There’s good news coming out of Iraq… again. The efforts of a 65-nation coalition and punishing US airstrikes have helped local ground forces roll back gains by the Islamic State (IS).
Government forces and Shiite militias, for example, recaptured the city of Tikrit, while Kurdish troops ousted IS fighters from the town of Sinjar and other parts of northern Iraq. Last month, Iraqi troops finally pushed Islamic State militants out of most of the city of Ramadi, which the group had held since routing Iraqi forces there last spring.
In the wake of all this, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter touted “the kind of progress that the Iraqi forces are exhibiting in Ramadi, building on that success to… continue the campaign with the important goal of retaking Mosul as soon as possible.” Even more recently, he said those forces were “proving themselves not only motivated but capable.” I encountered the same upbeat tone when I asked Colonel Steve Warren, a US military spokesman in Baghdad, about the Iraqi security forces. “The last year has been a process of constructing, rebuilding, and refitting the Iraqi army,” he explained. “While it takes time for training and equipping efforts to take effect, the increasing tactical confidence and competence of the ISF [Iraqi security forces] and their recent battlefield successes indicate that we are on track.”
“Progress.” “Successes.” “On track.” “Increasing tactical confidence and competence.” It all sounded very familiar to me.
By September 2012, after almost a decade at the task, the United States had allocated and spent nearly $25 billion on “training, equipping, and sustaining” the Iraqi security forces, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. Along the way, a parade of generals, government officials, and Pentagon spokesmen had offered up an almost unending stream of good news about the new Iraqi Army. Near constant reports came in of “remarkable,” “big,” even “enormous” progress for a force that was said to be exuding increasing “confidence,” and whose performance was always improving. In the end, the United States claimed to have trained roughly 950,000 members of the “steady,” “solid,” Iraqi security forces.