Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Matter of Degree

Mr. Smith over at The Captain's Journal responds to my rant about putting SOF "under" Conventional Force control.
Given the caveats that he stipulates, I think that what he is proposing is already taking place. The "lag time" is caused by CF adapting their organizations to be able to maximize the capabilities that they are incorporating. I'm going to table this subject (or at least until I read another post on someone's blog that sends my blood pressure through the roof) until I can get smarter on SOF/CF integration. I think that a lot of the capabilities about which Mr. Smith writes are migrating, even if the personnel aren't. However, I'm not up on the exact "line and block" charts that would confirm or deny my suspicions. I'll try to degrade my ignorance before I climb back up on that particular soapbox. I know, it's a little out of character for me to try to "get smart" before opinionating.
One thing that I would add, though, is on Mr. Smith's comments about the ISF (of which, I work pretty much exclusively with the Iraqi National Police) versus the Sons of Iraq. While I can't quite agree that the conclusion he has reached on the ISF is wholly accurate, I think it comes down, again, to a matter of degree. A good analogy is the way US citizens feel about their Congress; while polls show that people have a very low opinion of Congress overall, most of these same people are relatively satisfied with thier own representatives.
First, the SoI is local, so they are fighting for their homes, their neighborhoods, and their extendend families. Second, leadership within the SoI breaks is grafted on from tribe/clan leadership. So the SoI leaders are, at least to some degree, comfortable with the mantle of leadership and already have established and enduring credibility and legitimacy. Finally, the SoI are a one-dimensional force. They really don't have to worry about their next assignment, or their next promotion, or the political considerations of doing their job.
The ISF, on the other hand, does not have immediate credibility or legitimacy with either its soldiers or the local people. In order to have, in the long term, a viable security apparatus that can represent all the people of Iraq, wherever it goes within the nation state, the ISF often have to eschew--or even operate counter to--local tribal norms. All of the things we take for granted about military service, and which are difficult to establish and maintain even in a highly functional organization, the ISF is struggling to matriculate.
The SoI fights, and then goes home. The SoI stands watch, and then goes home. And when he goes home, the Son of Iraq is in an environment where all of actions were known to and approved by his tribal elders. The Coalition really doesn't have to worry about sustainment for the SoI, because all of the "backside" support functions are handled by the SoI going home. On the other hand, the ISF is working hard to build a sustainment capability and finding it a significant challenge. This affects, as it does with every military force, the morale, performance, and reliability of its soldiers. Also, officers are a little more free to line their own pockets, because they are shortchanging "the government" as opposed to their local leaders, friends, and relatives.
I'm very proud of my own guys; they live in terrible conditions and are afforded little advancement or training opportunities, but are out there every day slugging it out. Sloth, negligence, and apathy do plague the force, but it is balanced by bravery (as I've said in other posts, a lot of my guys are crazy brave), loyalty, and sincerity. I do trust them, and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are shurta in my Brigade who would take a bullet for me without hesitation. Because the ISF is still in the "start up" stage, though, different units have wildly different capabilities and norms. While I'd have no problem sleeping in my guys' compound, or shedding my body armor while I'm there (which I do), there are other ISF elements out there in whose company I would not only keep my kit on, I'd make sure that the QRF new where I was going and how long I intended to be there, and I'd try to get them to monitor my freq, too.
The SoI is a great force that is performing exactly as it ought. But long term success will depend on growing a professional, capable ISF that can sustain itself. We have a long way to go, but I believe we can get there, despite the fact that there are days when I feel like suck-starting my own 9mm.

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