STUTTGART, Germany — For a long time, the shortcomings of Iraqi security forces were glaringly obvious in an often underappreciated aspect of war fighting: logistics.

Without a ready supply of spare parts, fuel for vehicles, trained mechanics and ammunition chiefs, combat operations can come to a grinding halt. That’s what happened in 2007, for example, when a group of Iraqi soldiers, en route to a raid on suspected terrorists in the country’s north, got stuck on the roadside. They simply ran out of gasoline.

Logistics are "the lifeblood of any operation," said U.S. Army Col. Edward Dorman, chief logistician for Multi-National Corps–Iraq.

Dorman has spent the past year trying to eliminate the Iraqi security forces’ weakness in logistics, a shortcoming that has hindered efforts to turn them into a self-reliant military.

Dorman said there has been much progress in recent months, and by April he expects to reach a goal set by his boss, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of MNC-I.

"[Austin] said let’s take this off the table in 12 months," Dorman said. "I think we’re going to achieve that. It has gained irreversible momentum."

To get Iraq’s fledgling logistics units to a professional level, Dorman took a page from the playbook of U.S. combat units in Iraq by embedding U.S. soldiers with Iraqi troops. Under Dorman’s command, some 50 Logistics Training Advisory Teams were made the centerpiece of efforts to improve the Iraqis’ ability to manage supply lines and vehicle fleets and to plan missions.

Each LTAT consists of eight experts in logistics, though the teams can swell to 35 people on larger missions.

The squads fanned out across the country, working side by side with the Iraqi troops, a crucial step in transforming the security forces, Dorman said. "We wanted to learn about their practices," he said. Then the teams could start improving them.

The goal was to help the Iraqis build something they could sustain and that wouldn’t fall apart when coalition forces leave, Dorman said.

The improved security situation in Iraq has been another factor in successfully building up the ranks within logistics units. Not long ago, mechanics, instead of working motor pools, were often needed as riflemen.

"They were fighting a crafty enemy," Dorman noted.

There’s still work to do. Dorman said his focus is now shifting from security forces to Iraq’s ministries of defense and interior, which still have issues in managing logistics at the higher level.

Problems with procurement and acquisition of equipment, for instance, continue. Other initiatives are centered on what is needed logistically to help the Iraqi military defend its borders.

As the saying goes, there’s "No mission without the logician," Dorman said.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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