Applying Lessons From Iraq's Army Expansion

Efforts are underway to expand Afghanistan's army. Greg Jaffe, a reporter with The Washington Post talks with Steve Inskeep about lessons learned in Iraq, and how they can be applied to the much larger Afghan army. Jaffe is the author of The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now let's talk about training for America's allies, because no matter what strategy President Obama chooses in Afghanistan, it is likely to include a push for a larger Afghan army. That, at least, is the view of Greg Jaffe. He covers the military for The Washington Post and is a regular visitor to Afghanistan. He also wrote a book called �The Fourth Star,� about some U.S. military leaders in Iraq, including some who are in charge of training Iraqis.

Are some of the people who are involved in trying to train and expand the Afghan forces the same people who, at some point, had a similar mission in Iraq?

Mr. GREG JAFFE (Columnist, The Washington Post): Yeah. You know, General Petraeus, architect of a lot of the Iraqi security forces, is the CENTCOM Commander, so he's overseeing all of this. But you can't talk to anybody in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army who hasn't spend some time in Iraq. That was the main mission in Iraq for many, many years.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about how that mission went and talk specifically about General Petraeus, since he's so famous and since you mentioned him. What happened when he took over training of Iraqi forces a couple years into the conflict, at a point when it seemed like that training was going very badly?

Mr. JAFFE: You know, he was under a lot of pressure to produce Iraqi security forces at a much quicker rate. The whole slogan at the time was they stand up, and we'll stand down.

INSKEEP: What did Petraeus do from the beginning? He was in charge of a training base.

Mr. JAFFE: Right. That was his job, to sort of create and stand up these new Iraqi security forces, and it was a mission the U.S. really hadn't done since the Vietnam War. It was sort of, hey, General Petraeus, get out there and figure it out.

INSKEEP: And it's amazing how often people were eager to say that that job had been completed. They did okay. The Iraqi forces did okay, and they were trumpeted as having done okay. And what happened then?

Mr. JAFFE: Well, you know, they'd fall apart very quickly thereafter. You know, at one point, General Petraeus flies to a graduation ceremony of a bunch of new Iraqi recruits, a new battalion that's being set up, and there's speeches and they march crisply in their uniforms. And he gets back on the helicopter feeling very good about what he's accomplished. You know, we cranked out another battalion. It was more numbers that could be briefed back to the Pentagon to show that hey, we're making progress here. He lands at his little compound in the Green Zone only to find out that all those guys who he'd just seen had been sent on leave without their guns because we didn't think to send them home with their guns - �cause we don't send soldiers home with guns - and they were, you know, slaughtered. I think 49 of them, on the side of the road, were lined up and shot in the head.

You know, you had other problems in a big offensive in Samarra. You know, we mobilize a unit to go in there, that Samarra's a little town north of Baghdad that was a persistent problem for the U.S. The troops hit a roadside bomb on the way out the gate and the battalion commander says, well, I'm through with this. He takes his pistol, his staff car, and he's gone. And there's a funny line from the U.S. embedded advisor who, in his own understated fashion, said: That was not the best day for morale.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: I'm sorry to laugh. People are being killed here, but it underlines the problem.

Mr. JAFFE: It does. I mean, there's a lot more to an army than, you know, knowing how to conduct a raid, having proper weaponry. I mean, there's this whole kind of cultural-political aspect to it that we, I think, underestimate frequently at our peril.

INSKEEP: When you talk to American officers in Afghanistan who have been through that Iraq experience, who struggled for years to stand up an Iraqi force, what did they tell you about the odds of getting that done in Afghanistan in a good way?

Mr. JAFFE: You know, I think they're optimistic that they learned lessons in Iraq that will transfer to Afghanistan. The - much more sophisticated understanding of the need to partner U.S. units with Afghan units. So you have a company of, you know, 90 U.S. soldiers who live with 90 Afghan soldiers on the base. They do everything together. And that really prevents some of the abuses that you saw in Iraq of troops who sort of go off on their own and do things that we would find abhorrent.

INSKEEP: Although, I can think of American soldiers who came out of Iraq that I talked with over the years who spent time with Iraqi units and discovered that even that was not enough, that some of them seemed to be going out and killing people that they wanted to target, and it was very hard for the Americans even to keep track of them, much less do anything about it.

Mr. JAFFE: Yeah, I think that's absolutely true. And that just goes back to as long as you have an unsettled political situation, as long as you have these sort of ethnic, sectarian, political tensions that are ripping a country apart, as long as you have a corrupt government that the soldiers, you know, don't believe in, I mean, the army will not hold.

INSKEEP: Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post, author of �The Fourth Star.� Thanks very much.

Mr. JAFFE: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.