The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan

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NATO Not Ready For Prime Time
by James Dunnigan
September 5, 2008

Discussion Board on this DLS topic

One reason many European nations are reluctant to let their troops engage the enemy in Iraq, or Afghanistan, is that they fear the outcome will not be up to the task. Over a decade of shrinking budgets has meant less money for realistic training. There are also equipment shortages. The net result is several layers of leadership that are really not well prepared for a shooting war. The leaders of these nations have also been warned about this by their own special operations troops, who have seen combat in Afghanistan. Most of these operations have been kept secret, as is normal for this sort of thing. But the commandos from these different nations had opportunities to exchange notes, and it was generally agreed that most post Cold War European nations had let most of their combat troops down. The special operations forces were hardly cut at all, as they were considered vital for counter-terrorism, or any kind of military emergency that might come up. The spec ops guys were dismayed at what was happening to the levels of training and equipment in the rest of the armed forces, and knew it could mean disaster if these guys were sent into combat.

Now that's starting to happen, and the results are not pretty. For example, several Czech helicopter pilots, when told they were going to Afghanistan, basically said no. Not unless they got more training, and helicopters that could handle that kind of tricky flying. The crew of an Italian helicopter gunship was recently sent home because they refused to fire in combat. No one will say exactly what happened there, but that sort of thing is usually the result of poor preparation, and leadership. And then there's the recent ambush of a French patrol, which resulted in ten French paratroopers killed. Most of the casualties occurred because the troops had not practiced dealing with ambushes, and the way the Taliban operate. Worse, the French troops were trapped under fire for many hours, long past the time when air cover or ground reinforcements should have arrived. Again, this has all the marks of bad leadership and poor training.

The well trained and equipped volunteer troops (particularly the American, British, Canadian, Australian and commandos of all nations) make it look easy. But it isn't. Lots of training, lots of practice, and decades developing combat leadership, is what it takes. Some nations are now faced with the need to repair some of the damage cause by that post Cold War euphoria and budget cutting.

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