|Col. Bill Cowan|
Slow in coming, the rush now to get Iraqis trained, under arms and more directly involved in the safety and security of their own country is clearly a move in the right direction. As recently as four months ago, the Pentagon’s announced plan for Iraqi military forces was that there would be a 40,000 man Iraqi army by December of next year. Now, in addition to the army, there are civil defense forces, facilities and installations guards, and border guards all being trained and employed at an accelerated pace. Even in his trip to Iraq last week, Secretary Rumsfeld made a point of visiting some of these young Iraqis being trained by American forces. Together with the new Iraqi police, these are the people who will ultimately replace coalition forces. While that moment may not be right around the corner, they are the foundation around which Iraq’s future might well be determined.
|"Developing an Iraqi paramilitary force is within the core capabilities of Special Forces."|
Even when these new forces are employed, however, U.S. forces will still be the ones expected to fulfill the most dangerous missions against Saddam holdouts and foreign fighters. It is our forces who will make forays into the toughest and most dangerous neighborhoods, make the daring day and nighttime raids against known or suspected holdouts, and who will often provide quick reaction forces to respond to ongoing shootouts. But it need not always be that way. Instead, it may now be time to consider expanding the responsibilities of Iraqis by forming a new paramilitary force — a strike force which can work with and ultimately supplant U.S. forces in taking on the most dangerous missions.
How do we develop such a force? It’s not so hard. We use the Army’s Special Forces, the same soldiers who were in Afghanistan within days of 9/11, joining with indigenous Afghan forces, winning over their loyalty, and then routing the Taliban and Al Qaeda. These are the exceptional men whose regional orientation, cross-cultural training, language skills, and knowledge of political context make them incomparable to any other forces in the U.S. military.
Although they’re being employed in Iraq already, we’ve still not taken full advantage of the exceptional skills which Special Forces soldiers possess. To be sure, the scenario in Iraq is different. What isn’t different is the fact that Special Forces are trained, prepared, and equipped to work with indigenous peoples, irrespective of the mission, and that developing an Iraqi paramilitary force is within the core capabilities of Special Forces.
After recruiting, selecting, training, and equipping a paramilitary force, they should be employed in a team with Iraqis and Americans operating side-by-side — a few Americans with a highly trained and appropriately equipped team of Iraqis. The Americans' role would include providing intelligence, defining the mission and plan, and coordinating the support, such as helicopters or fixed wing aircraft like the AC-130 gunship. The Iraqis would function as the door busters, questioners, interrogators or, when required, the direct action team.
As Americans can already see, winning the ongoing effort against the enemy isn’t easy. It will take more than civil defense, police, or other military units to make it happen. A trained, mobile, effective, and well-led paramilitary force can make a major difference in Iraq, as it has elsewhere. Better yet, it can shift the burden of many of the more dangerous missions over to the Iraqis themselves. Moving quickly to develop such a force is in the best interests of the coalition and of U.S. forces now engaged in the brunt of the battle with the enemy.
A retired Marine Corps officer, Bill Cowan spent three and a half years on combat assignments in Vietnam. In the 1980s, he was specially selected to serve as one of the first members and as the only Marine in the Pentagon's most classified counterterrorist unit, the Intelligence Support Activity (ISA), a unit that to this date remains under the tightest security. While there, Cowan served as a senior military operations officer and field operative on covert missions to the Middle East, Europe and Latin America. He is a co-founder of the WVC3 Group, a company providing homeland security services, support and technologies to government and commercial clients.