Four American Special Operations soldiers who died in an ambush in Niger were reported to have died as a consequence of improper planning, training, and taking unnecessary risks – a “culture of complacency”. Summarizing details in a classified Pentagon report, military officials found “low-level commanders, eager to make their mark against local militants in Niger, “took liberties to get operations approved through the chain of command,” ” according to the Wall Street Journal article today.
In the collisions between U.S. Navy warships and civilian freighters in 2017, the Navy found the same consequences of complacency, not following procedures, and overconfidence. In recent articles describing mishaps in Air Force and Marine Corps aviation, both cite decisions regarding decreased training hours for pilots, as well as decreased material support and funding resulted in increased mechanical failures and pilot error, particularly in the last several years.
For years, much of the attention paid to combat-action, training or mission-related casualties has focused on politics, funding (budget), and defense contractors, but less has been paid to warfighter training and culture. In the last twenty years both the warfighters themselves and the military services have “adapted” by the social norms of the day. Competitiveness, rigorous thinking, physical prowess, and unity of singular national identity ( e.g. American, not hyphen American, or French, not Algerian-French) has been debased internationally in favor of equality, fairness, tolerance, and individualism. Regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or spiritual concerns, a warrior culture has to be obsessive and unyielding about unity, training, respect for and obedience to authority, to mission and to nation. A warrior commander has to be pragmatic about readiness, mission planning, and risk. While there is always some acceptance of risk in any effort, there is no room for overconfidence, personal ambition, or politics in military operations.
However, with human beings comes human weakness. From the American ambassador during the Barbary Wars (at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century) who diverted support from the U.S. naval commanders interdicting pirates because he was not consulted, to the battlefront commanders who did not receive accurate enemy strength numbers when advancing on Tora Bora during the initial Afghanistan campaigns (with some fault from communication issues), character, training and planning shortcomings have resulted in unintended casualties. While it is true that military forces, particularly among the NATO alliance, have become better trained, better equipped and more unified, particularly in communications (Blue on Blue, or “friendly fire” incidents declined), veterans, families of currently-serving members, and the public need to press our civilian leaders to make the necessary changes from the ground up. Better leaders make better institutions. Better institutions makes better people. Better people make better warriors. Better warriors make better decisions.