Following up on the “Coalition of the Bankrupt” post from last week, Jean-Dominique Merchet at Secret Défense has a series of posts (here and here, both in French) discussing whether or not French army units scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan are experiencing higher rates of absenteeism (read: desertion). The thread was begun when Merchet reported that a unit that had been training for its deployment for the past six months was “frustrated” and “disappointed” to learn that it had been replaced by another and would, in fact, be staying put as an operational reserve. Merchet noted that the unit’s reaction demonstrated that morale had remained high in spite of the recent ambush that left ten French soldiers dead in eastern Afghanistan.
Subsequently, a source contacted Merchet claiming that, in fact, “soft desertions” (ie. sick leave due to back pain) had risen substantially for departing units, and another claimed that the decision to replace the unit mentioned in the first post might have been driven by the fact that 34 men had not reported back for duty following pre-deployment leave. The French army provided official statistics (derided as “Brezhnevian” by one of Merchet’s readers) denying the charge, but other correspondents have disputed it as well. So far there’s been a lot of back and forth at Merchet’s site, but nothing conclusive.
Still, I mention it because this is the sort of item that, when looked back on, is often recognized as having foreshadowed a significant event. And in this case, that event would be the unraveling of the NATO coalition in Afghanistan. It’s no secret that British army morale is in the tank, the Dutch have just experienced their first mutiny, and the French army — whose morale has already been hit hard by base closings, budget cuts and deteriorated relations between the president and the chiefs of staff — is experiencing a whispering campaign regarding desertions. And so far, I haven’t seen any realistic reflection of this in America’s discussion about the Afghanistan War.