Puppet Soldiers by mattsteinglass
January 29, 2007, 10:33 am
Filed under: Iraq, Vietnam

Lt. General (Ret.) William E. Odom testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 18, and offered some of the most comprehensive and resounding analyses of the failures of the war in Iraq that I’ve seen to date. Crucially, he recognizes that the idea that the US can train Iraqi troops to “stand up” as we “stand down” is a chimera. “The problem is not the competency of Iraqi forces,” he says. “It is political consolidation and gaining the troops’ loyalties to the government and their commanders as opposed to their loyalties to sectarian leaders, clans, families, and relatives.” There is no way for the US to make such a transition occur, Odom says; the Iraqi government is weak, and Iraqis quite sensibly place their confidence in their own clan and sectarian militias instead. And Odom’s understanding of this insoluble problem comes from having drawn all the right conclusions from his experiences in Vietnam:

As a military planner working on the pacification programs in 1970-71 in Vietnam, I had the chance to judge the results of training both regular South Vietnamese forces and so-called “regional” and “popular” forces. Some were technically proficient, but that did not ensure that they would always fight for the government in Saigon. Nor were they always loyal to their commanders. And they occasionally fought each other when bribed by Viet Cong agents to do so. The “popular forces” at the village level often failed to protect their villages. The reasons varied, but in several cases it was the result of how their salaries were funded. Local tax money was not the source of their pay; rather it was US-supplied funds. Thus these troops, as well as “regional forces,” had little sense of obligation to protect villagers in their areas of responsibility. For anyone who doubts that the Vietnam case is instructive for understanding the Iraqi case, I recommend Ahmed S. Hashim’s recent book, Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq. A fluent Arab linguist and a reserve US Army colonel, who has served a year in Iraq and visited it several other times, Hashim offers a textured study that struck me again and again as a rerun of an old movie, especially where it concerned US training of Iraqi forces.

“A rerun of an old movie.” Yes. Or perhaps a remake.

The Quiet American 1958

The Quiet American 2002


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