Logistics: God, Literacy, Computers And Automotive Maintenance


May 3, 2009:  Iraq and Afghanistan have received over 10,000 vehicles (mostly hummers and pickup trucks) from the United States, to motorize their security forces. This works fine, at first. But after a while, most of the vehicles become inoperable. This is because  there are some serious problems in both countries, namely a shortage of qualified mechanics and operators to maintain these vehicles. As a result, after a year or so of use, these vehicles start to break down, and there are not enough qualified mechanics to keep the vehicles operational.

It's not a problem unique to Iraq or Afghanistan. For over half a century, Arab nations in the Persian Gulf have been importing Western mechanics to maintain their growing fleet of civilian and government vehicles, and military equipment. This was brought about by the lack of literacy and technical education in the region. That's because, before the huge quantities of oil money began to arrive after World War II, most of the Persian Gulf Arab states were still living in a pre-industrial culture. This was particularly the case in Saudi Arabia, where the average life expectancy was about 40 years and most of the population was illiterate. Even today, 15 percent of Saudis are illiterate. The oil wealth led to a huge growth in education. But, unlike in the West, the emphasis was on non-technical subjects (especially religion). There were never enough people who could fix things. This is still the case. Afghanistan never had an explosion of oil (or any other kind of) oil wealth. Currently, over 70 percent of Afghans are illiterate.

It gets worse. Until the 1980s, automobiles were relatively simple mechanical devices. Enterprising locals, even if illiterate, could figure out how to maintain and fix motor vehicles. But after the 1980s, more and more electronics were added to cars and trucks. Current vehicles have dozens of microprocessors to make them run more reliably and efficiently. But now you need diagnostic computers to find the source of problems, and skilled (and literate) mechanics to make the repairs. Neither Iraq, nor Afghanistan, have enough of the equipment, and trained mechanics to use it. Nor do they have a large pool of literate, and technically inclined, personnel to do the work.

In Iraq, literacy is over 70 percent, and it is one of the Arab nations that embraced technical education. But they are still not as technically adept as your average Western population. Moreover, the civilian economy in Iraq is booming, and mechanics can make more money serving non-military vehicles. Iraq also has a long tradition of not taking good care of their vehicles. This was noted in 1991, as U.S. troops were getting ready to chase the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Some Iraqi military vehicles were examined before the fighting began, and their low level of maintenance was noted. Not surprisingly, when the coalition forces moved into Kuwait, it was discovered that many Iraqi vehicles were immobile because they were not well cared for by their users, and there were not enough mechanics to make timely repairs.

Lastly, there's the custom in Moslem countries to deal with things like broken down vehicles by saying; "It's God's will." In the West, the attitude is that, "God helps those who helps themselves," and let's get these vehicles fixed and keep them fixed. Another problem in Iraq and Afghanistan is corruption. Officers often find it more useful to steal money for maintenance (including the training of mechanics) than to improve their material readiness. The combination of a lack or maintenance resources, and a bad attitudes towards maintenance, will keep the vehicle readiness low in Iraq and Afghanistan for some time to come.





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