While walking through a library yesterday I had a few minutes to scan one of the US Army periodicals that included the 'Company Commander' discussion. I didn't have time to read the article in full, but the topic was on commanders who triumph the fact that 'I brought all my men back alive' over all else, including mission success and working towards an end-state in the AO.

I'm not going to comment on the US Army perspective, but this topic rang very, very true with my experiences in coalition ops. While not official this attitude has gripped up my nation's PRT activities to a point that it is effectively one of the over-riding strategic concerns. It's a constant refrain - 'this country [i.e. Afghanistan] isn't worth a single life' - amongst our conventional forces.

Unfortunately, I see it as a realistic reflection of the politics present in a deployment. It would be doubtful whether my army or nation would be willing to sustain any activity in the face of casualties, especially if they were frequent or substantial. I'm not saying this is right (or that it is wrong), merely that it is a part of the political influences that is in effect. And, judging by a quick scan of this part of the forum, it's a phenomenon shared by other armies - reference a discussion about the Dutch a few topics down, at http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ead.php?t=2591

While I don't believe that our aversion to risk taking or the prioritisation of zero-casualties as an ultimate goal has meant an extra burden on our partners in neighbouring AO's, it likewise isn't difficult to see that there is an added burden to any coalition when you divide yourself into swimming/ non-swimming participants. And the standard disclaimer - I know, 100%, that this is more a political reality than a moral one amongst the troops, and that it in no way indicates cowardice or reluctance amongst the soldiers to close with, kill or capture. Unfortunately it is a real-time constraint, though.

What I don't know is how much of a burden such 'soft' contributors are to those that foot the bill (US, Britain, Canada off the top of my head) in terms of tangible sacrifice. Is it acceptable to accept the small, politically-limited contributing states will always go into the rear echelon areas and accept the safe course?

Additionally, is the lack of committed combat forces such a weakness to ISAF that alternatives could be pursued? One idea I could suggest is that combat-qualified individuals from subscribing nations could committing to a tour-of-duty under the NATO/ ISAF umbrella of their own free-will, with contributing nations reducing their 'ownership' of casualties politically with these forces serving under the NATO/ ISAF flag as a volunteer. Of course, the logistical burden would fall somewhere, costs would have to be borne and organisational difficulties overcome - if for the mere fact of language - but none of these are insurmountable. For the extra effort expended, would this be of benefit, or only extra burden?

It's something I don't have any solid answers for, and something I see as permanent for the near future given that it reflects society. What I am interested in knowing is whether this is an issue or point of contention amongst the big brother players overseas.