I know we are still some way off ceasing operations in Afghanistan and the future is still unclear but what lessons can we take from this conflict?
My off the cuff starter for ten;
- Politicians should think once, twice and seventy five times before committing the armed forces. We have drifted into an extended conflict with little practical gain that has been extremely costly in blood, treasure, international reputation and influence. Our principal objective now seems to withdraw with as much of our tattered military and political reputation intact as possible, every soldier killed, limb lost and pound spent between now and the cessation of operations will be because we failed to think enough about the consequences.
- Show me the strategy, confusion about selection and maintenance of the aim of operations in Afghanistan means that every strategy in fact becomes a tactic. All talk of COIN this or containment operations that, is conflating the day to day means of realising a non-existent strategy because we did not and still do not have a realistic objective. One day it was the defeat of Al Qaida, then it was education for girls, human rights, drugs interdiction, preventing the Taleban provide a safe harbour for terrorists and so on. A clear objective for future operations is as vital as item 1
- Listen to the armed forces but don’t be afraid to ignore them, military advice is not always correct. Politicians need to improve their knowledge of strategic and operational matters so they can make informed decisions and have the conviction to drive them through. Political leadership is every bit as important as military.
- If committing the armed forces then do not place shaped handcuffs on them, yes we know very few UOR’s get declined put political limits on force composition, force protection issues, manning and other operational matters makes the job of achieving what little clarity in aim that much more difficult. These are restrictions are generally tied to the cost of operations or how things might look in the press so in short, politicians need to accept that military operations are very expensive and dangerous but meddling will make things worse. This might seem contradictory to item 4 but it is about different things
- Unity of command is important, yes of course it is important to have a multi agency approach but the FCO doing one thing, DFiD doing another and the military stuck somewhere in the middle is a recipe for chaos
- You can never have enough helicopters, spare parts or soft toilet tissue. Availability of equipment and more than enough logistics back up is something that should never be subject to debate, we need to get better at supporting what we have even if this means fewer new toys
- Relying on Urgent Operational Needs to supply the vast majority of equipment is not big or clever and will cause untold problems post conflict. Whilst many hail the UOR system as a of success, and in some respects it is, it is not guaranteed to deliver adequate equipment and is fundamentally an admission of a failure to plan for and resource lots of what might be called ‘basic equipment’ like uniform, body armour, protected diggers and night vision equipment
- Each conflict is different, using one as a template for another is rarely a recipe for success and we need to have the institutional agility to learn from past conflicts but recognise when those lessons are not applicable. Rapid adaptation is the hallmark of many successful organisations and we need to put in place a structure that in effect, gets rids of a lot of structure!
- Information operations should be core to military ones and vice versa. The internet and its Twitter/Facebook/Blogging/YouTube offspring is rapidly changing how people at home, in theatre and around the world perceive what we do. We need to recognise this and maximise these tools to our advantage.
- The final one is up to the commenters to fill in