Logistics: Iraqis Embrace Their Inner Clerk

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November 27,2008: In the latest attempt to improve logistics in the Iraqi armed forces, the United States has formed fifty LTATs (Logistics Training Advisory Teams). Each contains eight American troops expert in various aspects of logistics. The LTATs have been sent to Iraqi units to both provide expert advice, and to also compile more information on how the Iraqis cope, or don't,  with logistical problems. For special projects, some LTATs can have three or four times as many members.

Arab armies have never been very good at logistics (obtaining, storing and moving supplies, as well as maintenance of equipment) and the Iraqi armed forces were among some of the worst offenders. So providing the new Iraqi army with adequate logistics support is a major effort. This support includes ordering, stockpiling and delivering supplies, as well as equipment maintenance and medical support.

Another major problem is that there's no older system to build on. For one thing, all the former Iraqi army logistics officers were Sunni Arabs, whose loyalty was suspect after 2003. But it's not their political views you have to worry about the most. It's the corruption factor that is the biggest obstacle to establishing an effective logistics organization. Training Iraqis in the technical skills required is easy, compared to getting them to believe that honesty is the only policy that makes this work. If anyone involved in the long chain of handling supplies is crooked, the combat troops won't get what they need.

But it's not just corruption in the logistics units, but in the army as a whole. Senior commanders are too prone to just reassigning logistics troops to other duties, then complaining to their American advisors that they have no logistical support. Fortunately, not all Iraqi officers are corrupt, or logistically inept. But the more of them there are, the larger your logistical problems are going to be.

For the last two years, the U.S. has been helping the Iraqis create a force of 40,000 logistics troops. Most of those are now on duty, but not all are trained, or reliable. Proficiency begins at the top, and in a democracy, the elected officials appoint the heads of the Defense Ministry (and other ministries that require logistic support, like Interior). Too often, these ministers, or their immediate subordinates, are stealing. And these thieves will appoint other officials and officers who are also thieves. But worse than the stealing, is the impact it has on operations. Troops who don't get paid, fed, supplied or equipped on time, do not perform very well, if at all. There's no magic solution to curing this problem, it just takes time and effort. This sort of thing has been cured before. Indeed, all the highly efficient Western nations went through this corrupt phase, and some were worse that present day Iraq.

Most Iraqi officers now recognize the need for effective logistics, if only because they could not help but notice how effective U.S. troops were because of good logistics support. Iraqi troops have also had lots of experience with their own logistical shortcomings. Vehicles running out of gas, or breaking down because of poor maintenance, gets your attention. Food, ammo or other supplies not arriving on schedule, is another attention getter. So the LTATs are being listened to, and the hope is that most of these lessons will stick.

 

 


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