February 18, 2010: One of the reasons for the poor training, lethargic movement and poor combat capabilities of most Arab armies is logistics, or lack of same. Keeping the troops supplied is something Western armies take for granted, along with their ability to do it well. But Arab armies are still way behind their Western counterparts. American officers and NCOs come face-to-face with the differences when they are ordered to help Iraqi troops build an effective logistics system. Two big problems were encountered. First, the Americans have, in the past two decades, computerized their supply system. The Iraqis can't adopt that, because they don't have enough computers, or people who know how to use them. In the army, when there are computers available, officers grab them because they make great status symbols. Many Iraqi businesses use manual record keeping for their company logistics, but the pre-2003 Iraqi Army never even adopted a decent manual system. The U.S. Army has sought out older NCOs (and retirees willing to go back to work) who had experience in the old American manual systems, and remember how it worked in practice, to implement these old school techniques for the Iraqis. Old manuals and forms are being sought out, translated into Arabic and distributed. But not fast enough, because the Iraqis need it now, and most of the American troops will be gone by the end of the year. American trainers will still be around, but the American military logistics system, which has been keeping the Iraqi forces going, will be gone.
This is not a new problem for Iraq, or Middle Eastern armies in general. Creating an efficient logistics and administrative system for the Iraqi armed forces is proving to be the most difficult task the coalition has had to face while creating new armed forces for Iraq. The U.S. has been working on this for over four years, and corruption and bad habits make it difficult to keep the Iraqi troops supplied with essential items. There seems to be a curse at work here, preventing the Iraqis from getting their logistics act together.
Military logistics has been deficient in Iraq, and the entire region, for some very practical reasons. First of all, it's expensive. Even with all that oil money, no one wants to spend a lot of cash on providing logistics capabilities needed for troops in combat that might never come. Historically, nations in the region saw their armed forces as more of an internal security force. If invaded, the army could just grab whatever they needed from the civilian economy. Another important angle was preventing the troops from joining a rebellion. Only a few units had access to lots of ammo and fuel, and these were the most loyal troops, who were thus in a better position to defend the government from rebellious soldiers.
The two times Saddam used the military to invade neighbors, these logistical deficiencies were very obvious. In 1980, when he invaded Iran, his troops were only supplied sufficiently, and just barely, to take the oil rich areas just across the border. Iraqi troops failed in this, partly because of logistical shortcomings. The 1990 invasion of Kuwait was successful, but witnesses noted that the invading Iraqi troops promptly began living off the Kuwaitis, because there was no logistical support from Iraq. When the coalition attacked into Kuwait in 1991, they found the defending Iraqi troops poorly supplied and demoralized because of it.
While there are plenty of Iraqis with military experience, there are few of them with any knowledge, or experience, in military logistics. Coalition trainers had to start from scratch to build a modern logistical system for the Iraqi security forces. In the meantime, coalition logistical organizations are keeping the Iraqis supplied, as best they can. Even with the coalition help, there are few capable logistical troops with the operational units, to receive, store and disperse the supplies.
And then there's corruption. Another reason for Middle Eastern nations to avoid investing in logistics, a service which includes stockpiling supplies for military operations, is the likelihood that the stockpiles will be plundered. This stuff is all-too-easily stolen, and there are surviving records explaining how this was done in the Middle East thousands of years ago. Rulers in this part of the world have learned their lesson, and have another reason to avoid investing in logistics.