Questions about the viability of the Iraqi security forces—brought into sharp focus by the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan—require a data-led analysis of where the forces are today and what mix of U.S., NATO, and European efforts can help them thrive in the future.
The August collapse of the Afghan National Security Forces shook the world’s faith in U.S. security cooperation, prompting hard questions about similar arrangements with Iraq. In a country where the United States has been training forces for two decades, officials need straight answers. How resilient are today’s U.S.-supported Iraqi security forces, and could they operate with gradually reduced American support? What kind of near-term Iraqi force development should the coalition credibly expect to see? And how should U.S.-led security cooperation evolve after the December “transition of mission” to a non-combat role?
In this urgently applicable Policy Focus, longtime ISF watchers Michael Knights and Alex Almeida provide a data-led analysis of where Iraq’s security forces are today, how they will look tomorrow, and what mixture of U.S., NATO, and European efforts can ensure the best result commensurate with American interests. The roadmap they outline shows how Baghdad can ultimately achieve enduring victory over the Islamic State and overmatch the domestic opponents of a sovereign, stable, and democratic Iraq.
Michael Knights, the Jill and Jay Bernstein Fellow at The Washington Institute, specializes in the military and security affairs of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and the Persian Gulf states. Knights has worked in and on Iraq since the late 1990s, traveling into the country each year since 2003. For six years, he worked in Iraq alongside the Iraqi security forces, operating on the ground in every province and most of the hundred-plus districts. He took part in the 2015 Operation Inherent Resolve campaign assessment in Iraq and advises a range of coalition commands and diplomats in the country. In recent years, he has written comprehensive studies on Iraq’s security forces, the Popular Mobilization Forces, and the U.S. alliance with the Syrian Democratic Forces. He holds a doctorate from the Department of War Studies, King’s College London.
Alex Almeida is the head security analyst at a leading risk advisory firm, specializing in security and insurgency issues in Iraq, Yemen, and the Gulf states. His research focuses on Gulf military forces, local partner force development, and trends in contemporary irregular warfare. He earned his master’s degree at the Department of War Studies, Kings College London, with a dissertation on South African mobile warfare doctrine.
List of Illustrations
1. The ISF Today: House of Cards, or "Good Enough"?
2. The ISF Tomorrow: Where Does It Need to Be?
3. Road Map for Future Security Cooperation
A. Categories of U.S. Security Cooperation
B. Relative Strength of Different ISF Combat Forces