Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I guess this is what they meant by "an Army of One"

At the end of this month, Multi-National Force-Iraq becomes Mono-National Force-Iraq.

Commanders of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, as the American-led coalition is formally called, have a looming nomenclature problem.

Two days from now, there will no longer be any other nations with troops in Iraq — no “multi” in the Multi-National Force. As Iraqi forces have increasingly taken the lead, the United States is the last of the “coalition of the willing” that the Bush administration first brought together in 2003.

That is partly because the Iraqi Parliament left suddenly for summer recess without voting to extend an agreement for the British military to keep a residual training force of 100 soldiers in Iraq. As a result, those troops must withdraw to Kuwait by Friday, according to a British diplomat, who declined to be identified in keeping with his government’s practice.

As for the other two small remnants of the coalition, the Romanians and Australians, the Australians will be gone by July 31, too, and the Romanians left last Thursday, according to the Romanian chargé d’affaires, Cristian Voicu.

NATO will keep a small training presence in Iraq, but its troops were never considered part of the Multi-National Force because of opposition to the war from many NATO countries.

In response to a query, American military officials acknowledged the need for a name change, and said Multi-National Force-Iraq would officially become United States Force-Iraq as of Jan. 1, 2010, according to the deputy coalition spokesman, Lt. Col. Mike Stewart. “This is done to reflect the new bilateral relationship between U.S. forces and our Iraqi hosts,” he said.

Also nice to see that U.S. legislators aren't the only ones who leave town for a month without completing essential business, but that's really neither here nor there.

Seriously though: when you hear people dispute the "indispensable nation" moniker, consider the fact that 38 countries contributed troops to a war that most of them thought was stupid. Why? Probably because they imagine that there's something that America has to offer them, and they want us to answer the phone when they call. (Poland is a great example here.) Then read Patrick Porter at Kings of War, who reminds us that Britain's vital national interest in Iraq (if slightly less so in Afghanistan) has been the maintenance of the "special relationship" with the United States.

A perhaps bittersweet reality of this coalition is partly reflected in the casualty numbers (over 4,300 American KIA; 139 dead from other coalition partners combined): the duties performed by units from different countries differed dramatically in context and content. An example:

Th[e] chief utility [of coalition soldiers] was to free American soldiers from routine but necessary duties. Georgia’s fairly large contingent handled all the checkpoints in the fortified Green Zone of Baghdad, for instance, and brooked no arguments from people trying to enter, especially since few of the soldiers spoke anything but Russian or Georgian.

The deployment was popular with the Georgians, who often were seen buying reduced-price televisions and stereos at the PX to send home for resale. The country’s contribution grew to a peak of 2,000, until the soldiers were abruptly withdrawn last August and rushed home to defend Georgia after the Russians invaded.

We could say "well, it's great that all those combat-hardened Georgian troops had the Iraq experience to prepare them to defend their own soil against an aggressor" (and I'm pretty sure some conservative commentators did at the time), but how useful was performing border security and manning checkpoints when it came to repelling Russian armored columns?

This isn't to diminish the contributions of our allies and partners, because every Salvadoran manning a vehicle checkpoint frees up an American to engage in combat operations. But doesn't it highlight the way that we're moving toward not a bifurcated American Army of high-intensity, conventional combat types on the one hand and stability operations troops on the other, but rather a bifurcated coalition and a bifurcated Atlantic alliance? Or maybe not even "moving toward," but that we're already there.

It gives me a chuckle every time I hear an American defense analyst opposing European efforts to formulate a common foreign and security policy, or develop a "European army," because they're worried about the marginalization of NATO. What in the last sixty years has suggested that the Europeans are capable of defending themselves from a conventional threat without American participation?

It might be time for U.S. planners to start considering whether the commitments we've made to European territorial defense are proportional to the contributions we can expect from our Allies in future military enterprises (which by dint of geography are almost certain not to include defense of the American homeland). The Brits sure are trying to convince us that there is value in maintaining our relationships, and in the case of the UK it's nearly impossible to argue otherwise. Perhaps we could say the same about Ukraine, seeing as influence over that country makes it possible for Russia to threaten our interests on the European continent.

But Georgia?

15 comments:

  1. There's Army Strong,
    And there's Army Wrong,
    There's the Army of One,
    But only if you've got a gun,
    And will work for a song.

    SNLII

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  2. Come on. Who else was going to download all those trucks full of vegetables from Iran? We get some help in Wasit province, access to the largest petruli crop in the world (there are so many reasons that is important), and in return they may get the Russians off their back some day. Looks like we win.

    Did you hear about the boys from Georgia who dug a tunnel under a PX in Kuwait to rob it blind? Love those guys. But not as much as the Estonian water purification team! Those guys came through in a pinch.

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  3. All right, it's hinted at here in your comment but worth noting the Georgians did a bit more than check ID at the green zone. Not to over emphasize their contribution or even approach characterizing how well they performed, but the given description is understatement delivered with a sneer.

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  4. Greyhawk -- the given description by whom? Me, or the New York Times?

    (And hurt feelings aside, did the Iraq deployment aid the Georgians in their efforts to defend their own territory? I mean this in a tactical or operational sense, of course -- I'm not referring to the fact that Tblisi's contribution perhaps helped win political support for arms sales and training missions.

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  5. NY Times - sorry, that was obvious but I was not. I inferred from your comment that you knew they did more than card check, clumsily clarified that a bit but clearly muddied the waters as to "blame". It's not on you.

    I'm not sure why a potentially reasonable account (again - the NY Times piece) needed that bit of "snark". (Hate the term, but unless the reporter actually has no idea what the Georgians did in Iraq that's what it was. Either explanation forces me to question the rest of the piece.)

    As for your question, I can't imagine how it could have. One look at a map* pretty much answers that. There's no strategy or tactic that's going to "succeed". Under the circumstances the Georgians certainly had to recall the Brigade from Iraq, but I don't think anyone in the decision process believed they would be a "game changer" - I'm fairly certain they didn't get home before it was over anyway.

    *Okay, some understanding - and mine is limited - of the loyalties of the population in the contested provinces is useful, too. By that I mean no insurgency ala Soviet-era Afghanistan was or is likely in those regions.

    So I suppose a long-shot case could be made that "the Russians didn't overrun the rest of Georgia because they feared the Georgian Army had learned too much about conducting an insurgency while in Iraq" - but while that argument could conceivably be presented in a convincing (to those who want to be convinced) way the idea that it was considered by the Russians in the first place seems unlikely.

    I've never heard that claim made before - and while I may have just originated it (though I credit you as co-creator for making me think) I also believe it to be batshite crazy. But as crazy as it is, it's more sensible than any claim that the Georgians learned to confront massed armor and infantry in Iraq.

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  6. Or

    There once was a Brigade in Iraq
    That suddenly had to go back
    "Oh no!" Putin cried
    "My goals are denied!"
    That all makes sense (if you smoke crack)

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  7. I can't speak to the Georgians' ability to conduct insurgency being a factor. Talking with a Georgian major in Baghdad in late 2007, one of the big factors in Georgia joining the coalition was not just a down payment to NATO ascendancy. In the shorter term, they were looking to get access to US military schools. Apparently the Georgian officer development program is nonexistent, but because they pushed a brigade into Wasit, they were able to send officers to US Army captains' courses and I think one guy to a war college. They just didn't have any formal schooling other than a mountain warfare school.

    Obviously, this had no effect on their little spat with Russia. It is helping them develop a more professional army in the long run.

    But Greyhawk's correct. They did more than check ID cares in the Green Zone and did conduct combat ops in and around Al Kut. The ID card mission was pretty much reserved for Angolan mercs and the Togoan army (both these groups were some bad mother effers by the way).

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  8. Talking with a Georgian major in Baghdad in late 2007, one of the big factors in Georgia joining the coalition was not just a down payment to NATO ascendancy. In the shorter term, they were looking to get access to US military schools. Apparently the Georgian officer development program is nonexistent, but because they pushed a brigade into Wasit, they were able to send officers to US Army captains' courses and I think one guy to a war college. They just didn't have any formal schooling other than a mountain warfare school.

    Don't get me wrong, I completely understand how this is a big boon for them. The Army War College, Sergeant Majors' Academy, etc. are all suffering from a paucity of slots (and a huge overload of countries that want to send their guys), and this is definitely a way to help ensure access. And I also think that professionalization of partner militaries is a good thing for the U.S.; in fact, it's a stated policy priority for DoD.

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  9. Oh, by the way, Greyhawk: excellent poem!

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  10. " They did more than check ID cares in the Green Zone"

    Now, about the Ugandans...

    SNLII

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  11. "The Army War College, Sergeant Majors' Academy, etc. are all suffering from a paucity of slots "

    Army War College is filled to the rim,
    All those lifer CSMs can't even get in,
    But there's not so lacking in slots,
    Taken by privates and their gut shots,
    In every WOunded Warrior battalion.

    SNLII

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  12. Let's try that without the typo...

    Army War College is filled to the rim,
    All those lifer CSMs can't even get in,
    But theres a place not so lacking in slots,
    Taken by privates and their gut shots,
    In every WOunded Warrior battalion

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  13. The Georgians helped retrain IA 1-10 in Wasit. IA 1-10, originally "trained" by the Brits, was arguably the worst brigade in the entire IA; just as 10th IAD was the worst division in the entire IA. Georgians also helped train the IA in 81 mm and 120 mm mortars. {Possibly 60 mm mortars too? Although I don't have confirmation on this.}

    The Wasit IP are pretty good quality at the moment. Suspect the Georgians contributed to that too.

    All in all, the Georgians played a signficant role in training the ANSF.

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  14. @SNLII,

    "Now, about the Ugandans..."

    Peace, oh angry Colonel.

    For there is a secret within the Kernel.

    For in truth, the Ugandans cleaned up our goof.

    And scared straight the local wildlife with their culinary journal.
    ===========

    [IOW I'll eat you, you little shit}

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  15. Elf found the Georgians good shots.

    As long as you hid under your cots.

    I wish more to rhyme, but am out of time.

    Good nite, and in morrow more bots.

    [lame]

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