BESMAYA RANGE, Iraq —
Under a broiling sun, Iraqis of the 9th Armored Division await their turn to drop into the turrets of their T-72 training tanks and fire the coaxial machine guns.
The Iraqis are training at this range under the eyes of 300 Spanish, 80 British and 35 American soldiers, and of Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is here to see how the training is going.
The Iraqis are motivated. The Spanish officer in command of the Besmaya training effort said he expected 800 Iraqis to show up for the four-week course at the beginning of April. One thousand came.
Year of Liberation
The Iraqis training at the range are mostly new recruit, who will be based in Camp Taji when they finish training.
Iraqi Maj. Muhammed Abdel Kadir of the 2nd Battalion of the 9th Iraqi Armored Division spoke to reporters traveling with Dunford. Through an interpreter, he said the unit began training at the beginning of the month. The men train on four T-72s, two M-1 Abrams tanks and in three BMPs – Russian-made infantry fighting vehicles.
The men are being paid, the major said, and supplies and logistical support is improving. The soldiers received M-16 rifles and learned the care and maintenance those weapons need, and they qualified in firing it. They also familiarized themselves with other small weapons.
All expect to be part of the coming battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. “This is the year of the liberation of Mosul,” one of the men said. But there are still things that need to be done.
The most glaring is there are no 125 mm rounds for the T-72 tank’s main gun. The unit, which will fall in on T-72s when they get to Camp Taji, has not fired the main gun.
All this points to a major impediment to the Iraqi soldier’s wish to liberate Mosul this year. “We have said time and again Napoleon’s old saying ‘Amateurs talk strategy, experts talk logistics,’” said Army Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, who spoke to reporters earlier in the day. “It’s an incredibly important aspect they have to master.”
The Iraqis have 125 mm ammunition somewhere in their system, a Spanish official said, but they just can’t seem to deliver it efficiently.
American officials have talked on logistics and aviation being “the long poles in the tent” for Iraqi security forces for years. And the situation has improved. In the early days of the rebuilding, many soldiers weren’t paid. Units didn’t have the manning they were supposed to have. Iraqi soldiers hardly ever did regular “operator maintenance” on weapons systems or vehicles. All these things are improving, officials said.
But depot level maintenance, getting supplies -- bullets, gasoline and beans -- from point A to point B, and ensuring soldiers have what they need when they need it, are still works in progress. Investing in these capabilities to be successful against ISIL, though, remains the long pole in the tent.
The Iraqi military has to build up the logistics tail to support operations directed at Mosul before it can take on ISIL in the city, which is roughly 300 miles north of Baghdad. Tanks and tracked vehicles cannot just drive there, as much of their useful lives would be used up completing the journey. The Iraqis will have to ship the tanks and tracked vehicles to the north -- along with spare parts, tools and other maintenance equipment they will for the vehicles -- to preserve the capability and capacity of their new mobile force.
To do so, the Iraqi government has to establish logistics hubs in the north to support any offensive against ISIL. Camp Speicher near Tikrit is an obvious depot, officials said, and another obvious point is Makhmur in the Irbil governate. “But it has to be the Iraqis who do this,” Warren said.