Iraqi troops lack “the will to fight” ISIS, according to Ashton Carter, the Secretary of Defense. Carter is one of the few Obama administration officials whose statements on controversial matters should not be dismissed out of hand, and he may well be right about the Iraqi military.
There’s a flip side to this story, though. The Obama administration lacks the will to help the Iraqis fight ISIS.
This fact has been obvious for some time, and comes through loud and clear in the Washington Post’s report (by Greg Jaffe and Loveday Morris) on Secretary Carter’s remarks:
Front-line combat advisers, who would be at greater risk of death or injury from enemy fire than current American trainers, could help strengthen the resolve of untested Iraqi troops, a senior U.S. official said. “We call it the steel rod up the backbone,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak to the media and commented on the condition of anonymity. “It is a remarkable thing to see.”
That’s not all:
Special Operations advisers could also direct airstrikes from American warplanes, improving their accuracy and effectiveness. On Sunday, [Senator] McCain said that 75 percent of U.S. air combat missions in Iraq and Syria return to base without having fired a weapon or dropped a bomb. “It’s because we don’t have somebody on the ground who can identify a . . . moving target,” McCain said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We need to have forward air controllers. We need to have Special Forces.”
One possibility being considered is training Iraqi troops to act as spotters. But calling in airstrikes is a highly technical skill, and it’s not clear that the U.S. military could train enough Iraqis in the coming months and years.
Carter insists that even effective airstrikes cannot substitute for the Iraqi forces’ will to fight. But it’s not credible to claim that our level of support has nothing to do with the Iraqi forces’ degree of “will.”
As the Post points out, “Iraqi forces have been fighting pitched battles in Ramadi since early last year, when Islamic State fighters briefly seized the city.” If these forces were as devoid of will to fight as Carter claims, Ramadi would have fallen long ago.
Would the recent fight for Ramadi have gone differently if U.S. front line combat and air strike advisers been present? No one can say for sure.
But considering the stakes, it is unconscionable that the Obama administration doesn’t provide such advisers and disappointing that it tries to shift all blame for the unsuccessful campaign against ISIS to the Iraqi forces.