The Melting of the American-built Armies: Will Iraqi Army face Afghan Army’s future


Nadum Jawad[1]


The situation in Afghanistan, at the time of this writing, is still fluid and unpredictable as the new government of the Talban is fighting some pockets of resistance in the north of the country and it is working hard to form a new government in Kabul.  It is also facing some protest from some women groups trying to assert their rights and dealing with the aftermath of the chaotic American withdrawal displayed at the Kabul International Airport.

The spectacular collapse of the Afghan army and the ease at which the Talban took over the country is still a subject of hot debate among western governments, and especially that of the USA.  After all these governments spent so much and invested so much in this faraway land and had many of its soldiers killed or injured there.  And to compound this problem further, so much military hardware was left intact, as if they armed the very same enemy; they were fighting so hard to defeat.

It is the opinion of this writer, that the “melting” of the Afghan army should not have been the surprise it was made to be even through the speed was astonishing.  There are other examples in which USA-built armies melted without much of a fight or no fight at all, and the armies South Vietnam and Iraq are example of such a phenomenon.  The writer also concludes that this collapse is attributed not to the willingness, or lack thereof, to fight, but also, among other things, utter ignorance of the social forces of these countries, the rampant corruption of the governments in these countries, and series of initial fatal mistakes committed by the Americans when they got into them.



After its invasion of Afghanistan on the aftermath of the world trade center in New York on the eleventh of September of 2001, the USA and its allies embarked on an ambitious and expensive endeavor to build a national army which will ensure protecting the elected government and preventing the country from falling into the hands of fundamentalist groups like the Taliban or Al Qaeda.

There is no exact figure available on how much the USA spent on the Afghan army, but all sources indicate that it was massive numbers.  And in what is ironic, the Taliban fighters, as the Los Angeles Times reported in its September 3 addition, “rode triumphantly into Kabul airport early Tuesday, they did so on U.S. pickup trucks, wearing American-made uniforms and brandishing American M4 and M16 rifles. Then they spent hours examining the bonanza of materiel that U.S. troops unintentionally bequeathed them in what had been the United States’ last redoubt in Afghanistan”.

The group’s blindingly fast sweep through most of Afghanistan netted it billions of dollars’ worth of U.S. military equipment and weaponry given to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, which collapsed in the 11 days before the Taliban seized Kabul, the capital, on Aug. 15. Afghan soldiers who didn’t surrender shed their uniforms and gear and fled, following many of their military and political leaders.”

Taliban fighters stand ready as the militant group secures Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, the Afghan capital

The Los Angeles Times added that Taliban fighters seized almost 2,000 Humvees and trucks; more than 50 armoured fighting vehicles, including Mine-Resistant Ambush Protection vehicles, or MRAPs; scores of artillery and mortar pieces; more than a dozen aging but working helicopters and attack aircraft; a dozen tanks; seven Boeing-manufactured drones; and millions upon millions of bullets, according to a list compiled by the Oryx Blog, which tracks weapons used in conflicts (Los Angeles Times › world-nation › story › photo…Sep 3, 2021)

In a more detailed account of what was given to the Afghan Army and later seized by the Taliban, Representative Jim Banks (R-IN) who acted as the “Foreign Military Sales Officer” stated that the Taliban got hold of more than 85 billion dollars of American supplies.  These include 75,000 vehicles, over 200 airplanes and helicopters, over 600,000 small arms and light weapons, and added that the Taliban now has more black hawk helicopters than 85% of the countries in the world.  He went on to say that they have other sophisticated and high-tech military equipment such as night vision goggles, body armors, medical supplies, and “unbelievably and unfathomably, the Taliban now has biometric devices which has the figure prints, eye scans, and the biographical information of the Afghans who helped us over the past 20 years.” ( and (   It is important to note that it was also reported that most of the equipment left behind was decommissioned by the retreating American forces so it cannot be used.  Such a statement does not change the fact that massive amount of equipment was sent to the Afghan army, and it cost more than 85 billion dollars, and was seized by the Taliban in its entirety.  Also, important that not all equipment was decommissions and large stacks remained intact.

Given that even the most optimistic observers on the American side didn’t not give the central government in Kabul more than six months before it falls to the advancing forces of the Taliban after the Americans leave, the question is then why the American left so much in the hands of the Afghan Army?  There was no doubt that the Afghan army would not and could not stop a highly disciplined, battle-tested, and well equipped and financed forces of the Taliban which also enjoyed limitless supplies of new recruits’ form taking over the country.  The only surprise was how fast it happened.  And as we will see in this article, the same scenario took place in the other two countries we are using as examples, South Vietnam, and Iraq.  It is the opinion of this writer that large American weapons manufacturers pushed very hard to sell as much armaments as possible at hugely inflated prices and, hence, profits.  It is also important to note that neither the now non-existent Afghan army, nor the Taliban have the knowledge, the skills, or the knowhow to use such advanced weaponry.  But those manufacturers pushed hard and long into selling more and more of these weapons.  This is exactly what president Eisenhower warred again in his famous farewell speech on Jan. 17, 1961, in which he gave the nation a dire warning about what he described as a threat to democratic government. He called it the military-industrial complex, a formidable union of defense contractors and the armed forces.  Here’s an excerpt:  “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” (NPR, January 17, 2011, “Ike’s Warning of Military Expansion, 50 Years Later”.)  Of course, what happened in Afghanistan (massive amounts of equipment left behind which was produced by American arms companies) occurred in South Vietnam and Iraq as we will see later in this article.

Corruption in Afghanistan

As early as August 20th of this year the Taliban was consolidating its grip on the country, there were indications that the US ignored corruption within the Afghan government very early which ultimately led to its collapse, as was reported by PBS.  Sarah Chayes covered the fall of the Taliban after 9/11 for NPR and then started and ran several NGOs in the country, served as adviser to several senior U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan and then to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and is the author of several books. Her most recent study is “On Corruption in America: And What Is at Stake.” She also published an essay called “The Ides of August,” and, in it, she laid out several factors that led to the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and stated that the first element was corruption.  She began the essay by asking a question, “in simple terms, why would a population take risks to fight the Taliban on behalf of a government that is treating them almost as badly as the Taliban do? So, Afghan government officials would shake people down at every interaction. The massive international funding that was arriving in the country was being siphoned off or captured by government officials and their cronies. And from Afghans’ perspective, it almost looked like the United States was in favor of this system, because our officials were always seen partnering with these venal Afghan leaders. And no matter how much the population complained, they really couldn’t get us to address the serious — the issues seriously.”  She went on to say “on balance, we enormously helped the corruption, first, by allowing local strongmen to capture the revenue streams.  So, for example, you would have one local strongman who is providing security at that — at a U.S. base, and then he would only allow his people into our contracting conferences, for example. We never held any of the officials that we were partnering with to account.  I would say that, toward 2009-2010, we began to catch on to this as a serious issue. And so, a decision was made to do a test case, with plenty of evidence. It was brilliantly mounted, and it had to do with a haul of approximately $900 million in Kabul Bank, right?  So, we’re talking a significant issue here. And the person targeted who was taking a bribe was in the palace, was close to President Karzai. Well, as soon as President Karzai threw a fit about the arrest from his henchman, warrants executed a U-turn, and the U.S. never took corruption seriously after that. That was in 2010.  In 2011, when I was working with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, there was an interagency policy process that would arrive at a determination, how was the United States going to address corruption? And, explicitly, it was decided that we were not going to focus on any of the high-level corruption, only — quote — “street-level” police corruption, which, of course, was the purview of the military.  So, from my perspective, there was a real dereliction of duty on the part of civilian leaderships in the United States.” (


The American involvement in Vietnam is not the focus of this article.  But the building of a South Vietnamese army to “Vietnamize” the war is what this article will explore.

The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) were the ground forces of the South Vietnamese military, and was in fact established in 1955 (1) after the French defeat there and Franc’s evacuation from Indochina.  From the beginning, the ARVN began as an army that was trained by and closely affiliated with the United States and had engaged in conflict since its inception. Several changes occurred throughout its lifetime, initially from a ‘blocking-force’ to a more modern conventional force using helicopter deployment in combat. During the American intervention, the ARVN was reduced to playing a defensive role with an incomplete modernisation, (Pilger, John (2001). Heroes. South End Press. ISBN 9780896086661) and transformed again following Vietnamization, it was upgraded, expanded, and reconstructed to fulfill the role of the departing American forces. By 1974, it had become, as the Americans believed, much more effective with foremost counterinsurgency expert and Nixon adviser Robert Thompson noting that Regular Forces were very well-trained and second only to the American and Israeli forces in the Free World (        Joes, Anthony (2007-04-20). Urban Guerrilla Warfare. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0813172231) and with General Creighton Abrams remarking that 70% of units were on par with the US Army (Asprey, Robert (2002). War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History, Volume 2. Doubleday & Co. pp. 1021–1022.) However, the withdrawal of American forces by Vietnamization meant the armed forces could not effectively fulfill all of the aims of the program and had become completely dependent on U.S. equipment since it was meant to fulfill the departing role of the United States (Hess, Gary R. (2015-03-25). Vietnam: Explaining America’s Lost War. John Wiley & Sons. p. 195. ISBN 9781118949016.)  The overconfident assessment of the above American officials of the ARVN is eerily like that of the Iraqi and Afghan armies years later, and as we will see, like the final outcomes.  This assessment is based upon the fact the U.S. had provided the ARVN with 793,994 M1 carbines (“Foreign Military Assistance”. Retrieved 15 March 2018.), 220,300 M1 Garand’s and 520 M1C/M1D rifles (7), 640,000 M-16 rifles, 34,000 M79 grenade launchers, 40,000 radios, 20,000 quarter-ton trucks, 214 M41 Walker Bulldog light tanks, 77 M577 Command tracks (command version of the M113 APC), 930 M113 (APC/ACAVs), 120 V-100s (wheeled armored cars), and 190 M48 tanks. Operations Enhance and Enhance Plus an American effort in November 1972 managed to transfer 59 more M48A3 Patton tanks, 100 additional M-113A1 ACAVs (Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicles), and over 500 extra aircraft to South Vietnam (Hess, Gary R. (2015-03-25). Vietnam: Explaining America’s Lost War. John Wiley & Sons. p. 195. ISBN 9781118949016.) Despite such impressive figures, the Vietnamese were not as well equipped as the American infantrymen they replaced. The 1972 offensive had been driven back only with a massive American bombing campaign against North Vietnam (again like what happened in Iraq when ISIS attacked and the Taliban in Afghanistan.)


The sudden and complete destruction of the ARVN shocked the world. Even their opponents were surprised at how quickly South Vietnam collapsed.  The South Vietnamese soldier’s unwillingness and inability to fight was the focus of several writers.  For instance, Andy Walpole, formerly of Liverpool John Moors University, noted the ARVN was not up to the job and added that “they were [unwilling] to engage in combat with their guerrilla counterparts and were more interested in surviving than winning.” Harry F. Noyes, who served in Vietnam, complained about this widespread belief: “Everybody ‘knows’ they were incompetent, treacherous and cowardly. (Five myths about the Vietnam War – The Washington Post › outlook › 2017/09/29.)

Such an assessment of the dismal performance of the ARVN was followed by studies based on accounts of those who were in the forefront of the war.  It is well known that in the aftermath of the fall of Saigon in April 1975, thousands of South Vietnamese fled to the United States, including many senior civilian and military leaders. Seeking to capture their stories and analyses “before memories faded and before mythology replaced history,” the RAND Corporation, which had been deeply involved in the war since its inception, assembled a small team to interview these senior leaders as quickly as possible on their arrival in the United States, focusing on the causes of South Vietnam’s sudden and catastrophic collapse.

A North Vietnamese armored car crashing through Independence Palace’s main gate in Saigon, South Vietnam, 1975


Respondents included 23 military leaders and four from the government. These leaders attributed the fall of South Vietnam to a series of linked causes, the most fundamental of which was, in their view, “pervasive corruption, which led to the rise of incompetent leaders, destroyed army morale, and created a vast gulf of social injustice and popular antipathy.” They considered corruption the “fundamental ill” within South Vietnam’s body politic, manifesting itself in four ways: racketeering; bribery; buying and selling important positions and appointments; and pocketing the pay of “ghost soldiers,” whose names were carried on the duty roster but were either nonexistent or who paid their commanders to be released from duty.

As one commander put it, the pervasive corruption “created a sense of social injustice” by creating “a small elite which held all the power and wealth, and most middle-class people and peasants who became poorer and poorer and who suffered all the sacrifices.”  This summary would have surprised few Americans who served in Indochina or dealt with the war at the policy level. Throughout the 21 years of decisive American engagement with South Vietnam, from the time of Ngo Dinh Diem until the fall of Saigon, corruption was invariably and routinely identified as a pervasive issue in the country, one with corrosive effects in every aspect of the state and society (Ngo Dinh Diem | Facts, Vietnam War, Significance, & Death › biography › Ngo-Dinh-D….)

Corruption as illustrated above is in no doubt was the major factor which contributed to the sudden and fast collapse of the ARVN in 1975 despite of the heavy America backing.  It is the opinion of this writer, however, contributed to the outcome.  These include the invasion of  based Vietnam upon highly discredited theories (the domino theory which was a Cold War policy that suggested a communist government in one nation would quickly lead to communist takeovers in neighboring states, each falling like a perfectly aligned row of dominos), the dependence on highly controversial and corrupt figures, the expansion of the war into neighboring countries (Laos and Cambodia), the perpetration of the American forces of heinous crimes (Mi Lai massacre as an example), etc. all were other factors.
(Domino Theory – HISTORY › topics › cold-war › domino-t… Aug 24, 2018). As we will see in the next examples of Iraq and Afghanistan, these factors were also major contributors to the collapse of their armies


In March 2003, US forces invaded Iraq vowing to destroy Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and end the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein.  When WDM intelligence provided illusory and violent insurgency arouse, the war lost public support.  Saddam was captured, tried, and hanged and elections were held.  And till their evacuation from Iraq at the end of 2011 and their partial return since, more than 4500 American soldiers were killed and thousands more injured ( Statista, March 15, 2021

The Iraqi Army and the American assistance

The Iraqi Army in its modern form was first created by the United Kingdom during the inter-war period of de facto British control of Mandatory Iraq. Following the invasion of Iraq by U.S. forces in 2003, the Iraqi Army was rebuilt along U.S. lines with enormous amounts of U.S. military assistance at every level. Because of the Iraqi insurgency that began shortly after the invasion, the Iraqi Army was later designed to initially be a counter-insurgency force “Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq” (PDF). U.S. Department of De-fence. August 2006. p. 52. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2007-09-11. Retrieved 2007-09-07.)  With the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2010, Iraqi forces have assumed full responsibility for their own security.  A New York Times article suggested that, between 2004 and 2014, the U.S. had provided the Iraqi Army with $25 billion in training and equipment in addition to an even larger sum from the Iraqi treasury (“Graft Hobbles Iraq’s Military in Fighting Isis”. The New York Times. 23 November 2014. Archived from the original on 13 October 2017. Retrieved 22 February 2017.)

Despite such huge efforts to build the army, and in the summer of 2014, large elements of the Iraqi army were routed by a much smaller and less well-equipped force from the Islamic State. Islamic State managed to conquer large swaths of Anbar Province and Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul.

ISIS fighters enter Mosul, 2014


The Fall of Mosul occurred between 4–10 June 2014, when Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) insurgents, initially led by Abu Abdurrahman al-Bilawi, defeated the Iraqi Army, led by Lieutenant General Mahdi Al-Gharrawi.

On 4 June, the insurgents began their efforts to capture Mosul. The Iraqi army officially had 30,000 soldiers and another 30,000 federal police stationed in the city, facing a 1,500-member attacking force. However, battalions there were gutted from their man power due to ghost soldiers, with most battalions undermanned, possibly to only 20% of their expected size (         al-Salhy, Suadad. “Iraq forces rebuilding the troops”. Retrieved 2021-08-20.)  After six days of fighting and massive desertions, the city of MosulMosul International Airport, and the helicopters located there all fell under ISIL’s control. An estimated 500,000 civilians fled from the city, due to the conflict. (Aerodrome assessment Mosul airport Iraq – USAID › pdf docs › Pnacy265PDF).  Iraqi forces initiated an offensive on October 17, 2016, to retake the city, succeeding in their efforts in late July 2017.


Such collapse and the speed of which the ISIS advanced astonished all observers and it was the subject of many investigations to find out the causes.  These included budget problems which continued to hinder the manning of combat support and combat service support units. The lack of soldiers entering boot camp is forcing Iraqi leaders at all levels to face the dual challenge of manning and training enabler units out of existing manpower.  Further New York Times reported that “some of the weaponry recently supplied by the army has already ended up on the black market and in the hands of Islamic State fighters”. The same November 2014 article contended that corruption is endemic in the Iraqi Army. It quoted Col. Shaaban al-Obeidi of the internal security forces, who told the paper’s David D Kirkpatrick: “Corruption is everywhere.” The article claimed that one Iraqi general is known as “chicken guy” because of his reputation for selling the soldiers’ poultry provisions (same reference above.)

Problems also included infiltration and an insufficient US advisory effort. The new army aimed to exclude recruits that are former regime security and intelligence organizations members, personnel of the Special Republican Guard, top-level Ba’ath Party members, and Ba’ath Party security and militia organizations (John Pike. “New Iraqi Army (NIA)”. Archived from the original on 6 Octo-ber 2014. Retrieved 11 October 2014.)  However, the army is widely known to have been infiltrated by a multitude of groups ranging from local militias to foreign insurgents. This has led to highly publicized deaths and compromised operations.

Corruption in Iraq is of colossal proportions and are the main subjects of any two Iraq individuals having a conversation.  We will focus on this section on corruption related only to the military.  In this case, stories of entire divisions which have been manned, armed, trained, etc., but on papers only, are rampant between Iraqis.  In 2005, for instance, an ex-minister of defence was accused of stealing one billion dollars before fleeing the country.  An Iraqi judge was quoted as saying what Shaalan (the minster in question) and his ministry were responsible for is possibly the largest robbery in the world. The estimates begin at $1.3bn and go up to $2.3bn.  The “robbery” was believed to include the signing of multimillion-dollar deals with companies to supply equipment that was sometimes inappropriate for the new army or was years out of date. It was also alleged that the ministry paid huge premiums for some military hardware (The Guardian, September 20, 2005.)



The example above of such corruption continued in Iraq till this day and was in no doubt a major contributing factor in the “melting” of the Iraqi Army in 2014.  No doubt other factors such as sectarian strife, loyalties to different factions and paramilitary militias, weak government which lacks authority for accountability, etc. contributed to that collapse.

It is also the opinion of this writer that the Americas played a major part in perpetrating these factors by first invading the country based upon an entirely false pretences, the building of a failed state guided by a highly divisive constitution which legislated, among other things, the establishment of an independent state (the Kurdish Region) with its own separate government and army, within the Iraqi state, the settling of their differences with neighbouring states on Iraqi soils, etc.

In conclusion we re-state what we have said at our introduction and summarize our findings. That despite huge amounts of money, efforts, and military hardware put by the Americans to build armies; it was repeatedly proven that these armies did not withstand the first test they had before a determined enemy.  This was seen, as it was illustrated above, when the Afghan Army faced the Taliban, ARVN faced the North Vietnamese army, and when the Iraqi Army faced ISIS fighters.  These sudden and catastrophic defeats were attributed mostly to rampant corruption in the governments of these countries which have deprived theses armies of any effective and competent military leadership which could have utilized the massive resources provided by the Americans.  It was also shown that there was a huge misunderstanding on the part of the Americans on the nature of the opposing forces these armies were facing, this was especially true in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan as the armies in those two countries collapsed in matter of hours when faced by a highly disciplined, battle-tested, and theoretically driven forces as in the case of ISIS and Taliban.  We are certain that the last experience in Afghanistan, the chaotic scenes at Kabul International Airport and the massive military hardware left by the Americans and was displayed so publicly by the Taliban, would make them (the Americans) think twice before embarking on a similar task of building armies elsewhere to only see them melt in matters of hours.



Selected   Sources















[1]   Nadum Jwad is a free-lance researcher and research associate at Task Center for Strategic Studies. He is holder of B. A in Economics, University of Ottawa university and an MSc. in Geology from University of Windsor, in Canada.