By Howard Altman | Tribune Staff Howard Altman
Published: August 16, 2015
A couple of weeks after I wrote that retired three-star Jay Garner, former vice chief of staff of the Army, was calling for more arms for the Iraqi Kurdish forces fighting against Islamic State, I received a Linkedin invitation from a former Canadian soldier named Ian Bradbury.
“I sought to connect with you given your writing focus,” wrote Bradbury, who served as a security advisor to the Canadian government and runs a security consulting firm in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. “Perhaps you may be interested in a story on The 1st NAEF?”
I wrote back and asked him for more information.
The 1st NAEF, it turns out, is a non-governmental organization he created, called the 1st North American Expeditionary Force, designed to provide hands-on assistance to the Iraqi Kurds, our most reliable partners in the battle against the so-called Islamic State, henceforth referred to by its Arabic pejorative, Daesh.
About a week ago, Bradbury sent me a white paper, titled “NGO Offers Innovative Solutions to Kurdish Military and Civilian Authorities Overwhelmed by Humanitarian Disasters and Increasing Instability.”
These are interesting times for the Kurds, as those in Syria are being attacked by our putative ally Turkey, while there are now investigations underway into claims that Daesh has used mustard gas against them in Iraq, according to published reports.
The 15-page paper lays out Bradbury’s vision for how to give the Kurds the assistance they need not just to continue fighting Daesh, but to handle the massive influx of people from the region fleeing the fighting and the horrors of life under Daesh control.
Millions have fled in Syria and Iraq, many to the Kurdish north of Iraq, overwhelming “under-resourced Kurdish Regional Government agencies and Peshmerga forces,” according to the white paper.
The government, known as the KRG, already “does not have the technical assistance or funding to provide adequate health services, schools, power, and food security, or in many cases paychecks for government workers in all its governed areas.”
Add in the additional strain of taking in refugees and “increasing instability throughout Kurdistan ... could eventually lead to a political crisis,” Bradbury argues.
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The Shia government in Baghdad has provided inadequate support to the Peshmerga forces it fears as a likely rival once Daesh is dispatched. As a result, the Peshmerga have been successful on the battlefield “even as their own fighters go without paychecks or unnecessarily suffer due to limited critical medical services,” according to the white paper.
Because of a lack of medical resources, minor wounds incurred during battle have “turned into catastrophic medical conditions, led to amputations of limbs and culminated in numerous preventable deaths,” Bradbury argues. “This situation adds to the strain on the security forces and will hamper their ability to recruit and retain qualified and experienced soldiers.”
Because of structural, political and capacity constraints, current western humanitarian aid models for helping the Kurds and others in crisis “are broken,” Bradbury says. Organizations wishing to help are hampered by the reliance on state security and stability, strong partnerships with host nations, funding that goes through a central government and dependence on the United Nations and western foreign aid contracts to survive.
The 1st NAEF aims to change the model by providing humanitarian aid and support to both the government — KRG — and the military — Peshmerga.
“Stability can’t be achieved without security and the security forces can’t respond and function effectively without medical care, strategic communications, atmospherics and coordinated humanitarian aid,” according to the white paper.
The white paper identifies a number of areas that the 1st NAEF believes are weak spots for the KRG and Peshmerga.
They include lack of qualified medical personnel to treat combat wounds; command, control and communications; logistical support; communications with local communities; assessment, analysis and planning, and coordination of humanitarian assistance.
One of the first things Bradbury proposes is public opinion research and strategic communications and atmospheric monitoring, and then working with commanders so they can use that information to inform their tactical and strategic operations.
Beyond that, Bradbury says the 1st NAEF can deliver programs and assistance tailored for the needs of developing forces, like force capacity evaluation, command and communications systems, combined arms planning and coordination, law enforcement and emergency response, human rights and the rules of law and even vehicle maintenance.
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Bradbury tells me he came up with the plan “while watching all the young fellows in Canada pack up and try to help the Kurds.”
Their hearts may have been in the right place, but the skills to really accomplish the goal were lacking, he says.
Working with a retired U.S. Marine Lt. Col. named Anthony Sinnott and Yakhi Hamza, a Kurd, he created the 1st NAEF to assess the needs and find a way to meet them.
Bradbury says his team is in contact with Canadian authorities to keep them abreast of his efforts and that he has buy-in from the KRG, whose director of foreign relations endorsed his concept in February.
A concept is one thing.
Making it a reality is something else.
Bradbury, who has established non-profits in both Canada and the Kurdish semi-autonomous region in Iraq, is looking to put an initial team of 15 to 25 members in country who would focus on training the Peshmerga on combat first aid training.
Ideally, Bradbury says, initial operations would begin at the end of October.
But there are a lot of hurdles to overcome.
“Right now, we are pretty low on funding,” says Bradbury, who is shooting to raise about $4.5 million seed money from “angel investors and interested companies and individuals” in a grass-roots effort.
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When Bradbury sent me his white paper, I asked if I could share it with some experts I know.
That included Garner, the retired three-star now living near Orlando.
Garner first got to know the Kurds during his stint as Commanding General, Joint Task Force Bravo during Operation Provide Comfort in northern Iraq after Desert Storm.
After retiring in 1997, he went back to Iraq in 2003 to serve as director of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, Iraq, a short-lived stint where he pushed for a multi-party government of Kurds, Sunnis and Shia.
And now, as a private citizen with business interests in Erbil, he travels frequently from his home to the Kurdish region of Iraq, where he regularly meets with Kurdish political and military leaders.
Garner, who has never heard of Bradbury or his group, says that “as far as the scenario described for the Kurds facing ISIS, this sounds credible. However, I believe both the KRG leadership and the Peshmerga would give themselves higher marks than is indicated in the paper.”
While Bradbury’s plan is ambitious, Garner says he is concerned that “there are too many holes” in the proposal as is.
Among his concerns are security and control of the security forces, command and control — especially for rapid response forces by land and air — logistics and air and ground mobility that is on-call whenever needed.
“Security Forces must be better equipped, better trained and better led than the threat they face,” Garner says.
Bradbury understands Garner’s critique and says he has purposely left information out of his plans.
“I don’t want anyone to be able to reverse engineer them,” he says.
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The Pentagon announced the death of a soldier last week in Afghanistan.
Master Sgt. Peter A. McKenna Jr., 35, of Bristol, Rhode Island, died Aug. 8, in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds when he was attacked by enemy small arms fire.
McKenna was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, seven in support of the anti-ISIS campaign Operation Inherent Resolve, and three U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan.