As the United States wraps up operations in Iraq and looks to scaling back its force in Afghanistan, a senior defense official emphasized the importance of ensuring that Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s national security forces have the maintenance and logistics capabilities they’ll need.
The U.S. goal is to leave Iraqi and Afghan national security forces able to control activity along and within their borders, John B. Johns, deputy assistant secretary of defense for maintenance policy and programs, said last week at this year’s defense logistics conference.
A huge part of that effort, Johns emphasized, is making sure the two nations are able to maintain equipment the United States and other coalition partners have sold or provided them.
“If we don’t teach them how to operate it and sustain it and what an institutional logistics system looks like that will enable them to continue to generate and sustain readiness, then we will have failed,” Johns told the audience.
“All the years we have spent in Iraq and Afghanistan will be wasted,” he said, “because we failed to train and advise them on how to sustain their military and police forces.”
Johns noted, for example, that 140 M1 Abrams tanks are to remain in Iraq when U.S. troops depart. Although the Iraqis have a long history of tank maintenance, never before have these tanks been equipped with a jet-like turbine engine.
“We all know … how jet engines survive in the middle of the desert — or don’t survive, depending on how you maintain them,” he said.
Long-term maintenance contracts aren’t the answer, Johns said, due to the high cost of providing security for those contractors.
“It’s more expensive than the actual maintenance and supply operations,” he said. “They can’t afford it. They don’t want to afford it.”
This underscores the point that capability isn’t based solely on what the United States gives or sells to the Iraqis or Afghans, he said. “It’s generated by how we train them to operate and maintain,” he said. “And if we miss this point, … we will have made a serious mistake.”
Johns said the training models established in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to set the stage for future U.S. engagements. Deployed U.S. maintainers and logisticians have split their focus, supporting U.S. warfighters, but also advising and training host-nation national security forces in these skill sets.
This dual-focus mission “won’t be the last,” Johns predicted, emphasizing that the United States must continue to train its own forces to conduct both missions successfully.
“At this point, the skill sets and demands required for our maintainers and logisticians to engage this way with foreign militaries is critically important,” he said, noting this involves more than just an ability to “move stuff in theater in support of U.S. operations.”
Also essential is an ability to “see cultures in a different way, [and to] step outside what we have been doing in the past and recognize what might work for a foreign police force or military,” he added. “These skill sets don’t just happen,” he said. “And we can’t forget this.”