The ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) forces capture northern Iraq and some 2 million U.S. veterans look with dismay. See CBS news report. I spent a lot of time traveling north form Tikrit, through the oil fields and the critical bridge over the Tigris River. Now, it is in the hands of some of those folks we were fighting. We trained the Iraq army. We supplied them. We equipped them. Now, reports say the Iraqi military fled the ISIS forces.
But, even in 2005 and later, we knew their military was weak. Saddled with corrupt practices and obsolete military traditions, the Army had so far to go when we started training them. They had no Non-Commission Officer Corps. That tradition never seems to have visited that distant part of the Middle East. We brought our institutions and traditions and tried to plant some seeds. But, we could not overcome sectarian divides.
The United States chain of command throughout the American military struggled constantly to overcome the Shia-Sunni-Kurd divides. In the end, the country’s leadership clung to its old ways and never sought genuine trust or cooperation until perhaps now. But, now may be too late. In a counter-terrorism war, it is not enough to simply kill the bad guys. We must also win the "hearts and minds" of the local population. We spent a lot of money and invested tremendous amounts of man hours trying to do exactly that. We did well on many levels. We won many hearts and many minds. But, in the end, we lacked the time and resources to reach a lasting sort of victory.