ISIS and the UK’s Defence Response

An analysis of what ISIS really means for the defence of the United Kingdom and what our response should be

A quote to start

There’s no problem we can’t ignore if we really put our mind to it
(King Ralph)

Has the world really shifted to any degree that affects the UK?

I will set out my store here and say I can see no obvious way that it has.

We have in the UK, for whatever reason a small number of young Muslim men who feel that the society in which they have been raised, and in many case born, has nothing to offer them: – and needs to be overthrown and replaced by the medievalist creed of Wahhabi Islam.

That overthrow is best accomplished by terror.

There are a somewhat larger number of young men from that background who believe that the secular democratic, or Christian west, is intent on controlling or in some way doing Muslims and Muslim nations down. As a result, it is the duty of all Muslims to take up arms in those states that are so threatened; in order to ‘protect’ them form the influence of the west and it’s (in their eyes) treacherous Muslim allies who have turned from the true faith.

The Syria/ Iraq situation does not change that. These two groups existed before the first shots were fired in Syria, and will exist after the ISIS flood has gone the way of all ‘supper-hot ideological flaming revolutions; and broken down into recrimination and compromise. (Although it may re draw the map in the process)

Any members of the two groups who wanted to get their religious fervour stoked could do so in any number of safe havens – Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, for example.

Accompanied with obligatory AK 47 based tuition.

The existence of an Islamic republic trans Syrian and Iraqi borders does not IMHO change that.

Does this increase the ‘internal’ threat to the UK?

Not sure it does.

We know that in all of the countries where there is significant Muslim fundamentalist struggle, there are (or at least are rumours of) UK citizens involved.

Are Jihadis from the UK more likely to return to the UK from a Caliphate and transfer from the 2nd of the above groups to the 1st than if they come home from Afghanistan or Somalia?

As to how to fix them, any student of early modern history can see the parallels with the rise of militant Protestantism in the 1500’s; and the key to beating the Muslim fundamentalists is the same sort of restrictive policies about preaching etc that were adopted at the time. But that is not a defence issue it is a law and order and social policy one.

What are the defence issues?

Not sure I see any, so what if the map of the middle-east is re drawn and Iraq fragments into 3 parts, so what if northern Syria melts into one of those 3 parts to form a caliphate.

Where is our interest?

What strategic issues arise for us from that?

Just what we can our conventional forces do about it anyway?

As far as I can see the square route of bugger all.

The Navy?

Just about as far from the sea as you can get. Real non-starter.


Outside of some special-forces activities tied into the next point nothing much.

We trained and helped equip The Large, Well Trained, Well led, Well motivated Iraqi Army (TLWTWLWMIA) for short. That’s the army that we left behind, and we were assured by previous and currently serving Snr officers and officials, before we withdrew having accomplished our mission of leaving a stable Iraq behind; could well handle the job.

That is TLWTWLWMIA that in effect melted away, or ran off so fast there was a small supersonic pop as its vehicles flew past at the first sign of a pick-up truck with a beardy bloke in it.

I doubt us or the US will repeat the tactic.

Any real numbers of UK troops in the ground?

Amazon will be urgently despatching ice skates to :-

Mr B,E Lzbub
1 Inferno Terrace
Damnation Town

Before that happens.

The Air force?

Well there is scope for targeted UAV and even Tornado strikes if basing can be agreed. (And ok on the ‘me too!’ scale I am sure that a sub somewhere will get to fire some Tomahawks to make it feel better). But Bombing Iraq has not really accomplished much since WW1.

But it is the most likely option of any.

Of course all this can and will be accomplished by the US without us but for the sake of standing next to our allies we might get to blow some shit up somewhere.

So in reality, as often these days, the nature of the threat we face is not going to be ‘dealable’ with by FRES, QEC, T26, or F35.

Nor will ‘force structures’ etc affect it much.

In effect ‘chillax’ chaps it will all sort itself out and if it does not well that’s the local’s problem.

Apart that is from our home grown ‘Fundi Jundies who we will have to deal with by other means, and I do not see that as a defence issue.



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June 25, 2014 10:12 am

There is not going to be any UK military action to stop ISIS so looking at “the options” is rather pointless.

June 25, 2014 10:20 am

Mmmmmmm, OK
Provoking Article, no problem with that, watch the flood of comment.
I agree with your synopsis of the direct threat to the UK. Its just the same Sh*t different day. They will have to go along way before, this lot, get anywhere near the effect and competence of the IRA, and we all remember the amount of political change they caused. Non.
Agree with the analysis of military options. Its going to have to be air strikes a la Libya. Not that this isn’t a very effective option done right. ( see Libya )
But can’t agree that British interests aren’t currently under threat. Any destabilising influence to this extent in North Africa is not only right on our doorstep. But does affect European commerce transit.
We enjoy “good” relations with these countries right now, and have various commercial interests often ( but not exclusively ) revolving around the oil industry, though not necessarily about buying oil directly.
The Idea that ISIS will stop at Iraq and \ or Syria once they have won is just ridiculous. I very much doubt we will see these conflict resolved before the next one breaks out.

June 25, 2014 10:37 am


The IRA brought about considerable change, a devolved Northern Irish assembly for a start, not to mention thorough reform of policing in Northern Ireland. They managed to make Margaret Thatcher negotiate which is more than the miners or Argentinians ever achieved

Michael Wheatley
Michael Wheatley
June 25, 2014 11:06 am

Okay, so lets start with:
“War is a continuation of domestic politics by additional means”. ‘scuse my modification, but I think it gets the idea across better.
The domestic impact of Syria is 0; of Iraq, it is a stick to beat up Blair -> New Labour -> current Labour, but it will bite you in the ass if you try to use it. (Actually, I’m quite impressed how the serious analysts are moving beyond the Iraq war, and instead going into detail about the Iraqi & Mid East politics.)

But, the unreliability of the Iraq army is a very big deal, and ties into FRES requirements (nooooo!) and indeed the entire Army strategy -> requirements -> capabilities plan.

In theory, the best way to get armour to theatre is to have it start there, i.e. get local allies to do the COIN and other quantity>>quality tasks for you. It worked for the Romans after all.
They we can respond to any problems by flying in our favourite lunatics (possibly anonymously) to make use of the already in-theater hardware.
Except that in this case, the locals are totally useless, and it is ISIS who are flying in and taking the pre-possitioned hardware. D’oh.

The strategy of “go first, go fast, and go home” only works if someone else can do the long term stability for us. Ideally locals, because “they are much better at COIN, ‘cos they have the support of the locals”.
Except here is an example where the American army was better at keeping the local factions happy, than is the current locally-elected government!

Random thoughts in not much order:
– A FRES kit that consists of appliqué, weapons, and comms that can be fitted to local civilian pickup trucks. This to be light enough to get there fast enough to matter.
– A400M’s for bigger (but less than MBT) tanks, it it gets that far. I guess mobility and firepower at the expense of armour, but that needs to be gamed extensively.
– A Medium COIN IFV, very well protected, good for civilian bridges and limited of-road, with the compromise being on the weapons.
– A large infantry army, for long-term and open-ended COIN operations. Note: if 100 reservists die, they will probably be from 100 different corporations, and each have 50 non-overlapping colleagues to mourn them. Reservist deaths are going to be a bigger deal w.r.t. casualty tolerance (possibly a good thing, but the sudden change will be jarring).

Or is that all that an attempt to win a war we shouldn’t be fighting?
Is the better lesson to learn, that single-ethnic dictators in multi-ethnic countries build up such expectation in ‘their’ people, that the country is doomed?
If so, is the lesson a strategic one, and that if we war with them, instead of removing them completely, we should instead drive them back to a small enclave of “their people”, and liberate the rest of the country into new states al-la Kosovo? Leave the old guy in charge of his much-reduced kingdom, to “focus the minds” of the new states, with a common enemy. The old guy having a much reduced ability to cause problems, but not eliminated, as it isn’t worth the consequences?

June 25, 2014 11:10 am

Perhaps this is just the outcome of the Western powers using a ruler and pencil dividing up the old Ottoman Empire after WW1 not really understanding the local tribalist /religious schism nature of the region. The same could be said for Africa when the Western powers forged their Empires again using the same ruler and pencil to divide up the land ignoring the same factors (hence Rwanda eventually exploding with a majority Hutu tribe slaughtering a minority Tutsi tribe trapped on the wrong side of a border (and moderate Hutu’s).
The outcome is death on a grand scale while they continue to sort themselves out with the West being blamed if we choose to interfere or even if we don’t. I myself think we should actively encourage trapped minorities to up sticks and move to the areas dominated by who they choose to call kin. Similar to border readjustments after Partition between India and Bangladesh but without the multiple tiny pockets of each other ,a nice clean border with reluctant groups either excepting the consequences or accepting a bribe from the west to move supplied from our vast overseas aid budgets (its a lot cheaper than war but not as much profit in it I know).
In the end leave them to it.

June 25, 2014 11:14 am

part few points on the current situation

1 There is bugger all we can do and attempting to do anything will just end up making us a terrorists target again.

2 Its getting to the point that the only thing that is going to sort the Sunni/Shear civil war is letting then duke it out. Currently they are doing it in the two places that don’t have any major oil reserves to worry about. I’m inclined to let then get on with it.

3 Having our British Jihadis going off to fight in these places may well cure them of their extremism. A lot of young men were keen to go to the Trenches in 1914 and most came back as passaficts. Most of the guys coming back from Guantanamo also seem to have given up on extremism as well. its one thing to talk about living in an extremist Islamic state but another to do it.

The UK faced a not dissimilar problem in the 18th century with rowdy highland jackobites and we came up with the solution which was the highland regiments I.e. Use the rowdy guys to fight our war’s abroad so they don’t cause problems at home. when they do come back they are too tiered and old to cause a probelm.

Maybe the answers is to create some Jihadi battalions in the British Army and use then to intervene in the Middle East. we could use our Sunni battalions to topple Syria and our Shear ones to hold the line in Iraq.

June 25, 2014 11:17 am

Obvs one issue which it does provoke quite close at hand is that equivalent of TLWTWLWEWMIA in Afghanistan… which may influence dreckly what UK does within and without a NATO context at the end of this year. in the Stan

I agree that the miltary track record in dealing with the ‘fundies has not been great and is not really our job

June 25, 2014 11:24 am

Not a bad idea , its what the Romans did, they had Syrians serving on Hadrian’s wall and Celts fighting in Africa , Namibians in Spain etc , we as you say copied this using large numbers of Irish ,Scottish and Welsh Regiments to fight overseas well away from where the could get rebellious ideas. Which army like to face down the Connaught Rangers or 91st? None.

June 25, 2014 11:35 am

I don’t know why but this scene from Yes Prime minister comes to mind:

Peter Elliott
June 25, 2014 11:39 am

Looking at the Iraqi Army I am reminded of what the Duke of Wellington said: “There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers.”

Specifically he was talking about the Spanish and Potuguese armies in the Iberian Peninsula circa 1809-10. When British officers were drafted in to train and lead both armies they fought very effecively in the period 1811-14. “They are the fighting cocks of the army” being one observation.

What I wonder is whether the Americans in Iraq concentrated too much on soldier training, skill at arms and fieldcraft, and not enough on officer training: leadership, motivation and ethics? Has the programme in Afghanistan been significantly different? Will the British run ‘Sandhurst in the sand’ acadmy leave a better led officer corps behind than in Iraq?

The second point to consider is pay and logisitics. The Portuguese in the Peninnsula were generally more effective than the Spanish also becuase they were to a large extent paid by British subsidies and fed by the British commissaries system, whereas the Spanish were (largely) not.

Any army (including numerous examples from history of British ones) will fall apart if it is not paid and fed. Was the Iraqi Army being paid and fed? Will we and our interntional partners continue to pay to make sure the Afgahn Army is paid and fed?

June 25, 2014 11:40 am

Have to dig really deep into the minutiae to find something to differ with:
“But Bombing Iraq has not really accomplished much since WW1.”
– actually in the interwar era the policing was done much by the RAF (lobbing hand grenades from biplanes)
– they put the business case for doing it in the less important Somalia, proved it (being more economical than the alternatives) and got the “contract” for the troublesome Mesopotamia, as well

June 25, 2014 11:46 am

the utube snippet is reminiscent of some blogging commentary on the lines
” I sure hope Obama does what he does best – nothing”

Well, that would be too little, but anyway

June 25, 2014 11:52 am

@ ACC – its a tricky thing bombing people too many bombs and they get upset but not enough and they won’t respect you. :-)

I know as David Cameron points out we are to blame for all the worlds problems but we also should take the blame for most of its success to. most countries that were former British colony’s have benefits greatly. the Middle East was a s**t hole long before we got there and it will be long after we are gone.

People that are happy living under a state of medieval witchcraft are always going to have to live like this much as we did before the enlightenment.

the only help we can truly give is to set an example for them to follow. fortunately the other 90% of the worlds population are following it which should be seen as a big success story.

June 25, 2014 11:57 am

maybe one solution to our home grown jihadi program is free club 18-30 holidays for young radicals. I often feel that if these boys could just get laid a bit more they would be less inclined to blow themselves up for religious causes.

Its like they say in generation kill, “If Iraq’s could get more p**sy we would not have to invade their country”

June 25, 2014 12:15 pm

: given that the average slapper is liable to turn up her nose at some ultra-bearded bloke who keeps calling her a prostitute, I doubt 18-30 holidays are going to help much. After all, the choice is between exclusion and a trip to the sunshine where there are compliant women servicing jihadi’s as their own jihad and a promise of 72 in the afterlife if you get topped. No contest!

June 25, 2014 12:22 pm

Slight nitpick on the Guantanamo thingy, the leader of the ISIS was an ex-inmate. Think he’s still pissed off.

As for the mud smearing on the Iraqi Army, be fair, they were caught by surprise and frankly, their focus these few years were on internal strife, not an invasion from outside. Add to the fact that the attacker usually has the local area/numbers advantage and the initiative, it is no surprise that their outposts got overrun.

Tell us again how crappy the Iraqi Army is after the attackers have run out of surprise and momentum and it turns into a slugging match. Japan overran the US in the start of WWII, but we know who finished the fight. ISIS started out strong. We’ll see how long it can last.

June 25, 2014 12:33 pm

@ WF – Maybe we need club 18-30 Pakistan then :-)

I think its far easier to come up with a solution to getting these guys laid some how than invading another country :-)

June 25, 2014 12:40 pm

Martin said “I think its far easier to come up with a solution to getting these guys laid some how than invading another country”

When I went back to uni’ a few years ago “these guys” would often be found causing trouble at weekend in the SU because of imbibing too much drink and chasing young women. Didn’t stop them in tutorials and in lectures banging on about the evils of Western culture or waving the religion card in “disputes” on campus.

Rocket Banana
June 25, 2014 12:45 pm

“Maybe the answers is to create some Jihadi battalions in the British Army and use then to intervene in the Middle East”

Who’d have thought that such an age old formula could be such genius.

Also, there’s nothing wrong with a club 18mm – 30mm holiday :-)

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
June 25, 2014 12:49 pm

I don’t see the Afghan army falling apart and retreating, it just isn’t in their blood. You have to remember the official start date of the War in Afghanistan is 27th April 1978, we have only gotten involved at a very late stage. A much more likely situation would be the army splintering and the country going back to the pre 96 situation of competing warlords. It all depends on how unified the government remains post 2014. Also it depends on whether they retain the foreign training for their military.

June 25, 2014 12:53 pm

Same as in my day then , nothing changes , we had two Saudi lads on my course who knew how to party , drink ,drugs , girls and rock and roll ! We all ways knew when they had to go home for a visit as they stopped going out and bottled them selves up in their rooms detoxing before flying back to Riyadh. In front of their fellow Muslims they all were all conformist especially the ones who were getting more fervent (and some went) about the war in Afghanistan ,not the current one but the one before with the Soviets . I guess now they look back fondly on their wild days here whilst having openly to follow and support their countries rules.
@Engineer Tom
Indeed it was the drug war lords from their mountain retreats who in effect who initially forced the Taliban out with air power from the west but with their ground troops and kit.

John Hartley
John Hartley
June 25, 2014 2:20 pm

I wonder if the Americans still have that prototype gay bomb? If so, it would be ideal to drop on ISIS. All those phermerones, making them stop fighting & jump on each other. Make love, not war.

June 25, 2014 3:15 pm

TD made a bunch of reasoned points, but I think missed one rather important one, Oil and Energy.
Iraq is a major producer and really the only producer potentially able (geologically at least) to increase overall production over the coming years of low production cost oil.
A fragmented Iraq will curtail or stop development of this (perhaps with exception of KRG region) condemning OECD countries to USD 110+ bbl energy which means lurching back into economic depression with all that comes with it just as we start to get over the last 7 year depression.
That said TD is right and nothing will be done on the ground but it is also true that it does directly affect us.
Sad to say but its as crude as that, sorry about the pun…..

Think Defence
June 25, 2014 3:28 pm
Reply to  Midlander

Midlander, this post is from IXION, not me

June 25, 2014 3:44 pm


June 25, 2014 3:55 pm

Without the risk premia we would still be comfortably within the $20-40 range
… won’t go into the reasons for the risk premia, but the time axis gives a clue

June 25, 2014 4:05 pm

@Midlander & ACC
It would give a spur (and an excuse for the Government) for us develop Shale Oil/Gas resources here in the UK where we can control it as well as further North Sea developments and dare I say it OUR Sea Lion field in the FI :-)

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
June 25, 2014 4:07 pm

The man who should be leading Afghanistan today, Massoud, was killed by Al Qaeda on the 9th Sept 2011. He would of helped unite the various factions a lot better then Karzai who was a compromise candidate as the Northern Alliance’s 2nd tier leaders all had competing interests, (a number of them now appear as vice presidential candidates). If Massoud had survived he would have been an obvious candidate as he had already managed to unite all the competing leaders under one banner. This was obviously why he had been killed.

Tim Uk
Tim Uk
June 25, 2014 4:15 pm

Until we free ourselves from Saudi Defence contracts we have zero voice in this. We must not plan our next fighter around saudi orders and we must start fracking asap and get out of this god forsaken hell hole. Let the Iranians destroy the Sunni Extremists.

John Hartley
John Hartley
June 25, 2014 4:22 pm

Nano Catalysis of coal to oil. The Chinese have just spent $2 billion building such a plant. Meanwhile Britain shuts its last 3 coal pits, even though we have several centuries worth of coal.

John Hartley
John Hartley
June 25, 2014 4:28 pm

Should be Coal to oil. Tried to edit, but the screen froze.

June 25, 2014 4:33 pm

I agree. When I worked on Canada’s tar sand deposits (1970’s) the break even with that day’s technologies was approaching the one with German WW2 coal-to-oil technology. South Africa, with their SASOL plants improved (had already, but that was kept out of public domain) that further.

There is something very skewed about the tar sands getting developed (huge envronmental issues) but coal mining getting killed (what are the issues?).

June 25, 2014 5:20 pm

Ah, for a Roland of literature, a Charles Martel, or even a Charlemagne! If the Brits had kept their word to the Christian Assyrians, a lot of this may have been avoided. A Christian Assyria/Lebanon allied with Israel in the Middle East would have been “interesting.”

Gloomy Northern Boyr
Gloomy Northern Boyr
June 25, 2014 5:30 pm

Bugger that @Kent – King John Sobieski the Fat of Poland is your man…but only when they get to Vienna… :-(


June 25, 2014 5:43 pm

The problem with ISIS is that it is a breeder reactor, helping to breed and sustain radicalised UK based Muslims.

If anyone hasn’t, I suggest you watch some of their videos, not all of them are gory. They have high production values, they look modern and a bit swish and not out of place for an Army recruiting video. They know what they are doing – even their name sounds high-speed in English. ISIS.

The short-term threat to us then is having a reactor breeding domestic trouble for us. That is a domestic security / engagement / immigration / criminal issue, not a defence one.

Maybe a political statement can be made by supporting US actions with non-combat enablers but beyond that

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
June 25, 2014 6:01 pm

@Thread – More seriously, little we can do at present although I believe we were on decent terms with the Kurds after GW1 and have a substantial Kurdish Diaspora in the UK, so discreetly picking up some threads there might be an idea…however it will become our problem when one of these intermittent efforts to establish a New Caliphate pans out for long enough to start interfering in a serious way with gas and oil supplies, or picking a fight with Turkey and using clapped-out car ferries to take a run ashore with the Technicals somewhere in the Dodecanese…

Thus, the big issues for us are clearly energy security (nuclear, fracking, clean-coal, coal-to-oil…and green) ; and if we want to stay in NATO or not…because if we do, and if eventually the worst happens we have no choice, do we? :-)

Being Gloomy, of course, I assume the worst will happen eventually…so might prefer to do something there now, rather than wait until we have much more to do here later…but if I were a sunny optimist like I would also be assuming it would all blow over without causing us any significant inconvenience, or requiring us to take any action…


Rocket Banana
June 25, 2014 6:02 pm

The short-term threat to us then is having a reactor breeding domestic trouble for us. That is a domestic security / engagement / immigration / criminal issue, not a defence one.

Although I agree hugely, I think the problem is that the domestic/criminal issue is not confined to the UK borders. In other words it is an international policing issue and whilst nations harbour (either knowingly or unknowingly) these criminals the only way we can do anything is with covert or miliary force.

Are Pakistan going to entertain 100’s of British International Police, American International Police, French International Police, the list goes on?

Problems such as Al-Qaeda or Isis need to be “nipped in the bud” and that really means covert action and when that fails, military action at the location at which they fruit.

June 25, 2014 6:11 pm

military action at the location at which they fruit.

I think we have to be pragmatic about this. If ISIS achieve their goal and begin to actively export terror in a brazen manner from their new little Caliphate then it should be our policy to destroy the nest. However, we can’t, as has been said, go whacking moles left right and centre.

It is an excellent example of the inherent tension in our security policy at the moment. Theoretically we should meet the threat as far upstream as we can – however the further upstream it is the more diffuse it is and thus the harder it is to formulate a military strategy that can win (albeit sometimes the less likely it is you need one but in this instance ISIS is well established enough that we would).

If we think ISIS might become a terror exporting Caliphate, better to get them now (some air strikes etc would be a good tonic) but to do so would be politically and militarily difficult (threat to us is still latent and in risk terms still distant and we’d be fighting another insurgent group). However, if you let the threat develop our current policy would have failed and we’re looking at Iraq 3 to kick down the Caliphate and then have to deal with all the aftermath again. We talk about wars of choice but sometimes the only choice is in the temporal – ie when we do something – we often do have to do something

In this instance I don’t ISIS will last very long and is causing only a domestic security issue as I have said. However if it does look like they might get somewhere and be sticking around then we need to look again at this problem and our current policy would be screaming – ACT. Yet to act would be politically and militarily difficult.

It’s why I think our Adaptive Force will find itself busier than the Reaction Force and why we’ll probably see smaller but still kinetic engagements across the world.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
June 25, 2014 6:30 pm

– Big problem for me is how judge that ISIS (or something) is “sticking around” and I’m damned if I know how we do that (although a lot of intelligence gathering and some covert presence seem to be part of the answer)…also, if we misjudge the critical point, do we have the scale and resilience to get off the back foot? If your military leverage is small, logic suggests that it needs to be applied before the weight of the problem is too great to be moved…


June 25, 2014 6:42 pm

If your military leverage is small, logic suggests that it needs to be applied before the weight of the problem is too great to be moved…

Agree. But then we move into being accused of waging “wars of choice” and the further away the threat is in terms of risk to the UK, the more diffuse it often is and thus the harder it is to defeat it using military means.

We get into big political and military problems.

Clearly ISIS have gone beyond the stage where we could send some mentoring teams and have some BBQs with the local Army we were training. I think they may be sitting right in the middle of a blindspot in our security policy where they are beyond Malian levels, would need substantial military forces to intervene but haven’t done anything to us quite yet. The question is, are they a big enough of a risk to justify stepping in now using military force when the political and military risks and problems are likely to be so high? I think we are waiting to see and I think the US is waiting to see. We’ve missed the boat when it comes to spending a tiny sum on a potential problem, so now do we spend 25% of our budget on a hazy solution for a problem which might not happen or spend 50% on a far firmer and more easily delineated problem later – trade off is it costs more but the achievements are potentially far more tangible.

Rocket Banana
June 25, 2014 7:35 pm

Phil said…

“It’s why I think our Adaptive Force will find itself busier than the Reaction Force and why we’ll probably see smaller but still kinetic engagements across the world.”

I think that is food for thought.

It seems to me that we need cheap military staying power. Not sure what that actually is and how to deliver it but it certainly isn’t the RAF, an ARG or carrier strike.

June 25, 2014 7:46 pm

These could be very important, an area for potential further investment perhaps given there usual clientele.

“Responding to a parliamentary question about in-service equipment on 4 July, minister for international security strategy Andrew Murrison estimated the net book value (NBV) of the Royal Air Force’s current five Beechcraft King Air 350CER-based Shadow aircraft at a combined £72 million ($108 million).
Details of the Shadow’s operational capabilities have not been revealed, but the fleet late last year achieved the milestone of having flown 10,000 operational hours. ”

Uk involvement in oman maybe an interesting template to explore

Think Defence
June 25, 2014 7:59 pm
Reply to  Rocket Banana

Phil, isn’t ‘smaller but still kinetic’ the same thing as whacking moles!

You know what this points to don’t you

The original FRES vision; medium weight (15 not 40 tonnes that is), air delivered, rapid intervention


June 25, 2014 8:00 pm

and @Simon: I think you are both right that we need a way of keeping the Islamist genie in the bottle cheaply and also utterly wrong that anything, barring some drones and bombing, will be done about it. For the very good reason that since there are plenty of calls on military force closer to home, eg Russia.

The cheap way of doing it would have been to leave a residual force in Iraq. Unfortunately, all concerned were entirely too keen on mincing off as fast as possible to camouflage how wrong the current set of incumbents were about how un-winnable the war was.

Now we have no reputation for anything other than running away, and everyone has got the message, and are behaving accordingly. Get ready for all sorts of trouble coming right up :-(

June 25, 2014 8:35 pm

An interest document by Lieutenant Colonel John McKeown, Royal Engineers

” There was clearly a need for formed bodies of troops as well as individuals to serve in Dhofar. On political grounds, these are best provided by states with similar ethnic, religious or cultural backgrounds, such as the Jordanians and Iranians who assisted Oman after 1972. Large numbers of European troops would have changed the whole nature of the conflict, from a local counter­insurgency campaign to an international conflict all to easily misrepresented as neo­colonialism or imperialism. This is clearly why the
Russians use Cuban troops as surrogates in the Third World, and is a feature of the internationalisation of conflicts in Third World countries.

Scale of Assistance. The amount of assistance needs to be tailored strictly to a country’s needs. The less that is provided to achieve success the better: otherwise the nature of the conflict may again be changed, leading to an increased need for further military assistance to fight a different war. Also, it is important that the victory is clearly that of the threatened country and not of its ally. This principle applies to weapons and training, and not just to troops: at almost opposite ends of the scale in this regard were the highly effective but lightly­armed firqat, led by small groups of SAS who shared their life and hardships, and the Iranian battalions, heavily armed and supported but best suited to static operations and holding ground in strength.

Timeliness. While one might consider that Britain was prudent in waiting until the political conditions were right before committing extra assistance, earlier help would have led to a shorter war. The factors important in this regard are accurate assessments of situations and the international assistance being received by insurgents, the capacity to respond with appropriate military, civil or political support, and the political will to provide the necessary assistance.”

Perhaps them in charge should think along these lines when deciding what to do next in the Mid East.

June 25, 2014 8:42 pm

Phil, isn’t ‘smaller but still kinetic’ the same thing as whacking moles!

Maybe. What I meant was we need to think carefully before wading in places. IXION says he thinks ISIS are on the verge of winning. Maybe they’ll take Baghdad. But I very much doubt a group like them will last long – they’ll fall into in-fighting I imagine. Especially when you start plinking their leaders with drones and power struggles kick off. Kill the Princes and the heirs start to fight over the inheritance. The Iraqi’s have a state behind them and ISIS have many implacable enemies themselves beyond the state machinery.

Anyway, my wider point is our policy is to engage upstream – it is common sense and alluring on paper. But safety is a dynamic non-event and the further from the immediate existential the threat is, the harder it is to sustain the political will for a fight and the harder it is to formulate a winning strategy (the lacklustre political will feeds back into an inability to get the military means needed to execute the policy because even whacking moles takes quite a commitment).

So how viable is a policy of upstream engagement? I think its an interesting question. Are we going to be sending the Adaptable Force out for long, repetitive tours achieving fuck all because the threat is just too latent and diffuse? Should we wait until the wolf is at the door because at least then you know what needs to get done and it’s clear if it has been achieved. Do you go double or nothing?

June 25, 2014 8:44 pm

Now we have no reputation for anything other than running away

As I have said, I think this is rubbish. And even if it were true, those we picked a fight with all ended up dead. If I was ISIS, and I managed to form a caliphate I wouldn’t bet the farm on anyone in the west running away before they blew my little fiefdom up, me with it.

Rocket Banana
June 25, 2014 8:53 pm


Either “rapid intervention” to take out the ring-leaders, or sustain a paramilitary police force.

Perhaps it is an and?

June 25, 2014 8:55 pm

VICE News hot on the heels of their Ukrainian series have started one on the problems in Iraq………

Always get the feeling their videos are somehow sponsored or approved by a Virginian “Company”.

June 25, 2014 8:59 pm

It seems to me that we need cheap military staying power.

It needs to be cheap on political capital above all else.

Upstream engagement is probably useful, but not as useful as we’d like to think. I don’t think that will stop us using the AF enthusiastically. But to meet the cheap political capital requirement we’re going to have to detect threats so far upstream that we’re shadow boxing or engage upstream as part of a coalition. Rapid reaction, fly by the seat of your pants, FRES air drop wankfests come with a high political price-tag and so won’t happen until threats are more coherent and more downstream than up and so require bigger tankettes.

June 25, 2014 9:19 pm

, JAM and Fadila were left with Basra by arrangement. Exactly what would you describe this as? Furthermore, QSM and the Haqqani’s will doubtlessly be in Bastion by 2016. If we want the AF to be preventing the threats of tomorrow, they will need allies. Guess what, they aren’t going to get them unless we pay top dollar, and the instant we stop the money, the whole edifice will come tumbling down.

There is a price to be paid for deciding to walk away.

June 25, 2014 9:46 pm

I don’t find puppet government where you have your hand on the money tap unpalatable at all. I just wish we would be honest about it. Any Machiavellian would agree that a government needing money to survive and you controlling that money puts them in your pocket.

But we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I don’t see being engaged in combat for 13 years straight in one country shows we run away. Neither does staying in combat for 6 in another to be honest. From an outsiders perspective we’re quite an aggressive bunch. In a quarter of a century we’ve fought in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
June 25, 2014 10:15 pm

– The quote from King Ralph that you opened your article with seems to me to be the very definition of optimism…my own view is that no problem is so small that it can’t leap up and bite your arse when you least expect it…and as problems go the Middle East is slightly too big and slightly too close to home to stop at arse-biting…

& Phil…I think you are both right…my own take is that some of our potential antagonists are keen to convince themselves that we run away, and in consequence have so convinced themselves…and they will only find out how very badly wrong they are when we decide not to. Mind you, that is a very dangerous state of affairs…mostly for them, but also to a lesser extent for us…coming back in the last fifteen minutes and then winning the game is after all our speciality, but it is hard on the team and even worse for the crowd.

Doesn’t apply to the England Football Team, obviously…and neither Cricket nor Rugby are looking any to clever at present either… :-(


Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
June 25, 2014 11:17 pm

– We won’t agree, but I still think “chillax chaps, it will sort itself out” is…well…err…optimistic. But I’m inclined to leave it there…


June 26, 2014 1:34 am

@ GNB,
Next stop for ISIL is Baghdad. Where a lot of very, very anti-hardline-Sunni militias will be waiting. To say that the Shia population of Baghdad prepared to take up arms (and many of them with fighting experience) outnumbers ISIL is a slight under statement. If you’ve never seen what happens when you poke a hornets nest then stay tuned.

Re; in general; us or the US running away,
It’s not so much any perception that we’ve run away that’s the problem. It’s the perception that we will no longer get involved in other peoples business, that there is a perceived window of opportunity during which the UN/NATO/US/UK will steer clear of anything that isn’t immediately threatening, e.g. the US/UK response over the Ukraine, Syria, and now Iraq.

John Hartley
John Hartley
June 26, 2014 9:01 am

I wonder if ISIS decided to make its assault now, as it knew it would be too dangerous to try it when Iraq got all its F-16 & MI-24?

June 26, 2014 9:50 am

You overestimate the effects of air power on this type of conflict John.

For one, planes are hit and run attackers, not persistent. The platform that is persistent, the helicopter, is much more vulnerable to ground fire.

For another, the civilian and hostile population are hopelessly intermixed without the time needed for the civilians to get the hell out of the way of an airstrike, and the enemy would have the same reaction, so you’re just random killing. With a ground sweep, the civilians run away while the hostiles move to shoot at you. A self sorting system.

Finally, CAS needs training, systems and doctrine. I doubt you can safely set up a CAS system in anything short of one generation of trainees. That is, in my “guessimate”, about 5-10 years to work out a system and game it out to see how well it works, then teach it to the actual users from the “experimental” group. Just tossing any plane into a battle and asking it to randomly bomb targets is begging for a blue on blue.

My take on why now is because they got kicked out of AQ in February, which means they need their own source of recruits, arms and money now instead of using AQ supplies. And this attack did exactly that. Recruits, confiscated bank money and looted armories. QED.

June 26, 2014 9:57 am

@JH, we are probably reading the same source (today’s DID?).

This Czech aspect for AHs for Iraq plenty-quick is interesting as they are jumping the queue from the original manufacturer, whose deliveries run to the end of this year. Makes me wonder if they come with more support than just training, compare with
“The 1st group of Iraqi pilots and technicians reportedly finished their training in Fall 2013. Sources: The Voice of Russia, “13 Russian Mi-28NE helicopters arrive in Iraq”.”

June 26, 2014 10:21 am

Special forces/JTACs embedded with Iraqi army formations supported by 24/7 persistent US airpower from b1bs to US carrier air wings to reaper drones take your pick is you’re CAS system with a decade of tactical use behind it.

June 26, 2014 11:11 am

Mark, agreed.

But let’s remember that al Maliki has snatched a (near-) defeat out of the jaws of victory.

The Parliament can replace him on July 1st, the earliest, and it will need to be the Iraqi National Army getting that kind of support. It was the Sunni Awakening that helped the US, as a balancing force, stabilise the central parts of Iraq, and make the more radical Shia militia to see the need to compromise.

June 26, 2014 11:57 am

Let’s just spend the DFID budget on a big f***ing wall around the place and leave well alone. We are far beyond military intervention. We are dealing with a sizeable chunk of the world’s population that want nothing more than to murder one another, rape, loot and pillage in the pursuit of personal power. The cradle of civilisation has gone to pot. Leave them to it. I’m sick of it all. Why waste more money on such sickening disregard for life. I don’t care about jihadis – they are idiot children brainwashed by psychopaths who will be dealt with by police when they come back to the land of free health care and benefits (assuming their conviction holds that long). Military intervention doesn’t work here, nor in Africa. We might have had a hand in shaping those countries, but we did not breed such vile corruption nor such cynical disregard for life. F*** ’em. Wall them off and tell them to sort it out.

June 26, 2014 12:14 pm

TAS, the problem comes when global transport systems drop them on YOUR doorstep and they see any white man as the “enemy”.

Mark, so has the US agreed to start bombing yet? And I believe JH’s post was for the Iraqi Army, not the US. Unless the US for some strange reason is getting a hankering for Mi- series helicopters?

June 26, 2014 1:29 pm

Suddenly you find that hard power and brute military force cannot change anything. Time to rethink military intervention?

June 26, 2014 2:01 pm

‘TAS, the problem comes when global transport systems drop them on YOUR doorstep and they see any white man as the “enemy”.’
I think the wall he wants is so they can never get to our doorstep :-)

June 26, 2014 6:04 pm

Suddenly you find that hard power and brute military force cannot change anything. Time to rethink military intervention?

If you can’t screw a nut first check it is not because you are using a pair of pliers. You don’t think re-think the utility of military intervention because it might not be suitable for a problem. It might just not be suitable for a problem, like a pair of pliers is not suitable to screw a nut.

It seems the Syrians have starting bombing them in Iraq. We now have the situation where a state we are not very friendly with (shall we put it like that) is bombing a state we are friendly with to kill people we are not friendly with.

Time to stop the world, and just get off.

June 26, 2014 6:08 pm

Phil, no one likes the ISIL

Turkey shelled their convoys before, Syrians, both rebels and government want to kill them on sight, Iraq is skirmishing with them, Jordan is arresting them.

Their PR campaign shouldn’t focus on recruiting. They should be focused on how to not get so many people pissed off at them! :)

June 26, 2014 6:14 pm
June 26, 2014 6:43 pm

With ISIS managing to completely alienate everyone in the region with sickening levels of brutality that seem to make even the Syrians wince they may already be towards the end of their day in the sun.

The regional is so volatile and complex i can’t see how direct western intervention could bring any real benefit to either them or us (not forgetting the whole region cannot stand white westerners anyway, plus the the non-existent support over here for trying yet again to sort this mess out).

Sure we could deploy a few Tornadoes and lob a few Tomahawk, but to what effect, other than killing some innocents in the process and pissing off the locals even more? Surely a group like ISIS is far too fluid and disparate and without much in the way of fixed hardware and installations for air-power to have a meaningful effect on the outcome?

Sadly i’d say it’s a problem that has to burn itself out.

June 26, 2014 7:20 pm

Suddenly you find that hard power and brute military force cannot change anything”

It’s worked well for us in the past. The US and UK, probably even just the UK could (with the sufficient political will) go in and flatten ISIL in short order.

June 26, 2014 7:43 pm

Chris, that would just piss their relatives off. Best do it as a black op. Wipe them out, no one claims responsibility, leave confused relatives. Hell, just poison their water. Death by gunshot, they blame someone. Death by food poisoning (with a few good bribed doctors), no one gets blamed.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
June 26, 2014 7:44 pm

@Thread – We don’t need a wall, as we have a moat. However:
> We are in NATO with some people who are bang next door to the trouble, so unless we plan on baling out of that as well pulling up the drawbridge doesn’t really work.
> Recent exchanges of fire on wealth and poverty in the UK notwithstanding, the objective reality is that the world geopolitical and economic furniture is currently arranged to ensure that even the poorest people in Europe enjoy a very comfortable standard of living…those resident here more than most…and most people elsewhere on earth don’t. If we opt out and let everybody else start re-arranging the place that situation will not last long.


John Hartley
John Hartley
June 28, 2014 12:29 pm

The Telegraph is saying that Jordan may be the next target for ISIS. If that is the case, then the UK will have to help an ally. I am not saying we should send an armoured division, but some minimum footprint help (intelligence, drones, precision strike). I do fear the Syria/Iraq/ISIS problem could spark off a wider Middle East, Sunni Vs Shia, war that drags in Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt & Turkey.

Think Defence
June 28, 2014 12:32 pm
Reply to  John Hartley

John, I think we should show some support for Jordan,

They are a long standing ally but it would have to be at their request because we could make things worse for them by creating a honeypot for nutters various

John Hartley
John Hartley
June 28, 2014 12:54 pm

TD, I agree we will have to tread lightly for multiple reasons. We do not want to make the situation worse. We do not want to give the extremists more grievance culture to go on about. There is no stomach (or cash, equipment) for another foreign intervention. But, but , but Jordan is an ally, we cannot turn down, so if they want help we should give it,, though we need to be very targeted on maximum achievement, minimum footprint operations.

June 28, 2014 1:23 pm

If it all goes to hell in a hand basket I hope the owners of this lot come in on Jordan’s side
1130 M1A1
1716 M60A3
425 upgraded T-54/55
500 T62
500 T55
1030 YPR-765 PRI IFV (M113 WITH 23mm CANNON)
and around 8000 other Armoured vehicles of various sorts.
Considering the instability of the country it could go either way.