During my first deployment, my platoon occasionally had to execute a joint mission with the Afghan National Army. I say “had to” because we didn’t want to. They were terribly unproffesional and incapable of accomplishing anything by themselves. Being hooked on opium, most of them were there for the pay. The police weren’t much better. Slightly more proffesional in appearance, they were far more corrupt. I remember thinking at the time that if nothing changed, they would never be able to hold off the Taliban on their own. I haven’t been back since then, but it doesn’t sound like things have improved.
I am pleased to see that this is not the case in Iraq.
In the small section of Baghdad I see regularly, the Iraqi forces are all over the place. The Iraqi Army, Iraqi police, and third party groups like Sons of Iraq have really stepped up to the plate. Carrying American weapons and driving American trucks, I always see them standin’ tall and lookin’ good. Planning and conducting their own patrols, security stations, and traffic checkpoints, it’s only a matter of time before they are completely running this area on their own. I’ve yet to work with them directly, but on the few occasions I’ve gotten to talk with one of them, I’ve always perceived through the language barrier an impressive sense of pride and duty. I’ve yet to hear one of them complain.
I cannot overstate the positive impact these forces are having. Aside from the obvious benefit of having their forces share the burden, there is a huge psychological impact on the public’s view of the new government and the American presence here. There is a certain amount of racial, religious, and nationalistic prejudice that American forces will never be able to fully overcome in this part of the world. The Iraqi forces do not have this problem so much. I’ve been told the Iraqi Army was cheered by crowds lining the streets of Basra when they took back that city. Also, it’s pretty hard for someone like Muqtada al Sadr to keep complaining about us “foreign occupiers”, when it was the Army loyal to the Shia-led government of this country that kicked his militia out of the Baghdad district named after his father. Sorry there, Mr. Sadr…you won’t be coming back to Sadr City.
That’s not to say these forces are perfect. Their capabilities don’t come close to ours, but it is improving. There is a certain level of corruption and enemy infilitration in these groups. However, it hasn’t been enough to overshadow the overall positive impact that they are having.
We are winning here, and their efforts are helping. I wish I could thank them each personally, soldier to soldier.