April 27, 2010

Sultans of String: catch them if you can

Caught Toronto's own Juno-nominated Sultans of String at the Rex on Friday night... shown here with friends playing Yalla Yalla! Two great, great sets. I would have thought the semi-regular addition of veteran guitarist Eddie Paton to the regulars (Chris McKhool on violin and Kevin Laliberte on guitar, along with a rotating cast of others) would have taken away from Laliberte's lead flamencoist role, but the second instrument actually enriches and balances the sound nicely; it helps they interact together and with the rest of the group so superbly well (Paton's winning grin providing a nice visual contrast with Laliberte's guitar-pick-in-the-mouth studied air of disregard, too)... well, it's really worth your time if they're in your neighborhood and you're looking for something different on the instrumental world-music side. (Their take on The Who's "Pinball Wizard" is pretty amusing, too.) They're playing at the Rex again this Friday before touring the north of the province, and coming back in Toronto for the Beaches Jazz Festival in July.

Posted by BruceR at 11:57 PM

Afghan army marksmanship: quality vs quantity

C.J. Chivers:

But it is not unusual to see Afghan troops who seem, on patrol and in firefights, to have a very limited sense of basic fighting skills.

One senior American trainer, with several years of experience with Afghan recruits and their training program, sent several e-mail messages last year discussing institutional shortfalls in preparing Afghan soldiers for war... The officer said that the way training has been conducted almost guarantees poor marksmanship skills.

"Soldiers are not required to qualify on their assigned weapon (M-16) prior to graduation. A fitness test is not required either. The list goes on and on. Soldiers “graduate” from basic and advanced training simply because they did not go AWOL. If they are present on graduation day then off they go to their units."

Since this trainer wrote that paragraph, the Obama administration has emphasized preparing Afghan security forces to assume a greater role in the war. This week, the same trainer said that the problems remain, and that after years of working with Afghan soldiers, and an extraordinary investment of American money and soldiers’ time, “two fundamentals are missing from that army. The first is discipline. There really is none. And the second is accountability.”

I really think you need to look at marksmanship and discipline as symptoms of the larger issue here. No one failing recruit training, and the fact I never, ever heard of an Afghan soldier in our brigade being disciplined for anything (although I recall two cases of innocent men being framed for the errors of officers), no matter how serious, both tie back to the perception that this army as a whole needed to grow at a rapid rate. Soldiers who think they are likely to face harsh discipline will desert and never come back. Afghan officers who fail to pass unqualified candidates will face more consequences than those that let them all through.

It is extremely difficult to rapidly increase quality and quantity at the same time. But that it is what we've been trying to do with the ANA. People will point to the Canadian army in 1939 or the Indian army in the Raj, and say we're just using the wrong methods, but the simple fact is in those armies the people trying to rapidly improve them had a great deal more control over promotions, dismissals, or discipline in the ranks of the trained than ISAF has had over the ANA (which isn't saying much, as ISAF mentors have have generally ad little significant influence at all over any of those things). That meant there really were no consequences for failure in their system that would outweigh the risks that came with the level of commitment to the fight that Western soldiers expect.

The result, unfortunately, has been that the drive to produce quality and quantity simultaneously has largely failed to produce either, at a huge cost to the war effort.

As something of an aside, I think a lot of the "arm the tribes" stuff at its heart is really people detecting a problem with the military advisory approach in Afghanistan, and searching for ways to find some Afghans to fight alongside who are more in touch with their own "way of war" than the current ANA are. They evidently feel, not without reason, that we seem to have been very effectively creating a force that has the weaknesses of both our and their ways of fighting, and none of the strengths.

Posted by BruceR at 11:16 PM