Analysis & Opinions - Lawfare

Why Security Assistance Often Fails

  • Rachel Tecott Metz
| Apr. 23, 2023

The 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq has launched a set of reflections and recriminations over the decision to invade and subsequent bungling of the occupation. But another frustration with U.S. policy in Iraq deserves attention, as it has profound implications for U.S. policy today: the United States’ failure to build the Iraqi military. Building a competent Iraqi military was a pillar of the U.S. strategy to establish and maintain security in Iraq, which would enable U.S. forces to exit what was an increasingly unpopular war. Despite the centrality of the security assistance effort to U.S. foreign policy—the billions of dollars, eight years, and tens of thousands of personnel dedicated to the task—the Iraqi military never developed basic battlefield proficiency, and in the summer of 2014, less than three years after the U.S. withdrawal, the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Division melted away in the face of small numbers of lightly armed Islamic State fighters. U.S. troops returned hastily to Iraq and continue to train, advise, and equip the Iraqi military today, 20 years after they began. The problem with building competent security forces is not limited to this particularly prominent case—it plagues U.S. and allied efforts around the world, and understanding what went wrong in Iraq may improve outcomes with other partners as well.

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For Academic Citation:

Rachel Tecott Metz, “Why Security Assistance Often Fails,” Lawfare, April 23, 2023, 

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