by Randolph Holhut
AR Chief of Correspondents
November 20, 2014
THE LESSONS OF INTERVENTIONS PAST GO UNHEEDED IN IRAQ
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Get the feeling we've seen this movie before?
Patrick Cockburn of the UK paper The Independent reported on Nov. 16 that the Islamic State (a.k.a., ISIS) has recruited an army that is about 200,000 strong and controls about a third of Iraq and a third of Syria.
These numbers, courtesy of a top Kurdish official, are about 10 times the previous estimates of the CIA.
It might explain why the United States and its allies have been caught off guard by how much battlefield success Islamic State forces have had against the Iraqi and Syrian armies, Syrian rebels, and the Kurdish peshmerga.
The Islamic State soldiers apparently are quick studies when it comes to using the U.S. equipment abandoned or captured from the Iraqi army, and the Russian equipment they have captured from the Syrians.
They've got a lot of defectors from the Iraqi and Syrian armies, which also helps explain why ISIS seems to have a more professional and skilled army than first thought.
This information is pertinent when you consider how the United States is responding to ISIS.
In June of this year, 300 U.S. advisors were sent to Iraq to check up on the Iraqi army.
In August, 130 more U.S. advisors were sent to Kurdistan.
In early September, President Obama ordered another 470 soldiers to Iraq. By the end of the month, the total number of U.S. personnel in Iraq hit 1,500.
On Nov. 7, President Obama authorized sending another 1,500 soldiers to Iraq. That deployment brings the total number of U.S. "advisors" in Iraq to about 3,000 -- or about the same number of U.S. advisors that were in Vietnam at the end of 1961.
The pledge of "no boots on the ground" by President Obama is starting to sound awfully hollow. Just like the U.S. advisors of the Vietnam era that were in-country in the early 1960s to train the South Vietnamese army to fight the Viet Cong, the U.S. advisors in Iraq are there to ostensibly train the Iraqi and Kurdish armies to fight ISIS.
Like their fathers and grandfathers who were in Vietnam in the early Sixties, the advisors in Iraq are finding their role slowly shifting from training to fighting.
That's because the Iraqi military and security forces, the ones that the U.S. has spent billions to train and equip before U.S. combat troops withdrew in 2011, have been useless against ISIS.
And that's why U.S. troops are returning to Iraq. That's why there are still going to be about 10,000 U.S. combat troops after the supposed official end of combat operations later this year. And that's why the U.S. has been engaged in aggressive military action of one sort or another in at least 13 nations in the greater Middle East since 1980, at a cost of nearly $10 trillion.
Yet for all that money, and all that effort, and all the lives that have been lost, our nation is locked in a continuous cycle of war in the Middle East. And the region has been locked in a continuous cycle of disaster.
It's time to start asking a few simple questions about the U.S, slowly slouching toward Iraq, again.
If ISIS is such a threat to stability in the Middle East, why aren't neighboring countries joining the fight?
If ISIS is such threat to stability in Iraq, why aren't Iraqis taking up arms to fight them?
Most importantly, if the Iraqis, Saudis, and the rest of our alleged allies in the region aren't particularly interested in fighting ISIS, why should U.S. soldiers be doing the fighting?
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.