BUILDING PARTNER CAPACITY WITH THE PESHMERGA

 

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.

 


RATIONALITY AND SARIN GAS: WHAT SOCIAL SCIENCE TELLS US ABOUT ASSAD’S CHEMICAL WEAPONS ATTACK

If Assad wanted to know what would provoke Donald Trump to attack him directly, fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles gave the answer on April 6. Two days earlier, the town of Khan Sheikhoun southwest of Idlib was hit by a deadly nerve agent, likely sarin gas, killing over eighty civilians. This was the same nerve agent that Syrian armed forces used in a rebel-held area near Damascus in 2013, which triggered President Obama’s famous red line.

While Russia insists the attack was a false flag operation, several factors indicate that the regime was behind the recent attack, despite their ostensible disarmament. First, US officials announced that American intelligence agencies tracked Syrian aircraft leaving Sharyat airfield to Khan Sheikhoun and back around the time of the chemical attack. Second, after the chemical attack itself, aircraft struck a medical building and a makeshift hospital where the victims were being taken. Third, while ISIS has used chemical weapons, they have been restricted to chlorine and mustard gas, rather than the more advanced sarin gas that appears to have been used recently. Finally, embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been accused of using other chemical weapons since allegedly handing over his chemical weapon stockpile in 2013, but none of the attacks have been as deadly or garnered as much international attention as the one last Tuesday.