“The full send”:
Unfiltered professional insights and observations from a soldier turned advocate
By Col (ret’d) Pat Stogran
In this inaugural article (in what I hope will become a regular feature in Esprit de Corps), I would like to thank publisher Scott Taylor for allowing me to address what I feel is one of the most serious issues our country faces: our foreign and defence policies. In doing so I hope to strip off the labels that are commonly held up to discuss complex theories and issues without understanding any of the nuances or arguments that go into conflict management in the 21st century. I intend to avoid getting too bogged down in the theory, however, as the well-informed academics and pundits amongst us are apt to do while espousing and defending theories on conflict and conflict resolution as if they are canons handed down from Thor, the God of War, himself.
It was also my experience in the military that we were quite expert at regurgitating concepts such as three-block war, kinetic operations, effects-based operations, etc. as if they are arrows in our quivers, but when it came time to employ troops on operations we just did whatever everybody else was doing at the time. Our troops in Afghanistan, on the other hand, demonstrated that they take a back seat to nobody in the world of warriors but, as I hope to reveal in a series of articles, it takes more than prowess in close combat to manage 21st century conflicts.
That we failed to achieve a desirable end-state in either Afghanistan or Libya is excusable; what is unpardonable is that Canada seems to be gleefully launching from fiasco to fiasco in the Middle East without taking an intellectual pause to consider what we might be doing wrong. What is worse is that we will use the lives of our soldiers, sailors and air force personnel as fodder for political point-getting, and that the fanatical party faithful in this country will reduce the strategy that we employ against threats to our national security as red or blue sound bites.
Once again, this is where labels and the binary arguments that facilitate oversimplified debate are a tedious distraction and are doing a drastic disservice to our men and women in uniform and to Canadian security now and into the future. It is my hope with this column that my readers will help me dig a little deeper into our national security with an informed discussion.
I am planning, therefore, to introduce readers to some concepts and considerations of operational planning that I learned in my 30 years of service in the Canadian Forces. These will be concepts that I was introduced to while attending the Canadian Land Forces Command and Staff College, the Canadian Forces Command and Staff College, the Royal Military College of Sciences in the United Kingdom as well as the United States Army War College, although they will be updated and simplified to suit this discussion. I will also weigh in based on my experience on operations, which includes Bosnia in 1993, Afghanistan in 2002 and, subsequently, as commander of the Joint Operations Group as we supported the planning for and deployment of Canadian Army assets back to fight in Kandahar in 2005.
On the heels of a life-defining experience in Bosnia, both professional and personal, I was very fortunate to serve what I call a sabbatical as an instructor of tactics and operational art at the Australian Army’s Land Warfare Centre. For three full years I was able to reflect and contemplate on all things military to a depth that I never could have as a student. Moreover, during that time I routinely submitted some of my theories and opinions to the acid test of a student body of some of the most motivated and professional military officers I have had the privilege of serving with.
The timing of that experience was remarkably serendipitous because it corresponded with the emergence of a new world order in which, with the travesty of 9/11, all the rules changed. Shortly after the United States retaliated against the perpetrators of the attack in their home base of Afghanistan, Canada and NATO partners launched their mission in support of their ally, but we were destined to embark on what I perceive to be military disaster after military disaster. I submit that if in the latter half of the last century the NATO partners had dealt with the emerging threat of the Soviet Union the same way, we probably would have suffered nuclear annihilation decades ago.
I hope to replicate here those wholesome discussions that I enjoyed with my students at Australia’s Land Warfare Centre, albeit in a simpler fashion. With that as my guide, in the coming issues I look forward to discussing some military and campaign planning theory, and to enticing readers to offer comments and opinions of how these theories might apply in the context of Canada’s future engagement in the Middle East. Put yourself in the shoes of our defence planners! So I would ask you to join me next month when I peel back the label of “war” to initiate the discussion based on first principles.