The U.S. Spent $20 billion on Iraqi Security Forces Who Couldn’t Defend the Country’s Second-Largest City

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June 10 2014 1:05 PM

The Fall of Mosul

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Iraqi soldiers heading to Mosul on June 8, 2014.

Photo by Haidar Hamdani/AFP/Getty Images

During the reconstruction of Iraq, the United States spent about $20.2 billion to train and equip Iraqi security forces, about a third of the total funds spent on reconstruction.Today, those same security forces lost control of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

This might seem an unfair connection to make—the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the militant group that carried out the assault on Mosul, is very large and well-equipped—but anecdotally, it seems as though Iraqi forces were overwhelmed and unprepared. After ISIS fighters overran the western bank city overnight, most of the Iraqi soldiers and police stationed there apparently fled (my emphasis):

Two army officers said security forces had received orders to leave Mosul after militants captured the Ghizlani army base and set more than 200 inmates free from a high-security prison.
A Reuters reporter saw policemen swapping their uniforms for plain clothes and discarding their weapons before fleeing the city. The bodies of soldiers and policemen, some of them mutilated, littered the streets.
"We can't beat them. We can't. They are well trained in street fighting and we're not. We need a whole army to drive them out of Mosul," one officer said. "They're like ghosts: they appear to hit and disappear within seconds".
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Iraqi security forces still haven’t ousted ISIS from Fallujah, which it captured at the beginning of this year, but Mosul is a much larger and more strategically important city.

After the fall of Fallujah, the U.S. agreed to speed up the shipment of military hardware to Iraq. But Iraq is already the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid, and at a certain point it starts to seem like throwing good money after bad, especially with reports that ISIS fighters have been seen riding U.S.-supplied Humvees and carrying American guns captured from Iraqi security forces.

With his U.S.-trained security forces apparently not up to the job, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is now offering to supply weapons to citizens who agree to fight the militants