Growing the Iraqi Security Forces
The political record suggests that even the
most valid counter-guerilla tactics provided transitory victory
that gained meaning only when exploited politically. . . .-Robert
B. Asprey in War in the Shadows: The Guerilla in History1
Political leaders in America and military leaders
in Iraq have repeatedly emphasized the importance
of building up Iraqi security forces (ISF) as a foundation for the
rule of law, economic progress, and political stability. Underlying
the strategy is the ancient proverb "Give a man a fish, and
you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for
Arming a democratic Iraq with the internal
and external security to defend itself will be a political victory
that will allow the United States to withdraw from operations. Military
units across the Iraqi theater have spent a tremendous amount of
energy and resources to help produce an Iraqi National Guard (ING),
civic and border police, and special operations and regular army
units. Much remains to be done, but the U.S. Army has laid a solid
foundation for democracy despite the persistent barbs of a stubborn
Recent operations in Samarra, a city of 300,000
in Iraq's Sunni Triangle, illustrate why the ISF holds the key to
Iraq's future. Coalition forces easily regained control of Samarra
overnight after a brigade combat team assault combined with elements
of three ING battalions, the 7th Iraqi Army (IA) Battalion, and
the 2d Ministry of the Interior Commando Battalion. After only a
day of combat, the insurgents fled, died fighting, or went to ground
That the insurgents stood their ground at all
against mechanized forces came as a surprise. As former CBS reporter
and author Robert Taber explains, "[G]uerrillas restrict their]
operations to nibbling around the edges of the opposing army and
fighting in the enemy's rear areas. Materially unable to face a
military decision, they must of necessity await a political decision."2
Operations in Samarra rapidly shifted to locating
any remaining insurgents and weapons caches and returning the city
to normalcy. Iraqi forces quickly exceeded coalition force (CF)
capabilities in gathering intelligence because they could communicate
with Samarra's inhabitants in their native tongue without relying
on interpreters. The ISF rapidly developed credibility, but the
lack of effective law enforcement led the city's inhabitants to
doubt the CF could maintain a lasting peace in Samarra. The CF quickly
began training and resourcing a police force that could assume control
and maintain order within the city. Without a police force, the
tactical victory in Samarra was the equivalent of giving the citizens
a fish; providing a police force would teach them how to fish. But
training policemen to stand up to an insurgency is not easy. The
insurgents harassed and intimidated ISF leaders and their families,
creating a climate of uncertainty that the CF and ISF still contend
Protecting the Populace
To defeat an insurgency you must win over the
populace, not simply win the tactical battle. Defeating insurgents
on the field of conflict requires sufficient combat power, but winning
over the population by helping them achieve a better future requires
economic opportunity, security, and stability. Iraqis are pragmatic.
If the government can provide jobs for the heads of households and
security for families while ensuring that insurgents will not destroy
that hope, the people can be won over. Most Iraqis do not believe
the United States will remain in Iraq for the long term, given repeated
U.S. policy statements about not wanting to be an occupying power.
However, if U.S. forces leave, the Iraqis must have a credible force
in place to continue the rule of law. An effective police force
best provides stability and security at the level where individual
families make decisions. Given the prospect for a better tomorrow,
most Iraqis will tolerate occupation efforts as long as the coalition
takes no actions to aggravate existing anti-Western sentiment, which
is why the United States emphasizes developing ISF capacities and
How does a task force (TF) build an ISF that
can offer enduring peace? Committed leadership dedicated to a commander's
vision is one fundamental ingredient. At the battalion TF level,
this translates into taking the command's strategic lines of operation
and committing the manpower and resources necessary to accomplish
specifi c, measurable goals.
The first step in creating a force capable of
protecting the Iraqi people is to focus energy on designing a strategic
vision based on the theater campaign plan, lines of operation, and
any measures of effectiveness (MOEs) developed in operations orders
and targeting processes. Economic, political, security, and information
operations (IO) measures should be defi ned in that strategy. Although
these might be broad-based, applying them creatively requires refi
ning them into comprehensible goals at the soldier level.
In Samarra, Task Force 1-18 developed a model
to apply a strategy that rested on platoon discipline and training.
(See fi gure 1.) The basic premise was that no one platoon could
win the campaign, but any platoon could lose it, or at least severely
set relations back, as Abu Ghraib attests. The strategy incorporated
the pillars of economy, governance, and security all built on a
foundation of disciplined platoons and focused IO.
Information emanates from everything a unit
does-the way soldiers wear their kit, the way messages are announced
to local leaders, the way soldiers conduct operations and treat
people. All of these things send signals to the populace and to
the enemy-signals that reveal a unit's reputation, level of training,
and intentions. For example, by purposely wearing elbow and knee
pads for protection in urban environments, TF 1-18 created a storm-trooper
image. The enemy immediately recognized a different type of soldier,
although the previous unit in Tikrit had been just as aggressive.
Still, TF 1-18's soldiers did not alienate the public while striking
fear in the enemy. Tactics such as carrying weapons at the low ready,
waving to children, and paying for damages during raids and other
operations helped create an impression of evenhandedness.
Driving a Wedge Between the Populace and
Building security forces, creating economic
opportunity, and developing fl edgling government programs helped
drive a wedge between the population and the insurgents. The key
to stymieing an insurgency is winning over the population, for "if
the insurgents can gain control over the population through fear,
popular appeal, or . . . a mixture of both, they stand a good chance
Insurgents must fi ght asymmetrically. To plan
and resource attacks, they require safe havens- areas isolated from
counterinsurgent power through geography or areas a population provides
through passive acceptance or active support of the insurgency.
In urban environments, the populace often provides the necessary
safe haven. Although most people might simply be fence-sitters with
respect to supporting the insurgent cause, a unit that does not
follow a strategy of creating future opportunities for the majority
of the population can quickly create safe havens and additional
enemies. Strategy must simultaneously focus on providing economic
progress, local self-governance, credible security forces, and favorable
publicity about counterinsurgent achievements.
The current theater campaign plan in Iraq focuses
on building a credible ISF that will eventually turn Iraq into a
sovereign nation and allow the United States and other coalition
nations to scale back their commitments. At the TF level, building
a credible ISF means-
• Recruiting and training an ING battalion.
• Creating a fully functional joint coordination
• Training and resourcing local police
and police stations.
• Training and resourcing local emergency
• Integrating all of the above forces
into an overall security plan to protect the common citizen.
Building Credible Security Forces
A capable ISF provides security, which enables
local control and rule of law, economic progress, and job creation.
Once this positive cycle begins, economic growth leads to higher
employment, which promotes more stability.
Task forces must defi ne ISF roles and responsibilities,
which might differ from traditional police and National Guard duties.
(For example, the ING plays a major role in combating a domestic
insurgency, a challenge the U.S. Army National Guard does not face.)
In Iraq, security forces play many roles in a city. No Iraqi Army
or border security units were present in Tikrit, but other cities
and regions in Iraq required border security (or Special Forces
units or IA battalions). Iraq's security requires-
• Iraqi National Police (INP). Civic
police interface most closely with the people and provide the ISF
and CF with information. Police must be able to defend themselves,
as well as defend citizens. This requires training to build confidence
and effective systems at police stations.
• Iraqi National Guard. The ING can defeat
insurgents, generate public trust and self confidence, and conduct
raids and military operations inside Iraq.
• Emergency Services Units (ESUs). ESUs
are special police SWAT units that conduct raids and searches in
coordination with the INP, ING, and CF and when applicable, train
• Joint Coordination Center (JCC). The
JCC coordinates and synchronizes the activities of security and
emergency response forces within a city or region and provides the
command and control infrastructure for security. The JCC is part
of city government. Because the Iraqi kada (county) system stovepipes
funding from Baghdad to provincial ministries, city governments
have little control over purse strings. Lacking fiscal authority,
city mayors must petition county ministries to provide resources
for city security and economic progress. The JCC gives city mayors
a voice in security matters and is a mechanism that enables police
chiefs and other security officials to respond to city mayor directives.
Units should focus on building ISF confidence,
promoting public trust, and gaining enemy respect. The strategy
rests on a unit's commitment to training, resources, and integrating
the ISF into operations. Task Force 1-18 committed 15 leaders and
soldiers to live permanently with the 201st ING Battalion. A captain
led the team of two lieutenants and several senior noncommissioned
officers, squad leaders, and soldiers. The roster in figure 3 provides
a useful template, but individual soldier personalities are far
more important than rank. Iraqi National Guard cadre members must
be carefully selected for patience and individual initiative. Working
with the 201st ING Battalion, several TF 1-18 specialists developed
systems to account for weapons and ammunition in the battalion's
arms rooms, conduct battle tracking in the S3 shop, and implement
a maintenance program in the ING battalion. U.S. soldiers who live
with the ING are administrators, role models, and individual trainers.
CF companies carry out collective training, partner with specific
ING units, and conduct joint operations against insurgents. Company
commanders provide collective training while the cadre focuses on
systems and mentorship.
Partnering U.S. units with Iraqi units deserves
more elaboration. Task Force 1-18 companies partnered with Iraqi
companies and trained platoons within the companies. Iraqi and U.S.
squad leaders developed close working relationships and soldiered
together during weapons qualifi- cation, collective training, joint
operations, and partnership events. The battalions held quarterly
partnership days that brought teams of Iraqi and U.S. soldiers to
the field to compete against other combined teams. Activities did
not foster competition between American and Iraqi teams but, rather,
between Iraqis and Americans who habitually trained with each other.
The partnering extended to awards ceremonies and combined operations.
Leaders fostered bonds that promoted cohesion within Iraqi and American
Task Force 1-18 based its training strategy
on U.S. training management doctrine and focused on squad and platoon
training tasks derived from a division quarterly training guidance
mission-essential task list crosswalk. (See figure 4.) ING platoons
became capable of independent operations within sector, and such
operations were building blocks to achieving local control in Tikrit.4
While ING individual, squad, and platoon training
helped generate confidence for combat operations, other techniques
promoted public trust in the ING. Joint training and visible operations
promoted CF and ISF unity, but independent operations allowed the
ING to present an image of itself as a capable force. The ING conducted
independent improvised explosive device sweeps, escorted their own
supply convoys, and manned traffic control points (TCPs).
As the tempo of ING operations increased, insurgents
increased attacks on ING members and their families. Had they not
been well-trained and con- fident, many ING members might have quit
when threatened, like the police in Samarra. However, the ING S2
targeted those who threatened ISF and CF and their interpreters,
contractors, workers, and supporters in Tikrit. As a result, ING
intelligence was more valuable than most U.S. intelligence. Iraqi
agents gathered information, and ING leaders imparted a sense of
urgency to the effort. Intelligence had to be effective or the soldiers
would pay a heavy price. Confident in themselves and armed with reliable
intelligence, the 201st ING Battalion conducted raids and sweeps
to deny safe haven to insurgents in Tikrit. President Bush once
claimed: "Some Iraqis units have performed better than others.
Some Iraqis have been intimidated enough by the insurgents to leave
the service of their country. But a great many are standing firm."5
Engaging the Public
Task Force 1-18's civil affairs and company
teams developed another technique that helped foster public trust
in the ISF: they included the ING, INP, and other ISF in outreach
programs. Public outreach is a vital aspect of information operations.
The ISF conducted dozens of clothing giveaways, visited schools,
and held charity drives and other events that generated public exposure
and goodwill. The ING S5 was instrumental in these civil-military
The JCC, ISF, and CF registered every taxicab
in the city, conducted aerial reconnaissance of the security sector,
exercised crisis response systems, distributed police equipment,
and spot-checked training. Joint operations combined IO targeted
at the population, the enemy, or both. For example, Operation Orange
Crush was the task force's initiative to register all of the taxis
in Tikrit. Intelligence indicated that insurgents were using taxis
to transit the city and that many taxi drivers were involved in
threats against contractors and interpreters. Task Force 1-18 companies
and Iraqi police established TCPs and, over a 7-day period, funneled
all taxis in Tikrit into inspection areas, questioned drivers, took
photos of drivers and license plates, and placed registration stickers
on each taxi.
The taxi drivers had no idea what CF and ISF
would do with the information, but they could reliably believe that
CF and ISF could identify them if they abetted insurgent attacks.
The insurgents also had no idea what CF and ISF would do with the
cab registrations, but they believed that CF and ISF were somehow
tracking taxis within the city, a belief that made the enemy less
likely to use cabs as transportation.
Coalition forces and ISF conducted early morning
cordons and searches of neighborhoods, going from house to house
looking for weapons and other contraband. A secondary objective,
however, was to identify potential ex-military personnel who wanted
a job. Soldiers selectively handed out job certificates that former
Iraqi soldiers could cash in for employment in the Tikrit Job Corps.
While such operations netted little in the way of contraband or
detainees, insurgent attacks immediately declined. The rebels did
not know what information CF and ISF had gleaned from the populace
during the searches and reduced their attacks in the area. These
operations were simultaneously kinetic and informational. The ISF
developed a core competency, and the operation's effects on the
populace deprived the insurgents of safe havens.
Task Force 1-18 learned several lessons to
nurture independent ISF:
• Leaders must be committed to a strategy
that simultaneously promotes ISF development while combating insurgency.
• The strategy must contain specific MOEs
that soldiers can understand.
• The environment demands creativity
in assessing the threat, the population, and other socioeconomic
variables. As T.E. Lawrence aptly said, "Irregular war is far
more intellectual than a bayonet charge."6
• Leaders must help soldiers adapt to
conditions that might require armored kinetic operations one week
and dismounted civil-military operations the next.
• Units should train junior leaders to
handle routine interactions with the populace so senior leaders
can focus on problem areas and think through future strategies.
• There is no substitute for hard work
and persistence. The entire task force must accomplish results,
not only "pinning the rose," but integrating efforts across
• Squad-leader partnering with the ISF
helps commit the entire force to the strategy.
If units arrive in theater intent on making
a difference, conditions in Iraq will continue to improve, and Iraqis
will slowly take charge of their own security and governance. An
obstinate insurgency will attempt to slow progress, but agility
and persistence set the conditions for peace and stability.
1. Robert B. Asprey, War in
the Shadows: The Guerilla in History (Garden City, New York: Doubleday
and Company, Inc., 1975), xii.
2. Robert Taber, War
of the Flea (New York: L. Stuart, 1965), 64.
3. Andrew Krepinevich,
"The War in Iraq: The Nature of Insurgency Warfare," Center
for Strategic and Budgetary Studies, 2 June 2004, on-line at <www.
NatofInsurge.pdf>, accessed 10 May 2005.
4. Local control is
defined as JCC coordination of all Iraqi Security Forces activities
in the area of operations, with an Iraqi National Guard capable
of independent platoon-level operations and an Iraqi National Police
force to facilitate basic law and order.
5. David E. Sanger,
"Bush Gives Praise and Caution at Marine Base," New York
Times, 8 December 2004.
6. T.E. Lawrence, "The
Evolution of a Revolt," in The Army Quarterly Journal, vol.
I, no. 1 (October 1920).
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