Words to heed on Afghanistan

Fighting the War on Terror
James S. Corum
Zenith Press, 2007, 304 pages, hardcover, $31.00

The “blue ribbon” panel examining our mission in Afghanistan could do no worse than start their task by reading three books recommended by Colonel Mike Capstick, retired leader of the Kabul-based Strategic Advisory Team created to help the Afghan government chart a way forward and lay the foundation for capacity in the Afghan civil service.

At a conference in Kingston in June, he suggested The Sling and The Sword by Colonel Thomas Hammes, The Utility of Force by retired British General Sir Rupert Smith, and Fighting The War on Terror: A Counterinsurgency Strategy by James C. Corum, a PhD and a reservist who served in Iraq in 2004.

Hammes’ and Smith’s books were published in 2005 and 2005, respectively, and now serve as citations in many studies. This review will concentrate on Fighting The War on Terror, published in 2007.

The chapter headings indicate how the book’s topics might benefit panel members, none with military experience, in considering the dimensions of our involvement in Afghanistan.

Corum sets the scene in a chapter on contemporary insurgency and terrorism. There is little doubt Afghanistan resembles an insurgency, so his conclusion is worth noting: “With the networked form of insurgent organization, the hope for a rapid decisive victory in counter-insurgency is likely an unachievable goal.”

These are undoubtedly words no politician wishes to hear. Quick results win votes but the example of the prolonged struggle of 38 years in Northern Ireland suggests that some politicians in some countries, no matter what party, can “stay the course” if the national good is at stake.

Many of Canada’s most influential military brass have served time in American military organizations on exchange. Corum’s comments on America’s “new way of war,” coming from someone on the inside, are worth considering in determining Canada’s way ahead.

His chapter on controlling populations should be required reading for DFAIT, CIDA and others with an interest in helping Afghans. Corum commends American junior leaders for their flexibility in Iraq, but alleges problems originated at the senior command levels. He later suggests that interagency cooperation between government departments may have to be mandated by legislation much as the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 forced inter-service cooperation.

An examination of dysfunctional intelligence will resonate with Canadians who recently discovered that CSIS erased a key wiretap recording needed by the RCMP in their Air India bombing investigation. In the US, the FBI was forbidden by regulation to share information with the CIA, and the lack of HUMINT has been a major handicap. Corum suggests that for the cost of a few high tech intelligence systems, a major linguistic program for both military and civilians could be launched with much more significant results. He cites the training of Americans in Japanese during World War II. Canada could make a significant contribution in this area from our Diasporas – indeed, Canadian political scientist Christian Leuprecht has suggested in several forums that Canada’s ethnic demography is a force multiplier.

Corum published a monograph for the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute in 2006 on “Training Indigenous Forces in Counterinsurgency” and picks up that theme again. Given Canada’s role in training the Afghan army and police to assume responsibility for provision of security and justice, his observations are highly relevant to the panel. Corum notes, “that you can’t get by with minimal,” either with your own training or the training that you provide. Canadians have outstanding training, so the question is whether the Afghans are receiving more than the “minimal.” Perhaps we can ask any Afghans training at our staff college, a proposal that Corum offers for Americans to consider.

In a final chapter on the way ahead for America, Corum suggests that in view of the recruiting shortfall, a foreign legion concept be considered. Of course, the number of Canadians who served with US forces in Vietnam does suggest that, at least in our case, this might already be occurring. In the debate about how to receive the latest wave of Americans fleeing war service, few seem to have mentioned those Canadians serving with American forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is easy to understand why Colonel Capstick recommended this book. I’d endorse that recommendation to anyone on the government’s Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan.

Reviewed by Roy Thomas, MSC, CD, MA (RMC)

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