Small Wars Journal

Building Partner Capacity with the Peshmerga

Building Partner Capacity with the Peshmerga by Matthew Cancian, Modern War Institute

How well can a Kurd do a jumping jack? It might sound facetious, but the jumping jack is actually a good yardstick for how disciplined a group of soldiers are—a relatively simple physical exercise that pretty much anybody can be trained to perform, but which requires some modicum of motivation and uniformity: if you aren’t motivated enough to do jumping jacks in cadence, you probably aren’t motivated enough to brave enemy fire. Compare the struggles of the Afghan police to do jumping jacks against any American unit and the value of the jumping jack test is evident. On a recent trip to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq I had the opportunity to observe training at two separate locations, one just outside of Erbil and a second near the Mosul Dam. While their jumping jacks weren’t perfect, they were pretty good, and corresponded to how they conducted themselves on the front lines.

In the West, there has been a recent wave of fretting about the United States’ alleged inability to train foreign militaries; one attempt to address this has been the establishment of new “Advise and Assist” brigades. Most veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have some horror stories about their host nation counterparts: for example, during my time in Sangin, Afghanistan, an Afghan National Civil Order Police unit rotated into our AO and replaced an Afghan National Army unit. On their first night, the new unit got jumpy and, sensing a threat that was not there, opened fire with a “death blossom” on our village. The next day they asked us for RPGs so that they would feel safer, a request that seemed unwise for us to grant. With the Iraqi Security Forces currently testing their American training on the streets of Mosul, it seems like a good time to ask what makes partner militaries effective, and how we can facilitate that…

Read on.



Thu, 03/16/2017 - 10:08am

In reply to by Morgan

I think part of this is also based on our folding the locals into our operations, rather than the other way around. Send a U.S. unit out supported by local units, and it's to our advantage for them to be using similar gear and similar TTPs. That works so long as we're there, especially to provide supply and maintenance support. It's not so much a matter of old/new tech, or prior sponsors as it is getting a read on what they're good at and what they're not, then building around those strengths and weaknesses.

One of the biggest problems I saw with our efforts to advise/ assist Afghans and Iraqis was a tendency to organize them like, and expect them to conduct themselves along the lines of, US forces. I saw this on both the conventional and SOF sides. We seem to think that if we give them the same stuff we have (M-16s, M-4s, NVDs, Harris radios, etc, etc....) and organize them into US Army rifle company-type units that they will conduct themselves as such, even when we leave. Much of this mentality seems to be driven by a desire to see "rapid" results necessary for a "successful six-month/one-year tour" report card and associated award.

Advise/assist missions are long-term affairs and those sent to execute them (as well as manage them) must understand that, and that results may not be rapid at all. Furthermore, when conducting such missions, we need to get away from our reliance on 21st Century gadgets and refamiliarize ourselves (and our host-nation counterparts) with older tech.....CEOIs, acetate on map-boards, TA-312 comm sets, etc, etc... Also need to become familiar with the methods the host-nation forces were previously trained in (Afghans using Soviet methods), and learn to incorporate appropriate techniques. Just because they do something a certain way, even if it seems less than effective by our standards, doesn't mean it's wrong for their environment.