As US-Trained Forces Turn On Each Other, Army Expands Foreign Training Mission

Army photos by Sgt. Brandon L. Rizzo

The United States Army is quickly reorganizing to expand its training, advising, and assistance to foreign forces — even as two militaries trained and equipped by the U.S. are clashing with each other in the contested Iraqi city of Kirkuk. The flaring military confrontation between Kurds and Iraqi federal troops highlights the dangers of bolstering the battlefield capabilities of foreign governments whose objectives don’t necessarily align with America’s national interests.

The Army announced on Oct. 16 that it will speed up the fielding of its security force assistance brigades, or SFABs, which will be manned by conventional troops but structured like the 75th Ranger Regiment and also maintain similar physical standards. The original goal was to have five SFABs stood up by 2022, with the first ready to deploy as soon as 2018. It is unclear if that timeline has changed, though the Army seems to be suggesting it has.    

“Our fundamental strategic approach to deal with terrorism and terrorists is to work by, with and through host nations, partner nations, friends and allies — their indigenous security forces — in order to provide for a stable environment for their own country,” Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s chief of staff, said on Oct. 9 at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting in Washington. “By doing that, we’ll meet U.S. objectives.”

Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Shellie Hall

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Zachary Weidner watches as an Iraqi soldier fire a .50-caliber machine gun while training in Iraq, April 12, 2017.

Once formed, the brigades will deploy to train, advise, and assist partner militaries in countries around the world...including Iraq, where Iraqi Kurds and the Iranian-backed Iraqi government — both key U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS — appear to be on the brink of a civil war. Tensions in the region escalated dramatically since the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government held a referendum on Sept. 25 in which an overwhelming majority of Kurdish voters affirmed the region’s right to declare independence from Baghdad.  

Washington also strongly opposed the Kurdish vote for independence, as did neighboring Turkey and Iran. The inclusion of Iranian-backed Shiite militias in the combined force that advanced into parts of Kirkuk on Oct. 15 infuriated the Kurdish Regional Government, which is controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or K.D.P. The peshmerga general command in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region, told The New York Times that the presence of the Shiite militias amounted to “a flagrant declaration of war against the nation of Kurdistan.”       

The Kurdish peshmerga seized Kirkuk in 2014 after the Iraqi military fled amid an ISIS offensive that saw may key cities in the region fall to the terror group. On Oct. 15, the Iraqi government, backed by Iran, launched a “probing attack” against peshmerga forces southwest of Kirkuk, according to the Institute for the Study of War, and then easily secured parts of the city after Kurdish troops with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or P.U.K, a rival of the K.D.P, agreed to withdraw to make way for the Iraqi advance.  

Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joshua S. McAlpine

U.S. Marine Corps Col. Christian Cabaniss, the commander of Task Force Al Taqaddum and deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, speaks with Italian police officials about the current and future training plans for the Iraqi police and military forces on Al-Taqaddum Air Base, Iraq, April 27, 2017.

The “train, advise, and assist” effort has been a core pillar in the U.S. strategy to degrade and destroy ISIS in Iraq and neighboring Syria. And while the anti-ISIS campaign has been largely successful on both sides of the border, the Kurdish and Iraqi militaries, which were reluctant partners in that fight, are now flush with American arms, equipment, and tactical doctrine that they are now turning against each other.

“We have enough weapons,” a Kurdish field commander stationed north of Kirkuk told The New York Times on Oct. 16. “We can fight as long as we have to.”         

A spokesman for the American-led coalition told The New York Times that U.S. troops are not supporting either side in the Kirkuk standoff.

The Army intends to build a total of six SFABS — five in the regular Army and one in the National Guard. Two of the SFABs will focus on the Middle East, while the other four will focus “on the Pacific, Africa and possibly Europe,” the Army said in a statement. The  Army says its goal is to enhance its ability to fight global terrorism while freeing up its traditional forces to focus on readiness for conventional warfare.

Army photo by Sgt. Lisa Soy

A Peshmerga soldier assesses components of a simulated improvised explosive device during counter-IED training at Bnaslawa, Iraq, Dec. 4, 2016. By enabling Peshmerga security forces through advise and assist, and building partner capacity missions, Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, the global Coalition to defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

The 500-600 officers and non-commissioned officers selected for the first SFAB are currently being trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. “SFABs are not Special Forces,” Brig. Gen. Brian Mennes, director of force management with the Army’s G-3/5/7, said at the AUSA meeting on Oct. 9; however, as the Army notes, soldiers in the units will receive “some comparable training, including language instruction.”

As Stars and Stripes reports, the Army is aiming to add 17,000 more soldiers to the active-duty component in fiscal year 2018 to “offset losses to combat formations as it moves experienced soldiers into” the SFABs. In May, the Army announced that troops who volunteered to join the SFABs would receive a $5,000 bonus — one of several perks intended to entice top-performing soldiers into a post that will likely entail a lot of time spent overseas.

“We are likely to be involved in train, advise, and assist operations across the world for many years to come,” Milley said on Oct. 9 at AUSU. “We think it’s about time we recognize that fact with force structure specifically designed to train, man, and equip organizations that can go forward for those operations.”

(U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland)

GREENBELT, Md. (Reuters) - A U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant accused of amassing a cache of weapons and plotting to attack Democratic politicians and journalists was ordered held for two weeks on Thursday while federal prosecutors consider charging him with more crimes.

Read More Show Less
An undated image of Hoda Muthana provided by her attorney, Hassan Shibly. (Associated Press)

Attorneys for the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America have filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr and President Donald Trump asking the court to recognize the citizenship of an Alabama woman who left the U.S. to join ISIS and allow she and her young son to return to the United States.

Read More Show Less
U.S. soldiers surveil the area during a combined joint patrol in Manbij, Syria, November 1, 2018. Picture taken November 1, 2018. (U.S. Army/Zoe Garbarino/Handout via Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will leave "a small peacekeeping group" of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after a U.S. pullout, the White House said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.

Read More Show Less
Construction crews staged material needed for the Santa Teresa Border Wall Replacement project near the Santa Teresa Port of Entry. (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol/Mani Albrecht)

With a legal fight challenge mounting from state governments over the Trump administration's use of a national emergency to construct at the U.S.-Mexico border, the president has kicked his push for the barrier into high gear.

On Wednesday, President Trump tweeted a time-lapse video of wall construction in New Mexico; the next day, he proclaimed that "THE WALL IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION RIGHT NOW"

But there's a big problem: The footage, which was filmed more than five months ago on Sep. 18, 2018, isn't really new wall construction at all, and certainly not part of the ongoing construction of "the wall" that Trump has been haggling with Congress over.

Read More Show Less
(From left to right) Chris Osman, Chris McKinley, Kent Kroeker, and Talon Burton

A group comprised of former U.S. military veterans and security contractors who were detained in Haiti on weapons charges has been brought back to the United States and arrested upon landing, The Miami-Herald reported.

The men — five Americans, two Serbs, and one Haitian — were stopped at a Port-au-Prince police checkpoint on Sunday while riding in two vehicles without license plates, according to police. When questioned, the heavily-armed men allegedly told police they were on a "government mission" before being taken into custody.

Read More Show Less