US aims to quickly train Iraq forces for anti-IS fight

US aims to quickly train Iraq forces for anti-IS fight
A file picture taken on October 30, 2014, Iraqi forces on an armored personnel carrier (APC) stand near an Iraqi national flag as they advance in the Jurf al-Sakhr area, north of the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, after they retook the area from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists over the weekend after months of fighting the regain the ground.

TAJI BASE, Iraq - American and allied soldiers are aiming to rapidly train thousands of Iraqi security personnel in the "bare minimum basics" needed to join the fight against militants who swept Baghdad's troops aside.

The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group spearheaded a major June offensive that overran much of Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland, and while pro-government forces have since regained some ground, swathes of territory are still outside Baghdad's control.

The United States, which fought a bloody and costly almost nine-year war in Iraq, is now leading an international coalition carrying out air strikes against IS and training and advising Iraqi forces.

The first round of training is just getting underway at the massive Taji base complex north of Baghdad, one of five planned training sites.

"By mid-February, this first tranche... will have graduated," Major General Dana Pittard said. "Every six to eight weeks there'll be 5,000 more."

The training will focus on "the bare minimum basics that are needed for counter-attacking" against IS, he said. "What's important is it'll continue to generate combat power... confident, capable forces."

Such forces were in short supply in June, folding to IS-led militants and in some cases abandoning vehicles, equipment and uniforms to flee.

Lacking leadership

Major General Paul Funk put the defeats down to a lack of leadership and training.

"I don't think they had a lot of confidence in the leadership up there in Mosul," he said, referring to the northern city where the militant drive began.

Iraqi officers will undergo training that will address leadership issues, which will teach the same "decision-making process that we use in the American military," Funk said.

The US spent billions training and equipping Iraqi forces, but the relationship was significantly scaled back after the American military withdrawal in 2011 and skills were not maintained.

"Right after we left, (the Iraqis) really did become relatively complacent and then flat out just didn't train, didn't spend the money to do it, didn't maintain the systems and so therein lies the problem," said Funk.

Talks between Baghdad and Washington on a post-2011 US troop presence that would likely have helped head off training lapses broke down over US President Barack Obama's insistence that the American personnel have legal immunity.

A much smaller contingent under US embassy authority was all that remained.

But other major factors, aside from the state of the Iraqi security forces, contributed to the June debacle.

Former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki played a significant role in setting the stage for the rise of IS, pursuing policies that marginalised and angered Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, making it easier for the brutal jihadist group to operate and recruit.

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