Arming the Opposition: A Compendium of Failure


A couple of days ago I linked to a Phil Carter piece about why arm-and-train missions in underdeveloped countries tended to fail. Today the New York Times has a longish roundup of our failures, and even I was a little surprised by the sheer number of countries we’ve bungled:

The setbacks have been most pronounced in three countries….Pentagon-trained army and police in Iraq’s Anbar Province….several thousand American-backed government forces and militiamen in Afghanistan’s Kunduz Province….in Syria, a $500 million Defense Department program to train local rebels to fight the Islamic State has produced only a handful of soldiers.

In northwest Africa, the United States has spent more than $600 million….Morocco to Chad. American officials once heralded Mali’s military as an exemplary partner. But in 2012, battle-hardened Islamist fighters returned from combat in Libya to rout the military, including units trained by United States Special Forces….In Yemen, American-trained troops and counterterrorism forces largely disbanded when Houthi rebels overran the capital last year.

Bright spot….oust the Shabab, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia….The American government has invested nearly $1 billion….But even with the gains, the Shabab have been able to carry out bombings in Mogadishu, the capital, and in neighboring countries, including massacres at a university and a shopping mall in Kenya in the past two years.

Karl Eikenberry, a former military commander and then US ambassador in Afghanistan, sums it up pretty well: “Our track record at building security forces over the past 15 years is miserable.” Maybe it’s time we faced up to this.