How well can a Kurd do a jumping jack? It might sound facetious, but the jumping jack is actually a good yardstick for how disciplined a group of soldiers are—a relatively simple physical exercise that pretty much anybody can be trained to perform, but which requires some modicum of motivation and uniformity: if you aren’t motivated enough to do jumping jacks in cadence, you probably aren’t motivated enough to brave enemy fire. Compare the struggles of the Afghan police to do jumping jacks against any American unit and the value of the jumping jack test is evident. On a recent trip to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq I had the opportunity to observe training at two separate locations, one just outside of Erbil and a second near the Mosul Dam. While their jumping jacks weren’t perfect, they were pretty good, and corresponded to how they conducted themselves on the front lines.
In the West, there has been a recent wave of fretting about the United States’ alleged inability to train foreign militaries; one attempt to address this has been the establishment of new “Advise and Assist” brigades. Most veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have some horror stories about their host nation counterparts: for example, during my time in Sangin, Afghanistan, an Afghan National Civil Order Police unit rotated into our AO and replaced an Afghan National Army unit. On their first night, the new unit got jumpy and, sensing a threat that was not there, opened fire with a “death blossom” on our village. The next day they asked us for RPGs so that they would feel safer, a request that seemed unwise for us to grant. With the Iraqi Security Forces currently testing their American training on the streets of Mosul, it seems like a good time to ask what makes partner militaries effective, and how we can facilitate that.