The Brits are in a rush to get the Hell out of Basra. But they’re not going anywhere until the Iraqi Army is ready to fully take over. Hence the importance the British military places on its so-called “monitoring, mentoring and training” role. Of the roughly 4,500 British troops still in Iraq, around 1,000 are trainers, including the entire 1 Scots battlegroup based at a former 1920s RAF airfield called Shaiba.
On December 15, 1 Scots officers and NCOs instruct soldiers from the new Iraqi Army 14 Division, which is standing up to serve alongside the 10 Division that the Brits were busy training the last time I was in Iraq. Sergeant Sean Curry yells at confused Iraqi privates running urban assault drills, pretending to bust down doors and sweep into rooms with AK-47s at the ready. “Communiction is the key to strike ops!” Curry barks. In response the trainees bark at each other.
There’s a natural timidness that old-fashioned, heirarchical Iraqi military culture breeds in its junior soldiers. Breaking that is vital to creating an adaptive, Western-quality Iraqi Army. But it’s important not to expect the Iraqis to look and act exactly like U.S. or British troops, says 1 Scots commander Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bruce. “We meet them halfway,” he says.
At the end of a morning of drilling, the 14 Div soldiers get tested in a real building with sheet metal doors — and a British soldier hiding in one room playing the role of a high-value terrorist leader. Iraqi soldiers stack up outside the building. One private, the squad leader, appraises the front door then yells commands to his men. I’ve never heard this kind of force from an Iraqi soldier before. It works. The squaddies bust down the door with one powerful blow of a sledgehammer then race inside, weapons raised, shouting to each other and to their squad leader as they spread out to clear the entire building in just seconds. They lead the hand-cuffed “terrorist” outside.
Training mission accomplished. Now if they can just do it all for real.
Goodbye Basra, Day Four: Screamin’ Privates
Goodbye Basra, Day Three: Sand Castles
Goodbye Basra, Day Two: Big Bad Rides
Goodbye Basra, Day One: Incoming!
Wash Times: Brits hand over
WPR: Brits bugger out