Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What the CDS didn't say about extended rotations

In a CanWest piece from last Sunday, the CDS discusses his reasons for not extending troop rotations for longer than six months, as the Americans do:

On one of the worst days yet for Americans in the Afghanistan conflict, Canada's new top soldier wrapped up a surprise, whirlwind visit to his troops in the country, delivering an upbeat message and making a promise to soldiers in the field: he will not extend the length of their combat rotations.

"Six months is enough due to the amount of risk they are assuming on a daily basis," said Gen. Walter Natynczyk, who arrived in Afghanistan under a cloak of secrecy last Wednesday, July 9, just one week after being sworn in as chief of defence staff.

The standard arguments for extending rotations are: 1) you don't go through the available troops as quickly when you extend the amount of time each of them spends in theatre, and 2) you don't rotate troops out just as they're getting a feel for the job.

Neither argument is without merit, but both have decent counterarguments as well. To the first point: while 10,000 troops spread into four 2,500-man 9-month deployments will last longer than the same number spread over four 6-month deployments, the intent of a deployment isn't longevity, it's effectiveness. Which leads into the argument against the second point: how much does effectiveness decrease the longer a soldier's in theatre? Or, more specifically, for how long does it increase as the soldier learns the mission, the environment, et cetera, and when does it start to decrease as fatigue and other factors kick in?

Speaking with an officer who has commanded troops over there, longer tours can actually be counterproductive. Just because a soldier has gained experience fighting the Taliban, doesn't mean that experience is as critical as the mission shifts to more development and reconstruction. As this individual described his challenge, once they start seeing Taliban in every village and in every face, it's time to get them out of there. A new group will obviously learn what they can from the group leaving, but, more importantly, they'll bring a new set of eyes to an ever-changing mission.

In that officer's view, experience was extremely valuable, but not as valuable in all situations as one might expect - it has its drawbacks as well.

Of course, the CDS didn't mention any of that. It wouldn't have fit into a soundbite anyhow.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

After WW2, the Allied Intelligence Services interviewed numerous German Army generals in a quest to understand how/why the Wehrmacht was such a tenacious and effective armed force. One of the key questions they asked was the single thing they would do to make the soldiers/Army a more effective fighting force.

The universal answer was more leave, shorter front line exposure.

2:22 p.m., July 16, 2008  

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