Afghan Legacy

We spent a lot of blood and treasure helping Afghanistan attempt to enter the 21st century. I will not pass judgement on how successful we were because we did much good there. Militarily, I worry that we now have a couple of generations of soldiers who think that what they experienced during their tours there is the new baseline for warfare. It isn’t. Fighting insurgencies is older than the Roman Legions. War is experienced along a broad spectrum and our fight there was only one narrow slice of that spectrum. Our collective experience taught us much but we must learn to add to our collective knowledge and not replace what we knew with what we now know.

The use of tanks is an excellent case in point. How we employed armour assisting infantry fight insurgents does not mean that we now do not need to relearn how to employ armour in mass, in conventional battle. Look at the invasion of Ukraine. It looks more like 1942 than like 2002. Everything old is new again, as the saying goes.

2 thoughts on “Afghan Legacy

  1. Hey Chuck,

    I liked your post. I do not usually comment on these things but this is an area that I feel is worth discussing. Noted bias upfront. I have 3 tours in Afghanistan and was one of those leaders that “Grew Up” from platoon, support platoon, and then sub unit command in that country.

    That said, I think we may be passed that tipping point of “collective experience” baselining warfare in COIN. This may have been true in 2013, but I do not think is the present case. I could be wrong but it seems the personnel turnover is rapid and most soldiers are suffering “Afghan Stories” much like earlier generations suffered “Germany” or “Yugo” stories. If not already, most OCs taking command over the next two years would not have set foot in Khandahar and would have cut their teeth in strike cells against ISIS, SFCB missions in Ukraine, the Middle East, Africa, or the Assurance/Deterrence missions in Latvia. Since about 2014, the Canadian Army senior leadership understood that there was a need to learn how to fight a Brigade in a Divisional context and the reset began with mobile HQs, getting to understand Bde mobilization and movement, understanding the threats presented by the modern recce-fires complex and how to best find, fix, strike and exploit at pace. I am not pretending the situation is perfect. Just that the focus has been on Combined arms skill and trying to achieve excellence. Irregular Warfare is no longer couched in COIN terms but is practiced either as indicators and warnings in “conflict build” with a heavy informational component or is applied in more classic Unconventional Warfare frames with Special Purpose forces conducting SR or striking “deep” Tgts, HQs and lines of communication. You would be hard-pressed to find teams below Company /Squadron that could talk “population-centric COIN” now I think.

    Latvia has been an excellent schoolhouse for Armour. The BG has a Sqn (+) of PT-91s ( POL), A troop of Leopard ( Spain) and I believe now have the Italian MBTs for at least half the year. With the Brits and Challengers to the North, the Germans South, and the Polish /US eFP on the flanks, it creates a rich experiential environment for the leaders and soldiers that live it. With the annual Tank concentration in Adazi, there is a Regiment (+) that comes together from multiple nations. The saddest part of this is that Canadian Armour is not involved and though Canadian Armoured Officers have led the BG, the institution has not exposed Canadian Sabre Squadrons to the opportunity! A great future piece for you may be ” Why Canadian Armour Matters in Latvia”

    I think your comment on adding to the collective knowledge is well considered. The danger may be present, at the opposite end of your comment. The “this isn’t Afghanistan” narrative shortens the memory of those lessons that are valuable; how to consider patrols to disrupt, how to respond to ambush or lay them, why breaching equipment and fires are important on a river crossing against an entrenched enemy and perhaps most importantly; how to consider that your team has zero liability when doing the business and how to care and lead young Canadian soldiers that are placed in harm’s way and have to take it to the enemy after taking a hit. An observation maybe, that at times, Afghan experience can be ( not always) dismissed out of hand as not applicable and we are forgetting that at the small unit level, the enemy was cagey worthy of our respect and consideration. Perhaps an armoured element going up against multiple Afghan dismounted anti-armour positions is worthy of study when reflecting on Ukraine and the lessons we can draw tactically?

    Regardless, I do think that the focus on the baseline of warfighting is strong and not something to be concerned about, this European war will reinforce that narrative. Who knows if it means operational equipment gaps will be filled, but the PME and training will respect these realities and continue to build experience and knowledge in our soldiers and their leaders.

    What may need to be considered is all those things that are no longer purely in the military sphere but are targeted and impact operational areas. I think that “what is old is new again” is a fair comment but so is “What is new is new” and the “domains of discomfort” ( Information, Space, Cyber etc) are likely areas that need to be continued training pressure. A commander will not face one thing but will have to consider a ” tactical addition” that seeks a design to overwhelm the system and deliberately target those vulnerabilities that are not easily defended by solely military forces and that commanders are potentially ill equipped to face. I guess the next question may be: What training and experiences are essential and are there defined edges of your collective knowledge spectrum? Perhaps the choices of what to “cut” are going to be as important as what is added?

    Maybe a bit long. My apologies. I think it is a good topic. Thanks for this great site and your efforts.




    1. SKM

      that is a great post. Thank you. I wish that I could share your positivity regarding what you have termed ‘baseline warfare.’ Unfortunately, knowing that the army had a problem was only the first step. It is true that all of the PME institutions have begun the hard work of teaching combined arms combat but it will be a long time, perhaps more than a career span, to get back the skill set that have been lost. Studying a combined all arms battlegroup attack relates to being able to conduct one like reading about good wine and being able to discern the difference between a vintage ’25 and a vintage ’41.

      Thanks for your thoughts. I look forward to reading more.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s