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The Coalition Speaks Too often, coalition means them and US. Broaden our US-centricity view, and talk about working together.

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Old 01-28-2010   #1
Chris jM
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Default The Zero Casualty Priority in Coalition Strategy

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.
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Old 01-28-2010   #2
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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?
I left Afghanistan in 2007, so my experience is somewhat dated. This was the period in which ISAF was expanding to control all of the country, including considerable American forces that had, up to that time, been operating outside of NATO.

There were many senior American officers who expressed disdain and contempt for armies that appeared to be exceptionally casualty averse. Many honestly believed that national caveats or differing approaches to counterinsurgency reflected timidity (to use a polite term) or a fundamental unseriousness on the part of various nationalities. In many cases this was unfair; in a few it was not. It was dysfunctional, in that it interfered with the smooth operation of a multi-national force. Commanders bristled, staffs bickered, and planning took longer than necessary because of a lack of mutual respect among partners.

This attitude was not generated because of any perceived lack of training or the shortages in equipment and capacity that afflicts most small armies. The Danes, for instance, were respected for their aggressiveness and can-do attitude; the Portugese for their reputation as team-players; the Estonians for their ability to accomplish a lot with a little. While the Dutch regulars were criticized for hiding behind the wire, the Dutch special forces had a reputation as tough sonsabitches.

Let me repeat that this was unfair in many cases, the military equivalent of urban legends. I can think of at least two firmly held beliefs among US officers that were wrong but had to be dispelled through education:

1. The Canadian leave policy was ironclad and would be allowed to interfere with operations.
2. The Germans were not allowed to feed troops MRE-equivalent for more than three days in a row; they would have to be brought back to the base to eat in a dining facility.

More professionally, there was real concern that timidity gets you killed and makes the entire mission much harder. For instance, the Belgians guarding KIA were not allowed to go outside the wire - not a good way to actually secure an airfield when the wire is only about 100 meters from the tarmac.

Is this important? Yes. In my opinion, a generation of leaders in the American Army will come away from Afghanistan with hardened opinions on the utility of certain national military forces. They will believe that certain nations are not worth the logistical effort to sustain them in the field. Others they will actively seek as partners the next time we fight a war.

Last edited by marct; 01-29-2010 at 02:00 PM. Reason: fixed quote
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Old 01-28-2010   #3
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2. The Germans were not allowed to feed troops MRE-equivalent for more than three days in a row; they would have to be brought back to the base to eat in a dining facility.
Seriously? I don't doubt you, it's just so stupid it's hard to believe. I've lived on UK rations for 3 weeks with no ill-effects, and I'm sure many here have had it a lot tougher.
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Old 01-28-2010   #4
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Default Urban legend

Wilf, no it's not true. But many Americans swore it was, partially based on peacetime experience in Germany.

And I ate British Army rations myself - two years as an exchange officer and three years with the ARRC. "Wot? Venison again!" and "Only one sausage per customer, sir" being the operative phrases I remember
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Old 01-29-2010   #5
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The OP mentions an ARMY article based out of a discussion on the Company Command website. Lots of frank talk and gold nuggets in there.

I don't think it's entirely accurate to say Zero KIA is a command priority. It hasn't been in units I have been in. What the CC article describes are zealous commanders who often promise to "bring everyone back alive", and the ramifications both for operations and also for the unit when they do lose someone when such a statement has been made.
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Old 01-29-2010   #6
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Cavguy, that is the article - thanks for finding it. On a side note I'm jealous at the freedom given to debate inside your army and the strength at which serving members can consider and criticize aspects of the organisation. The product generated through such discussion is valuable, even for an outsider looking in.

Now I've had the time to read it, it's easy to see that the article is indeed about over-promising than zero-cas as a strategy.

However (unfortunately), I will still maintain that some of the nations accompanying you are bound by a prioritising zero-casaulties as an end-state in itself.
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Old 01-29-2010   #7
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Even in WWII to goal was "to make the other poor bastard die for his country." right?

Americans do, however, tend to be less cavalier than other nations with the lives of our soldiers. I believe this is a function of wealth, as much as anything else. We can afford to take the position that it is better to bring in fast movers and attack helicopters, spending $hundreds of thousands of dollars in air time and munitions to reduce 2-3 AK wielding insurgents; than it is to send a squad of infantry in that could accomplish the same mission for $25 worth of small arms ammo, but might take a couple of casualties in the process. We have the luxury of wealth to be judicious with the lives of our soldiers.

I saw this personally in the Gulf War when an Egyptian artillery officer I knew was soundly dressed down for expending the brigade's inventory of 155 rap rounds to take out the Iraqi artillery unit that confronted us; arguably saving hundreds of lives. He had spent too much money.

In WWII an uncle of mine was an infantryman in the 41st Divsion, that slogged across New Guinea in the early days of the war, often fighting side by side with Aussies. The aussies would send in infantry assaults to reduce dug in Japanense gun positions. The Americans would wait, bring up some fire power (he loved the 40mm bofors for frontline directfire on caves and coconut log bunkers; far superior to the 75mm pack howitzer) or call for arty or air support.

Bottom line is that being "casualty adverse" is a luxury we can afford. Others are not so fortunate.
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Old 01-29-2010   #8
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However (unfortunately), I will still maintain that some of the nations accompanying you are bound by a prioritising zero-casaulties as an end-state in itself.
There's an interesting addendum to this, which is the political side of it. "Zero-casualties" is often built into the unspoken / unwritten understanding of some nations deploying simply because the politicians know they don't have support for "avoidable" casualties.

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Bottom line is that being "casualty adverse" is a luxury we can afford. Others are not so fortunate.
That's a good observation, Bob. I have to wonder how it impacts the willingness to take casualties at an organizational culture level, though. What happens when the ROI changes?
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