Monday, February 11, 2008

Training IS combat

As the debate around the future of the Afghan mission heats-up, I've been reading from my previously mentioned media friends how the Conservatives’ proposed motion extending the mission is designed to give Stephane Dion and the Liberals an out. I don't buy it.


There is enough in the wording for Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion to bend from his implacable position that combat operations must cease by February 2009, while still not losing face -- or more importantly, to not appear to be a weak, indecisive leader.


The Conservative motion calls for an extension of Canada's military commitment to Afghanistan to the end of 2011, under certain conditions. It calls for a gradual drawing down of combat and aspires to more emphasis on training.


While all of this appears to fall short of Dion's core position -- stop shooting at the Taliban exactly one year from now -- there is enough in the wording for Dion to hang his political hat on.


No, there’s really not. The fact is, training can’t be spun as not combat, because training IS combat. Manley commission member Pamela Wallin said as much during a recent speech at the University of Toronto (paraphrased form my notes):

*They want us to train them, and that’s a large part of what we’re doing there. But training is fighting, there’s no place to go shoot practice rounds. We train them while they fight with us, and them we start to move into the background as they take over.


And she’s right. Training is combat. It’s not like there’s a big training gound where we take the Afghan troops and play war games with practice rounds, with pretend Taliban as the enemies. There’s just real combat, on the job training if you will. With real live bullets and everything.

Training is combat. A change in wording isn’t going to change that essential fact, or satisfy the Liberal demand that combat operations cease in 2009. I think the Conservatives worded their motion to make it seem closer to the Liberal position, and to try to make us appear inflexible if we say no. But there is no real desire for comprise on Stephen Harper’s part, that has been painfully obvious for two years.

Indeed, take a look at the Conservative motion, the full text of which is available here. I’m going to skip over all the whereas lines as, essentially, they’re meaningless padding. It’s only the BIRT which counts:

therefore, the House supports the continuation of Canada’s current responsibility for security in Kandahar beyond February 2009, to the end of 2011, in a manner fully consistent with the UN mandate on Afghanistan, but with increasing emphasis on training the Afghan National Security Forces expeditiously to take increasing responsibility for security in Kandahar and Afghanistan as a whole so that, as the Afghan National Security Forces gain capability, Canada’s combat role should be commensurately reduced, on condition that:

(a) Canada secure a partner that will provide a battle group of approximately 1000 to arrive and be operational no later than February 2009, to expand International Security Assistance Force’s security coverage in Kandahar;


(b) to better ensure the safety and effectiveness of the Canadian contingent, the government secure medium helicopter lift capacity and high performance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance before February 2009.


There are only a few specifics in here: if we get 1000 more troops, some choppers and UAVs we stay until 2011. The training line is a throwaway, and would have no force and effect. There is nothing on aid. Nothing on reconstruction. Nothing on the bureaucratic mess that is hampering our efforts there. Nothing on milestones or goals for progress.

Nothing of substance beyond extending the mission two years, if we get the choppers and the 1000 troops. Indeed, for all the Conservative rallying around the Manley report, the fact is they’re embracing only a very small portion of the report’s recommendations.

The rest, I suppose, we’re just supposed to take Harper’s word for. Give us a blank check, they say, for two more years. And don’t worry, we’ll look at that redevelopment stuff too, trust us. Well I’m sorry, but I don’t trust them even a little bit.

This is certainly not a motion that the Liberals can support. It’s not enough though to just say no. We need to provide an amendment, our own alternative motion that, while showing a degree of flexibility, puts forward our alternative, a balanced view with the specifics and goals and milestones the Conservative motion lacks.

There was word over the weekend the Liberals do have an amendment in the works:

The Liberal amendments fix the Canadian combat end date at February 2009; extend the military mission by two years for training and security duties; allow any military operation except "search and destroy" missions against the Taliban; and would give NATO notice immediately that Canadian troops will withdraw in 2011. They contain proposals for development and diplomacy.


If this is indeed what the Liberal plan is going to be, and I don’t think this is official yet, then I don’t like it. It reads as very similar to the Conservative motion in all but nuance. I’ll be interested to read the proposals for development and diplomacy, but on the military side I’d argue this amounts to an endorsement of the Conservative position.

Call it whatever you want, but the fact is, training IS combat. You can’t say we’re ending combat, and only doing training, security, and any military operation except “search and destroy.” Combat by any other name is still combat.

The only scenario under which I’d be willing to accept the above scenario would be if we were rotated out of Kandahar. If this were taking place in a quieter province, then training could actually be training, not combat. But even if rotation were likely, it’s not indicated that is even part of this possible Liberal proposal.

If this is the amendment they come forward with, I’ll be disappointed. We have maintained all along combat must end in 2009. We must actually stick to that bottomline, not just pretend to.

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15 comments:

The Grumpy Voter said...

Pretty sure that trainees aren't put in combat until they're trained, so I'm not entirely sure I know where you're going with your argument. There is, of course, the larger issue with respect to training that NOBODY is talking about - not the Liberals or the Tories. That issue is: who is going to equip the Afghan army so they can eventually replace us? What kind of kit are they going to receive? Who is going to pay for it? (Of course no NATO partner wants to provide the Afghan army with modern equipment because there's always the risk they might revert to fundamentalism once the west is gone and nobody wants to be responsible for providing modern equipment to a potential enemy, now do they?)

bigcitylib said...

I wonder if the missing elements are meant to be filled by Lib amendments, and THAT is where the compromise will be.

wilson said...

What needs to be explained by Dion is WHY the Liberals want to stop the combat component of the mission.
This question will be asked over and over, so get your answer ready.
Saying too many of our soldiers were killed in combat will not cut it:


'...Number of Canadian troops killed in combat in Afghanistan last year:
0.

Number of Canadian troops killed by improvised explosive devises in Afghanistan in 2007:
12.

Number of Canadian troops killed by roadside bombs and land mines in 2007:
11.

The last Canadian casualty in conventional combat – died fighting – came during the latter stages of Operation Medusa, four servicemen perishing during a ground offensive on Sept. 3, 2006.

Since that time, there have been deaths in rollovers, helicopter crashes, suicide bombings and accidents but none from aggressively engaging the enemy.


http://www.thestar.com/columnists/article/302371

MississaugaJoan said...

Wilson,

I too would hide who wrote this. I actually canceled my Toronto Star subscription because of her. And every time I get one of those irritating phone solicitors wishing me to renew, I said I would if she was sacked.

Wikipedia:

"As of February 8, 2008, there have been 699 coalition deaths in Afghanistan as part of ongoing coalition operations (Operation Enduring Freedom and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)): 414 American, 87 British, 78 Canadian, 29 German, 23 Spanish, 14 Dutch, 12 French, 11 Italian, 9 Danish, 5 Romanian, 4 Australian, 3 Norwegian, 2 Estonian, 2 Portuguese, 2 Swedish, 1 Czech, 1 Finnish, 1 Polish, 1 South Korean."

Canada, per capita, has lost more soldiers than anyone else. Canada vs USA is 2.36 deaths/M vs 1.36 deaths/M.


Oh yeah, the idiot trying to make it seem that we would have had the same number of deaths if we were in Kabul (vs Kanadahar) is Rosie DiManno.

The Rat said...

It looks like the combat part of that argument got thoroughly trashed by Dimanno. So let us move on to the next, that our losses have been "proportionately" too high. I have to ask, so what? Is the loss of 80 soldiers too many, too much to bear? I was a soldier and I frankly find it insulting that those of you who, for the most part have never served and would never even consider serving, are so worried about soldiers deaths that you forget why soldiers volunteer. Do you think they don't know they can die? Or do you think they're too stupid to realize their sacrifice is worthless (as you seem to think)? Seriously, other than some sophomoric "all deaths are tragic, one death is too many" argument, why is 80 deaths so bad?

I bet (ok, I KNOW) most soldiers there feel their mission is valuable, that they are doing immense good, and that their sacrifices have real meaning. What makes you think you know so much more?

wilson said...

Rat says 'so what if our loses are
disproportionately high', because he is a soldier.
As a citizen feeling responsible for sending our brave troops to Afghanistan, I ask WHY?
The answer is NOT because of combat.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Grumpy,

Pretty sure that trainees aren't put in combat until they're trained, so I'm not entirely sure I know where you're going with your argument.

After very basic training, the Afghan Army soldiers fight alongside our soldiers in actual combat operations. That's how we train them. It's not like how we train our Army in Canada, on big training fields with practice rounds. My point is that, in Afghainstan training is indistinguishable from combat, so trying to paint a transition from one to the other doesn't mean much.

Wilson,

Parroting the Red Star for talking points? Interesting. Actually the Star columnist was parroting a Sun Media column that was also misleading.

I thought the Cons also wanted to move from combat to training though, so why don't you ask Harper to explain too?

Rat,

So let us move on to the next, that our losses have been "proportionately" too high...

Wasn't part of my post Rat.

And in Canada everyone is allowed to have an opinion, military or not. By your standards, I guess Harper and McKay should shut-up, or does freedom of speech only extend to those that agree with you?

I'm a citizen, and a son of a military family, and I find your whole sophomoric comment insulting. But I'll get over it.

The Rat said...

Sorry you feel that way, Jeff, you are entitled to that opinion. It would just be nice if it were an informed, or consistent, or even principled opinion. But it isn't.

Is your position that you are just against combat on principle? How nice that you feel that way after your party sent troops into combat. Too bad about the guys who have died, it's time to leave, right?

Or is it you opinion that we have done enough and someone else should step in? Ok, then please feel free to respond to my previous argument. Maybe you could tell me how many casualties are "acceptable", where do you draw the line? Was the number attained before or after the Conservatives won the last election? Because it sure seems that what is unacceptable now would be acceptable if your boys were in power. And if we continue to sustain "non-combat" casualties due to IEDs in this "training and reconstruction" fantasy Dion lives in, will we immediately pull out completely?

Sorry Jeff, you guys have started the mission and you have a responsibility to our dead to see it through. If you really are from a military family, frankly, I hope they have the good sense to be embarrassed for you and your party.

Kingston said...

BCer, Good post, put this still doesn't not square with Mr.Dion position so far, as you state you from a military family and we have conversed enough that I believe you have an above average concept of tactics.
How do you propose we adopt his plan of local security while allowing the enemy freedom of movement through out the province. How will this cut down on the IED's when there will now be next to little chance of monitoring the main supply routes (MSR). How will this helps us when we can no longer be pro-active in our own defense as well as that of the Afgan people. His plan doesn't make any military sense for the theater of operations that we are in. Ok, Example, Were building a school, we have a platoon of our very best providing local defense out to say 200 meters of the village and all of sudden is a much stronger force of enemy coming over the hill because we have afforded them the opportunity to stage and organize their movements. Who do we call to bail us out BCer, our good friends the US, I know they would but why should they have to.
Another one, He allows us to partrol, we are 5k south of a reconstruction project, we discover the bad guys massing, but they do not see us, can we engage, can we call in indirect fire or close air support, is that not combat or do we quickly pull a 180 and scoot back in side the wire and radio another military to do the fighting for us.
If Mr.Dion wants to talk about rotation that is fair game, but to suggest that we do this mission half assed, while it is not good military tactics, hell lets be honest, it is just plain stupid and dangerous.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Rat,

Just because it's not your own opinion doesn't make it uninformed, inconsistent or unprincipled.

Is your position that you are just against combat on principle?

No. If you've been paying attention, you'd know I supported the extension of the combat mission to 2009, with 2009 as a firm end date for combat operations.

Or is it you opinion that we have done enough and someone else should step in?

It has been my oft stated opinion, which you'd know if you were paying attention, and I expect you do know and are being deliberately obtuse, that I wanted the combat mission ended in 2009 and yes, if there's still a need for combat forces, which there is, it will be time for someone else to step in.

Maybe you could tell me how many casualties are "acceptable", where do you draw the line?

I could ask DND what rate of attrition would be acceptable, but they say they didn't do a projection. To answer your "question" though, I don't have a figure because that wasn't a factor in my decision. We signed-up for 2009 and that's it, and we don't have the resources to stay there indefinitely. That would be my answer were it 0 casualties.

Because it sure seems that what is unacceptable now would be acceptable if your boys were in power.

Bullshit. We didn't sign-up for an indefinite stay in Kandahar. We rotated in, we were supposed to rotate out. And we signed-on for a fixed date. The Cons extended it until 2008. Now they want to extend it again. I say no.

Sorry Jeff, you guys have started the mission and you have a responsibility to our dead to see it through.

And if we continue to sustain "non-combat" casualties due to IEDs in this "training and reconstruction" fantasy Dion lives in, will we immediately pull out completely?

Harper is pimping training and reconstruction too rat, is he also in a fantasy world?

Now who is playing politics with the military, Rat? Anyone who doesn't support an indefinite combat mission is against the troops? I'm biting back the expletive that deserves. That line didn't work for Karl Rove, and it won't work here.

If you really are from a military family, frankly, I hope they have the good sense to be embarrassed for you and your party.

Why thank-you. And I hope your family is really proud of their offspring that posts insulting and patronizing vitriol under a pseudonym across the Internet.


Kingston,

put this still doesn't not square with Mr.Dion position so far

I agree. I wasn't trying to support the current compromise the Liberals seem to be peddling. I actually oppose it.

How do you propose we adopt his plan of local security while allowing the enemy freedom of movement through out the province.

The question would seem to be what everyone means by "training". I believe training as it is conducted now, and as the Conservatives would define it, is really combat, with the Afghans fighting side by side with our troops. If that's what the Liberal amendment will mean by training then I'd be against it, that was my argument in this post.

If they do mean staying back at basecamp, doing training there, and not really leaving and doing combat then yes, our forces would need to be replaced in the combat role by another force of equal or larger size. Otherwise, if it's limited rules of engagement and no combat troops doing combat operations, then it's a recipe for disaster in my view, just as you've described. I would support this training scenario, as long as there are replacement combat troops in place.

I'm just not sure at the moment which way the Liberals are proposing to go.

Kingston said...

Actually BCer, I never even attempted to go near the training of the ANA or ANAP. My last post was totally concerning avoiding the sitting duck approach as I see it happening under the proposal of the LPC, but I will wait till see them flesh it out before I make my final comments. I do know how it is being done concerning the training and it is working, it is a little of both of what you describe until they are up to speed. The goal is too have 70K by 2009 and the last figures I heard is they will surpass that quite handily. Now before we all jump for joy and say, pack the freaking barrack box and shove the Timmie's trailer on the plane, were out of here, that is the pointy end of the spear number that will be trained, we then have to move int0 Combat Service Support i.e. medics,signals,logistics, etc as well as the combat force multipliers i.e. Artillery and Close Air support. As well as Command and Control of Brigade Level operations. sorry folks building a military from the ground up is a demanding job, heck for freak sakes we been working on it for over a hundred years and we still screw it up sometimes too.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Kingston,

My last post was totally concerning avoiding the sitting duck approach as I see it happening under the proposal of the LPC, but I will wait till see them flesh it out before I make my final comments

Sorry, I missed that. But I think my earlier comments would apply to that point too. If we're going to leave our force in Kandahar with limited rules of engagement, we'd need to have another force moved into Kandahar to replace us in the actual combat role, while we focus on training or whatever. If we stay as the only major military force there, but with drastically limited ROEs, that would be unsafe and unsound, in my view.

The Rat said...

Well Jeff, fortunately there are a few sane people in the Liberal caucus. This would appear to do exactly what the Conservatives proposed. Now you can explain to Ignatieff and Rae why they're so very wrong and you are right.

A BCer in Toronto said...

No it doesn't genius. Read it again.

The Rat said...

Whatever lets you sleep at night, Jeff, whatever lets you sleep.