I happen to have a handy set of figures from October 2010.*
|KIA||Size of Contingent||Population||KIA per Contigent||Rank, KIA/Cont||KIA/Pop||Rank, KIA/Pop|
* I created this table a year ago. Some numbers have changed--particularly size of contingent (US pre-surge, CA/Netherlands not yet out) but also the US taking some significant hits over the past year, Canada's number of KIA increased by five before it left and so on.
First, Canada barely led in that particular metric just ahead of Denmark. If one uses casualties per home population, then Canada is actually third behind Denmark and the UK and just ahead of the US.
Second, this is an indicator that has some intuitive value, but has some flaws as well. There are more differences between the US and UK on one side and Canada on the other than just per capita KIA. Because the other two deployments are much larger than the Canadian one, the lower per contingent (but much higher aggregate) numbers might be because the UK and the US have a smaller percentage of their contingent engaged in infantry and convoy operations--where Canada has paid a high price. The US and UK have had more folks in helos, in planes, and in supporting such assets, so the relatively small differences might be because these countries had a smaller percentage of troops in harm's way, especially before the Canadians deployed additional non-infantry assets after the Manley report and mandate extension of 2008.
Third, what this table does demonstrate is that the big four (UK, US, Denmark, Canada) have been paying a higher price. That comes with the combination of difficult territory (Helmand and Kandahar (and Eastern Afghanistan for the US) and a willingness to take more risks rather than restrict the troops behind caveats and other limitations imposed on commanders on the ground.
So, the twitter conversation missed the real point of comparison--not between Canada and the US/UK, but between the US/UK/Canada/Denmark group and the rest. This then speaks to the larger point of Canada choosing Kandahar over some semi-random isolated spot in Regional Command West (the Italian-led sector).*
* I still think the Canadians of the Hillier era and beyond would have been largely incompatible with the highly restricted Italians as their bosses. I have not been told this was a conscious part of the decision-making process, but I cannot help but think that working under the Italians would have been damn near unthinkable for Hillier and the rest of the current crop of Canadian commanders.
Canadian leaders, civilian and military, were looking to change how Canada operated in the world. Rather than 40 little missions with 40 little maple leaf flags on UN maps, there was a conscious choice to have Canada focus its efforts to make a difference and to have more influence over what it was doing and perhaps beyond. Going to Chaghcharan where a small Lithuanian unit has filled the gap the Canadians refused to fill would have fit the old strategy of just being present but not much more than that. But doing more than that involved risks--of casualties, of $$ being expended, of bad things possibly happening (detainee scandals, collateral damage, friendly fire, working with the brother of Karzai, whatever), and of mission failure.
But for me, it keeps coming down to two things:
- Just showing up is not a responsible policy. How can one espouse a policy called responsibility to protect (whether that applies to Afghanistan or not, although I lean to the idea that it does) if one just is showing up? Willing to do enough so that one's marked down for "attending" but not really participating is a C or C+ effort that does not get one noticed one way or another. But yet would still cost millions of dollars despite not providing a valued alliance with much added value.
- Making a difference requires doing something is hard, not easy. Kandahar was hard. Harder than Canadian leaders might have expected (I am beginning to think this was less about intel failure and more about wishful thinking).
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