Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight

Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight
Comment: Arab soldiers don't know what they are fighting for, which has led to a disastrous rout on the battlefields of Yemen and Iraq, says Adel Soliman.
3 min read
29 May, 2015
Iraqi army resistance wilted in the face of the Islamic State group offensive [AFP]
Why do Arab armies flee? We Arabs must face this question with courage, candour, and clarity. Although it's a sensitive issue, it is intimately related to the future of the Arab world.

This applies in particular to historically strongest powers in the Arab world who considered their armies to be the foundations of the state and a symbol of sovereignty. 

Armies that have become noted for their fragmentation and desertion. Many have mutated into armed militias. This has happened to armies that have cost billions of dollars to arm and train, such as in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen.

The Iraqi army continues to flee when the Islamic State group advances, leaving heavy equipment and ammunition strewn by the roadside. This is what the world saw in Mosul nearly a year ago, and again in Ramadi several days ago.

The same happened in Raqqa in Syria nearly a year and a half ago, and more recently in Palmyra. These repeated failures of Arab armies have left political pundits baffled.

In Yemen's army, the ranks have been split on tribal lines. Units willingly handed over their weapons to the Houthi militants, while others went rogue and joined forces with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Only a few units declared their allegiance to Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The multi-billion dollar Yemeni army dissolved overnight. 

Libya's army, Gaddafi Brigades that the dictator created to defend his regime rather than the country's borders. After heavy Nato bombing of Libyan army positions to support anti-Gaddafi rebels, the military dissolved and the militiaisation of Libya began.

Each faction now calls itself an army. There is Khalifa Haftar's army in Tobruk and the National Council army in Tripoli. Many of these "soldiers" fled when real fighting broke out.

This does not exempt other Arab armies from criticism, it is just that they haven't been put to the test in recent years.

Why do these Arab armies flee when they militias, although the balance of power would appear to be in favour of the conventional force. 

To answer this we need to return to 1967, when the Arab armies collapsed and fled before an Israeli  advance. 

The scenes of the rout left a last impression on Egyptians, and a strong desire for revenge emerged. The real reason for for the retreat was not cowardice but based on the decisions of political and military leaders. 

There was a major disparity in the balance of power on the battlefield, but also the conflicting orders and lack of vision or objectives. In other words, it was a classical defeat against a superior army.

Perhaps studying and analysing that defeat was a factor in the Egyptian and Syrian armies early successes in the 1973 war.

As the armies collapse so do their states, making way for a new era of mini-states and militias.

The answer may be simpler than many imagine. It lies in the changes of these armies' doctrines and values that affected their fighting abilities.

The will to fight does not come from the orders of military and political leaders but from the will to fight alongside their comrades. 

Wars are fought by soldiers, and the outcome of battles is decided on whether the ranks believe it is a cause worth fighting for.

The doctrine of Arab armies was to defend their homeland  against attack, and principally against Israel.

Arabs who join the army now find themselves completely  outside these values. Arab armies are now dedicated to fighting terrorism, organised crime and in civil wars rather than defending their borders. Therefore, when the Arab soldier is given a choice, he flees. 

Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Egypt realised that fighters need a framework of values and ideals to fight and die in a modern army. So he named the system of conscription "jihadism" to highlight the moral and religious nature of the soldiers' duty to fight for the homeland.