Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Building Iraqi Villages

No, this is not about reconstruction or rebuilding public or private structures destroyed in combat operations in Iraq.

But it is about building and what this "building" portends for U.S. troops in Iraq.

The Associated Press carried a story April 11 about a $57 million dollar village being built at the National Training Center (NTC) in Fort Irwin, California.

For years, NTC and the complementary Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas and then Fork Polk, Louisiana, hosted Army armored and light infantry combat battalions for rigorous field maneuvers against equivalent razor-sharp Soviet formations – really U.S. troops so well schooled in operating Soviet equipment and using Soviet tactics that the “Opposing Force” or OPFOR was said to out-Soviet the Soviets.

Those days are past. Fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq proved such a strain on Army combat units in 2004-2005 that the OPFOR had to be re-trained and re-equipped for duty in Iraq.

The latest news about Fort Irwin’s metamorphosis says 300 buildings will be erected in the Army’s simulated Iraqi village. This will not be the first “village” in Fort Irwin – there are about a dozen there already – nor is Irwin the only place with these constructs. Some of the earliest were erected to train troops in what is known as MOUT – military operations in urban terrain – to reflect the change in post-World War II Europe landscape from agrarian to urban. When U.S. units started arriving in Vietnam, Vietnamese “villages” were created to give soldiers an idea of what they might encounter.

Of course, these “villages” have to be inhabited for there to be any significant value to the training. Soldiers in civilian dress, instructed in a variety of free-flowing scenarios, interact with personnel in the unit being trained. While the “villagers” are play-acting, they must be deadly serious about their part in the training or there may be some seriously dead soldiers when units deploy.

I never visited NTC but I did observe an exercise at the British Army’s equivalent facility where units alerted for duty in Northern Ireland were put through a series of demanding counter-insurgency scenarios. Compared to Iraq, the UK soldiers had less stress getting ready for Northern Ireland duty because there was no serious linguistic barrier – just one of obstinate and even willful miscommunication.

In Iraq, language barriers add pressure on leaders and troops alike because accurate translating takes time, which exposes troops to hastily organized attacks or allows insurgents to escape, or both.

In Washington last month, President Bush noted that “a future president and a future Iraqi government” would decide when all U.S. forces would withdraw from Iraq – putting the earliest year at 2009. Apparently, the Army believes that it will be sending units to Iraq until at least 2009, else why spend $57 million on a new potemkin village when it has 12 already built at NTC?

Or is the Army hedging its bets that before 2009, it might b somewhere else in the vast desert expanses of Africa, Asia, and the Near and Middle East?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes I wonder how it may help the case of the soldeirs and increase the chance for a more peaceful world, if soldiers were taught more languages.

3:56 PM  

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