Anti-partisan warfare vs. Fulda gap warfare

By Joe Fernandez

Some letter-writers and media commentators regard the Canadian special forces’ campaign against ISIS to be identical to the Second World War, evinced by the comment “Loose lips sink ships.”  

This highlights our society’s superannuated view of war. In Anzac’s Long Shadow: The Cost Of Our National Obsession, Australian officer and Iraq/Afghanistan veteran James Brown demonstrates how worship of Australia’s World War campaigns stifles dialogue on Australia’s current wars by fostering the myth that current warfare conforms to the Fulda Gap-style World Wars.

Browne says: “In Afghanistan ... Tactical success is often marked by an absence of violence ... The best days in a modern war are those in which nothing happens and security is maintained and broadened ... but it is much harder for a joint terminal attack controller ... to explain his job to a country reared on stories of larrikin [ne’er-do-wells saved from the gaol by dint of enlistment] Anzacs.”

This is shocking, considering the Royal Australian Regiment’s participation in counterinsurgency operations in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam, and the Australian SAS Regiment’s (SASR) participation in the latter two.

The situation in Canada is worse, evinced by the fact that firefights against partisans/insurgents are far more frequent and intense in Colonel Jan Breytenbach’s The Buffalo Soldiers (the history of South Africa’s 32 Battalion, 1975–1993) and John Potter’s A Testimony To Courage (the history of the Ulster Defence Regiment, 1969-1992), each individually, than they are in Colonel Bernd Horn’s From Cold War to New Millennium The History of The Royal Canadian Regiment, 1953–2008. This contrast reappears when comparing Rhodesian Light Infantry Lance-Corporal Chris Cock’s Fireforce to Royal Canadian Regiment soldier Terry “Stoney” Burke’s two volumes of Cold War memoirs.

Succinctly, Canada has an institutional deficit in counterinsurgency/anti-partisan warfare. What, then, to do?

We could realize that Canada has more in common with Switzerland than with America and China, and adapt a foreign/military policy identical to Switzerland’s. This requires politicians who put Canadian troops before open invitations to Davos, and generals who put their men before vacations as deputy commanders of rear-echelon U.S. commands, prerequisites of which Canada has in lesser abundance than we do palm trees.

The second option, one every Esprit de Corps reader can implement, is to educate the public that, while respecting Canadian troops who served therein, the World Wars and Korea have nothing to do with current counterinsurgency/anti-partisan operations. The public should be encouraged to read:

  • Carman Miller’s Painting The Map Red on Canada’s fighting Boer Commandos
  • Tony Geraghty’s The Irish War
  • Ben Sheppard’s War in the Wild East
  • Jean Lartéguy’s Les Centurions
  • Lieutenant-Colonel John Nagl’s Knife Fights
  • Nagl critic Colonel Gian Gentile’s Wrong Turn
  • R22eR LCol Steve Jourdain’s Mon Afghanistan
  • R22eR intelligence officer Sony Chris Marchal’s Peur et Dégout en Afghanistan
  • Sean Maloney’s Fighting For Afghanistan

(A caveat: Jourdain’s and Maloney’s descriptions are useful, their commentaries less so. Jourdain states Afghanistan was worth it because schools were built, yet 12e RBC Corporal Laurent Proulx asks, “Why did I build schools in Afghanistan when Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois stopped me from studying in Québec?” Maloney states the Canadian Army “cleared” Garmsir and Sangin in August 2006. However, Royal Irish Regiment Captain Douglas Beattie won the Military Cross fighting off Taliban waves in Garmsir in September 2006, while Force Recon Marine-turned-journalist Bing West’s book One Million Steps describes heavy Marine-versus-Taliban firefights in Sangin in 2009.)

The Canadian government and military can help by declassifying as much of information on Joint Task Force 2 (JTF 2) operations as possible. Tony Geraghty’s 1981 book Inside The SAS detailed Britain’s secret operations in Borneo and Oman. Operations JUDY (the SAS/Royal Ulster Constabulary ambush of the IRA at Loughgall) and FLAVIUS (the SAS’s neutralisation of thee IRA bombers in Gibraltar) in 1987 were publicized within hours and, although the SAS was not named, it was obvious that these operations were not mounted by Bearskin-wearing regiments.

More recently, SASR Victoria Cross-winning Corporals Ben Roberts-Smith and Mark Donaldson’s actions were publicised within a year of occurrence as was U.S. Navy SEAL PO1 Marcus Luttrell’s ordeal. While his fellow SEALs shunned “Mark Owen” for writing about the neutralisation of Bin Laden a year afterwards without clearance, they also told Rowan Scarborough that “Owen’s” book betrayed no sensitive detail.

Operations are classified for two reasons. The legitimate reason is to protect operational security and operators. The illegitimate reason, evinced by the USAF’s five-decade quest to keep a 1948 B-29 crash classified (blocking crash victim Albert Payla’s wife and daughter from closure), is to conceal officer-level incompetence.

Is JTF 2 so super-sensitive that discussing it beyond David Pugliese, Denis Morisset and Darnell Bass’s books is counterproductive? Possibly. But is it realistic that a two-decade-old unit would be tasked more sensitively than the SAS and SEALs, who have had institutional experience since WWII? The SAS and SEALs are popular precisely because they have been abundantly written about. Should the same happen to JTF 2, perhaps the public will better understand counterinsurgency/anti-partisan warfare vice Fulda Gap warfare.