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January 24, 2004

On the quality of US troops.

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Photo courtesy US Army.

The gents at Strategy Page have a good little bit up about Iraq.

I wanted to highlight the last half of it (you should read the whole thing).

With permission:

American troops are doing a lot of the same clever improvisations in Civil affairs that they demonstrated in the Balkans in 1990, and in Kuwait in 1991. Most Americans fail to realize how high the quality is of U.S. troops these days. The American military, especially the army, has kept raising personnel standards for over two decades. Troops are encouraged to use initiative and imagination to solve military, or non-military, problems they encounter. The reforms have gone on for so long that the entire chain of command, from top generals to new recruits are of the same high capabilities. Out of this has come hundreds of little innovations in dealing with occupied, or hostile, Iraqis. For example, every American army unit has undertaken some rebuilding efforts for the local Iraqis, and collecting information on those people to find out who's naughty and who's nice.

I can vouch for this from personal experience. Today's Lieutenants are better and more flexibly trained than my generation, and the troops they work with are better trained and more motivated - but the key is their NCOs are probably the best corps of NCOs this Army has ever put in the field. Not in terms of native ability or dedication, but in terms of professional development and education. When I was an LT, I had two Sergeants First Class who were a part of MacNamara's "Hundred Thousand" experiment. Good men at heart, but not top of the line intellectual capital.

There was some culture shock, but not as much as you think, for American troops have been training in Kuwait, and dealing with Kuwaitis for over a decade. So when the Iraqi preference for outrageous rumors (that American troops wore air conditioned flak jackets and sunglasses that gave them X-ray vision, etc.) got in the way of collecting information, many troops just agreed with the Iraqis and implied that there were even more fantastic devices being used, so resistance was useless. To those Iraqis who admit to the Americans that the crazy stories were just typical Iraqi mind games, the U.S. troops let it be known that they will play the game to get the information needed to keep themselves alive.

The more perceptive Iraqis recognize, and respect, what the coalition
troops (especially the Americans and Brits) are doing, and realize that
Iraq's chance of success is more likely by cooperating with the
Coalition than in resisting or ignoring the "invaders." Iraqis who have spent time in the U.S. have gradually convinced most other Iraqis that the Americans just wanted to get rid of the dictatorship and go home. This is why most of Iraq is quiet, and the Sunni Arab areas are infested by Baath Party gangs that are spending most of their time trying to terrorize the mass of Sunni Arabs to either not work with the Americans, or join the resistance.

But the Sunni Arabs are not a monolith. There are dozens of major
Tribes with strong tribal organizations. The tribal chiefs have been courted by American officers and diplomats, and convinced that Saddam is the past and something else is the future. Exactly what the future is, no one is sure.

I wish I was young enough to start over again. I would love the chance to lead these troops anywhere, anytime.