Dr. iRack took note of a new Walter Pincus piece in the Washington Post. Apparently,
U.S. commanders in Iraq are for the first time seeking private contractors to form part of the small military teams that train and live with Iraqi military units across the country, according to a notice for prospective bidders published last week.
The solicitation, issued by the Joint Contracting Command in Baghdad, says the individuals that a contractor recruits -- who would include former members of the U.S. Special Forces and ex-Iraqi army officers -- will be trained in the United States with military transition teams (MiTTs) and shipped as a single team to Iraq. The recruits will live on Iraqi military bases "under Iraqi living conditions and participate with MiTT special operations and convoy duties," the solicitation says.
Thus far, the MiTTs have consisted of specially trained teams of about 10 to 12 U.S. soldiers led by a field-grade officer that were embedded with Iraqi army units from the division level down to the battalion level. The MiTTs have included officers and noncommissioned officers from different service branches tasked with teaching and mentoring their Iraqi counterparts to make them self-sufficient.
Anthony H. Cordesman, a former Pentagon official and now a scholar with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described the new effort as an understandable step, given the current stresses facing the U.S. military.
"There is a lot of pressure on the active Army, and during this transition period where the military is converting to noncombat roles, a shift to contractors as trainers for the expanding Iraqi military is a natural step." He added, however, that the outcome "depends on the quality of those the contractors recruit."
Michael O'Hanlon, a military specialist at the Brookings Institution, said the need for contractors to support the Iraq transition teams is linked to the shortage of such officers in the U.S. Army at a time when it is also expanding. "There are insufficient field-grade officers in our own service, and we need the captains and majors as we increase our own ground forces," he said.
As O'Hanlon notes, this step is an acknowledgement that there is a shortage of the type of officers and senior NCOs in the Army necessary to field sufficient numbers of transition teams. But Dr. iRack is not enthusiastic about outsourcing here. We've had significant problems with contractors in a private security capacity (in terms of conduct, accountability, etc.), and we also know that contractors did a sub-standard job training Iraqi security forces in the first year of the war. Why should we expect more or better now? Almost everybody agrees that the next stage of COIN in Iraq will include an enhanced advisory role (as U.S. forces step back from the lead in population security). If this is going to be the core mission, shouldn't it be the core mission of the Army?
To make up for the current manpower problems in the advisory mission (which stem from the fact that MiTTs are, at best, a secondary or tertiary priority for the Army, and the fact that transition teams currently require supplemental personal because they are mostly not organic to existing combat units), Dr. iRack would like to see the U.S. Army explore other options rather than leaving this vital mission to private contractors. One possibility is to decompose brigades into their constitutent units to be paired with Iraqi units down to the company level to monitor, mentor, train, and advise them. The Marines have experimented with a similar model in parts of Anbar (such as al Qaim) with great success, and Iraqi security forces have also made strides as a consequence of partnering with U.S. units in Baghdad during the surge. Maybe the Army should take a page from these experiences before they write a check to more contractors.
UPDATE: Kip saw the article and is actually seething. We know we are headed in the wrong direction when we decide to outsource our "number one priority mission" and "exit strategy" to the lowest bidder.