Iraqi Desertion Rates

One of the long cants that President Bush enjoys is that “As Iraqi forces stand-up, we’ll stand-down.” The current plan is for the 115 Iraqi Army battalions to stand up by the end of this year, and to allow the US to drawdown at roughly the rate of one American unit for three similiar echelon Iraqi units that stand-up. However there are several significant hurdles to this cant. The most basic is the one of primary loyalty; how many recruits are signing up because they believe first and foremost in the same vision for Iraq as believed in D.C. compared to the number of recruits who are signing up because they want to get cheap training for their local defense militia, or they need a job. The second is the sheep/wolf filter is pretty damn bad, with numerous and continous stories about insurgents infilitrating the training process for intel purposes. The third is that the back-end support for the military forces is very poor with high levels of corruption and inefficiencies that basically render forward formations useless for sustained operations. Finally, and this is a factor that is derived from the first three factors, is most Iraqi units quickly lose cohesion.

The AP on Jan. 31, 2006 reported the following:

American commanders said an entire Iraqi brigade, about 2,500 troops, has taken
over parts of the nearby city of Khaldiyah and an adjacent agrarian area from
U.S. troops. But U.S. military advisers who mentor the Iraqi unit said just over
half those assigned Iraqi soldiers were actually present. The Iraqi brigade
already was short several hundred soldiers before they deployed to Anbar
province from the northern city of Mosul, the advisers said, and about 500 more
deserted when they arrived in late August and faced their first insurgent
attacks…..Moreover, an Iraqi army policy giving soldiers 10 days of leave each
month means even fewer soldiers are available. Fewer than 1,000 Iraqi troops are
consistently stationed in this area if the soldiers on leave are deducted — so
this brigade was in reality about a third of its size on paper. “A lot of them,
when they were told they were coming to Jazeera and Habaniyah, they quit,” said
Marine Staff Sgt. Juan Santiago of New York City, speaking of two towns just
outside Bidimnah. Santiago saw more than half his trainees quit the Iraqi army
over the fall. The number of Iraqis in the brigade has stabilized over the past
two months as increased patrols have helped control the violence, Santiago said,
but “it’s always possible that more will quit……” “Unfortunately, the (Iraqi)
officers here are much like their soldiers — they’re not in it for any sense of
patriotism. They’re doing this to get paid,” Newell said.

This is not a new problem:

ParaPundit, has a good rundown of the desertion rate evidence at the second battle of Fallujah for Iraqi forces. The short story is that of the four Iraqi Army battalions that fought, three faced serious desertion problems of at least 25-50% even before the battle started. Only one battalion, composed of Peshmerga and Badr Brigade fighters was considered useful.

The GAO reported that 80% of Iraqis in government employ who were deployed to Western Iraq deserted in April 2004 during the combined Sadrist uprising and Fallujah fighting. (Thanks to Critical Montages for the digging on this one)

The Air Force Times reports that an Iraqi battalion that was hit hard in December 2005 saw an immediate 10% desertion, and as soon as a follow-up attack occurred, 40% of the battalion decided to go home.

American combat doctrine asserts that units at less than 90% of authorized strength will be mission limited, and units at 75% strength should be pulled back and reconstituted in order to be able to get things done. We know that the Iraqi Army due to the low level of banking development is consistently 30% on leave. This is a tough situation even if there was no desertion, and no combat refusal. However the Iraqi Army has a long history of desertions especially among the units with a significant proportion of Sunni Arab recruits that are deployed in mixed-areas or Sunni Arab dominated areas.

So I’ll start believing Iraqification stories as a success if I don’t see stories about battalion or large size units seeing 50% desertion rates for six months. I just don’t think that this is going to happen any time soon if ever.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook