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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


Creating the Institutions of the Iraqi Armed Forces (IAF)

All modern armies require a series of training institutions to create and sustain itself and to form its cultural and doctrinal base. They also require higher level commands and organizations to plan and conduct operations. In its initial efforts to train the ISF, the Coalition built only the tactical level of the Iraqi defense establishment. CJTF-7 and the CPA worked from the bottom up in 2003 and early 2004, while largely disregarding the higher military headquarters and the institutions that characterize a professional army. Only in April 2004 did the CPA begin to construct the upper level infrastructure of the defense establishment. In that month Major General Eaton established a rudimentary Iraqi Armed Forces Joint Headquarters. Given the complete absence of this type of organization and others like it in the Saddam-era, the Armed Forces Joint Headquarters, held no real authority over its subordinate units and retained its status as a training organization into 2005.†

Establishing the IAF’s training base also moved slowly. In June 2004 the first contingent of 843 Iraqi Army officers, including 11 female officers, graduated from the officer training course established in Jordan. On 6 July 2004 the first class of enlisted soldiers graduated from the Iraqi-run basic training program in Kirkush. The 8-week basic training at the Kirkush base included basic skills, weaponry, drill, and physical training. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Foster of CMATT noted that graduation from the enlisted course marked a major Iraqi success stating, “This marks one more step in building increased capability in the Iraqi Army. It validates that the training model produces a cohesive unit with well-trained soldiers that will only increase in capability over time.”165 Taken together, these two events marked an important milestone in the development of the ISF—the establishment of an institutional training system that could sustain a professional military force. By the end of 2005, the Iraqi Army training program for new soldiers was about the same length as equivalent US training. It included a 5-week common core course followed by an 8-week course that taught specialized skills such as infantry tasks or supply procedures.166 In addition to basic training, there were various specialty courses such as the 10-week Special Operator Course and the 4-week Commando Training Program that followed basic training.167

In January 2005 the Iraqi Military Academy at Al Rustamiyah that trained officers was converted from the 3-month pilot course to a 1-year course based on a similar program at the British Sandhurst Royal Military Academy. This enabled the NIA to train its own officers rather than sending Iraqis for officer training in Jordan. The British Army had constructed the academy at Al Rustamiyah in 1924, and the introduction of the Sandhurst model in 2005 was a return of the academy to its British roots. Using infantry skills and tactics as the base for all instruction, the cadets at the academy studied arms, field craft, drill, and physical training. The academic curriculum included subjects such as international affairs, military history, and communications studies. Leadership training was a primary component of all instruction, and the course concluded with a field exercise with heavy emphasis on counterinsurgency warfare.168 With the same motto as its British counterpart, “Serve to Lead,” the school became known as “Sandhurst in the Sand.”

The Iraqi Army also expanded from a pure infantry force to one that included many of the specialized units of a modern army. In late 2004 the initial elements of the 1st Mechanized Brigade stood up in Taji as the nucleus of a future, larger mechanized division. Equipped with 10 tanks and 37 MTLB armored personnel carriers (APCs), the brigade began training for its first security mission during the 30 January 2005 elections. As the equipment rolled off the trucks, Colonel David Styles, MNSTC-I’s 1st Mechanized Brigade project officer, remarked, “We made history today as we assisted the Iraqi Army in returning armor to its rightful place at Taji where it has been absent for several years.”169 The first mechanized brigade was largely an Iraqi idea. The strength of the brigade reached 3,000 soldiers by June 2005 with an additional brigade training in advance of receiving tanks and APCs donated by NATO and others purchased by MNSTC-I.

Training in specialized fields was essential for the Iraqi Army to function in an integrated and effective fashion. To build critical capabilities, MNSTC-I established a signal school in Baghdad that focused on basic communication skills and advanced courses in radio operation, frequency management, and satellite communication.170 The Coalition also helped plan for a medical corps, with a tentative force of 2,600 personnel, to include doctors, medics, technicians, and administrators. Initial training included a medical logistics course in Jordan. Among the first recruits to the new Iraqi military medical corps was a female dentist with advanced training from Harvard University.171 To make the Iraqi Army more mobile, the fledgling Iraqi Air Force took a step closer to viability in January 2005 when the 65 members of the 23d Transportation Squadron, trained by the 6th Special Operations Squadron of the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), took delivery of three US-donated C-130E aircraft.172

In 2004 the Coalition also began developing the type of focused capabilities that it and the Iraqi leadership felt would be critical to dealing with current and future internal security threats. Given the likelihood that the insurgency and terrorist groups would be active in Iraq for some time, MNSTC-I began programs to create special forces to combat these groups, tasking soldiers from SOCOM to establish and train the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF). The ISOF initially consisted of an Iraqi Counterterrorist Force (ICTF) to conduct small antiterrorist raids, and a larger commando battalion that was similar in organization and function to a US Army Ranger Battalion. By the end of January 2005, the ISOF had executed 538 combat missions, captured 431 insurgents, and recovered 1,700 weapons.173 Among the most effective ISOF units were the ICTF and the Al Hillah Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team. The ICTF required all recruits (who volunteered from existing Iraqi units) to complete a 12-week counterterrorism course that included basic training and specialized training in the origins of terrorism, advanced weapons handling and marksmanship, sniper training, and concealment training among other topics. Trained by US Special Operations Forces and advised in late 2004 by Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the Al Hillah SWAT team conducted key raids against insurgent targets in Babil province in October 2004.174 Major Dennis Levesque, who served on the staff of the CJSOTF-AP, stated, “When [ISOF units] roll into your neck of the woods . . . and you’re an Iraqi bad guy, you just back down before they even show up. We had that happen many times. Because these guys were well outfitted and well trained on good equipment, their confidence and morale was very high.”175

†Not until May 2005 would an Iraqi Ground Forces Headquarters be established, and the United States retained operational control of all Iraqi Armed Forces until September 2006.

Chapter 11. Training the Iraqi Security Forces

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