Africa Center Nonresident Senior Fellow Sean McFate writes for War on the Rocks on why helping allies build better armies is a strategic imperative for the United States:
Last month, many in the Pentagon were aghast to watch a terrorist army sweep aside the U.S.-trained Iraqi military. In Mosul, Iraq’s second most populous city, a few hundred fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) invaded and sent 30,000 Iraqi troops running, many shedding their equipment and uniforms as they fled. America invested years of training and billions of dollars in the Iraqi military, and now ISIS drives captured Humvees and shoots heavy weapons made in the United States of America.
How do a few thousand jihadists rout the Iraqi army, a force of 200,000 troops with aircraft, tanks and superior firepower? The answer is disappointingly simple: they are inept.
Helping allies build better armies is a strategic imperative for the United States. What the U.S. calls security force assistance is commonly termed security sector reform (SSR) in the international community, and it is an indispensible solution for conflict affected states. SSR professionalizes and strengthens the state’s statutory armed actors so that they can responsibly enforce the law of the land and defend it from armed threats. Operationally, SSR is the exit strategy for costly stability operations like Afghanistan because it allows those countries to provide security for themselves rather than depend on the United States military for firepower. Strategically, helping fragile states professionalize their military and police promotes durable development, since corrupt security forces tend to devour the fruits of development. Additionally, the United States must help its partners grow effective security forces to contend with shared threats, such as global terrorist groups, or it will face a Hobson’s choice: Send in U.S. troops to do the job or permit minor threats to fester into major ones.