Exit Strategy

Posted by Lex, on April 11, 2008

 

Actual ground combat, according to those who have experienced it, is almost unbelievably shocking. A fighting force can train for months on end, but until the bullets start to fly both ways, the noise, confusion and fear that every man experiences his first time on the firing line cannot be replicated. And until that force has withstood the fire, and realized that the man on his left or right has stood there with him, until he has served on a line that refused to break, that force will never truly be dependable or effective.

In World War II the process of exposing the force to fire and its consequences was called “blooding the troops”:

“War is many things, but to those who fight it is above all a learning experience. Professional soldiers cannot practice their trade in peacetime and war games are at best a poor substitute for active combat. Many solders feel that they can learn or teach more in one week of combat than in months of training. The process was called “blooding” the troops. It sounded harsh, but the officers who used the phrase realized that until their men had been blooded they could not fight the Wehrmacht on equal terms.”

– Stephen Ambrose, “The Supreme Commander: The War Years of General Dwight D. Eisenhower”

The great mass of US and coalition troops will leave Iraq eventually. What fills the space they leave behind – a functioning, more or less secure and stable democratic country, a whirling maelstrom of violence or something in between – will depend greatly on the professionalism and competence of the Iraqi Army.

A force, it appears, that is now being blooded in Sadr City:

The Iraqi soldiers pushed their way up a main thoroughfare in Sadr City over the past week, but the militias that still prowl the Shiite enclave were sniping at them from the alleyways.

So a platoon of American troops drove up a bomb-cratered road in their Stryker vehicles on Thursday to give the Iraqis some pointers on how to hold the line.

After the ramps of the Strykers were lowered, Second Lt. Adam Bowen sought out his Iraqi counterpart at the battered storefront in the Thawra district that served as an Iraqi strongpoint.

“Are you going to stay?” the Iraqi lieutenant asked hopefully.

Lieutenant Bowen told them his platoon was not. Surveying the terrain, he recommended that the Iraqi soldiers set up a firing position overlooking a sniper-infested alley. After an hour, the Americans headed back to the abandoned house that served as the company command post, and the gunfire in the streets picked up again.

The struggle for control of Sadr City is more than a test of wills with renegade Shiite militias. It has also become a testing ground for the Iraqi military, which has been thrust into the lead.

This had to happen eventually – no government can long survive without a monopoly on organized violence, and the experience the IA is receiving at the squad and platoon level will pay dividends in the future. And most fighting forces facing their baptism of fire don’t have the advantage of a veteran force at their back, and in support overhead.

This way to the exit.

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