Although not as exciting as combat units, logistics and support units are absolutely vital to an army’s capability to, well, be an army. I imagine that nearly all MO readers know this already so I won’t belabor the point other than to say that keeping the fuel, ammo, water, food, and spare parts flowing is far more complicated than most would think.
In last Friday’s Linkzookery, I noted a post at the Fourth Rail about the status of the Iraqi army. Go read if you haven’t.
Much has been made lately (with good reason) about the capability of the Iraqi forces to operate on their own, and that until they’re capable of carrying on the fight without the support of US and Coalition forces, none of our guys are going anywhere. There are two major components to the ability to operate independently: combat prowess and logistics/support.
If you can’t fight, you obviously cannot go into battle on your own. Many Iraqi units have been in the fight for months, in some cases taking the lead against stiff opposition while US troops are held in reserve. Though there’s no doubt a long ways to go, it really seems that things are basically on track as far as getting the Iraqi combat troops to point where they can fight the good fight without babysitting.
The second component, logistics and support, has many parts. First of all, of course, is simply the capability to get that fuel, ammo, and water to the troops. But it also includes maintenance, intelligence, and even things like air support. This is the area where Iraqi forces are lagging. They’ve got troops to fight, but they cannot stay in the field without US logistics and air support. This is the biggest hurdle that the new Iraqi army needs to overcome, and is the biggest reason that so many Iraqi units are not rated “capable of independent operations”.
However, Fourth Rail reports that things may be coming along rather quickly in this area, too. A reporter asked General Fontaine about the status of Iraqi transport regiments, and this is what the General had to say:
GEN. FONTAINE [commander of the 1st Corps Support Command (Airborne) in Iraq]: Yes, sir. I believe the end state for the motorized transport regiment is a total of nine of (or?) 10. We’ve received the first three — really, the first four; a fourth one is being added in the next couple of months. So those three have shown a real action to get with the program. They are — they took about six months to get trained to — proficient in transportation operation, to the point where they are using their own command and control, their own radios, their own security today to escort themselves as they supply Iraqi forces in the theater of war.
So to answer your question, right now two to three are — I call them green — to support the Iraqi forces in their sector. Three to four more are being formed within the next three, four months. It takes six more months to seven months to train them. So I would anticipate that within one year we should lay the complement of transport regiment we need to sustain the battle.
So by the middle of next spring we should be looking at five to seven of these regiments supporting Iraqi combat units. US forces will, of course, still be still be providing a large amount of firepower and support, but if (and it’s a big “if”) the constitution goes through and elections come off more or less as planned, next summer could see big changes in the landscape.
US forces will be involved in ever-lessening support and basic security operations. This will free up some units to come home and others to go on the offensive. Depending on how effective the current campaign of operations near the Syrian border are, next spring may see the first real security in Iraq for several years.
As has been repeated repeatedly, Iraq needs to become responsible for its own security. We won’t know if this grand experiment in Middle Eastern democracy has really been a success for at least 15-20 years, but we need the Iraqis to hold their nation together until they reach that point.
UPDATE: Also see Fourth Rail’s post on what al Qeada’s strategy may be morphing into as the war drags on.