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Why the U.S. military can't succeed in training foreign armies

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It was big news last month when 7,000 U.S.-trained and -equipped Afghan security troops failed to defend the northern city of Kunduz against a far smaller Taliban force. Yet the setback is just the latest indication of American-trained foreign troops' continuing inability to fight effectively on their own.

It should not have been surprising. Washington experienced this last year in Iraq. The United States spent $25 billion training and equipping a large Iraqi force, which then threw down its weapons and abandoned two key cities, Mosul and Ramadi, to Islamic State militants. Between 800 and 1,000 Islamic State fighters defeated 30,000 Iraqi troops.

This also happened in Vietnam in 1975. There, the U.S.-trained and -equipped South Vietnamese military crumbled in the face of a North Vietnamese attack. The South Vietnamese forces turned that country over to the communists in Hanoi.

We now see it in Syria as well. The U.S.-trained Syrian forces are not only not fighting Islamic State, they are instead joining with groups like Al Nusra, an al Qaeda offshoot.

These defeats should raise two questions for U.S. policymakers: Why does this happen? Why do we keep doing it and expect a different result?

Some argue, as did former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, that the U.S. military is both unable and unwilling to do effective training.

But this is not true. U.S. non-commissioned officers train young American men and women all the time - and regularly turn them into effective fighters in 12 weeks.

The reason that U.S.-trained foreign forces usually do not prevail is not because they are poorly trained and ill-equipped. In fact, they often have better equipment and far more extensive training than their opposition.

Yet they repeatedly fail largely because they are not as motivated. Military success on the battlefield is more dependent on whether men and women are willing to fight and die for a government they believe in. Rather than how well trained they are, troops have to believe their government is acting in the best interests of all its citizens.

The Iraqi and South Vietnamese troops did not believe this. Nor do the troops today in Afghanistan. The soldiers view these governments as inefficient, corrupt and sectarian. In other words, the troops do not see their regimes as worth sacrificing their lives for.

Knowing this motivational problem, why does the United States keep training foreign forces? The answer is simple: Washington does it so that it can evade conflicts it should never have gotten involved in in the first place, and then can pretend the United States has achieved its objectives.

In Vietnam, for example, it was clear after the 1968 Tet Offensive that the United States could not achieve its aim of creating a viable, independent South Vietnam - despite having 500,000 troops on the ground and 1.3 million personnel in the theater. Washington, therefore, began withdrawing its forces and turning the battle over to the South Vietnam forces that it had trained, a policy called Vietnamization.

The Nixon administration signed the Paris Peace Accords five years later, officially withdrawing all U.S. troops and turning the fight completely over to the South Vietnamese forces, designated as strong and capable enough to defend their own country. On paper, they were.

But the Nixon administration had trained the South Vietnamese military largely as a way to rationalize the U.S. withdrawal and justify the sacrifices of the 60,000 American men and women who died in that conflict and the 500,000 who were wounded. In fact, as President Richard M. Nixon signed the Paris Accords in 1973, he claimed it was "peace with honor."

When the North Vietnamese launched an offensive on March 19, 1975, however, the South Vietnamese military collapsed more quickly than the Americans and even the North Vietnamese had anticipated. This was due to poor leadership of some of the units and to the fact that many South Vietnamese soldiers could not approach the North Vietnamese communists' passion to win. Many in the South Vietnamese military also strongly believed that the United States would again come to their rescue.

Similarly in Iraq, when the invasion did not turn out to be the cakewalk that Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had promised - and the United States had foolishly disbanded the Iraqi army - Washington had to begin training a new Iraqi force within months of the invasion. If not, the United States would likely have had to commit to a decade-long, large-scale occupation of a Muslim country. The U.S. policy became "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down," President George W. Bush explained.

Unfortunately, because of the rise of al Qaeda in Iraq, which later morphed into Islamic State, the United States could not begin withdrawing its forces for another five years. But when it did, it left behind a supposedly well-trained Iraqi security force of 500,000 soldiers.

Afghanistan presents a similar situation. After the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda forces, the United States had no choice but to invade the country and remove the Taliban from power. But after accomplishing that, Washington decided to try to create an independent, stable government in a country historically regarded as the "graveyard of empires."

As part of this, the American military knew it had to begin training a military force to provide long-term national security and to confront the Taliban, which had begun regrouping in Pakistan. But after increasing the U.S. presence in his first year in office, President Barack Obama set a deadline for U.S. withdrawal and accelerated the training of the Afghan security forces, now more than 300,000.

Yet this well-equipped force also cannot hold territory against the Taliban. Though Afghans have had a reputation of being fierce fighters for centuries, they still cannot win because the U.S.-trained Afghan security forces suffer from high rates of desertion. In addition, many officers are more loyal to their tribes or sects than to the central government, which they perceive as corrupt and ineffective.

One person strongly skeptical of the U.S. ability to successfully train foreign militaries is Obama, who has resisted many calls to leave tens of thousands of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan indefinitely. Creating and arming a Syrian rebel force, Obama has insisted, is a fantasy.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2015.

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

19 Comments
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The United States spent $25 billion training and equipping a large Iraqi force, which then threw down its weapons and abandoned two key cities, Mosul and Ramadi, to Islamic State militants. Between 800 and 1,000 Islamic State fighters defeated 30,000 Iraqi troops.

There's goes grammy's and gramp's Medicare benefits. That AWOL Bush sure did a lot for Americans and Iraqis. After the Shia-Tea finished closing the Government America should be well on the way to establishing the religious dictatorship so many in the Shia-Tea have demanded.

“As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down,” President George W. Bush explained.

Instead it looks like Americans have their Government standing down and the Shia-Tea standing up for the disassembly of Government. (Just like Grover Glenn Norquist wanted.) Sure hope the Americans are ready for their new Christian Nation the Shia-Tea have worked so hard to create. Sounds like a really god time.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Most of the American military personnel would not find the places they are assigned to an a map (before going there). Add cluelessness about historical and geographical context, culture, society, mentality and inability to learn from mistakes. Rewind, endless loop.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Well, first of all, the US hasn't had much success in its own wars, has it?

2 ( +7 / -5 )

In Vietnam, for example, it was clear after the 1968 Tet Offensive that the United States could not achieve its aim of creating a viable, independent South Vietnam

Oh God, why do people keep repeating this nonsense? The Tet Offensive was a defeat for North Vietnam, because they failed to incite a national uprising in South Vietnam and large numbers of their troops were killed.

The reason why South Vietnam fell was because the US public panicked at sight of the fight being taken to the American embassy. The South Vietnamese lost the will to fight because the US fled and their attackers were ideologically indoctrinated to fight at any cost.

Yet this well-equipped force also cannot hold territory against the Taliban.

Then how come the Taliban haven't taken Kabul?

3 ( +6 / -3 )

No doubt there are dozens of plausible explanations why the US continues to fail militarily and continues to fail in training foreign troops to fight US proxy wars.

One of the many reasons might be that since the US lost the war in Vietnam world opinion of the US has been on the decline.

US movies and music remain popular in lots of places, but more people worldwide are well aware the US has serious race problems and that mass murders by unstable people with guns are regular occurrences.

These among many other reasons must affect the way troops being trained by the US view their trainers. Add those to the point mentioned in the article that the trainees are well aware the US is training them to protect a regime that is probably corrupt and that has profited from the US businesses the US is probably in their country to protect.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

The US has not won a war since WWII, when the greatest generation took out two empires. Many political elite suspect that Japan cannot be defended by the US, and that is one reason behind Abe's remilitarization of Japan. Unlike the cases mentioned in the article, Japanese would be motivated to protect Japan. Most likely.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

History lesson: America did NOT win WW2... the allied forces combined did. I am sick of hearing Americans bang on about winning the war. You arrived nearly three years after it started and added muscle to the campaign, allowing the allies to invade Europe and (with the Russians defeating them in the East) so defeat Germany. Commonwealth forces also fought in the Far East, not just Americans. Jeez.

As for why US trained forces constantly fail... probably because they haven't been trained the right way. Showing someone how to use a rifle isn't the same as training a soldier. If it takes x amount of weeks or months to produce your average Yank GI then how on earth does one expect an Iraqi or Afghan with a couple of weeks training to be the same? You need to instil pride in the men, an esprit de corps if you like, belief in themselves, belief in their commanders.

Interesting to note that the most successful ME armies have officers who attended Sandhurst officer training school. Maybe Iraqi and Afghan officers should go to Westpoint?

1 ( +5 / -4 )

@gokai- The US has not won a war since WWII, when the greatest generation took out two empires.

I see it somewhat differently. The Allies, which included the US, defeated the Axis. The US played the greatest role in defeating Japan in the Pacific War (though China suffered the most), but in the European theatre it was the Soviet Union that played the greatest role (and suffered the greatest casualties) and alongside its Allies, which included the US, defeated the German side. DDay was critical and I think most credit there should go to the forces led by Gen. Eisenhower.

But if you're saying that the US gained the most economically post-war and won in that sense, then I agree with you.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

when the greatest generation took out two empires

I have a problem with the use of "the greatest generation". Heroic yes, the greatest? No. Just because Tom Brokaw said used for a book title, now everyone thinks it's standard practice to apply it. The vets of WWII have not agreed to this classification either.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Thunderbird2,

History lesson: America did NOT win WW2... the allied forces combined did. I am sick of hearing Americans bang on about winning the war.

Me too!

In fact, you might say that, having been late for the last two world wars, the US wants to make completely sure it's on time for the next one!

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

American soldiers don't fight and die FOR their government... they fight and die for their PEOPLE. Many soldiers don't have alot of faith in their government, but they keep fighting for their family... their friends... and their way of life. I don't think any successful military or militia in the world has soldiers who aren't on that same wavelength. Obviously these iraqi and afghani "soldiers" don't care about their own people enough to put their lives on the line.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The article was correct in the basic answer of motivation. This is also tied to culture and morals as well. The people being trained come from the exact same culture which raised the animals these US trained soldiers are expected to fight. Since this is a culture which does not respect life at all, how could anyone be motivated to risk their own life for the benefit of others who would never consider doing the same. These men also know the primary objective of the various violent insurgents is the capture of territory, conscription and rape slavery. Since the US trained men themselves, see these same goals as valid, why would they try hard to defend against groups of men wanting to capture rape slaves, when the US trained men do not see rape slavery as a crime. To them women are less than animals and it is legitimate to enslave them. So how could these men possibly be motivated to defend a city against a group of violent thugs, essentially doing what their own culture promotes or at least legitimizes. This is also a culture of extreme selfishness, the ultimate is socialist/ theocratic concepts of take all from anyone for yourself and oppress them into slavery so you can keep taking. Again, why would these US trained soldiers be motivated to defend against what their culture teaches them, oppression of others, is a valid means of attaining things. As the article says, these US trained men also join up with the insurgent groups.

And the question of why do it over and over is also legitimate. Consider how the US handled Imperial japan and germany, it wasnt train people and consult, it was outright occupation and the US dictating terms and handling everything including security. While many individual germans and japanese people certainly have legitimate claims as to many problems with being occupied, the end result in 2015, is Japan being the 3rd largest economy and equal to the USA in everything for quality of life and technology, Germany as the 4th and equally advanced as well. How was that success achieved, well it was in part due to the US NOT training japanese and german soldiers and then leaving later. While the world can discuss the morality of intervention in foreign countries, it is very very clear from past examples, which methods are more likely to be successful and which are not. I am not saying the USA should now start occupying but the bottom line is that seems to be the method that works, so if you are not prepared to do it right, then dont get involved at all.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

"Why the U.S. military can't succeed in training foreign armies" -- let me guess, is it because they do not succeed in anything they undertake?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

"Why the U.S. military can't succeed in training foreign armies"

It is the foreign armies themselves which must have the will and determination to succeed. It's their own leadership which must step up. The training is just a tool and cannot guarantee anything.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/10/world/middleeast/pentagon-program-islamic-state-syria.html

-Obama is pulling out his agents in Syria and moving them to Turkey since the Syrian/Russian army will most likely expunge them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2NkjNvwuaU -Short clip on Obama training "isil"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Could it be that most enlisted people in the US military join because they can't get a job, are, or are near, homeless or join to avoid going to prison?

Failures teaching failures how to fail.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Different nations and cultures have different martial traditions and beliefs than the Americans who want everybody to fit into their doctrine. For example, the recent defeats of the US-trained Iraqi Army at the hands of ISIS is a good example of a long known moslem military phenomenon known as "Arab Rout" that is a product of their culture and psychology, but nobody is allowed to talk about this because it is too politically incorrect...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Jorge GonzalezOCT. 09, 2015 - 07:48PM JST American soldiers don't fight and die FOR their government... they fight and die for their PEOPLE

Sure, they are fighting for their people when attacking countries that have done nothing against the US. (sarcasm) No, they are fighting for the owners of their country, the business elite and the military industrial complex who wants to dominate the world both politically and economically. That's who the trained killers in uniform die for. And make no mistake, professional soldiers in the US are nothing more than psychopaths.

So, they are not good at turning people in other countries into mindless killing machines, well cry me a river.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

One person strongly skeptical of the U.S. ability to successfully train foreign militaries is Obama, who has resisted many calls to leave tens of thousands of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan indefinitely. Creating and arming a Syrian rebel force, Obama has insisted, is a fantasy.

Oh neat, so even though Obama supposedly opposes training rebels he does it anyway, even though as President he has full authority to call the shots? And this is used as a way of praising Obama?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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