Best Defense

Inside ‘Blackhearts’ (IV): Problems with task organization also hurt us badly

The MiTTs became a pick-up team within a pick-up team in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Bagdad.



By Dan Sukman
Best Defense guest columnist

In the Blackhearts deployment, a key mission of our Brigade was to train the local Iraqi Army Brigade. This became the mission of an ad hoc organization known as a Military Transition Team (MiTT). In 2005 and 2006, the Army was still relying on MiTTs pulled out of hide to train the Iraqi Army. The 2nd Brigade MiTT pulled officers (to include a battalion commander), non-commissioned officers, and junior soldiers from the brigade to form the team. Indeed, the BSTB battalion commander led the MiTT, along with a maneuver battalion XO.

In organizing for this mission set, we assumed risk within our maneuver units in terms of manning and leadership. While this risk may have been identified, it was never adequately mitigated as evidenced by some junior soldiers operating checkpoints for days on end — alone, unafraid, and at times ready to commit war crimes. The MiTTs became a pick-up team within a pick-up team in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Bagdad. This was a recipe for failure.

This risk does not simply fall onto the brigade, or even the division, but rather shows how the military was completely unprepared for the nature of the fight. The Army would correct this failure by standing up organic MiTT teams who would train together at Fort Riley prior to deployment. In 2005 and 2006, this adaptation to the conflict had yet to materialize. The brigade MiTT team had little time or capability to truly form the team prior to deployment, but would itself adapt and perform well under trying conditions. 

Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Sukman is a strategist in the U.S. Army, a former military fellow at the Project on International Peace and Security, and a member of the Military Writers Guild. Over the course of his career, Sukman served with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), United States European Command, and the Army Capabilities Integration Center. He currently works for the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command in Norfolk, Virginia. His combat experience includes multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Follow him on twitter @dansukman. This article represents the author’s views, and not necessarily the views of the U.S. Army or Department of Defense. Further, this article represents the author’s views, and his alone, not those of other members of the Blackheart Brigade.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at

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