Sunday, September 19, 2010

Brothers in Arms

Conservatives at war are kind of like conservatives at sex, go in hard, shoot early and pull out soft and wet.

For the record, I support our mission in Afghanistan. We went in for the right reasons, carried more of the load than most of our NATO allies and are only pulling out now that it is clear that many of our larger, and more militarily capable allies have no intention of honouring their obligations to the alliance. Additionally, I will give the Conservatives some credit for trying, on the fly, to give our troops the right tools to do the job. Few peacetime forces are really well equipped, structured or prepared for the "next" conflict. The emergency procurement of mine resistant vehicles and Leopard 2 tanks saved lives. While it could be argued that CH-47 heavy lift helicopters should have been a priority over C-17 strategic airlifters, these decisions were dictated by a broken DND procurement process that no government has been able to reform.

No, my issue today is over the way our Afghan veterans are being treated. For a party that has invested so heavily in the military and has advocated a more forceful, American foreign policy (remember, Harper and McKay desperately wanted us to go into Iraq), the cheap and frugal approach to veterans benefits is disgraceful. The fact that our Afghan war veteran are having to petition this government to renew Col. Stogran's appointment and listen to his recommendations is beyond shameful.

Under a banner of transparency, they appoint a veterans ombudsman, and then like so many supposed independent ombudsmen, regulators, auditors and overseers, they push Col. Pat Stogran out when he does the job he was appointed to do. After the Second World War, the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) under Dr.'s Dunlop and Warner, and with the support of MacKenzie King established the Veterans Charter and one of the most progressive and comprehensive veterans benefits programs in the world. Do our Afghan veterans deserve less? The lump sum payment being offered by the government is an actuary's wet dream. Our veterans deserve better.


The Mound of Sound said...

Don, you give the Conservatives and the brass at NDHQ far too much credit. When Hillier sold Martin on the Kandahar mission, he put together a paltry force of just 2,500 (1,000 combat troops, 1,500 support) to meet an enemy he dismissively described as a "few dozen... scumbags."

He knew the equipment he had available for them and yet he sent them in with those Iltis mini-jeeps. When they proved as vulnerable as a VW Beetle there was a great uproar that led to the substitution of the Mercedes G-Wagen, another unarmoured SUV.

As the insurgency grew and morphed into a classic civil war, we didn't reinforce our combat strength. The enemy went from but a "few dozen" to many hundreds and yet we remained fixed to a 1,000-strong battle group.

Petraeus's counterinsurgency field manual, FM3-24, prescribes a force of between 15,000 to 40,000 needed to secure a province the size and population of Kandahar. We offered up just 1,000 rifles, out of which we could rarely put more than 500 to 650 in the field at any given time.

Our miniscule strength left us very dependent on heavy weapons - artillery and air strikes to protect our own troops. Those are the very weapons that inflict the greatest collateral casualties that, in turn, cause the government side to lose the war for the hearts and minds of the locals.

I firmly believe that we betrayed the troops we repeatedly sent into harm's way in Kandahar by asking them to take on that mission so understrength. That left me convinced it was just a political gimmick on behalf of the Parliament Hill mob and a grand opportunity for ticket punching at the top ranks of DND.

Harper shamelessly exploited the forces at every opportunity until public opinion shifted and then he dropped it like a hot potato. Hillier and several of his generals safely retired before we ended up pulling out forces out of a failed war. Yes, that's right, we lost. Even the Pentagon's think tank, the RAND Corporation, has done the math and declared the Afghan War a clear defeat for our side.

We managed to muster 20,000 combat troops for Korea. Afghanistan needed no less of an effort but we couldn't be bothered.

Our leadership, political and military, has been mediocre at best which can also be said for the Americans and the Brits. The whole business is sickeningly pathetic.

CoteGauche said...

MoS - you make some very good points.

I think the nature of the mission morphed from a focus on security and reconstruction to "root out the Taliban" mission rather quickly. Perhaps that was inevitable since it is pretty hard to rebuild a country with armed insurgents only a few hundred meters from your security zone.

On the force size and structure, to have committed any more than the 2500 troops we put into Afghanistan would have required a massive expansion of our reserves and regular forces. As it is, the duration and frequency of combat rotations in Afghanistan has stretched our current force structure to the maximum. It is only due to the good will of the Vingt-Deux that we were able to respond to the earthquake in Haiti recently. We could mobilize 20,000 for Korea because almost 1 million Canadian served in WWII.

For me it is a real bitter pill that Germany, Italy and France all with land forces in excess of 100,000 men could not muster the moral rectitude to support the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

As far as the equipment goes however nobody had mine resistant vehicles going into this conflict. Yeah, the Iltis and G-Wagons were coffins on wheels, but the American and British Humvees and Land Rovers were no better. Credit field modifications such as make shift slat armour and Hesco Bastion storage bins for side protection on LAV-III's for discovering what worked in the field. The biggest equipment issue, that would have saved the most lives would have been helicopters to reduce the need for vehicle convoys. But Air Brass didn't want to lease or procure anything in the short term to save lives that would have taken the urgency out of procuring the CH-47's they wanted as a long term solution. We could have easily leased or purchased Mil-17's refit and NATO'ized by Kelowna Flightcraft (but CF brass is not really keen on Soviet or Russian kit). But that would have met the urgent operational need and put the procurement of the Chinooks they wanted at risk.

The Mound of Sound said...

I place much less faith in transport helicopters in this sort of conflict. Standard force multipliers are of less utility in this type of conflict.

We needed people on the ground, in the villages, day and night, to secure the civilian population against the insurgent/rebels at night and the predatory government security forces by day. Then helicopters can play an important role to transport rapid deployment forces to reinforce outposts under attack.

We never had remotely sufficient numbers to go into the villages and secure the civilian population. That meant we got to fight by day and cede the night to the Taliban. That, in turn, allowed the Taliban to set up alternative government structures -judicial, taxation, security - that not only gave them legitimacy but passed effective control of territory to them. In that way they achieved the critical victory of transitioning what begn as an insurgency into a civil war. We never even recognized the significance of that yet it was an early bellweather of our inevitable failure.

We never even grasped the notion of "defeat" in a war like this. It isn't getting beaten on the field as in conventional warfare. Defeat in Afghanistan is failing to destroy the rebels, failing to secure territory, failing to secure the civilian population and failing to drive out the Talibs. So long as we cannot succeed on those factors we cannot win. The best we can do is tread water, play for time and yet time is the one advantage on their side, not ours.

When Bush pulled his forces to go play in the sandbox of Iraq it was obvious the lead partner wasn't in this war to win and neither were Washington's water carriers including Canada. We've just been swatting at flies and squandering our soldiers' lives.

Here's a little something to consider. A few years back a Senate Foreign Relations committee expert testified that there has never been a successful, stable, modern Muslim state that didn't first overcome both warlordism and tribalism. Why did we ignore that in Afghanistan?