A Failure of Intelligence?

Comments yesterday from General Sir Peter Wall on the ISIL/ISIS took me rather by surprise.

Isil has committed grotesque acts of terrorism, but I am not [sure] what kind of understanding we have of their strength and capabilities. We have to be very careful that we do not get sucked into an international conflict without having a proper understanding of the situation on the ground… we were found wanting in these respects in Iraq and Afghanistan and it took some time to get things right.

Is anyone else troubled by the admission that we are so bereft of information on what has been characterised by the Government as a direct threat to the people of the United Kingdom.

The candid admission from the outgoing Chief of the General Staff is in stark contrast to the move to increased involvement being encouraged by the Government.

Interesting contrast.

 

 

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Phil
September 8, 2014 9:01 pm

It may be a relative issue. We have some sort of intelligence but is it any surprise that in a group which has appeared relatively suddenly in an area we don’t want to be engaged in any more that it is taking some time to get real intelligence by embedding intelligence assets in the group and funding and focusing on leaders? To get real information and to truly understand the nuances and subtleties of the group you need people on the inside and you need to be bugging and focusing on important people: we’re still nowhere near I imagine getting anyone near the top of the group to understand their decision making. So he is probably pointing out the obvious – in a group which has appeared effectively in the blink of an eye we really haven’t had the chance to truly get to know what makes them tick and to put together a comprehensive picture.

hohum
hohum
September 8, 2014 9:07 pm

First, I am not really sure what you mean by increased involvement. The West has hardly done anything aside from a few airstrikes (by the US only thus far) against tactical targets in Iraq only in support of local government forces- its hardly Barbarossa.

As for a lack of intelligence, counting armoured brigades, fighter squadrons and missile bases is easy compared to trying to make sure one understand the mass of tangled tribal and ideological alignments that exist amongst the Iraqi and Syrian tribes and sects etc, not to mention the difficulty of establishing the size of such an amorphous force of irregulars as ISIS. “Us” not knowing much about it is hardly surprising, being aware of not knowing much about it is equally unsurprising given that the lack of local knowledge about Afghan and Iraq was a major reason those countries went so badly after intervention. Central government/prevailing power in these places is often just a veneer a complete mess beneath- we found it out the hard way twice (we shouldn’t of had to given we used to own these places but then Labour apparently emptied a large part of the foreign office library) and seem to realise we need to know properly this time.

Sounds good to me.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
September 8, 2014 9:17 pm

I guess there is a huge differerence between knowing what they are about, and knowing how to go about, not just degrading them (easy), but, eliminating them.
– the combination of airmobile and Stryker-type of forces should be ideal. The latter do exist in the region, not sure about the former

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
September 8, 2014 10:16 pm

…to which we might add that these particular antagonists are motivated by a profound religious conviction that has been pretty much alien to anyone in the West for a good three hundred years…with even the Cousins (who are for the most part more devout than the rest of us by a country mile) observing their own faith within a society built on enlightenment values, with a very clear division between Church and State.

Although not in the Ozarks, obviously… :-)

First order of business is making sure everyone involved has read the Qu’ran, and has a decent understanding of the “long war” between Islam and the West from the first Arab Conquests in the seventh century to the fall of the last generally recognized Caliph at the end of the Great War…and a much more detailed one of events since then…

GNB

hohum
hohum
September 8, 2014 10:27 pm

ACC,

Send air mobile and Stryker units in to counter a force whose skills were developed fighting air mobile and stryker units and whose entire combat careers have been under their opponents air superiority….what could possibly go wrong…?

S O
S O
September 8, 2014 11:41 pm

It’s unwise to focus on his words. He chose the words of caution that he as a still active officer can use.
The real content of his speech is his expression of distaste for yet another pointless small war.

Observer
Observer
September 9, 2014 5:01 am

SO, is that him talking or you? Caution yes, but that little soundbite says nothing on wars, small or otherwise. I think you’re projecting your opinions onto him.

Mental Crumble
Mental Crumble
September 9, 2014 8:15 am

Actually, I think it’s the fact that we have discovered that they’re not just a bunch of disorganised jihad sadists on a bloodlust rampage has given pause for thought. Quite the opposite in fact. I suspect that it has dawned on the West that we face a structured and well led force that plans two steps ahead and is not without local support in some areas. This won’t be solved with a few predators. I think he’s simply saying, “we’re not big enough to fix this; it can only be done with much bigger resources than we have. I’m not going to be associated with another Basra.”

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
September 9, 2014 8:59 am

Hohum,

Look at the map. The vast majority of the area they hold is empty space. Draw a chess board onto it. The hardened core you are referring to is about 6000 and only committed for important actions. To do that, at times it will have to be concentrated. Cut it off; even light forces need logistics. Leave the yahoos spread across the whole area for local forces to deal with.

I am no t saying any from the”West” should be committed w/o GW1 like”local” participation. Perhaps more local than then… It is a long way from Morocco. Hence there was also a question in my text about local forces , read: from within the region.

Ed Zeppelin
Ed Zeppelin
September 9, 2014 9:34 am

I for one have long since stopped caring what outgoing Defence chiefs have to say, as their rank hypocrisy sticks in my throat. Much like the freshly ennobled Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, Wall has waited until his pension package was signed off before he raised even the slightest doubt about the Government cuts to an institution that he has led for a number of years. It is truly pathetic.
When was the last time one of these out of touch, PFA dodging, Peerage aspiring filled uniforms actually resigned on principle? Under Wall’s leadership the Army has been absolutely decimated. I remember hearing him asked by a fellow Captain what the Army was doing to engage with the entire generation of officers that was signing off post Afghanistan due to concerns over the future of the organisation, redundancies and the wholesale erosion of the fabric of military life, and he said he didn’t care!
I hope that history judges these self-serving, British Army of the Rhine-era dross as harshly as they deserve to be.

Obsvr
Obsvr
September 9, 2014 9:37 am

It always takes time to acquire good information about an insurgent organisation. I’m totally unsurprised that reliable information is sparse. Lack of information makes it very difficult to develop intelligence (ie properly processed information about capabilities, intentions, structure, and so on). The general is telling it like it is. I get the impression that there aren’t too many trained Acorns on this list, just the usual general public cluelessness.

monkey
monkey
September 9, 2014 10:29 am


“truly get to know what makes them tick”
Its not what makes them tick, its stopping their ticker ticking that matters , how are we going to deal with these individuals assuming we end their aspirations? Reintegrate them back into society how? I am not talking about British or other EU nations Jihadists here, just the home grown local nutters , we will have to deal with our own devils spawn. If these individuals are left alone to spread their ideology to a disaffected and probably orphaned youth it will only rear its head again 10 years from now when said children are strong enough to wield a RPG or a Scimitar. Throw their own tactics back at them , they are unbelievers’ on the true message of God so they must die. No amount of effort will convince these people from their path of slaughter and destruction across the world so they need to be stopped dead.
Our nutters need to be locked up all in their own special prison, no mixing ,no out side contact except through censored letter to live out their lives as monks till they pass on for higher judgement as there is no way, if they arrive back on EU soil, will we be allowed to deport or execute them for their crimes.

MikeKiloPapa
MikeKiloPapa
September 9, 2014 11:45 am

@S.O

“expression of distaste ”

Same expression on my face when i read yet another of your pointless posts.

You always sound like you’re an oracle lecturing us stupid plebs on how the world works.
How about you just state your opinion and spare us the lecture.

DomS
DomS
September 9, 2014 12:43 pm

Lots in the news about how there’s no coherent strategy against IS, but it seems pretty clear that there’s a few core approaches:
1. Avoid significant entanglements on the ground, let local partners take the lead
2. Promote Iraqi political unity and power sharing
3. Build an international consensus and legal basis for handling IS – restricting jihadi recruitment from western countries (see the UN resolution on this just passed) and build information for war crimes prosecutions (see recent UK-funded approach)

These things all take time of course, but in my opinion are more sustainable and effective in the long term than military intervention in this case (beyond air support for ground-based allies). Not to mention cheaper, and with greater international legitimacy.
I’m hoping that the UN resolution on this will provide a framework for a EU-wide approach to restricting flow of jihadis – the weak link at the moment is taking action against British citizens who have travelled to the warzone where the evidence bar is too high to do anything (dare I mention human rights?)

Hohum
Hohum
September 9, 2014 2:12 pm

ACC,

LOL, why didn’t the coalition just do that in Afghanistan and Iraq the first time….? Oh wait, they tried, it didn’t work.

Observer
Observer
September 9, 2014 2:24 pm

Well… technically it is still working. The Kurds and the Iraqis are still resisting instead of going all over to the other side. Remember, there are no Western boots on the ground this time save for some pathfinders, most of the resistance is still the Iraqi Army and the Kurds.

DomS
DomS
September 9, 2014 2:28 pm

@Hohum
A couple of reasons spring to mind re: “Cut it off; even light forces need logistics”
1. The commitment wasn’t really there in some areas – it’s been reported that the number of helicopters deployed by the Brits in Helmand was nowhere near enough to control the area and restrict lines of taliban communication,
2 (the big one) For political reasons no determined effort was made to interdict the Taliban’s logistics hub – Pakistan.

The Af-Pak border is in many places a complete fiction that exists only on western maps. The human terrain map is completely different. Making the same mistake with regard to Iraq/Syria could be problematic, but from what I’ve read it’s a recognised issue so hopefully will be addressed.

Hohum
Hohum
September 9, 2014 2:38 pm

Umhmmm,

Now explain Iraq too. You see the problem with insurgents is they have a tiny logistics footprint, most of it indistinguishable from that of general civil society, they rarely stand and fight and usually vanish when heavily pressured. Northern Iraq and Syria are big places containing populations of millions in multiple scattered settlements with divided loyalties- it was precisely that mess than defeated the coalition in both Iraq and Afghanistan. If you are naive enough to think a few Stryker and aviation brigades are going to achieve anything more than a temporary bandage before being sucked into a drawn out insurgency then you have clearly learnt nothing from the past decade.

Observer
Observer
September 9, 2014 3:21 pm

Hohum, I won’t say they were “defeated”, more like they were the cork in the bottle. We’ll see what happens now when the cork is removed.

What I’m really interested in is the details of insurgent logistics. I know that an infantryman carries about 180 rounds of 5.56 and can flush through that in a single engagement. I’m betting the insurgents are the same, but then what happens? Ammo bearers carry another combat load to them? They pull back for resup? Do they have equipment to recast bullets? Or are they limited to ready made? Do they just disappear? Or does another squad swap with them while they pull out to maintain pressure?

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
September 9, 2014 5:11 pm

I don’t think I have ever had the opportunity to agree with observr before, on other than the technicalities, so I will jump at it (and then read further):

“Lack of information makes it very difficult to develop intelligence (ie properly processed information about capabilities, intentions, structure, and so on). The general is telling it like it is. I get the impression that there aren’t too many trained Acorns on this list”

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
September 9, 2014 5:34 pm

Hohum, from your earlier contributions I was under the impression that you had a grasp of tactics.

But now it seems to me that you are one of those who suffered the blow of Labour removing the more in-depth geographical and cultural library from the Foreign Office? Whether that ever was there, and whether the removal ever happened – I won’t attest to.

RE” Northern Iraq and Syria are big places containing populations of millions ”

Please name some between Mosul and Raqqa, if you want to dwell into Aleppo and the Lebanon order,please be my guest, but I am taking a view of focussing on the vacuum that ISil had grasped , as THEIR land to spring this “crusade” from. I am being careless with “crusade” but so was some one else who had advisors that should have known better.

Phil
September 9, 2014 6:28 pm

@thread

The problem is not ISIS. ISIS can be dealt with relatively easily in a number of ways.

The problem is the mess in the region and in the economies there which basically makes the whole region a big, moist, worm ridden compost heap for bastards like ISIS to grow.

Defeating ISIS will be easy (of course ISIS is probably like Taliban and AQ more of a franchise than a group and thus like Triggers broom it will still be sweeping after many heads and handles making it seem hard): but preventing it all happening again is much harder. I think the best we can and perhaps should hope for is some sort of containment.

But a military solution is certainly not going to achieve anything other than some internet fan bois wanking and spilling their 2 litre bottles of full fat coke all over Funker helmet cam videos and DoD Apache gun camera footage.

S O
S O
September 9, 2014 6:45 pm

Observer, it’s an assertion, but it’s derived from a context of what flag officers tend to say or think in such a situation, for decades.
Flag officers tend to be pro-war only once the war is going on, typically to avoid an official defeat under their watch.
They do tend to be anti-war as long as they’re allowed to be (that is, prior to war).

The Cameron government doesn’t make the impression of a wise government. Admirals don’t want to see their ships at risk of sinking due to unwise war policies, generals don’t want to send coffins back.

“uncertainty” – officers are supposed to have acquired a tolerance for uncertainty in order to remain capable of making decisions under uncertainty. “Uncertainty” is thus a nice excuse for such a speech, but unlikely to be at the core of his concerns.

And keep in mind; to take his words literally is just an interpretation and thus an assertion as well. Flag officers are half politicians, and their public speeches aren’t exactly trustworthy, after all.

Observer
Observer
September 9, 2014 7:10 pm

SO, I didn’t know you were part of a cannibalistic cult of goat sodomizing pedophiles! That is an assertion. :)

As you can see, there are limits. If he said something, you can quote him on that. If he didn’t say something and you start making up stories, then it is you who is lying. Frankly, all the part on your anti-war rant is actually bullshit. He may or may not have that inclinations, but truth is, you don’t really care if it is true do you? You want it to be true, so you’re forcing an imaginary “him” to say what you want him to say.

Translation: Do you think you’re more trustworthy than “he” is? I don’t think so.

Chris.B.
Chris.B.
September 9, 2014 8:15 pm

The problem with ISIS/ISIL/IS is that it had uncertain origins, in the sense of how many people joined in the early stages and from what backgrounds they came. Then as they advanced they picked up more fighters; how many is unclear, as is their backgrounds and their motivations (fear, local politics, Jihadist intent). And all the time Jihadists from around the world are seeping into their ranks in a gradual trickle. On top of this, you also have fighters from other areas in Syria who are giving up on their own personal fights to join what appears to be the “easier” option with IS who are making more prominent gains.

Trying to keep track amongst all of that of a) how many fighters there are, b) what equipment they have and c) what levels of experience and organisation they have, must be a complete nightmare.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
September 9, 2014 9:03 pm

That ” all the time Jihadists from around the world are seeping into their ranks in a gradual trickle.

On top of this, you also have fighters from other areas in Syria who are giving up on their own personal fights to join what appears to be the “easier” option with IS who are making more prominent gains.”
is the real problem (paragraph’ing added)

Obsvr
Obsvr
September 10, 2014 6:40 am

There’s a lot of important information, leading to intelligence that seems unclear. Eg
Training, – scope, quality, source, including the extent to which terrorist skills are being taught – if I was in MI5 the last point would probably be top of my list (waving an AK around does not make a competent terrorist) and how competent are they with the heavy equipment they’ve seized.
Organisation, – is there a command structure, are there ‘units’, who’s who in the zoo.
Doctrine & tactics, – is there any or is it war by mob and what seems a good idea at the time?

And the biggy – intentions and timescales.

You don’t get much of this from either imagery or sigint. If its published then that’s good news even if its dated and skimpy, I’d guess that IS publications tend to be sparse. In the end you need prisoners or ex-members willing to talk, and most importantly they need to have had access – the IS equivalent of Pte Snooks isn’t going to be much help.

The current situation is like NI in 1970-1, less the RUC Special Branch product (- a situation that might be preferable and less misleading!).

Most of these points apply to the situation at UK’s entry to Helmand. ‘Intelligence preparation of the battlefield’ is actually rather important, but all too often its an unachievable ideal because it takes time.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
September 10, 2014 2:17 pm

BBC reporters seem to be better informed than the Foreign Office
– just read Butcher and Bolt about Afghanistan (by one of them, which is not the right thing to say: by one of the best[of them])

It may have been forgotten that the DoD is just the extended arm of the FO? If the arm works alright, then the extended arm will not be needed.
– which country has the finest faculty of Oriental Studies in the world? Somewhere near here?

Whooahh… about the 7th time trying to post this

S O
S O
September 10, 2014 7:16 pm

Observer, again, to interpret the text literally is but an interpretation as well.
You give the man the benefit of doubt in favour of a literal interpretation and imply that it’s fine to believe strongly in a literal interpretation and it’s BS to read between the lines.

There’s little objective reason to give such a benefit of doubt and a literal interpretation sounds very, very naive to me.

In the end we’re reading his lines with our prejudices in effect, sure. Not just me – everyone.
You should have paid more attention to my explanation where said prejudice comes from; it’s not mere personal pacifism. Western flag officers tend to have patterns of behaviour overlapping with politicians’ behaviour. That’s why the literal interpretation sounds naive to me, not merely wrong.

Maybe you don’t know said patterns of behaviour from your country, but in Europe COs beginning a rank major (Bn CO) are increasingly (with higher rank) drawn into a politicised sphere; representing in public, speeches, contact with MoD, work in MoD, diplomatic duties. They’re being trained on the job and increasingly selected for their aptitude at being in part something as a politician. To not read the lines is increasingly a mistake, unless the speech is uninteresting blather nobody pays attention to anyway.

Observer
Observer
September 10, 2014 8:11 pm

SO, you really should stop eating people, you’ll get all sorts of diseases, and I think it’s illegal and bad to sodomize goats and little kids.

And that’s my prejudice talking! :)

It stops looking so reasonable when you’re on the recieving end isn’t it?

Obsvr
Obsvr
September 11, 2014 9:53 am

@ SO

pse list European countries where battalions are commanded by majors.

KRT
KRT
September 13, 2014 3:23 pm

SO, you have a serious mindset problem. I most often agree with you on choices of action, but to any not as partisan observer it is very obvious that you have a very narrow defined mindset and see everything through that lense. The statement says nothing of what you suggest.
He says: “Yes we can rough ’em up, but no idea how expensive that will be.”
It blandly states that we are pretty clueless about IS and we could again end up in a situation that demands lots of resources, we do not want to invest into this bottomless pit of endless conflict called Middle Earth – sorry, Middle East. That’s far from you militant peacenik interpretation.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
September 13, 2014 5:05 pm

Iraqi Military Failings Pose Challenge For Anti-IS War

http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140913/DEFREG04/309130024/Iraqi-Military-Failings-Pose-Challenge-Anti-War

‘Former premier Nuri al-Maliki then “bled down the quality of the force, corrupted it, made it loyal to him,” Cordesman said, adding that “it doesn’t take that long to politicize and destroy a force which wasn’t ready in the first place.”‘

Anti-IS Coalition Grows, But Turkey Takes Back Seat

http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140913/DEFREG01/309130025/Anti-Coalition-Grows-Turkey-Takes-Back-Seat

‘Turkey, which borders Iraq and Syria, said late last week that it would not support strikes against Islamic State militants and it would not allow a US-led coalition to launch strikes from its bases, a government official told Agence France-Presse.’

‘In addition to Turkey, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Sept. 11 that Germany would not conduct airstrikes; UK participation also was unclear.’