Wednesday, July 04, 2007

IED success rates

Six Canadian soldiers and one Afghan interpreter have been killed, may they rest in peace:

A roadside bomb has killed six Canadian soldiers and an Afghan interpreter in the Panjwaii district of Afghanistan.

Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant, commander of Task Force Afghanistan, confirmed the deaths during a news conference Wednesday in Kandahar.

He said the soldiers -- who have not been identified pending notification of next of kin -- were travelling in a RG-31 Nyala armoured vehicle with the interpreter when they were struck by an improvised explosive device.

All the vehicle's occupants were killed.

Sadly, this incident reinforces something I tried to put to words when the Gator was blown up and three lives lost a couple of weeks ago: sometimes you're screwed no matter what you do.

The RG-31 Nyala is one of the most IED-resistant vehicles in the Canadian inventory. If all six souls in the vehicle were lost, this must have been the mother of all IED's, proving once again that all the armour in the world won't protect you from a big enough bomb.

In this context, banning the Gator seems a little pointless; if you're not safe in a Nyala, you're not really safe in much. And if the insurgents can build a bomb big enough to do this, they can build one big enough to take out a Leo. It's just a matter of them getting lucky with the circumstances at some point, a question of odds.

Understanding this takes some appreciation of the context in which our forces operate. Our soldiers often come across as fatalistic in interviews - "When it's your time, it's your time" - but still prepare meticulously and follow rigourous procedures in their operations. Why? The prep and procedures are there to stack the odds in their favour, and the fatalism is a coping mechanism against the certainty that sometimes the bad guys beat really, really long odds.

It would help the Canadian media, and through them the Canadian public, to understand this dynamic better if BGen Grant and his successors would follow through on information he hinted at during his press conference:

Grant told reporters the RG-31 is considered one of the safest vehicles in the Canadian fleet, and was driving on a road that the military has used regularly over the past month.

When asked what steps the military is taking to reduce deaths caused by IEDs, Grant said troops are finding and disarming IEDs more often than not.

"When IEDs are successful they get reported. What doesn't get reported is ... the many number of times where we neutralize IEDs -- when they're pointed out to us by locals, or we find them ourselves. We dismantle them and we exploit them, so we can learn how to defeat them," Grant told reporters.

"We're not perfect, and we do miss some, as we've seen today. But the battle against the Taliban and the battle against their choice of weapons . . . is successful." [Babbler's emphasis]

Why don't the unsuccessful IEDs get reported? Because JTF-Afg and CEFCOM don't release that information.

I have no idea what the real stats are, but what if the CF in Kandahar defeat 49 out of 50 IED attempts? What if over the last twelve months the number of IED attempts had declined by 20% per month on average? Would that information give the Canadian public a more educated foundation upon which to base their opinion of whether the mission is making progress or not? I'd say so.

I understand the OPSEC concerns, and I fully support the aim of giving the Taliban as little intelligence as possible. But in this case, all the CF is doing is publicizing their enemies' successes and concealing their enemies' failures. Given the way that slanted coverage - not the media's fault, this once - affects public opinion, I think it's high time the balance between OPSEC and public information shifted.


Blogger Candace said...

When I heard that 7 died in one of those vehicles, I figured it to be one mother of an IED.

You raise a good point - I caught that statement (that wasn't repeated in later clips by the media).

But do you really think that info WOULD be published/shared/ discussed in the media? I doubt it.

There would be value in publishing even percentages as you mention, though.

1:26 a.m., July 05, 2007  
Blogger Cameron Campbell said...

Not really the right place for this, but tangentially related, this is what I just sent to Jack!:

Mr. Jack Layton,

On your biography page it says that you believe in practical solutions for problems. And yet you keep saying things like "The strategy being followed by NATO right now is producing the precise opposite effect to the one that the promoters of this mission are suggesting should be the goal," Layton said. "In other words, growth of support for the Taliban because of these air strikes."

Only a comprehensive peace process — not armed conflict — can resolve the crisis in Afghanistan, he argued, noting that "students of history will know that all major conflicts are resolved ultimately through peace-oriented discussions.""

Actually history shows us that peace happens when several conditions exist, not the least of which being that one side feels like they've lost, so your argument, respectfully, is utter crap.

I'm being quite serious, "peace-oriented discussions" (also known as peace negotiations or talks - who writes for you? They should be fired.) require that 1) everyone wants peace 2) there is a central authority to negotiate with 3) that the end of conflict will not immediately be replaced with some new, different kind of conflict (like, say, a series of genocidal massacres based on, say, supporting democracy and western style ideals of same).

So your thesis fails on point one horribly, on point two it's laughable, and on point three you're displaying a callousness towards human life that makes me want to vomit.

The reality is that there is no peace to keep, no peace to negotiate for, no one to negotiate with and no secure area to negotiate within. Pretending that these conditions exist is a fantasy.

Once the left was populated by people like my Uncles who fought in WW2, by people like Orwell and Trumbo, who could tell wrong from right and could figure out that something had to be done about it.

Now it's populated by people like you who believe in a pacifist unilateralism that appears to me to be suicidal. Certainly we don't get to negotiate peace with allies, but suggesting that the way forward in Afghanistan is via a policy of unidimensional " peace-oriented discussions" (still thinking that someone should loose their job over that..) ignores the reality and the complexity of the situation. This knee jerk reaction towards anything involving the US (and increasingly, NATO) is, frankly, childish and simplistic.

I think the current regime in the US are a pack of corrupt, right wing demagogues, most of whom need a good sending to bed without dinner (and/or jail time) but in my read, that has bugger all to do with the fact that the Canadian Forces presence in the reconstruction and (horrors) combat operations in Afghanistan is accomplishing good.

Additionally sir, the tying of Canadian troops, even tangentially, to what you seem to believe is a NATO policy of bombing civilians for sport is disgusting. It does your position utterly no good at all. It's wrong.

I know that journalists seek you out every time a Canadian is killed in Afghanistan and why not? You give good clip. But the constant sight of you scoring cheap political points with the deaths of our military personal? It wears sir. A suggestion, one that would ratchet up many peoples respect for you by something like 100%, would be to tell the journalists a variation on "There will be time to discuss the mission later, today our thoughts are with our brave soldiers and their families." Trite? Maybe. Lacking in the fun oomph of scoring cheap shots? Oh yes. Respectful and classy? Indeed.

I come from a family who's political views range from red Tory all the way to charter members of the CCF (my Great Aunt and Uncle were XXXX and XXXX), with stops along the way in trade unionism, full on communists and just about every other colour of the socially progressive rainbow. I've voted for your party in the past (and in the absence of your party running a viable candidate in my riding, for M. Duceppe), so it pains me to say this: I will never vote for the NDP while you are at it's helm.


I'll vote for a fringe party, the Monarchists, the Communist party, whatever local looney has managed to get together the deposit by borrowing the money from his friend, but never ever again the NDP.

I expect no response to this letter, I expect that you won't even see it or have it read to you (Hello, by the way, to the intern reading this. I hope you're having a great summer, my jobs always sucked and involved lifting boxes or digging holes, good on you for scoring a good one. Enjoy it, and good luck next semester. Stay in school.), I know that democracy no longer works that way but it felt like the least I could do.

With great regret,

Cameron Campbell

7:46 a.m., July 05, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

What a spectacular letter, Cam. Absolutely spectacular.

Well said, sir.

10:45 a.m., July 05, 2007  
Blogger Cameron Campbell said...

It just makes me sad, it really really does. And the energy I have to expend pushing back with idiots from the right because of people like Jack!... it's tiring..

That said, I was quite pleased with the greeting to the intern.

10:58 a.m., July 05, 2007  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Cameron: Bravo Zulu. To the max. Pity we don't have the Rhinos to vote for any more.


11:46 a.m., July 05, 2007  
Blogger Cameron Campbell said...

Mark, I have an embarrassment of riches when I get to the polling station. My last provincial general election I only had 6 choices, but the one before that was closer to a dozen. Federally I've usually got like 9 or 10 choices..

but I do miss the Rhinos.

11:53 a.m., July 05, 2007  
Blogger Cameron Campbell said...

Jumping jesus on a pogo stick! Now Jack! wants an immediate with drawl.

8:54 p.m., July 05, 2007  
Blogger tchon said...

Similar to Cameron, I wrote to the NDP asking Jack! to explain a couple of things:
1. what "major conflicts" he was referring to
2.Why expect peace negotiations to work in light of Pakistan-Taliban negotiation failures.
3.What to do when the Taliban don't even want to negotiate

I got no reply either...

12:10 p.m., July 07, 2007  
Blogger Cameron Campbell said...

tchon, I hope that you, like me, weren't holding your breath.

I get the feeling that Jack! is operating in a really nice, shiny echo chamber.

3:26 p.m., July 07, 2007  

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