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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


The Unit Advisory Effort Begins in Earnest

The creation of MNSTC-I marked a renewed effort to increase the size and effectiveness of the Coalition advisory effort in Iraq. From the original 350 Soldiers performing advisory duties as their sole mission in November 2003 (as opposed to Soldiers assigned to US tactical units with duty as advisors), the program grew to around 1,200 advisors by November 2004.136 CMATT had initially filled its advisor corps with individual Soldiers and Marines hastily provided by the Services and often lacking specific preparation for serving as advisors. Many of the early advisors were volunteers; some were assigned the duty from US Army Combat Training Centers (CTCs) and some from Training Support Brigades (TSBs) which worked with National Guard tactical units. Soldiers from the CTCs and the TSBs were some of the Army’s most experienced trainers and were familiar with advising US tactical units in training. The number of advisors that came from these units, however, was small because each of these organizations also needed to train the Active and Reserve Component units for future deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The early advisors to the ISF faced enormous challenges and performed near miracles in sustaining themselves and advising their Iraqi counterparts in the initial months of the mission. Very few had received any training for the advisory mission, partly a result of the extremely short deployment timelines and partly because, other than its Special Forces (SF) training programs, the US Army did not have courses that trained tactical unit advisors. Further, the SF schools had limited capacity and were not prepared to teach Arabic or Kurdish to a large group of advisors headed to Iraq. Most Soldier and Marine advisors deployed without a deep understanding of the Iraqi culture and almost none could speak Iraqi Arabic.137

As one of the early volunteer advisors to the NIA, Major Jeffrey Allen experienced firsthand the shortcomings of the Coalition ISF program. Allen departed for Iraq from the US Army War College in August 2004 without any specific preparation for advising units. Though his advisory team was authorized 10 Soldiers, Allen had only 5, including 4 Army National Guard volunteers. Once in Iraq, Allen had difficulties securing much-needed equipment and other support for both his team and for the 18th Battalion of the NIA, the unit he was advising. The Coalition military command had not yet established the proper contracting systems, accountability of local Iraqis was nonexistent, and support from Coalition military forces including US Army units was minimal. Allen recalled that of all the problems he faced, the inability to secure basic support services was the single most pressing issue: “Culture, the threat of insurgents—all of that paled in comparison to [the lack of] any sort of logistical support.”138

Putting Iraqis in charge of rebuilding their forces was extremely important. One method for achieving this was encouraging the newly trained Iraqis to teach classes while Coalition members served as mentors to the Iraqi trainers. Consequently, Coalition team members formed advisory support teams to coach and mentor the new Iraqi forces while Iraqi instructors provided the formal training. Allen described the guidance he received:

My clear guidance was to coach and to mentor but not to teach. You normally say coach, teach, mentor. My job, at least in a formal environment, was not to teach. Not to stand up in front of a classroom and teach the classes: the Iraqis were to do that. What we were to do was to coach and mentor the leadership on all aspects of being a modern military, from how to organize a staff, how to prepare for and conduct training, how to take care of their soldiers—and it really became all-encompassing.139

Though Allen and his team faced many challenges, including the desertion or dismissal of seven battalion commanders in a span of 8 weeks before a Kurdish executive officer was chosen and proved effective, he found most junior officers and NCOs very receptive to the advice from their US advisors. He found that Kurdish soldiers were especially eager to learn. The 18th Battalion and the 3d Brigade operated in Fallujah in late 2004 and performed well. Despite the difficulties he and his team encountered, Allen called his tour as an advisor the most rewarding experience he could imagine in Iraq.140

Major Peter Fedak, an Army Armor officer, deployed to Iraq and CMATT from the Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) in Germany in March 2004, after he and some members of his observer-controller team volunteered in December 2003. Because they were experienced observer-controllers, Fedak and his team received minimal preparation, attending several days of classes on the advisor mission, Arabic language, and Iraqi culture after they arrived at the Taji Training Center near the city of Taji, Iraq. His team was not impressed with their initial briefings or training. They were at the Taji center when the Iraqi 2d Battalion was ordered to Fallujah in early April and refused to go, leaving one member of his team, Army Captain Mike Sullivan, to remark, “We sat there scratching our heads thinking, ‘What did we get into?’”141 Fedak led a 10-man team consisting of 2 captains, 1 master sergeant, and 7 sergeants first class. They became the advisors to the 6th Battalion of the NIA, joining a Marine-led team advising the 5th Battalion and another Army-led team from CMTC that advised the 7th Battalion. On 1 April 2004 these units and their advisors moved together from Taji to Kirkush and became part of the 3d Brigade of the Iraqi Army, which was then forming.142

Fedak and his team first trained the officers and NCOs to prepare them for the arrival of the battalion’s junior soldiers. Fedak task-organized the team, giving himself and his senior NCO the job of advising the Iraqi commander and supervising the overall team effort. The captains advised the Iraqi battalion staff officers while the sergeants first class advised each of the battalion’s companies. Because the Iraqi Army historically lacked the tradition of a professional NCO Corps, it took some time for the American NCOs to earn the respect of Iraqi officers and further to convince them to give responsibility to their own NCOs. The team also found it challenging to build rapport with their Iraqi counterparts. Fedak recalled:

It takes a lot longer in the Middle Eastern culture to establish that rapport than in America . . . I think over time we grew closer. Fast forward from forming up in April to actually rolling out to Fallujah in November 2004, which was approximately 7 months later, that core group was pretty tight. There was a high level of respect both ways. My respect grew quite a bit for the Iraqi troops and what they’ve gone through and understanding their cultural aspects . . . how to look at it from their point of view, versus always imposing an American point of view.143

In training their battalions, the initial US advisor teams could not rely on a standardized program. Indeed, in the spring of 2004, the Coalition was still developing programs of instruction and other written training. The tactics, techniques, and procedures taught by each team bore the stamp of their unique backgrounds. The Marine team relied on Marine training methods and experiences, and the two Army teams from the CMTC used their own backgrounds to set up the training programs for their Iraqi battalions. As Sullivan remembered, “You could tell who trained each battalion just by watching them.”144

The US advisor team for the 7th Battalion, under Army Major Robert Dixon, followed a training schedule with their Iraqi officers, NCOs, and enlisted soldiers that was similar to that created by Fedak’s team. Dixon and his Soldiers worked without any interpreters at first, relying on English speaking Iraqis. The goal was to prepare the Iraqi officers and NCOs to lead the training when their recruits reported to the battalion. They spent 4 weeks working on individual movement and marksmanship skills, then 4 weeks on squad level skills and convoy procedures. The training had to be done quickly because after graduation and personal leave, the 7th Battalion was scheduled to become operational in August 2004. They would ultimately take part in Operation BATON ROUGE fighting alongside Task Force 1-18th Infantry of the 1st ID. After the battle, Soldiers from the 98th Division of the USAR replaced Dixon’s team in a planned rotation of US advisors.145

The 5th and 6th Battalions of the 3d Brigade endured their baptism of fire when they joined US Marine and Army forces in the fighting in Operation AL FAJR in and around Fallujah in early November 2004. The 5th Battalion followed Marine and Army forces into the city and took part in clearing the insurgents from the town. The 6th Battalion, with an Army advisor team, was attached to the 2d Brigade of the 1st CAV and took part in operations to cordon off the city. While the planners of AL FAJR did not assign the 6th Battalion its own sector—a decision that disappointed both the battalion’s leaders and its US advisors—the unit was used to supplement US forces at key points in the cordon where contact with Iraqis was likely and it performed its mission particularly well. The battalion’s chief advisor attributed the reluctance of the US planners to assign sole responsibility for a sector to the Iraqis on previous American experience working with poorly trained and equipped ICDC units.146

Both CMATT and CPATT advisors worked hard to overcome the culture of officer privilege, excessive centralization of decisionmaking, and unwillingness to take initiative that had debilitated the security forces under Saddam Hussein. Coalition police training teams, for example, mentored IPS cadets to reject these cultural norms.147 The CPATT also emphasized mentoring as a way of improving police performance. Major Shauna Hauser, a MNSTC-I police planner, explained the importance of allowing Iraqi police officers to exercise initiative:

As we move away from being in charge of operations and directing things, it becomes more important that we work with them and not direct them. And assisting doesn’t necessarily mean doing it for them, but trying to give them the tools. And if they do it in a way that you wouldn’t do it, but it still accomplishes what you wanted to accomplish, then that’s okay.149

American advisors quickly learned to accept some Iraqi cultural rituals as a prerequisite for accomplishing their missions. Major Mike Sullivan, one of the US Army advisors for the 6th Iraqi Battalion recalled the “chai story” as one of the examples of learning to work within Iraqi norms. That story merits quoting at length:

I’d never had chai before—the hot tea that the Arabs drink—and after the first week or two of basic training, we realized that chai was critical to mission success. If they didn’t have their chai, things were out of whack. So the first time we were going out to the range, the battalion executive officer (XO) asked how they were going to get their chai. Well, I told him they wouldn’t be getting it. We had box lunches for them and bottles of water, but we just can’t bring hot tea out to the range. He basically said that if they didn’t get chai, they wouldn’t train. And me, being the stubborn Army guy, told them they were going to the range. They were going to the field, they had to suck it up, and I didn’t care about their chai. They just insisted that they wouldn’t go if they didn’t get it and said they would quit. At this point, I was in a quandary because I was so frustrated thinking this would never happen in an American unit. Long story short, we brought out the damn chai. We got a truck and a big metal container of scalding hot chai in the 110 degree desert sun. We had chai for lunch and everybody was happy. That literally was the decisive point for that training event—not shooting their weapons or understanding the marksmanship, but whether or not they were going to have chai for lunch.149

Many other Army officers told similar stories about the importance of chai and conversation as preludes to serious discussions or training. Sullivan’s comments are especially revealing because they describe how US advisors brought their own cultural biases into their relationship with Iraqi Soldiers, and how some Americans learned to compromise their own norms, however grudgingly, to accomplish the mission with their Iraqi counterparts. Cultural sensitivity, patience, and sheer determination became the hallmark of the CMATT, CPATT, and MNSTC-I advisory teams. In 2005 Lieutenant General Petraeus praised the performance of those units, stating, “Those 10-man teams are real heroes. Our country should be very, very proud of them. They are with every single battalion, brigade headquarters, division headquarters, ground forces headquarters, even in the ministries, the joint force headquarters and so forth, and they’re helping enormously.”150

In addition to the concentrated efforts of advisors assigned to the CPA and MNSTC-I programs, Coalition military units in Iraq continued to provide mentorship and training to the former ING battalions and to the IPS. During the Mahdi Army uprising in April 2004, the 2d ACR helped support and train the Iraqi police in the city of Diwaniyah by conducting joint dismounted patrols throughout the city.151 The 1st CAV and 1st ID provided just over 600 of their Soldiers to serve as advisors to the ISF in the summer of 2004.152 The 1st CAV focused on this effort throughout their mission. Colonel Stephen Lanza, commander of the 5th BCT, reported a very high rate of police recruiting through a process of working with local sheiks and imams. By involving local leadership, the Iraqis were able to take ownership of the process and insurgent attacks on the new recruits decreased.153

In the late summer and fall of 2004, the first group of advisors drawn from a US Army unit (as opposed to advisors drawn from individual volunteers or selectees) began to arrive in Iraq. Most of them were from the 98th Division (Institutional Training) or DIVIT, nicknamed the “Iroquois Warriors.”154 These Army Reserve Soldiers were cadres of senior NCOs and officers who in peacetime ran training schools and individual training programs for USAR and National Guard Soldiers. Major General James Helmly, chief of the USAR in 2003 and 2004, had begun studying the idea of deploying elements of a DIVIT in the late fall of 2003. Initially, the USAR, the Army G3, and the 98th Division discussed creating an organization known as the Foreign Army-Training Assistance Command (FA-TRAC) to conduct the mission. This organization would deploy to Iraq and provide the permanent command and control structure for other units and Soldiers involved in the ISF training program. Other Soldiers would form the ASTs that would conduct the training of Iraqi soldiers and mentoring of Iraqi units.

The training of foreign forces was not the designated mission for USAR institutional training divisions, and the Army never implemented the FA-TRAC concept because the establishment of MNSTC-I made it unnecessary. But Helmly tried hard to convince leaders on his own staff as well as those in the Department of the Army that the USAR could conduct the mission.155 The Army National Guard had assumed the mission of providing trainers for the Afghan Army training program in the summer of 2003, and Helmly admitted some institutional rivalry affected the process.156 To move the USAR closer to the point where it could play a major role in training the ISF, in May 2004 Helmly told Major General Bruce E. Robinson, commanding general of the 98th Division, to begin preparing for the mission.

The USAR proposed the concept of employing its units to man much of the new MNSTC-I organization to Lieutenant General Petraeus in the Pentagon on 2 June 2004, just days before he took command in Iraq. Petraeus approved the concept for further study. After a mission analysis by the 98th’s staff, a more complete plan was briefed to Major General Helmly on 15 June, and then to the Army G3, Lieutenant General Richard Cody, who approved it on 18 June 2004. Brigadier General Richard Sherlock, the assistant division commander of the 98th Division, and others in the USAR and 98th Division understood the mission to involve the establishment of training academies and individual training programs for the NIA at several locations. They also understood that the 98th would deploy a task-organized piece of the division that would be attached to MNSTC-I for the mission.157 The leaders of the 98th Division, however, found that more specific information about the details of the program was hard to come by in the Pentagon, especially because the inauguration of MNSTC-I focused attention and resources elsewhere.

Without a complete understanding of their mission, senior members of the division left for Iraq hoping to begin preparations for the arrival of their Soldiers. Colonel Frank Cipolla, a commander for an engineer basic training brigade in the division, led a three-man team to Iraq a week later as the advance party. Sherlock and nine others joined them for a reconnaissance and analysis of the mission from mid-July to early August. During their trip, the 98th’s leaders discovered that MNSTC-I already had a command and control structure in place and needed individuals, not units, to man that structure. They also learned that the 98th’s mission would begin with training new recruits and units, but that the division’s Soldiers assigned to the ASTs would stay with their Iraqi units after they graduated and became operational. This was a surprise and represented a dramatic increase in the scope of the mission for the 98th because it expanded their role from simply preparing new soldiers during their initial training to advising them in combat.158

Between late 2004 and late 2005 approximately 900 Soldiers of the 98th Division served in MNSTC-I as members of the command’s staff, as school instructors, and as advisors to Iraqi units. Iroquois Soldiers manned 31 of the first 39 ASTs envisioned for the initial three divisions of the Iraqi Army, the others were manned by the Marines and some by Coalition nations.159 Before deploying, these Reservists attended stateside training at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, to prepare for the mission. Many of them considered the training to be of limited value as the Army and the Atterbury trainers themselves were unfamiliar with the mission for which they were preparing the Iroquois Soldiers to perform. On arrival in Kuwait, they completed some theater-specific training before moving into Iraq; this training was more focused and useful.160 Once part of MNSTC-I, the members of the 98th Division worked through the growing pains of becoming comfortable with the enlarged scope of their mission. Some of them also endured open skepticism from Active Duty counterparts about their ability to do the advisory mission.161 The AST members met their new Iraqi recruits in basic training, trained with them to develop individual and unit skills, and then accompanied them after graduation on operational missions in 2005.

While they lacked the tactical experience of Soldiers from Active and National Guard combat units, Petraeus credited the Soldiers of the 98th Division with providing a much needed boost to MNSTC-I due to their expertise with building and operating the institutional training systems of a modern army. Although their experience was in training individual soldiers in a school setting, most Soldiers of the 98th Division made the transition to combat advisors successfully. They steadily developed tactical competence as they trained with their Iraqi units and then deployed with them into combat.162 For some in the division, it was obvious they had accepted a mission for which their previous experience had not prepared them, and a few had difficulty transitioning to the demands of advising units in combat. Still, the great majority adapted and felt they had shown how the USAR Soldier could meet the complex challenges posed by the Iraqi operational environment. Indeed, a large number of advisors from the 98th Division went into combat with their Iraqi units in major operations like AL FAJR in the city of Fallujah in November 2004.163 Command Sergeant Major Milt Newsome, who served in Iraq with the division in 2004–2005, expressed the pride felt by the Iroquois Warriors on their return, stating, “I’m very proud to be a member of the 98th Division because history will realize what the 98th Division and all those who supported us had to do, and did. . . . When all the ashes settle, you’ll see the silhouette of the 98th Division and you can say it was a job well done.164

As a result of the lessons learned in the fall of 2004, MNF-I and MNSTC-I began making major improvements to the advisor training and support programs. These changes took place outside the timeframe of this book, but they help highlight the challenges faced by the 98th Division and other Soldiers who were part of this initial wave of advisors. One of the first steps was to improve stateside mobilization training in early 2005. MNSTC-I also established the Phoenix Academy at Taji in early 2005 to provide a 10-day course conducted by members of the 98th Division focused on the latest tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) used by existing advisor teams. In the spring of 2005 the Coalition also changed its term for unit advisor teams from AST to Military Transition Teams (MiTT) to better reflect their mission. Finally, MNSTC-I established the Iraqi Assistance Group in April 2005 to provide better command, control, and logistical support to US advisors working with Iraqi units after they transitioned from training under MNSTC-I control to the operational control of units in the MNC-I, the Coalition’s tactical command.

Soldiers in the next wave of advisors, for which the USAR’s 80th DIVIT formed the core, benefited from these improvements. But they too faced new challenges. The first wave of advisors had linked up with and trained their Iraqi units when they were first formed; thus, they were able to develop personal relationships with their Iraqi counterparts before conducting operations. Many advisors in the next wave reported to Iraqi units already in combat. Their learning curve was steep and time to build cohesion and trust was almost nonexistent. The Army continued in 2005 to find the right mix of training, personnel, techniques, and processes for advising the ISF.

Chapter 11. Training the Iraqi Security Forces

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