Finnish contributions to ISAF

Ah, the Finns.  We’re partial to the Finns here at TwShiloh so it was with a great deal of interest that we finally got to the chapter on their experience in Afghanistan in my ongoing review of Hynek and Marton’s book on state-building in Afghanistan.

The Finns have had a small total presence of troops in Afghanistan, currently hovering around 200 troops so they’ve had to piggy back on the missions of larger contingents (currently the Swedes).

The chapter by Charly Salonius-Pasternak has some really interesting observations that didn’t come to mind as I was thinking about Finland and their approach to Afghanistan but are worthy of some deeper attention.

Case in point:  Finland has “no culture of expeditionary warfare”.  That has significant ramifications for how the Finnish military (and government?) sees its role and how it uses it personnel.  All Finnish soldiers deployed in international operations are volunteers, for example.

Pretty interesting, right?  Hold on, because it gets even more so.

Historically a considerable majority of Finnish soldiers serving in international operations have been reservists, with 70-85 per cent of the total troops having a civilian reservist background…The average age of Finnish soldiers serving in Afghanistan is over 30 years.

Wow.  So, we’ve got a group of soldiers, the majority of whom bring some hefty civilian skills along with their military domain knowledge and given their age and experience, they’re (presumably) also are going to approach problems and solutions a bit differently than your average 18 year old.

Is this the SysAdmin force Barnett wrote about?

Apart from that, it’d be pretty interesting to see how or if a force composed like this stacks up against a more traditionally staffed force if you could control for unit size and mission.

The Finns have been generally in the North of the country serving with the Norwegians in Meymaneh and then with the Swedes in Mazar-e Sharif.  In both cases the Finns identified the biggest threat in their area of operations to be criminal networks and warlords.  To be honest, that finding is a bit refreshing to read since when I was there in 2003-2004, getting command to see either of those as a threat (let alone anything we should even consider addressing) simply was a non-starter.

We hear a lot of training local security forces but an important question is if we’re training those forces to a standard that can’t be sustained or perhaps isn’t even appropriate.  In this category, the Finns had something to bring to the table.

Seeking to make up for numbers and insufficient air support, Finland has since the 1930s developed methods and a doctrine of using artillery support that differs from approaches used in larger militaries.  Despite not requiring advanced technology, the system is able to concentrate artillery fire very effectively.  This, and the fact that Finland has artillery pieces in its arsenal that are similar to those owned by the Afghan military, make it easy to understand why Finland could provide artillery training.

I’m not an artillery guy but I’d really like to read a bit more about that.

While I won’t go into detail here I strongly recommend reading the section of decision making and policy coordination within the Finnish government.  It sounds wonky and it may be, but it’s totally worth it to those of us who grew up in a society that has an executive ‘commander in chief’.

I also found it interesting that it wasn’t until 2010 that the Finns bothered to create a formal ‘lessons learned’ process.  Until then, knowledge between deployments was passed along through informal channels which isn’t a particularly good thing.  Still, better late than never I suppose.



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