us in irak againA “senior U.S. military official” quoted by CNN said, on January 24, 2015, that U.S. military advisers already deployed to Iraq in order to significantly boost combat worthiness of Iraqi troops might be sent near the front lines at Mosul (the largest city in Northern Iraq and the largest city controlled by ISIL). Most probably, the Iraqi regular forces and the Kurdish militias will attempt, quite soon, to push the Islamic State forces out of the city. CNN also reported that “U.S. military leadership has held open the possibility it would recommend moving advisers closer to combat lines”. According to what we know from open sources, “Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, would make that recommendation to Obama if they determine Iraqis need U.S. help and there is no other option for providing it”[1].

One day earlier, on January 23, 2015, the Pentagon officially announced that “the first advance detachment of U.S. troops responsible for training moderate Syrian opposition forces will begin arriving in the U.S. Central Command area of operations in the next few days, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said”. This first group of U.S. military advisers and trainers will have “fewer than 100 troops”, and “A second wave of several hundred trainers will deploy in the next few weeks”[2].

Meaning and possible consequences

            In many occasions along the past few decades, mixing local troops (brave, but poorly trained, poorly armed and even very poorly led) with highly skilled, well led professional military forces generated really impressive results. In late 1916 and in 1917, for example, a French military mission led by General Henri Berthelot helped a lot the Romanian military forces to operate a quick and successful recovery after the almost disastrous defeats suffered in 1916. Berthelot’s mission had almost 1,500 skilled military specialists of all sorts[3]. A few years later, another French military mission helped a lot the armed forces of the recently re-established Polish state to defeat a massive early Soviet attack[4]. More recently, along the past few years, NATO offered the Afghans a lot of trainers and know-how, allowing post-Taliban Afghanistan the chance of properly training and later using more than 300,000 troops.

            Quite clearly, combat worthiness of Iraqi troops might be significantly boosted by the presence of U.S. military advisers and trainers. The larger the number of U.S. military specialists (advisers and trainers), the larger and quicker the results might be. On the other hand, bringing U.S. military advisers to the front lines near Mosul might generate a number of U.S. combat casualties. And such an outcome might have significant political consequences, in a domestic context dominated in the U.S. by the very fact that President Obama had solemnly promised that “U.S. troops will not be sent on a combat mission”[5] in Iraq.

[1] Barbara STARR (CNN Pentagon Correspondent), “Will U.S. advisers move to Iraqi front lines?”, CNN, January 24, 2015, at the Internet address

[2] Claudette ROULO (DoD News, Defense Media Activity), “U.S. Troops to Begin Establishing Syrian Opposition Training Sites”, DoD News, January 23, 2015, text accessed at the Internet address

[3] For Berhelot’s mission see, for example, General Henri BERTHELOT, Memorii şi corespondenţă (1916-1919), Editura Militară, Bucureşti, 2012

[4] For the role of the French military mission in Poland see Norman DAVIES, White Eagle, Red Star: The Polish-Soviet War, 1919-20, Orbis Books Ltd., London, 1983

[5] Barbara STARR, op. cit.

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