Spent Force

by Dave Schuler on July 19, 2014

Gunmen of the “Islamic State” née ISIS (or ISIL) have defeated the Iraqi military and its Shi’ite militia allies at Tikrit:

RBIL, Iraq — Islamic State gunmen overran a former U.S. military base early Friday and killed or captured hundreds of Iraqi government troops who’d been trying to retake Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, the worst military reversal Iraqi troops have suffered since the Islamist forces captured nearly half the country last month.

The defeat brought to an end a three-week campaign by the government in Baghdad to recapture Tikrit, which fell to the Islamic State on June 11. Military spokesmen earlier this week had confidently announced a final push to recapture the city.

Instead, Islamic State forces turned back the army’s thrust up the main highway Wednesday. Beginning late Thursday, the Islamist forces stormed Camp Speicher, a former U.S. military base named for a pilot who disappeared during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and overwhelmed the troops there.

Bill Roggio adds:

The latest failed Tikrit offensive and the loss of Camp Speicher highlight the deteriorating condition of the Iraqi armed forces. The military has been forced to cobble together units since at least four of its 15 regular army divisions are no longer viable. The Long War Journal estimates that at least seven divisions have been rendered ineffective since the beginning of the year; see Threat Matrix report, US advisers give dark assessment of state of Iraqi military.

IMO this marks the end of the Iraqi military as a cohesive fighting force. I do not believe they will be able to oppose the “Islamic State” in its home Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq any further.

The question going forward is what the “Islamic State” will do next. My guess is that they’ll continue to consolidate their gains in western Iraq for a short period before moving on to Baghdad.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

PD Shaw July 19, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Without U.S. air support, it is the end of this phase. But these are not stable borders, the fighting will continue beyond the U.S. attention span.

michael reynolds July 20, 2014 at 1:13 am

I get the impression that we may not be great at training foreign militaries.

Our military is built on industrial might, advanced communications, a long-established history of civilian control, relatively educated soldiers, and above all a reliance on air power, that are simply irrelevant in 3rd world countries.

Maybe we should find someone we trust whose military is a bit closer to the bone than ours and task them with the job. South Korea? Taiwan? I don’t know who for sure, but for sure we need to stop pretending we know how to do this. We clearly don’t.

Dave Schuler July 20, 2014 at 8:03 am

Our military is built on industrial might, advanced communications, a long-established history of civilian control, relatively educated soldiers, and above all a reliance on air power, that are simply irrelevant in 3rd world countries.

Our system of military organization, built on the platoon, assumes some level of literacy for everyone, from the general right down to the private. In theory the platoon is not dependent on its leading commissioned officer or non-commissioned officer—any member could lead in case of necessity.

My understanding is that getting qualified non-coms has been a persistent problem both in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq there’s also the problem that most of the officer corps had been Sunni and when Ba’athists were purged that didn’t leave much.

TastyBits July 20, 2014 at 11:02 am

There is probably not a lot of quality recruits to work with. If you do not trust the guy next to you, you are more apt to break and run.

For you civilians, there is a reason the military does the things it does the way it does. You try to break people in non-combat situations, and that means you are often not nice.

As I understood, Saddam had officers behind the troops to encourage them not to run. This is not an uncommon tactic with questionable soldiers. Make the way back far worse than the way forward.

steve July 20, 2014 at 2:50 pm

1) I think Pat Lang is correct, we were sold a bill of goods on how well we had trained the Iraqi troops.

2) I think John Boyd (OODA Loop) would be useful here.

“Another of Boyd’s contributions to military theory explains more of our failure in recent conflicts. To the traditional levels of war—tactical, operational, and strategic—Boyd added three new ones: physical, mental, and moral. It is useful to think of these as forming a nine-box grid, with tactical, operational, and strategic on one axis and physical, mental, and moral on the other. Our armed forces focus on the single box defined by tactical and physical, where we are vastly superior. But non-state forces focus on the strategic and the moral, where they are often stronger, in part because they represent David confronting Goliath. In war, a higher level trumps a lower, so our repeated victories at the tactical, physical level are negated by our enemies’ successes on the strategic and moral levels, and we lose.”

Steve

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