vendredi 19 octobre 2018

Interview - About the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, with David M. Witty

As the tip of spear for the recent operations against the Islamic State, the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) was at the center of heavy battles, which was not without consequences for the CTS's capabilties. David M. Witty, a retired U.S. Army Special forces officer, with more than ten years living and working in the Middle East, has described in a recent report for the Washington Institue the recent past, present and the future of this specific unit. In a previous report, he had studied the period 2003 - 2014 for The Brookings Institution.
The CTS is a well-known unit for French military forces who participate in its training since March 2015 and have advised it during recent combat operations (Ramadi, Mosul...), as described in recent posts on this blog (see here and here, in French). David M. Witty recalls French participation, particularly in the specialized training provided by the French Army (with the Task Force Narvik) to Iraqi commandos in the "Secondary School" (after years of efforts in the "Primary School", for basic selection and training of commandos): "Most coalition training at the Academia [i.e.: the training school of the CTS] is not conducted by USSOF [i.e.: the U.S. Special Operations Forces] but by the other nationalities that are part of SOTC-I [i.e.: Special Operations Training Command - Iraq]. In particular, France has provided medical training, deep reconnaissance courses, and desert training, while Belgian instructors have taught the officer course and Polish forces were involved in training Defense Ministry members". He also indirectly raises a French specificity, the sending of French soldiers from conventional units to form foreign special units (maybe based on the experience abroad for such missions of French forces sent, issued from specialized units, as higly-trained recce units or higly-employed engineer sections): "At one point, a French mechanized infantry force, not French SOF, conducted training at the Academia, drawing resentment from CTS personnel. One future desire of the CTS is to be trained exclusively by U.S. and Australian SOF, with the latter included because it has capabilities similar to USSF", according to a former CTS advisor interviewed by the author. He kindly answered some of our questions to present this report, which is not without lessons for current and future advise & assist missions. Thank you Sir!
What are the main consequences of ICTS' transition from a highly specialized counter-terrorism force to a more conventional assault unit?

Iraq has lost a good portion of its counter terrorism capability at time when it is most needed. ISIS is conducting a new insurgency and using the same tactics its followed pre-2014. CTS needs to transition back to its purely counter terrorism focus, but this still has not happened for a large part of CTS in the ten months since Prime Minister Abadi declared ISIS as conventionally defeated. For example, the 2nd ISOF Brigade is acting as the garrison of Kirkuk City. Parts of the 3rd ISOF Brigade are acting as a reserve force against protests in the south. The CTS model is to have a battalion assigned to each province to act as a local CT force and track terrorist networks in each province.
What role has international support played in keeping this unit cohesive despite casualties and heavy fighting?

It has been a huge factor in the success of CTS. Coalition material and logistics support played a large role in the success of CTS, but more importantly, was the role of Coalition air support, which CTS relied upon extensively in battles like Ramadi and Mosul.

Did support other than the United States one have a special place, yesterday and tomorrow?

Yes. The French and other nations played a heavy role in training and supporting CTS. I argue in my recent report that US Green Berets, or Special Forces, should be the primary forces training and advising CTS. After all, they established the force and modeled it on US Special Operations Forces doctrine. Other Coalition nations should each have a role, or take the lead, in recreating CTS lost capabilities, or helping it create new capabilities. For instance, the French have been involved in training CTS in reconnaissance and in desert warfare. The CTS has many plans to specialize its battalions to conduct CT in the environments of each of their provinces. The Basra battalion will need to develop a maritime capability. The Anbar battalion needs to be able to conduct long range desert movements. CTS is also developing an airborne capability. So, each Coalition nation could help CTS create each of these capabilities, maybe even using those nations’ doctrine for each of these specific capabilities. But overall basic tactics and employment doctrines should be US.

Is the ICTS a 'replicable model?
Yes, but not on a large scale. CTS was small and had more Coalition attention than any other Iraqi force before the US withdrawal in 2011. US advisors were embedded into CTS down to the company heavy and the US conducted near daily partnered combat operations with it. And the same US advisors did repeated tours with the CTS over and over again. It again had a heavy Coalition focus starting in 2015. The Iraqi Army is too large for this same approach to work unless the Coalition is willing to back a massive investment in training it with the same advisors repeatedly rotating back to Iraq again and again, as well as extensive partnering operations. I don’t think any Coalition nation is willing to make that kind of investment in Iraq.

What are the main challenges for the ICTS as the reconquest of the Iraqi territory is about to be completed?

CTS has massive expansion plans. It needs to stop any planned growth and focus on regaining lost capabilities and bringing all battalions up to the same level of training as some of the best battalions in the 1st ISOF Brigade. It needs to stop being used as a holding force in the north and simply refocus on its core counter terrorism mission. It needs to resolve the tensions in the command structure that I write about. It is probably ready for a new generation of younger leaders to take over.

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