Afghanistan & the Troubled Future of Unconventional Warfare
Hy S. Rothstein
Naval Institute Press, 2006, $34.95

Afghanistan has become an unconventional war, Hy S. Rothstein argues, yet conventional military leaders and organizations have, over time, imposed a conventional template on the only soldiers, sailors and airmen capable of adapting to unconventional warfare – Special Operations Forces (SOF).

In Afghanistan & the Troubled Future of Unconventional Warfare, Rothstein, a former US Special Forces officer, illustrates how American commanders with their conventional staffs in conventional headquarters face an up hill battle winning the unconventional war (UW) now being waged. One of his major theses – that “only significant structural and cultural changes to the SOF community can restore a UW capability” and, by implication, deliver an American victory – should be of vital interest to all Canadians, no matter where they stand on our Afghanistan commitment.

“The US military,” he contends, “has great difficulty in developing strategies to defeat irregular threats.” Many of the current crop of Canadian Army leaders have served with American forces on exchange, and one has to wonder whether some of these difficulties exist in developing Canadian concepts – though a recent article co-authored by the CDS on Afghan planning in the Canadian Military Journal suggests he is very much aware of these challenges.

Rothstein alleges “that as the war became increasingly unconventional, the command and control structure became more conventional.” If that was the case when the Americans assumed most of the responsibility for fighting, how many more bureaucracies and layers of headquarters must now be in place with NATO in command.

The author uses organization theory, contingency theory and concepts of innovation to evaluate the American military organizational response to the challenges of the theatre of operations. Though the analysis may be American, “how to innovate” is equally of interest to Canadians. Rothstein argues that “organizational culture can either facilitate or deter innovation” – especially noteworthy given the CF’s current claims of transformation. The author discusses the implications of these theories using Afghanistan as a case study.

The debate between BGen (retired) James Cox and Commodore (retired) Eric Lerhe on the control of Canada’s Special Forces that played out in the August 2006 Letters section of the Ottawa Citizen, prompted by reporter David Pugliese’s exclusive, might well be argued again in considering Rothstein’s main recommendation: A new Special Operations Force service must be created in the US.

The organizational culture in the US services, he argues, works against development of unconventional warfare strategy, operational planning and even tactics while handicapping, by C2 arrangements and resource allocation, the only true military UW tool.

Rothstein, who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of International Relations at Tufts University and served in the military for 30 years, cautions that the SOF is not the only solution. “There is no free lunch. The SOF have limitations!”

The author’s analysis leads to some other conclusions worth considering. On the tactical side – again, of interest to Canadians – is his assertion that “boots on the ground are important but more important is having smart boots.” From my own experience in seven UN mission areas, including Afghanistan, I can testify that the average Canadian combat soldier does indeed leave intelligent prints on the terrain wherever he or she treads.

Seymour Hersh, in his short but pithy forward, zeros in on Rothstein’s key message. “The real mission of unconventional warfare is all about the building of personal relationships and trust that are critical to operational success in the non-Western world.”

This book presents one man’s argument on how this might be achieved, not only in Afghanistan, but also in other challenges that the US and its allies face.

The Soldier’s General: Bert Hoffmeister at War
Douglas E. Delaney
UBC Press, 2005, $85.00

The Soldier’s General is the history of a Canadian Reserve infantry officer who successfully commanded an armoured division, reported to be the only non-regular to command this level of formation in combat in the British Commonwealth. Bert Hoffmeister fought six battles as an infantry battalion commander, four as an Infantry Brigade Commander in Italy, and eight in command of an armoured division in both Italy and North West Europe. “With one, possibly two exceptions, all his actions succeeded.” Hoffmeister was awarded a British Distinguished Service Order at each level of battalion, brigade and division command.

Although the price is steep, this book is recommended reading for any level of military leader, serving or retired. The author, an infantry officer, now on staff at RMC as a professor, is to be commended for writing this gem.