Special Operations: Iraqi Special Operations Forces


November 17, 2005: After nearly two years of effort, Iraq has an effective Special Operations (commando) force. The ISOF (Iraqi Special Operations Forces) consist of one brigade and some 1,400 troops. The brigade has two combat battalions (the Counter-Terrorism Task Force and the Commando battalion) and two support battalions (the Special Operations Support Battalion and Special Operations Training unit). Much of the initial training took place in Jordan, using instructors from the Jordanian commandoes, as well as the U.S. Army Special Forces. The Iraqi commandoes were trained to U.S. standards, using American equipment and tactics. This was done to insure interoperability with American Special Operations troops, and American forces in general.

While there were many capable special operations troops in the old Iraqi army, these were almost all Sunni Arabs, and selected with an eye towards their loyalty to Saddam Hussein. These guys were also used for a lot of terrorism operations against the Iraqi people. Because of this, the current Iraqi commando force had to be recruited from scratch. Most of these men are Kurds or Shia Arabs. Screening was thorough, and as a result there have been few failures in training, and hardly any desertions or AWOLs (Absent With Out Leave, which was very common in the old Iraqi army, as well as the current one.)

ISOF has been heavily used this year, both in hunting down terrorists, and working with American troops to clear out anti-government forces that still control many towns in western (Sunni Arab) Iraq. But there are only two battalions, and it takes over six months of intense training to get new a recruit ready for the most basic operations. As the Iraqi army grows, and gets more experience, there are more proven men that can be recruited. But ISOF will never be a huge organization. Standards are very high, and the men who are already in the ISOF want to keep it that way.


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