Iraq Can't Stand On Its Own

Gen. David Petraeus testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 9, 2008, before the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the status of the war in Iraq. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

CBS News consultant Ret. Col. Mitch Mitchell wrote this piece for CBSNews.com.
To anyone who has ever served in the military, General Petraeus' recent testimony before Congress on progress in Iraq should come as no surprise. He indicated that progress was "fragile and reversible," and Iraqi security forces are not ready to secure the country on their own. He and other senior leaders in Iraq know there are major problems with the Iraqi military that retard its abilities to be independent and self-sustaining.

We have trained the Iraqi military to perform the same missions we undertake, but fundamental differences between them and our forces underscore why we have reached the limits of success in Iraq. It may not be possible to achieve greater success than we've already achieved thus far in training Iraq's military forces to go it alone, except, perhaps, on the margins. The two problems the Iraqi military forces face are a weak logistics system and lack of capable leadership in both the officer and noncommissioned officer (NCO) ranks.

Left alone, the Iraqis cannot sustain their military with the supplies of war, because there is no national logistics system in place. We currently do that job. The costs of establishing and maintaining such a system far exceed what the Iraqis are willing or able to pay at present, so we do it for them. This contributes nothing to getting our troops home. It will take many years for the Iraqis to set up a logistics system that will support even the most basic military operations.

Soldiers can be trained to do any type of mission, but their success is directly dependent on the quality and motivation of the officers and NCOs who lead them. We have spent a great deal of time and money training the Iraqi officers and NCOs, but we have not seen much return on our investment. We can't train them to be motivated. After five years of working with them, we have seen some progress, but only to a point that does not give us confidence that they could act independently. They may have reached the point where they are not going to become any better than they are right now. If we stay with them, they can maintain acceptable levels of security and stability in the country indefinitely.

The real question for the United States is whether we should stay in Iraq indefinitely and pay for the sustainment of its military. Without us, the Iraqi military leadership will have to stand alone or fail in the resurgence of violence that will surely follow our departure. We have taken them as far as we can. That should be made clear to them, and a forcing mechanism of continued withdrawals of U.S. forces to motivate them to become independent should be put in place now.

By Mitch Mitchell
  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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