Maj. Gen. Vincent Desportes, a special adviser to the chairman of Panhard General Defense, has a really fascinating feature essay at World Politics Review on the evolution of France’s military in Afghanistan.
The French military understood that tactical effectiveness in the new conflicts such as Afghanistan demands a new style of command and new competencies. Whereas the French army tended to have a tradition of centralized command, it discovered and adopted the concept of “mission command,” borrowed by the British from the Germans, who had themselves borrowed it from . . . Napoleon. The army began to develop initiative at the lower command levels, understanding that this is the only way to adapt to the constantly changing conditions of the Afghan war. It discovered and taught the new tasks of warfare, those of reconstruction and aid to the people. Despite the initial reticence that met these changes, the army succeeded in getting the message across that the profession of soldier had changed and that its social dimensions now play a fuller role.
It found that war is first and foremost a matter of communication, directed toward the population in the theater of operations — but also toward the French people, in the form of news reports. As a result, communication returned to take a central position in military training. The army realized that intelligence had also evolved. Not only were its vectors reversed, now originating principally from below to rise toward the top, but its best receptors became the soldiers themselves, who were therefore trained for this new aspect of their mission.
And so on. I find this so fascinating not just because of who is saying it—Desportes is one of the more innovative thinkers in French military circles—but also because it closely parallels my own thoughts on how France has adapted and, to some extend, succeeded in Afghanistan. A more complete recounting of those thoughts will be out in an edited volume to be published by Routledge a little later this year. Ironically, perhaps, this is part of a feature World Politics Review is running on European challenges in Afghanistan. The other two essays seem to parallel what I’ve heard other European scholars say about their governments’ commitments in Afghanistan as well. So maybe there is an emerging consensus about the clashes of strategic goals, alliance commitments, and tactical imperatives?
Well, one can certainly hope, can’t one.