Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"The tactics of tackling the Taliban"

Excerpts from a review in Vanguard magazine of Dancing with the Dushman by Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Hope (Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2009, Free, 162 pages, title not yet listed):
In his much-lauded recent book, Descent into Chaos, Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid provides an illuminating strategic overview of the Taliban offensive of 2006-2007. The direct consequences and subsequent combat for Canadian Forces resulting from Rashid’s allegations of poor intelligence, Pentagon neglect and Pakistan’s complete abdication of rule in the Federal Tribal Areas are vividly detailed at the tactical and personal level by LCol Ian Hope in a much less known but no less important book, Dancing with the Dushman.

Hope, who commanded the first Canadian Task Force Orion in Regional Command South (RCS), Kandahar, in a period that bridged the transition of command and control from American to NATO, explains what happens to tactics when strategy is failing or lacking [more on the Task Force here, here, here, here, here (book), here (book) and here (film)].

Dancing with the Dushman, which opens with a dramatic account of bitter combat surrounding a bazaar in Bayanzi just prior to Orion’s rotation home, was “written to capture the valuable lessons that we learned by way of great pain,” Hope states. Rather than being an enemy on the wane, the “Dushman” or “Taliban,” were attempting to seize Kandahar itself, he recounts.

Hope writes that, in addition to helping those preparing to fight The Long War, he hopes to educate the reader on events which must become part of Canadian military history. In this, I think, he has succeeded. A fellow retired armoured officer compared this volume to Farley Mowatt’s classic, The Regiment. Perhaps even more important than this historical record is the sharing of Hope’s “personal reflection of challenges in command,” which deserve the scrutiny of leaders, wantabe leaders and all who hope to become more than simply “managers” or labeled as “careerists,” no matter what field of endeavor.

Framing Hope’s narrative are three command imperatives. First is to know the war that you are in (he describes the conflict he fought as an “insurgency”); second, place personality above all else; and third, recognize the important role that moral purpose plays in decision-making by combat leaders.

The volume is interlaced with comments about “the careerists and managerial leadership practices” in garrison-oriented armed forces. Hope argues, based on his TF Orion experience, that “moral imperative-based decisions always seemed fraught with risk and tension.”

Hope also enunciates a principle of leadership that resonates with me – that of leaders sharing the risks. Readers can no doubt recall managers who don’t even share “inconveniences” or “personal discomforts.”

Those of us who joined Canada’s Army while Korean and World War Two veterans still commanded will no doubt wonder at what has been wrought by the “imposition of Canadian garrison managerial techniques and regulations.”..

Afghanistan 2011 deserves close attention by all Canadians, and Hope’s book captures the tactical details that flesh out the strategic analysis of pundits, politicians, journalists and historians. Dancing with the Dushman is available at no cost as a pdf from the Canadian Defence Academy (www.cda-acd.forces.gc.ca) or can be obtained as a paperback from the CDA Press while copies last.

Reviewed by Roy Thomas, MSC, CD, MA (RMC) with input from Scotty Alexander
Lt.-Col. Hope is also big on unity of command in Afstan, latest on that here.


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