Why Generals Don’t Want Advisers in Iraq by Bing West, Washington Post
Is the United States at war? Even our top leaders do not know. At his nomination hearing last month to become the next Marine Corps commandant, Lt. Gen. Robert B. Neller was scolded by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz).
“I’m disappointed for you not to be in favor of us having forward air controllers on the ground” in Iraq, McCain said.
McCain’s son fought as a Marine in Anbar province, where Neller organized the advisory effort that resulted in the Sunni Awakening. One would expect Marines to support action to retake the province where thousands of them died. So why this deep difference of opinion?
The senator demanded bombing by front-line American advisers. In contrast, the general said that the key advisory task was to “ensure the right Iraqi officers were put in charge.” The difference is significant. To defeat the Islamic State, do you increase the bombing or change the leaders?
Consider first the forward air controllers. A controller operates as part of a team of a dozen soldiers, plus vehicles, plus reinforcements on alert, plus aircraft for evacuations, plus logistics. To insert controller teams into the battles for Fallujah or Ramadi requires a commitment on the order of thousands of Americans.
Then comes the hard part. Urban battlefields are compartmented by long corridors of houses. Forward air controllers must designate targets inside apartment complexes only a few hundred meters up the street. By definition, advisers and air controllers are working in support of Iraqi units. The terrorists will hold civilians as shields. So who is responsible for deciding the rules of engagement and the risks to civilians? Is it the Iraqi captain screaming “Bomb!” or the U.S. lieutenant who is advising? …