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Flunking the combat test in Iraq

Posted By David Hackworth On 04/20/2004 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

Two weeks ago, with good-to-go freshly stamped on the soldiers’ foreheads, the 2nd Battalion from the recently rebuilt Iraqi army (IAF) was tasked with assisting our hard-pressed Marines in Fallujah. As the convoy, accompanied by a U.S. Marine advisery team, was rolling toward the sound of gunfire, it was ambushed in the outskirts of Baghdad – where it flunked its baptismal test of fire.

It was then that the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion put to lie all the “they’re combat-ready” affirmations from Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, their U.S. Army trainer, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the U.S. ground commander in Iraq.

Upon the battalion’s graduation from training, Sanchez had proclaimed: “We are now into the accelerated period of providing Iraqi security forces, and these soldiers look very proud, very dedicated. I have high expectations that in fact they would help us bring security and stability back to the country.”

An eyewitness to the action, who asked to remain anonymous, says: “Gen. Sanchez’s expectations tanked, because as soon as the convoy was hit, some IAF soldiers simply took off. The convoy got stalled when one of the IAF soldiers driving one of the trucks simply jumped out and ran, leaving the truck running. This truck struck a civilian vehicle, creating a jam that prevented part of the convoy from moving.”

“About 30 IAF soldiers were lost in this ambush,” reports my source. “Some simply ran away, some sold their AK-47s and donned civilian clothes, and some had civilian clothes under their uniforms, so they simply took off their uniforms and ran.”

The Iraqi officers commanding this unit were as useless as a bayonet on a cannon. The battalion commanding officer and all of the company COs involved have since been relieved, and more than 100 soldiers were initially tossed into the slammer. And the Marine team that saved the unit from certain destruction? It’s doubtful that these brave warriors will receive any recognition whatsoever, since Gen. Eaton and his politically driven masters are quickly and quietly moving the earth to disappear this embarrassment.

Once the battalion came under the virtual command of the Marines, the remaining Iraqi soldiers got their act together enough to extricate themselves from contact with the guerrillas and returned to their training base at Tadji with their tails between their legs – only to be told they were being immediately airlifted to Fallujah. When they refused to go, the quitters were subsequently disarmed and jailed in a makeshift prison on the former Republican Guard base.

By the end of the day, this 695-man battalion had eight wounded, 24 combat desertions, 104 mutineers, 78 AWOLs and 170 on leave.

And our warriors have added some new slang phrases to the unofficial Book of Military Phrases and Terms. When you ask a Marine who was there what happened to the 2nd Battalion, he’ll tell you that the unit “went ARVN on us” – referring to the many South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) units that were world-class bug-out artists. There’s also another new one for the military lexicon: Deserters are now called “UAs” – Unauthorized Absence From Combat. Or, as we called it way back when, “Cowardice in the face of the enemy.”

Hopefully, instead of coming up with still more spin, Gen. Eaton will learn from this debacle, look truth dead in the face and recognize that no amount of magic-wand waving will change an Iraqi mob into an instant effective army.

Sure, the key to pulling our military out of Iraq is to transfer all security operations to the Iraqi forces. But since it usually takes at least 10 years to build an army, that exercise is easier said than done. The answer, of course, is leadership – not Madison Avenue-type hype – coupled with “more sweat” training similar to the tough curriculum that converted the South Korean army from rabble into an elite force.

Both Gens. Sanchez and Eaton need to eyeball “The Art of War” and infuse the new Iraqi army’s leaders with the five constant factors of war: Moral Law; Heaven; Earth; The Commanders; Methods and Discipline.

It’s never too late to learn from Sun Tzu’s 2,500-year-old time-tested rules that have been used down through the ages to forge countless scores of great fighting outfits.


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