French Desertion Rumors Unfounded

To follow up on an earlier post on rumors of desertion among French troops deploying to Afghanistan, Jean-Dominique Merchet at Secret Défense has done some digging and decided that the evidence doesn’t back them up. Going through the numbers for the 8th RPIMa, he found only two cases of confirmed AWOL:

The 8th is an elite regiment with highly motivated personnel, so it’s likely those numbers are higher in other units. But for now, it would not be honest to talk of a troubling phenomenon. (Translated from the French.)

There are still a lot of troubling phenomena about the NATO coalition in Afghanistan, mind you. But French desertion is not one of them.

There’s always a danger in discussing rumors. Implicit in my post was that sometimes the simple fact that a rumor has been floated tells us something about the underlying reality, especially taking the broader context into account. In this case, that broader context is that not only is there little popular support for the Afghanistan War here in Europe, there is little enthusiasm for the Afghanistan mission among the major NATO coalition militaries. And at some point, a mission that the people don’t consider to be necessary and the military doesn’t consider to be promising is a mission that won’t last very long.

The fact that there’s no reference to this in the emerging Stateside discussion of how to overhaul America’s Afghanistan strategy strikes me as an enormous pink elephant wandering around the room unmentioned. Now it could be that the strategic overhaul, once articulated and supported by an obvious American commitment to the mission, could generate European enthusiasm. And presumably the folks currently formulating that overhaul are taking this into account. But the political debate isn’t.

American strategy in Afghanistan is currently dependent on the NATO coalition, and it will be until we can redeploy enough troops from Iraq to pick up the slack. If we’re essentially asking our European allies to conduct a holding operation until we can do so, I’m not sure that will fly. And even if it does, the political costs in terms of future missions could end up being severe.