM, developed the sketchy concept for these forces that they called the ICDC. They based their design on similar programs that both leaders had overseen in Kosovo.53 To get the program running, CJTF-7 directed each multinational division to stand up a single ICDC battalion. In early 2004 CJTF-7 massively expanded the program to one ICDC battalion in each of Iraq’s 18 provinces. By late 2004 the program was expanded again to 60+ battalions that were then combined and renamed the ING. The ICDC gave US operations an “Iraqi face,” soaked up unemployed young men to keep them out of the insurgency, and increased the number of security forces available to the new government. Although the ICDC had very little capacity for independent military action and was viewed as a temporary measure, it provided crucial Iraqi involvement in operations.54 Colonel Greg Gardner, the chief of staff for Walt Slocombe, explained:

The idea was that these were locally recruited Iraqis, recruited from the area where that division was operating, they would stay at home at night, they would live at home, we would keep their weapons at work, and we gave them a particular type of uniform that we purchased for them. They would work during the day doing physical labor type details or security details securing physical locations. We would feed them one meal a day, and then they would go home at night.55

The ICDC expanded quickly in the fall 2003 as nearly every US division created its own program. The overall effort progressed from 1 battalion per division to 2 battalions for each of the 18 provinces of Iraq for a total of 36.56 Some commanders embraced the idea while others saw it as a distraction. The leaders of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment (3d ACR) saw great promise in creating the paramilitary units. Using Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) money, the 3d ACR built the Navea Training Center, named after Specialist Rafael Navea who was killed on 27 August 2003 when an improvised explosive device (IED) struck his vehicle in Fallujah, Iraq. Located between the towns of Al Asad and Hit, the regiment’s 2d Battalion, 5th Field Artillery managed the center and trained about 2,000 Iraqis, who then supported the 1st, 2d, and 3d Squadrons of the regiment.57 Other divisions became similarly involved with the ICDC. Colonel James Hickey’s 1st BCT of the 4th ID trained over 1,000 ICDC troops.58 By 21 Augut 2003 the CENTCOM Commander, General Abizaid, reported that 23,000 ICDC members were working with the Coalition.59 They served as linguists, security personnel, drivers, and humanitarian relief providers, and they participated in patrols, convoys, cordons, and checkpoints.60

The ICDC program initially became a source of friction between the CPA and CJTF-7, one symptom of the larger lack of unity of command and effort within the Coalition. To Bremer, the ICDC effort looked like an attempt by the military to artificially inflate the number of Iraqis engaged in security work by using poorly trained forces to substitute for US and Coalition troops.61 He also viewed the program as a diversion from CJTF-7’s primary effort of defeating the insurgency, as well as a potential diversion of funds from the CPA’s own military and police building programs. Individual ICDC units also tended to be dominated by single ethnic groups or religious sects because they were drawn from specific locales. This characteristic ran counter to the CPA plan for diversity in Iraq’s new security forces.

Leaders in CJTF-7 and CENTCOM strongly disagreed with the CPA’s view; they felt the program complemented CPA’s efforts to stand up a professional army. Both Lieutenant General Sanchez and General Abizaid saw the ICDC as a critical means of employing Iraqi men, improving the ability of US units to work with the Iraqi population, and giving Iraq greater responsibility for its own security and future. US Army units in Iraq simply could not wait 6 years, 2 years, or even 18 months for CPA programs to bear fruit. Moreover, Sanchez and Abizaid viewed the program as temporary and likely to be folded into the CPA’s broader efforts in the near future.62 In CPA Order No. 28, issued on 3 September 2003, Bremer somewhat reluctantly sanctioned the ICDC and officially made it part of the IAF alongside the NIA.63

Many US units were proud of their ICDC units and credited them with filling a huge void that the CPA simply could not address at this point in the campaign. Lieutenant Aaron Boal, an officer in the 1st Squadron, 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment (2d ACR) operating in and around Baghdad in 2003 and 2004, was one of the pioneers in the ICDC program. As a platoon leader and later a staff officer in the 2d ACR, Boal recruited for, trained, and operated with ICDC units. Boal’s squadron decided to commit precious assets to the effort, selecting officers and NCOs who had any measure of experience working with military forces from other countries. While Boal and his colleagues went into the mission with a great deal of enthusiasm, they met a number of obstacles, the most daunting of which were the lack of resources, language and cultural barriers, and uneducated and unskilled recruits.64

After graduating from a 1-week course in rudimentary military skills conducted at a training center established by the 2d ACR, the ICDC recruits reported to Boal and other Soldiers at the squadron level. Boal then formed them into squads or platoons and launched them into operations alongside 2d ACR units. One officer and a handful of NCOs advised the ICDC units. Over time, the squadron developed its own more extensive basic training programs that built on the 1-week program. Eventually, they chose the best and brightest Iraqi recruits to serve as NCOs and officers. Despite this selection process, Boal and his team found the instilling of discipline, initiative, and decisionmaking skills into ICDC leaders challenging.65 ICDC soldiers and units, however, did prove adept at collecting information, which became integrated into the 2d ACR’s intelligence gathering system.66 Over time, Boal’s advisors and ICDC soldiers grew to understand and respect one another. By the time of their departure from Iraq, he felt ICDC advisors were even more physically and mentally exhausted than others in the squadron because of the additional set of tasks they had performed. Yet Boal believes the ICDC program was integral to the success his squadron enjoyed in Baghdad in 2003 and early 2004.

In December 2003 CJTF-7 tasked the commander of the CJSOTF-AP to provide SF teams to assist conventional units with training the ICDC. By early 2004 SF Soldiers were working with 1st Cavalry Division (1st CAV) and 1st AD units to provide a more standardized, rigorous program of military training. Different units, however, had varying views of how best to employ the ICDC, and hence, what training was appropriate. Some wanted to continue to use the ICDC for reconstruction, static guard, and infrastructure protection. The Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF) commander and others wanted to train the ICDC to take more active roles in counterinsurgency and foreign internal defense operations. While debates about the proper use of the ICDC raised tensions between conventional forces and SF, those issues were resolved without great damage to the overall effort. In one unique case, the 1st AD and SF personnel worked together to train the 36th ICDC Battalion—an ethnically and religiously integrated unit that was given specialized training and deployed to conduct counterinsurgent missions in the capital.67

Despite a measure of success in the initial months of the program, the ICDC program faced many obstacles. The ICDC’s proficiency and effectiveness were directly tied to the type of training and equipment they received from their US partner units. In a few cases, lack of US effort led to ICDC members feeling that the Coalition did not take them seriously.68 As US units began to employ ICDC units in patrolling and other security missions, the lack of training, equipment, and sustainment systems put them at great risk. ICDC units did not have permanent bases or support systems in most areas, situations that required their soldiers to live at home and report for duty each day. Neither police nor full-time soldiers, the ICDC existed in a dangerous gray zone between these two poles.

Chapter 11. Training the Iraqi Security Forces

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