The Lion’s Last Roar

In 2004, the Army was still engaged in the conflict in Iraq and its leaders admit they were aware that they did not have the resources to fight in more than one campaign for any length of time.

Gen Wall told a BBC Two documentary: “We had put forward a plan saying that for the limited objectives that we had set ourselves, this was a reasonable force. And I freely admit now, that calculus was wrong.”

 

No doubt this will be a combination of depressing watching and an exercise in ‘getting ones excuses in early.

Scroll down the bottom of the article for the time it will be aired

 

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Ian Hall
Ian Hall
October 23, 2014 9:04 am

Don’t blame the chiefs, blame the politicians who allocated the resources

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
October 23, 2014 9:18 am

‘Don’t blame the chiefs, blame the politicians who allocated the resources’

How about laying responsibility at the door of both of them where it belongs?

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 23, 2014 9:23 am

My suspicion is that the blame will lie in Whitehall and Westminster, not in theatre.

Unlike GW2, I think our intentions in Afghanistan were entirely honourable, and still are.

We do not seem to have the ability to plan beyond the door kicking phase. Isn’t that the sort of thing that some form of pan-government senior staff / civil service course could sort out?

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
October 23, 2014 9:34 am

‘Lord Dannatt, head of the Army between 2006 and 2009, said: “Looking back we probably should have realised, maybe I should realised, that the circumstances in Iraq were such that the assumption that we would get down to just 1,000 or 1,500 soldiers by summer 2006 was flawed – it was running at many thousands.’

‘Lord Richards said: “We have a phrase in the Army, hope for the best but plan for the worst. We were actually hoping for the best and planning for the best.’

Pretty much sums it all up. Lets not lay it all on the politicians the armed forces have a liability for the decisions made and the reasons and assumptions need addressing so they do not happen again.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
October 23, 2014 9:54 am

Very convincing evidence either to fund a much bigger Army in future, or opt out of such operations…but the politicians haven’t the backbone to do either, so similar difficulties will inevitably arise in future with similar results.

Obviously I favour the first option, and indeed it was my perception even as a thoughtful layman that we needed a Corps and then a Division in Basra and a Division and then a Brigade in Helmand…but couldn’t deliver either…that made me so damn Gloomy in the first place and brought me here.

GNB

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 23, 2014 10:02 am

DN,

My comment above about Whitehall includes the very senior end of the MoD, whether pin-striped or uniformed. I don’t take the view that politicians would serially ignore military advice, and it is not unknown that advice can be phrased in ways that are known in advance to be what the politician might want to hear.

At the other end of the scale, I was involved in staffing the UORs for GW2. In every case, we produced a decision timeline which showed when various go/no go decisions would be necessary if the kit was to be delivered to theatre on time. Sadly, not enough could be delivered because the Treasury refused to release funding until way too late.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
October 23, 2014 10:12 am

RT

‘My comment above about Whitehall includes the very senior end of the MoD, whether pin-striped or uniformed’

It appears we are in complete agreement, although I would add that our failings in both Iraq and Afghan are the chickens finally coming home to roost with our bullsh*t ‘punching above our weight’ mantra we have spouting for decades.

Hohum
Hohum
October 23, 2014 10:23 am

I know the truth goes down like a lead balloon here but the brutal reality is that the last 13 years of combat operations for the British Army have been a farcical humiliation. The blame sits not just with politicians but in particular with senior officers.

The facts are thus, Helmand was a disaster and the USMC had to come and substantially bolster British forces, Basra was equally so and ultimately the British Army retreated to the airport leaving the Americans and the Iraqi Army to take it back from the Shia Militias who had taken it over.

The lesson that should be learnt from this is obvious, the Army is no longer big enough or flexible enough (compounded by the substantial cuts since 2010- remember the 30% less figure) to take on operations of this scale and should thus not be undertaking them. More widely, and this should be remembered by any politician thinking of deploying ground troops to Iraq again, public support is fickle. What may start out as a popular war only requires a few body bags to become very unpopular.

On specifics; UORs are something to be proud of, but not all of them, many were a direct result of abject failures of procurement and industrial policy from previous decades and many now show the symptoms of being acquired urgently.

tweckyspat
October 23, 2014 11:06 am

HoHum I concur

Add to that a cultural and ingrained military arrogance that we had nothing to learn from the sceptics (or the Iraqis) and a consistently over optimistic and over simplistic military approach to operations

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 23, 2014 11:44 am

I would not make the case that everything at either the tactical or operational level in Afghanistan was done perfectly, but some context is needed.

Firstly, it was an HQ ISAF decision to deploy UK forces in Brigade strength to Helmand. Granted senior Brits probably took part in that, but it was an ISAF decision. At the time, the ground situation was not as serious as it later became. What occurred later reflects a failure to plan for worsening events, and with the concurrent deployment in Iraq, only the Americans had the numbers to put in an additional Brigade.

Secondly, the MoD was greatly at fault to not stand up more to Defence Planning Assumptions so comprehensively stretched for so long. On that one, it is my belief that Geoff Hoon and John Reid were more loyal to Tony Blair than they were to the Armed Forces.

Phil
October 23, 2014 12:10 pm

It’s simple – we should never have gone near Iraq. I freely admit that I supported the invasion until a few years ago but then I realised in the bigger picture our focus should have been on the Afghanistan mission. There was a clear link between a direct attack on the West and what we were trying to achieve and thus potential for a vigorous and focused mission. But because we were in Iraq we convinced ourselves as the General says, that just rocking up with what we could spare would be enough. We were totally right to go into Helmand in 2006. But we should have done it with Telic force levels from 2002.

Phil
October 23, 2014 12:15 pm

The lesson that should be learnt from this is obvious, the Army is no longer big enough or flexible enough (compounded by the substantial cuts since 2010- remember the 30% less figure) to take on operations of this scale and should thus not be undertaking them.

A very poor argument indeed, most myopic and narrow minded.

We operate as part of coalitions. We operated and are operating as part of a coalition. We couldn’t take on the Soviets on our own so should we have just disbanded BAOR? That we didn’t make a fundamental and important contribution to ISAF is an argument that would be ridiculous.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
October 23, 2014 12:23 pm

Agree with most of the above.

Still beats me that a 100.000 army cannot deploy a 10.000 force (the teeth of it accounting for a third of the total) without overstretch?
– esp. When the elements called upon, disproportionately, were so few as the copters and the bomb disposal force.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 23, 2014 12:42 pm

ACC,

don’t forget that Iraq and Afghanistan were ongoing simultaneously. I don’t have the forces levels in each at the same time, but would not be surprised if the grand total was over 20,000 at any one time for a period from 2003-2009.

The Other Chris
October 23, 2014 12:47 pm

Hypothetically, how do you all think events would have played out in either theatre had we only engaged in one of the conflicts, rather than the two?

Hohum
Hohum
October 23, 2014 12:51 pm

And the prize for completely missing the point goes to Phil.

I never said the UK should not be part of a coalition, it should absolutely be part of a coalition- but within that coalition it should be careful to only take on responsibilities that it can handle: both Basra and Helmand proved too big for the British Army: whether that is because of split priorities between Afghanistan and Iraq is frankly a dubious debate- and increasingly irrelevant given the subsequent shrinkage.

TD,

Agreed, the arrogance displayed by certain senior officers is mind-boggling.

Hohum
Hohum
October 23, 2014 1:01 pm

TOC,

With the exception of the invasion phase in Iraq I doubt it got anywhere near 20,000. The UK military effort in Helmand peaked at about 10,000 (another 11,000 USMC personnel were deployed around the same time) in late 2009 early 2008. By then there were only 4,100 troops (rapidly falling to just 150 during 2009) in Iraq. In reality the occupation/peace support/nation building total simultaneous deployment peak was probably about 14,000. Only two thirds of the combined USMC/British force deployed in Helmand at the peak.

Hohum
Hohum
October 23, 2014 1:03 pm

TD,

Agreed, politicians don’t seem to be able to balance foreign policy objectives with their budget decisions, I would add though that Senior Officers did not appear to be in much of a hurry to assist them in recognising limitations.

tweckyspat
October 23, 2014 1:04 pm

RT your analysis of 2006 is a little one-eyed. COMISAF was a brit in a brit framework HQ. No brussels arm-twisting required for him to wanting to get stuck in. To claim otherwise smacks of the same wilful self-delusion as Ledwidge complains about in his excellent book Losing Small Wars:

The form of `expeditionary warfare’ on which Britain’s armed forces staked their future… proved to be beyond their commanders’ capabilities. A failure to adapt, antediluvian structures and intelligence systems, deployment schedules that ensures a lack of continuity, a cavalier attitude to post-entry planning, a mentality geared to excessive readiness to use extreme violence, an attachment to archaic traditions and imagined histories – all of these factors played their part. Inadequate equipment and a dearth of personnel coexisted alongside a vastly swollen command structure that was proportionately eight times the size of that of the US marines.”

monkey
monkey
October 23, 2014 1:09 pm

On this type of operation the Generals need to take with a pinch of salt what and how long a particular part of a coalition operation we are being asked to provide forces for. The it will be a walk over and it will be over by Christmas I am sure is never actually used but still superiors in my experience tend to downplay a task when delivering it to subordinates . It is for our Generals to resist the calls for too much with too little from the leader of a coalition or resist overplaying our own hand if we happen to be in the driving seat. A key part of this is what the politicians are informed as to what can be provided and for how long as it is they who will in the discussions with their counterparts be making the promises which the military will have to deliver on.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
October 23, 2014 1:12 pm

From memory, we had a 5.000 strong armoured battle group camping at the Basra airport (5.000 a bit rich, but let’s give it to the army that they were at quite a distance, to be sustained and supported until further notice).
– so this sounds about right “total simultaneous deployment peak was probably about 14,000”
– now, we had an armoured battle group, and that stage hardly any armour in A-stan
… a co-incidence: withdraw the COIN infantry and leave behind units that could not be factored into the new total (at that stage)

I would still call it a 10.000 capability as in “all-arms”.
– Formalised a bit later, in the “bde, infinitely” assumption

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
October 23, 2014 1:20 pm

The Ledwidge book quote immediately put it onto my Xmas list. Thanks , twecky

RE “COMISAF was a brit in a brit framework HQ” and indeed, there was also the Multinational Div run by the brit HQ. How much of a division was it (ever)? A brit bde + battle group Viking to take them out of bad spots (platoon houses, after the “no sunglass tourism” – anybody?).

Hohum
Hohum
October 23, 2014 1:28 pm

UK Troop levels in Iraq from the MoD via the BBC:

Invasion Peak: 46,000 (may be all services???)
End of May 2003: 18,000
End of May 2004: 8,600
End of May 2005: 8,500
End of May 2006: 7,200
End of May 2007: 5,500
End of May 2008: 4,100 (in southern Iraq)
End of May 2009: 4,100 (in southern Iraq)
End of Jan 2010: 150
End of Nov 2011: 44

For Afghanistan, from a Parliamentary Brief:

2001/early 2002: 1,300
2003 (August): 300
2006 (“The Major Shift”): 5,000 (varying throughout the year)
2009-12: 9,500
2013 (May): 7,900

Looks to me like the UK never managed more than about 13,500 in both theatres. That is only about two-thirds of the combined USMC/British force peak in Helmand in 2009-12 and before the substantial and force cuts (with their confessed to effects) that came out of SDSR10.

tweckyspat
October 23, 2014 1:40 pm

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meetdocs/2004_2009/documents/dv/placemat_is/placemat_isaf.pdf

Laydown in 2006 when RC S under Dutch 2 * Tom van Loon.

Plenty of friction there. See Auerswald ‘NATO, Fighting Together, Fighting Alone’ Princeton 2014

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 23, 2014 2:16 pm

Thanks Hohum, good data. I was wrong to think 20,000 all up.

However, I still believe that DPAs were significantly breached over extensive periods of time. From memory (2003 was my last year of service), those were:

Either:

One Division war fighting, 6 months (large scale)

Or one Brigade on an enduring deployment, plus one Brigade on a 6 month war fighting deployment in a different theatre (medium scale)

(There were also other assumptions about battle groups on small scale deployments)

What we had was, IMO, two concurrent large scale operations in parallel, from about 2006 until at least 2009. The definitions of large, medium and small scale were not entirely based only on manpower deployed, but also took account of the type of HQ, strategic lift assets required for support, whether the UK was providing some form of lead nation or framework, etc

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
October 23, 2014 2:18 pm

One thing well worth remembering is that doing Telic & Herrick concurrently and enduringly was significantly beyond the assumptions applied to force and funding levels in SDR new chapter.

Whether the Army / Forces leadership made enough fuss about this or not, two things are clear – we operated at full bore on both ops for a period of around 4 years and the Great Financial Genius was in no way inclined to uplift the underlying funding to maintain the permanent force structure to support it, even with RN/RAF support on the ground. That is why its “broken” now.

Doing a very rough analysis of infantry units deployed on the two ops, immediately post Iraq invasion there was about three years with an average of 5 battlegroups deployed, which when you add in training and roulement commits about 15 inf batts out of 30-odd (inc RM). Between Apr 06 and the Telic pullout, that average was 8 or so BG from the same or a slighly lower number – or about 2/3 of the infantry and probably a much higher proportion of a number of other units (JFH, JHC – particularly the CHinook force, Logs, EOD, Sigs etc), plus arty and armour used in other roles.

When it became clear that Herrick was going to go large, that’s when the senior forces leadership should have called Blair & Brown out in public. It’s not like Reid or Swiss Toni were going to do it for them.

Phil
October 23, 2014 2:41 pm

And the prize for completely missing the point goes to Phil.

Oh goody.

We didn’t believe we were biting off more than we could chew. Thus it is you that is missing the point. Nobody gets into an operation like that believing that it’s a bad idea and that it can’t be done. The General says so himself. They talked themselves into believing it was all going to be alright on the night.

The problems in Helmand stemmed from a lack of recognition of the latent potential of the insurgency which manifested itself into a deployment that was suitable for the type of operation we expected to conduct, not what was waiting for us. Iraq and the usual wishful thinking almost fatally retarded the response, coalition wide not just with the UK.

Our force structure from 2010 onwards was adequate for the task, we made a perfectly decent effort and contribution to the ISAF mission. It was so because by then we were cutting our cloth accordingly as part of a coalition.

Phil
October 23, 2014 2:46 pm

Phil, I think the point is only bite off what you can chew, ends, ways and means and all that

The problem is knowing how big your mouthful is. That is not just a military responsibility either.

There needs to be a balanced risk appetite – sometimes we will be right to jump in knowing the mouthful might be a bit big but the potential results might be worth it. The danger is becoming too risk averse and never believing we can achieve anything and that our force has no utility. In the context of a coalition it plainly does have utility.

Hohum
Hohum
October 23, 2014 2:54 pm

Phil,

There is considerable evidence that actually “we” did know how big the mouthful was; “we” just chose to ignore it and take a bite anyway whilst hoping it was smaller than it looked.

The force structure was only big enough from 2010 onwards because 11,000 US Marines entered the theatre to support the 9,500 British troops. Evidently the force structure was never big enough to perform the Helmand mission at the level of responsibility originally taken.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 23, 2014 2:58 pm

TD,

would be fascinating to look at DPA breaches. Are there accessible public domain datasets (as opposed to someone having to trawl through screeds of Google)? Mischievously, a FOI might be interesting. Not as though the MoD would mind being able to demonstrate how stretched they were….

NAB,

Good points, but we did get Nellies out of Gordon. I think it was a strategic mistake not to require them to be deployable to places where we actually do our war fighting.

Phil
October 23, 2014 3:11 pm

There is considerable evidence that actually “we” did know how big the mouthful was; “we” just chose to ignore it and take a bite anyway whilst hoping it was smaller than it looked.

There’s little difference – the outcome is a misjudged mouthful. We didn’t deploy an inadequate force expecting to get into trouble, we deployed an adequate force that would achieve its goals: that was the perception. Hence the problem is the pathologies that lead to those sorts of outlooks and decisions.

Hohum
Hohum
October 23, 2014 3:19 pm

The goal was to secure Helmand and turn it into something approaching a functioning part of an Afghan state, Britain did not and seemingly could not provide a force substantial enough to do that- the force deployed was inadequate and the maximum force that could be deployed was seemingly inadequate. How that point was reached seems to have been a heady mix of arrogance, denial, ambition and budget justification/protection.

Phil
October 23, 2014 3:24 pm

Hohum we’re pretty much saying the same thing in your last sentence although I wouldn’t put it in such stark terms and the pathologies are far from unique.

But you’re still missing my point – the force was perceived as adequate at the time, hence why it was sent. The process by which the relevant actors came to that conclusion is where the crux of the issue of biting off more than you can chew comes from. Once reality became known, once resources were freed from Iraq, the coalition but into place a realistic force package and our contribution to that package was relatively well balanced and suitable and the strategy it pursued was simple but effective.

Phil
October 23, 2014 3:26 pm

@TD

I’m not justifying what happened from 2006 to 2009. Far from it. I am just pointing out that the issues lie somewhere other than an inability to have made a decent contribution to the effort.

Phil
October 23, 2014 3:40 pm

@TD

Who knows? That’s the problem isn’t it. Lots going on these days with the Russians keen to wave their willies too.

We need six services – 2 armies, 2 RAFs, 2 RNs (one for Europe, the other for the RoW).

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
October 23, 2014 3:41 pm

RT – you will never be convinced, but Gordon had to be dragged kicking and screaming to actually authorise the contract for the carriers. Contrary to the Army shibboleth that they were built for his constituency, the truth is that he’d have been perfectly happy never to have paid for them.

Hohum
Hohum
October 23, 2014 3:42 pm

TD,

Spot on. The British military/political establishment chose both in Iraq and Afghanistan to accept responsibilities well beyond its capabilities and the end result was disastrous. Trying to paper over the affair by saying “but it was fine once the American’s turned up and more than doubled the total force package” is the same sort of denial that produced the errors in the first place. The fact was the British military was inadequate for the tasks it was given and has since been made considerably smaller.

Phil
October 23, 2014 3:45 pm

The fact was the British military was inadequate for the tasks it was given and has since been made considerably smaller.

But again, it was not. It was perceived to be perfectly adequate. And it’s not denial to state that matters improved when force density increased in the new British AO. What we sent in 2010 was what should have been sent in 2006 but I doubt you’d ever have convinced even hawks that what was needed in Helmand in 2006 was a 5 + battlegroup brigade in a smaller AO than was proposed. That is the litmus test – who was proposing such a force in 2006? I suspect we’ll need to wait for the archives to be opened up.

Hohum
Hohum
October 23, 2014 3:48 pm

The British military was tasked with turning Helmand into a functioning province integrated with the central Afghan government, it was incapable of doing that and was thus inadequate. That is why 11,000 US Marines had to be deployed to Helmand.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 23, 2014 4:05 pm

NaB,

I personally do not subscribe to the shibboleth that you describe, nor do I think I know anyone who does. Some might.

It was the TOBA agreement that required it. I do think that the terms concluded were disastrous for the country. I do not see a strategic need for a British shipbuilding industry (as opposed to submarine building, which I do see as a strategic need): it falls into the “nice to have” category in my opinion.

Phil
October 23, 2014 4:18 pm

The British military was tasked with turning Helmand into a functioning province integrated with the central Afghan government, it was incapable of doing that and was thus inadequate.

In hindsight.

Hohum
Hohum
October 23, 2014 4:30 pm

In reality

Hohum
Hohum
October 23, 2014 4:43 pm

TD,

The thing is, it wasn’t just hindsight; there is considerable evidence that reports about the reality of Helmand coming from reconnaissance activity were simply ignored because they weren’t convenient.

To your second point. This overreach has continued to be visible, note the need to temporarily alter the fast jet squadron plans to enable the current Iraq operation.

Phil
October 23, 2014 4:47 pm

@TD

I don’t disagree. Clearly something was wrong with the decision making process whether that be expectations or intelligence or the political interest of various actors – the corollary to that is that military brass should see it as a primary mission to manage expectations albeit with the ultimate structural flaw that their only real weapon is resignation and no guarantee the next chap will be so honourable.

But Hohum, we didn’t dispatch TFH with a mandate to fail or as a forlorn hope.

Phil
October 23, 2014 4:51 pm

@Hohum

I don’t think you’e hitting the point – the fact that the HERRICK 4 TFH was adequate to achieve the goals of 2006 is a perception that was proved wrong with hindsight. Not arguing that there existed a complete unity of opinion on the matter – just that the argument it was adequate won out. The problem therefore is how that argument won and whether or not the process can be improved so we don’t do it to such an extent again.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 23, 2014 4:52 pm

Phil and Hohum,

Consider that the task of integrating Helmand with the central Government as a functioning province should not have been a military task at all. The military can help with framework security and indeed logistics and things like engineering/EOD, but if there is not a massive effort by non-military assets (health, education, political support, infrastructure) then the end result will not be achieved.

I know that DFID were there in some respects, I’m sure that the post-Dayton lessons were applied, but they don’t seem to have been learned.

I think it is a reasonable opinion that some parts of Afghanistan really are ungovernable, at least not without being dictators. Perhaps we should not have tried.

I strongly suspect that within a couple of years of leaving Helmand, the local situation will be essentially identical to that of 2001, and all of the blood and treasure will have been wasted.

The task was perhaps nonmilitary, and unachievable using ways acceptable to the West.

Hohum
Hohum
October 23, 2014 5:03 pm

Phil,

I am precisely hitting the point. The UK military was given a task and proved so inadequate for it that 11,000 US Marines had to be deployed. One can not just what one is capable of doing without understanding what one can not do and both Helmand and Basra (which seems to get forgotten) are very good examples of what the British military can not do.

IXION
October 23, 2014 5:07 pm

Phil

Sorry… from day one our deployment in Afghanistan was a disaster even armchair fuckwits like me could and did see coming a mile off. It’s not hindsight if you were berated by ‘experts’ at the time, for pointing out the total inadequacy of the forces deployed, and about every body except Alexander The Great had had their arses handed to them when screwing around in Afghan.

That the generals in charge now say ‘whoops sorry we cocked it up again’ is frankly shameful. Why when blood and treasure was being spent, 9did they not resign rather than carry on with the ‘we’re winning’ mantra when they now state clearly they knew at the time we were not, is a matter for their conscience.

Phil
October 23, 2014 5:13 pm

@Hohum

That’s an argument with no depth – little more than a soundbite. TFH was not sent on a mission that it was believed incapable of achieving, it was sent on a mission that it was thought to be capable of achieving and that is the problem! Not the force, but the process which generated that force and which believed it could achieve the mission. 11,000 US Marines and a smaller British AO was a response to the reality. Nobody in 2006 I imagine would have made the same decision about force level or AO size if the true nature of the task was known and/or accepted.

The scope changed when the threat crystallised and nobody could deny it.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 23, 2014 5:16 pm

Hohum,

Your logic is wrong, I think.

10,000 troops were not enough, but when reinforced by 11,500 the situation is turned, at least in a military sense.

There is no evidence that 10,000 US Marines would have had a different result from 10,000 British soldiers. Unless you make a convincing argument that the USMC are better fighters than 3 Cdo Bde or 16 Air Assault Brigade, your logic does not stand up.

Hohum
Hohum
October 23, 2014 5:20 pm

It has considerably more depth than anything you have managed to say here. The British military was given a task for which it proved to be inadequate. The end result was 11,000 US Marines being deployed to bail it out. The fact that the British military was incapable of this task (and of a similar one in Basra) is the key takeaway of the last decade.

Peter Elliott
October 23, 2014 5:29 pm

His point is all about scale and not quality. We thought we could ‘do’ Helmand with 10,000 troops but 20,000 turned out to be needed. And the UK can’t generate 20,000 troops for a sustained deployment any more.

So our capability to ‘do’ even medium sized missions is now much less than we would like to assume. Becuase capability implies reserves and depth: depth that we in the UK just don’t have. We got away with it becuase we were within a coalition. If we hadn’t been we would have had to run away in a hurry.

But Phil has a point about perceptions of risk. Operation Corporate was widely considered by professional commentators to be an impossible mission: and it almost ended in disaster several times. But actually we got the job done and everyone thought we were jolly clever chaps for managing it. That’s the flip side of the coin.

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
October 23, 2014 5:38 pm

RT agree with your 4:52 you have hit it on the head.

Lets not argue the past but look to the future. How will the long term lessons be learned, and repetition of the well intentioned but flawed decisions avoided.

“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
George Santayana

jedibeeftrix
jedibeeftrix
October 23, 2014 5:46 pm

@ Twecky – “The form of `expeditionary warfare’ on which Britain’s armed forces staked their future… proved to be beyond their commanders’ capabilities.”

From numbers as much as anything else?

http://jedibeeftrix.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/jedibeeftrix_ustroops.png?w=549

As I said as at the time:

“If we take Iraq as ‘typical’ example of a US style intervention then they have an average commitment of 140,000 troops through the main sequence of campaign, a period spanning six years. For Britain to justify the command input that comes with the 2IC slot, where we influence operations to reflect our priorities, we would have to sustain 21,000 troops in theatre. In reality this means three combat brigades and an additional brigades worth of supporting HQ, logistics and specialists elements. This is of course a generous calculation because if we wish to vie for Framework Nation Status as the strategic purpose of our expeditionary capability then we have to match our resources to the sum of US commitments. As can be seen in the table below that US commitment includes another 30,000 troops in a separate theatre of war, which means Britain needs to pony up another light-brigade at the very least. And yes, we really would have to consider this additional commitment, command input results from trust earned over time, not merely from meeting some arbitrary figure on only the missions we liked in the pic-n-mix bin.”

It seems the whole concept was defunct on both sides of the pond:

http://pksoi.army.mil/PKM/publications/relatedpubs/documents/Small_Wars_2.0.pdf

wf
wf
October 23, 2014 5:49 pm

Lesson one: if you are failing, adapt and overcome. Don’t whine about how it’s not your fault, or how awful the Americans are. Countries of note do whatever it takes to win, since the consequences of failure are deterrence failures of the future.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
October 23, 2014 5:50 pm

So what would be the causes that made Herrick and Telic such a griz?

Over optimism?

Politicisation at the senior levels?

Piss poor planning assumptions? (deploying with no reserve!)

An arrogance of we can punch above our weight etc?

Failure to adapt quickly and ask for help?

Failure to say no to the politicians?

Phil
October 23, 2014 6:12 pm

Repeating your argument Hohum isn’t making it any better.

It wasn’t given the task of fighting a conflict of the scale it ended up fighting over the size of the area it was supposed to sit in. When it was, it was suitably reinforced for all intents and purposes.

Phil
October 23, 2014 6:14 pm

@DN

TELIC made HERRICK a grizz a lot longer than it needed to be.

Otherwise I’d say most of the above – all the organisational pathologies that are known to help organisations spank in and succumb to risks that were out of mind or not deemed likely or respectable to manage.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
October 23, 2014 6:29 pm

Undoubtedly, I also think Iraq poisoned the water slightly when it came to some of the stronger European NATO members contributing to the operation, France and Germany could have definitely offered more resources. The question I ask myself is why didn’t they?

DGOS
DGOS
October 23, 2014 7:42 pm

All very interesting – I begin to sense the complexities.

However as a complete rabbit I ask what the hell are our intelligence and foreign office not giving a reasoned understanding of the problems, likely solutions and consequences.

Exactly what were the resources actually available to fully understand the situation on the ground before we were committed.

The military surely can only plan on what information they are given and should only commit to what they are pretty sure the can reasonably able to achieve.

On the face of it to few resources were committed with inadequate equipment and no proper understanding of the real politics the ground.

Come to think of it is this just history repeating time and time again and the troops doing a bloody good job as far as they are able.

Peter Elliott
October 23, 2014 7:55 pm

The idea of upstream engagement by the Adaptable Force cadres is supposed to address this lack of institutional understanding.

If we have had training teams and liaison officers in a country for at least 5 years before a problem occurs then we ought at least to have a some specialist knowledge to call on.

Of course the danger is we end up training and arming the very people we end up having to fight. Not as if that hasn’t happened before.

Obsvr
Obsvr
October 24, 2014 4:04 am

The problem in Iraq was a total lack of planning and preparation for what would happen once the old regime was removed. I’d guess the assumption was that there could be a fairly rapid and amicable transition to non-Baath elements. However, UK was faced with a problem not faced by the US, the South was overwhelmingly Shiite as is Iran, and Iran had scores to settle with UK (and US) and was not going to allow a peaceful and rapid transition. I wouldn’t blame Defence Int for this oversight, but FO should have spotted it, but perhaps they thought that Iran would be mildly grateful for getting rid of the old regime that had started the very costly Iran/Iraq war.

History plays a part in Afg as well, particularly Afghan-British relations although these have been pretty good since a few years after the Afghan defeat of 1919 (with full marks** to my favourite no-nonsense officer B-G Dyer of Amritsar fame). The arrival of UK forces in the South acted as a Pushtun magnet because of their folk memory. UK forces should have been more than adequate to deal with what was in Helmand, again an intelligence failure (a failure to perform a psycho-historical assessment) as to what would be the emotional impact of British troops in S. Afg after 85 years. You could also note that the Canadians in Kandahar didn’t find it plain sailing either, but they pulled up stumps after about 250 KIA.

** for the under-informed, he received a message from the Afghan king seeking peace and replied “I’ve sent your message to my superior, in the meantime my guns will reply”.

IXION
October 24, 2014 6:33 am

Obsvr.

You have in part elucidated part of my original objections to both Iraq and Iran adventures.

It was a psycho -historically obvious what was going to happen. It was also obvious that the attempts to hold hostile territory with wholly inadequate numbers were doomed.

Some of the comments of the army at the time we went in, were frankly delusional. The fact that those in charge are apparently not only admitting that, but saying that they knew or should have known they were hopelessly optimistic

tweckyspat
October 24, 2014 7:22 am

https://stephen-saideman.squarespace.com/talking-about-nato-in-afghanistan/

Worth a watch (and I suspect the book worth a read too but not got yet) A lot of good analysis of Alliance partners, caveats, domestic concerns. Part of the frictional mix.

it’s worth saying that in 2006 it wasn;t just the brits who made strategic miscalculations…but arguably few made such a horlicks of it

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
October 24, 2014 7:43 am

@PE

‘The idea of upstream engagement by the Adaptable Force cadres is supposed to address this lack of institutional understanding.’

Will it though? we had a decent size presence in Afghan since 2001 (Op Fingal, PRT’s) but still bumbled into Helmand. I hope we are not drawing all our conclusions for these cadres from just the successful engagements such as Sierra Leone without looking at our failures as well.

Martin
Editor
October 24, 2014 7:43 am

Its worth noting that despite is massively larger budget the US Army and USMC had all the same problems we had in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Lightly armed vehicles going against IED’s and too few troops to do the job.

If we gave the Generals more resources then they would have bitten off more than they did and ended up with the same issues on a larger scale.

GW2 should never have happened and that it did was not the UK’s fault. Disbanding the Iraq army made a bad situation even worse again not a UK decision, Not even one made by the DOD.

Every one should have had more troops in Afghanistan but there was no real way to know how the local population would react until they were on the ground in force.

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
October 24, 2014 8:51 am


“Every one should have had more troops in Afghanistan but there was no real way to know how the local population would react until they were on the ground in force.”
Just how many Jellalabad and Kandahar Barracks do we need for us to anticipate that some Afghans would really, deeply, object to the presence of the British Army.

There is the story of a Clerk of Works attending a meeting about regeneration in Kabul and being told that British soldiers had burnt down Kabul Market. He rushed back to the IO, who explained it had happened during first Afghan War as retaliation following the retreat to Jellaalbad.

This does not just apply to Afghanistan but many other countries on the periphery of “The Empire on which the sun never set” (until Hong Kong was handed over to the PRC.)

IXION
October 24, 2014 9:46 am

Martin

‘Every one should have had more troops in Afghanistan but there was no real way to know how the local population would react until they were on the ground in force’.

Poor old intelligence services Only 3000 years of history, the Russian experience less than 20 years earlier, the experience of Vietnam, etc etc etc to go on. Plus some very good ideas about how many troops it would take to hold any area of such terrain against the active opposition of a proportion of it’s inhabitants….

‘Our brave boy’ did what ‘our brave boys’ have always done tried and died to do what they were ordered to do.

BUT From T Blair down, and I am afraid the lower you go the more military the decision makers became, and the more blame lies with them, because like bookbinder in ‘Something Big’.. they were supposed to know. They were paid to know. That they now say in effect ‘we knew we were trying it on’, all that guff about ‘hoping for the best’ is shocking. Instead of resigning in principle and not putting their name to it. Even one those appearing on TV now saying ‘whoops silly me’ admits he feared that a force of ours might get cut off and massacred, because we had written military cheques we could not cash.

It was not difficult, it was not complicated, it was not full of unknowns: – It was obvious how the Afghans were going to react to a foreign invasion because they have always reacted that way to a foreign invasions. The Afghans themselves were starting to dislike Bin-ladins mob because they were foreigners!

At the time I just thought the Army was living up to its reputation for being led by donkeys, it’s is actually far worse for them after the event to come forward and say what they are saying now.

The Lions last Roar ….not with a bang but a whimper.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 24, 2014 10:33 am

Ixion,

It would have been relatively easy to have scored military victory in Helmand, even with only 10,000 troops. It is just that the methods of doing so would have horrified pansy lawyers and liberals. The Afghans themselves would not have thought those methods too different from those of the Taliban.

What you completely fail to even contemplate was that the lack of strategic success was due to a political failure to think beyond military bounds.

Martin
Editor
October 24, 2014 12:04 pm

@ DeJa Vu and Ixion

well the intelligence was piss poor I don’t think its easy to say that as the Afghans had fought of the British in the 19th century and the soviets in the 80’s that you could assume everyone in Afghanistan would be hostile. The Army had been in country for 5 years already by 2006 with little issue.

If they had entered Helmand with overwhelming force and tens of thousands of soldiers then that may have stirred up just as much trouble if not more. The fact is that we were never going to win in Afghanistan by shear numbers or force.

I think the results would have been the same if we had sent in more troops. we would just have had more casualties.

The Ginge
The Ginge
October 24, 2014 12:29 pm

As a layman and only coming at this from the extensive reading I have done over the last few years can I give a Civilians view ?I know some of these facts may be incorrect and I am sure those more knowledgeable on here will correct me.
1. The ability of the British Army to conduct robust anti-coin operations has gone. When you read the histories of Malaya or Aden it is strikingly clear that the average soldier gave out a fair few kicking’s. In the first few months of all these campaigns the British Army established the first maxim of “don’t mess with us”, if a sniper was on top of a building then the whole buildings occupants knew about it as British Soldiers kicked in every door on every flat as they flushed him out. They then didn’t try and arrest him next either, the next time the sniper turned up the buildings occupants stopped the use of their building so they didn’t have to deal with the British as the British would support them in doing that. In my office and circle of friends, all of whom are none military, they all condemned the Soldiers in Iraq who went outside their compound and grabbed some 14 or 15yr olds who were throwing stones. Taught the 2 or 3 they caught a good lesson and sent them home, so that next time they wouldn’t do it, because as I explained in my office it wouldn’t be stones being throw it would be grenades and bullets being sent back. Dead 14 or 15yr olds and dead Soldiers serves neither party. But the point is the Generals and Politicians seriously underestimated the public’s reaction to the use of force as seen directly on TV and then commented on by the usual Human Rights Suspects. That is what the politicians in particular are there to do; they failed in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
2. Equipment. To this end it is totally unacceptable not to use Helicopters extensively. The Public will not accept unnecessary deaths. It killed any public support for both wars. You could list a whole host of equipment shortages that to this day still exist, be it Bomb Disposal Equipment and Numbers (Talk of dropping some of the excellent kit because of cost), Airborne Logistics, Protected Mobility Vehicles the list goes on, but any General planning the next “war” has got to get the protection to the highest level and the use of Helicopters used even where a cost analysis says a Truck is so much cheaper with only a slight increased risk is no longer acceptable. The fact that to this day we do not have a large enough Helicopter Force to provide adequate numbers and more importantly the right type of Helicopter to any force we may send to an area. That to this day Senior Offices in the Navy/Army/RAF laugh at the number of Helicopters used by the Americans is in my view a negligent act. The fact that a lot of the “reaction force” or light infantry that is the baulk of the army are training to deploy in Tilt covered trucks, use Land Rovers for Comms Vehicles, don’t carry anywhere near the fire power of similarly equipped American Units, about sums up the denial the British Armed forces are in. The amount of “risk” the British Public are prepared to accept was seriously miss calculated in both wars, as is said most wars are lost at home not at the front. The generals knew this and just said no problem Mr Blair we can do it. It is the emperor’s new clothes syndrome.
3. Size Matters. Spell it out to both Politicians and directly to the Public. 82,000 people sounds a lot of people, but when it is spread out over a 3 year rotation, along with the fact that for every 3,000 pointy guns wielding soldiers you need 6,000 support staff those numbers start to look weak. Nobody in the Public thinks we sent enough soldiers to Afghanistan or Iraq. You can argue over whether they should have gone, but once sent, the distinct feeling here is that it should have been 2 or 3 times the number of Soldiers. That we bit of too much, and we should never have done it. The Public and more importantly the Senior Politicians need to have a reality check, either you pay for it or we don’t do it. People need it explained how the numbers breakdown. The number of Logi’s, Artillery, Fighter Aircraft Jocks needed to put relatively safely in the field 3,000 troops. The Generals got this Wrong in both Wars. The galling point from a civilians point of view is they knew so, but none of them was prepared to risk his job in telling the Defence Secretary or the PM that it couldn’t be done like this. The “yes Sir” mentality needs to stop when you reach the exalted air of Senior Command, Colin Powell did it to a President and said I need X overwhelming force or we don’t do it, these Generals should have said the same.
4. Body Bags. The biggest mistake the British Armed Forces Ever Made. From a Civilian perspective seeing Coffins come off planes at Wotton Bassett has done more harm to the ability to deploy British Armed Forces than anything else. Especially amongst the Female population. In my office it was talked about, and tiers spilled by the Female Staff on more than one occasion. Trying to point out that the overall casualty rates in both Wars were not actually too bad was impossible. That although each death was a tragedy that is what happens in Wars. When you talk to people in the Armed forces they know that, they accept the risks it’s amazing and it’s brave. But the fallout from both Wars isn’t about whether they were just or we should have got involved, it is about the fact that each Soldier coming home could have been their son or daughter, these two wars were personalised. The effect that the commanders in the Falklands War tried very hard to stop. The generals who allowed this have effectively stopped the deployment of British Forces for ever, unless it is a direct threat to people living in the UK.
So in my view we can argue all you want about whether this force package was big enough, did we do this or that right. But the fact is the public are no mugs and know it was done half heartily without sufficient support, numbers, equipment or doctrine. They pay for this and won’t accept it again and unless the Senior Armed Forces show they are Sorry and have learned their lessons they will never get the support of the Politicians and more importantly the People to do anything. At which point you do have to wonder what is the point of such a large army to defend a country that can do so by Sea and Air Power alone.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 24, 2014 12:51 pm

The Ginge,

Blimey, wall of text, but I certainly appreciate your input.

From a simple (ex) soldier’s perspective, a few brief replies to your points:

1. Largely agree. There was a phrase we used in Belfast in what now seems like pre-history: “Big boys’ rules”. The BBC journalist Mark Urban picked up on it and wrote a book using that as a title. A fellow subaltern who’d done time in the Rhodesian conflict said it was the same there.

2. Don’t necessarily agree re helicopters. OPFOR only needs a stock of simple SAMs or HMGs, and you are back to square one.

3. Depends on what the Government wants. When I joined the Army, it was 155,000 strong, but most of our time was spent in BAOR. When the old man joined the Army, back in National Service days, it was over half a million strong. Now it’s to become 82,000. Those are all just numbers. What do you want us to do?

4. Disagree on public viewing of the repatriations. Those men died for their country; it is right that their country saw them being brought home. If nothing else, look at the swell of support for Service charities in the last decade. Our country is as connected to our Services now as it was only in times of major conflict before. Indeed, I could get quite Kipling-esque: “it’s Tommy this and Tommy that…”

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
October 24, 2014 12:55 pm

For the next campaign, the same happened, with a different result
” “yes Sir” mentality needs to stop when you reach the exalted air of Senior Command, Colin Powell did it to a President and said I need X overwhelming force or we don’t do it, these Generals should have said the same.”

Wiki says ” Shinseki publicly clashed with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during the planning of the war in Iraq over how many troops the United States would need to keep in Iraq for the postwar occupation of that country. As Army Chief of Staff, General Shinseki testified to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that “something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” would probably be required for postwar Iraq. This was an estimate far higher than the figure being proposed by Secretary Rumsfeld in his invasion plan, and it was rejected in strong language by both Rumsfeld and his Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, who was another chief planner of the invasion and occupation.”

Much later, in 2006, the then CENTCOM commander testified to the Congress that Shinseki had been right.

The Ginge
The Ginge
October 24, 2014 1:24 pm

Dear Red Trousers

If I can just go through your answers

2. Re Helicopters. I know from an experianced operational point of view (as expressd by very knowledgable people on this site), but I was trying to say is the publics view is Helicopters are safe, Trucks are not. The Generals and the Army per se need to do a lot of work on explaining this, although my counter argument would always be from an operational point of view, with a proper Scout helicopter fleet and a proper number of escorting Attack Helicopters the use SAMs and HMGs should not be possible by the enemy. The trouble is both of these types of escort Helicopters are in short supply in British doctrine,. That needs to be changed, every time a Chinook goes up near any enemy position it should be heavily accompanied.
3. This is my point. The Public and the Politicians want you to do everything you did with 155,000 people. They see no differance, they have not seen the huge savings in the Armed forces Budget because in pure number terms it is more expensive now than it was back then, inflation is a funny concept to most. Again the Senior Army/Navy/RAF commmands have got to get the message across we are down to a level where sending 8 planes to Cyprus means not disbanding a Squadron. What would have happened if IS had occured a year later when 2 Sqn were gone. People are being told you can still do everything when you know we can’t.So at some point the Armed Forces will be asked to deliver when they know they can’t.
4. I do not doubt that support for membes of the armed forces is at a all time high, but the wish to risk those peoples is at an all time low. The British Army’s Tradition was you were burried where you dropped. I have relatives in graves around the world unfortunately, it does not mean you forget them, do not honour them, but it is the visual impact of these events that means you are from a Civilain perspective never going to deploy the Army unless the only risk is from Road Trafic Accidents or the UK is about to be invaded. The old Red rather than Dead argument is now more tipped in the favour of being Red rather than standing up for principles.
Dear ArmChairCivvy
I rather think this proves the point, Collin Powell got his way and GW1 worked, ie the President listened to the expert who very forcibly put over his point of view, lets be honest GW2 was a disaster because Rumsfeld didn’t, the point I am trying to get over is British Generals never ever say anything, well not untill they have retired and they seem to spend the next 20yrs moaning about the very politicians they would not stand up to when they were in position of power.

All I think is that the senior people in the MOD need to get the message out what the Cuts and the lessons from Afghanistan & Iraq means for the future ability to step in when the cry goes up “we must do something”.

The Ginge
The Ginge
October 24, 2014 1:26 pm

Sorry about the walls of Text trying to edit to improve.

monkey
monkey
October 24, 2014 1:46 pm

@The Ginge
On your point number one the Israelis follow this principle on a slightly different slant. If a projectile be it bullet,shell,mortar bomb or missile their counter-battery fire immediately regardless of what the target is. The idea being if your tucking into your tea and you spot a Hamas mortar team setting up on your neighbours roof you reach into your cupboard for your AK and slot them before they can fire and bring an end to you and nearest and dearest.

On the Colin Powel standing up to the administration and how Shinseki was overruled by the civilian administration I read an article that he was advised by the intelligence team that in the immediate aftermath of the wars conclusion some form of armoured vehicle would be needed to be parked at every street junction in every city and town and every house searched and all personal weapons confiscated if they to hoped to keep a lid on the sectarian violence that would inevitable erupt . The intelligence officers had gleaned this from Iraqi army and political defectors who illustrated the deep religious and tribal divides that split the area of land we call Iraq.

IXION
October 24, 2014 1:48 pm

RT

I am of course a civilian talking to a military man, so I am ‘on the back foot’ to start with.

However I cannot think of any circumstances (no matter how murderously they behaved), 10,000 men could hold Helmund against a rebellious population. Given the Afghan’s history they would certainly have been rebellious; and after all the Russians in their 10’s of thousands were hardly ‘Mr human rights’.

‘What you completely fail to even contemplate was that the lack of strategic success was due to a political failure to think beyond military bounds’

You will have to explain that one to me.

Because I don’t see who we had to be ‘political’ with except the Taliban. And since we comprehensively failed to first deal with the military situation in the heavily contested areas, the next- political stage never really got of the ground. Khazi was called ‘the mayor of Kabul’ because that is where his writ ran. If we had provided the initial military solution we could have moved onto a political one.

Martin

‘If they had entered Helmand with overwhelming force and tens of thousands of soldiers then that may have stirred up just as much trouble if not more. The fact is that we were never going to win in Afghanistan by shear numbers or force’.

In which case we were buggered if we did, and buggered if we didn’t. In which further case, why in the name of the deity of your choice did we go in the first place?

As for your other point may I quote Churchill about Afghanistan.

“Every man’s hand is against the other and all are against the stranger … the state of continual tumult has produced a habit of mind which holds life cheap and embarks on war with careless levity.”

I doubt if his nibs would be surprised the natives turned out less that welcoming long term.

This is going to be very boring down the line.

It is rather like every washed up Vietnam vet you used to meet in bars in the 80’s banging on about “We won all the battles and lost the war”: and The USA’s version of the ‘November Criminals rant’ ” We could have won man if it wasn’t for those pussy politicians”. Only being British rather than drinking industrial quantities of Jack Daniels, they will be drinking malt scotch and have plumby accent talking about ‘Well of course dear chap if only we….. and (My favorite) “We didn’t actually loose you know we achieved great things”……. before listing the number of schools built, and the ‘large well trained, well equipped, well motivated force protecting a stable govt’ we left behind…….

Anyway history is already being written about our last act of international intervention being an abject failure, and that hopefully
‘ lessons will be learned’

We lost this one. Its a bit like a not so bloody Singapore, we tried to bluff and it was called. What angers and depresses me is that it was always going to be called.

IXION
October 24, 2014 2:08 pm

The Ginge

Very well put sir!

I think I only disagree with the body bag point. I think there is no winning answer to that, not to bring the bodies home in the modern age would be politically unacceptable. there would be tear stained mothers on our TV screens nightly campaigning to bring ‘Our Sean’s body home. Local MP’s would crush babies in the rush to jump on bandwagons.

That is part of it- the British have and are loosing their appetite for this foreign adventure lark. Unless some very good cases are made for going and frankly after Iraq/Afghan those in the command perform better.

Observer
Observer
October 24, 2014 2:22 pm

IXION, not to put a fine point to it, the initial Taliban was a foreign army which did succeed in holding down Afghanistan. Reports indicated that the force that took over the country was almost 50% Pakistani. In fact, what the Taliban were is essentially a puppet government used by Pakistan to keep Afghanistan focused inwards and away from their border.

And they succeeded in holding down the country by being murderous bastards who won’t take no for an answer. Something that the West is mentally incapable of doing.

IXION
October 24, 2014 2:54 pm

Observer

I have no access to military reports

However contemporaneous journalistic reports talk of many but far from all Taliban being Pakistani from the Northwest fronter region.

BUT also that it was their essential honesty and their enforcement of Law and Order that actually endeared them to the Afghans fed up with Mujahedin banditry and corruption. Some of the reporters with them as they defeated Mujahedin commander after commander, spoke of them being welcomed as the bringers of stability.. …Now ok it was a sharia law stability, but it was some sort of rule of law. something there had not been in Afghanistan for 30 years at least.

A few years later those same reporters, reported the locals getting fed up with ‘foreigners’ and starting to resent them, but then we invaded and were indeed welcomed for a while until it became clear our failure to finish of AQ meant we intended to stay. Then it went ‘tits up’.

I have by the way seen the photos of the guns being unloaded at Kabul airport supplied by the west to the Mujahedin well before 9/11 for them to fight the Taliban.

This ‘The Taliban were the Pakistani army in drag’ narrative is very convenient but far from the whole truth.

monkey
monkey
October 24, 2014 3:05 pm


On the rule of law one thing the Taliban targeted ruthlessly was opium production as one was against Koran but also took the funds away from the mujahedeen. An article just before 911 in the New York Times on a recent international inspection gave high praise to the Taliban admistration for cutting Afghanistans part of the heroin trade from by far the biggest supplier down to almost zero.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
October 24, 2014 3:38 pm

‘We lost this one. Its a bit like a not so bloody Singapore, we tried to bluff and it was called. What angers and depresses me is that it was always going to be called.’

Couldn’t agree more, this has been on the cards since GW1. You cannot constantly cut your armed forces and fail to retain your experienced personnel while burying your head in the sand for over a decade and then expect to go and win an away game.

Mark
Mark
October 24, 2014 3:46 pm

The decisions taken in 2006 in relation to Iraq and afghan has all the hall marks of senior political and military figures thinking we’re somehow a mini superpower or mini U.S. military they were in essence writing checks they were unable to cash. There seems to have been an obsession to be leading politically and militarily on every operation. There had been a change of president in the US an administration that wanted out of Iraq and made afghan a priority. There was feeling that labour wanted to curry favour in Washington and get the agenda off a very unpopular war in Iraq by concentrating minds on Afghanistan instead.

Senior military leadership went along as they could see cuts coming and what appeared to be a straight fwd peace enforcement operation in South afghan seemed an ideal way out for all concerned. The Intel was crap and instead we walked into a hornets nest a living hell for those deployed and with no money or resources forthcoming for far too long to correct the situation. No one in very senior political,or military positions of that time come out of this with any respectability they let there soldiers down.

If one lesson should come from this sorry episode it is as a country and military we are not United States so stop acting like we are, were like france, Germany or Japan a wealthy country with sophisticated but limited capabilities that needs to work with other to achieve our aims.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
October 24, 2014 3:52 pm

Observer, I agree with you. Would be most interested to read those reports, referred to @ 2:22.

Being Pashtun and being foreigners (in the S of A-stan) might need more interpretation…

Just saw a report today that 3 Afghan provinces are firmly under Taliban administration. The main virtue of the guy who was to be the head of the gvmnt (for too long) was that he was half Pashtun and some thought he might be qualified to build bridges, to make A-stan a unitary state.

IXION
October 24, 2014 3:53 pm

DN

Actually it has been on the cards for decades.

Had the Argies known what they were doing in the nameless isles we would have lost.

Frankly since the 60’s we have been conning people we had much bigger sticks than we had. Sometimes whilst not walking all that softly…..

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
October 24, 2014 4:12 pm

IXION

I agree it has but I don’t think the tipping point came until after GW1, during that operation we managed to field a substantial quality force and sustain it in the field (by the skin of our teeth) which was in part thanks to the threat from the Warsaw Pact motivating us to keep such forces. After GW1 we had options for change, which followed with two more defence reviews before 9/11 all of which cut manpower.

We managed to provide substantial forces for the Balkans (at one point of the operation there was more UK forces used than on op Herrick) but our lack of depth became apparent. We then went onto the Kosovo campaign that I believe if a land invasion had been required would have shown the weaknesses in the UK armed forces, if this had happened all would not have been lost as we could have rushed some heavy units from Germany to address the situation.

This is where we were at a tipping point and failed or refused to see it, if the Serbs had put up a fight it would have shown our light forces to be the non mobile bluff they were and would have strained our logistics massively. Unfortunately it took an invasion of a country which had a population that was willing to fight hard to illuminate our shortcomings.

I will add that during all the defence reviews that were undertaken not one of them seriously grasped the problem of retention, they were too bothered with paper formations and platforms.

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 24, 2014 9:05 pm

I love a good rant about the past, but I am more worried about the future. Saudi Arabia is pumping epic amounts of oil to push the price down. This seems aimed to punish Russia for backing Assad in Syria. The Russian economy is heading for crisis. This will b*gg*r Putin’s rearmament effort, so good for the West, but it may bankrupt American fracking firms, also bringing down the banks that lent to them. So another financial crisis, when interest rates are at rock bottom & QE at its limits. Probably a London property crash when the City money dries up. Shares plunging both sides of the pond. Who then will be in a position to sort out Afghanistan/Iraq or any other Mid-East sh*th*le?

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 24, 2014 9:57 pm

Just to depress you all before I go to bed. The reason why we cannot spend enough on defence/schools/NHS/motorways is that the UK national debt will hit £ 1.6 trillion in a couple of years. We would need to find 59,000 tons of Gold to pay that off. Last I heard, we had about 400 tons.

monkey
monkey
October 24, 2014 10:05 pm

Hartley
Perhaps if we all just looked down the back of our sofas are something …..

Observer
Observer
October 25, 2014 1:01 am

JH, the Middle East has been a sh*thole for centuries, even when the British or Americans were not around. I’m sure they can create enough hell even without you guys.As long as they don’t export it.

I’m sure if the situation gets bad enough, we can quarantine the whole region. We sure could use less of news that tries to manipulate us with tear-jerkers.

Obsvr
Obsvr
October 25, 2014 4:38 am

A couple of points, Vietnam, the VC were militarily defeated post Tet. However North Vietnamese Army regulars were already becoming evident and their numbers increased greatly. The S Viet army was broadly able to contain them. What they couldn’t do was defeat the full scale invasion from the North in 1975, not least because the US, etc, had not trained or equipped them for this situation.

I don’t think there is any prospect of a Pak invasion of Afg, not least because India would get seriously upset. The question then becomes whether or not enough has been done to create an adequate Afg army. The jury is still out on this one. However, the situation in the North and West seems pretty much OK, it’s the South and East that are problematic. The question then becomes the extent to which the departure of foreign troops calms things down, the desire of the people for peace and how this impacts the Taliban.

On a wider issue it’s useful to remember that UK relations with Afg governments has been extremely good since about 1923. The problem has been the Pushtun folk memory. Of course the Pushtun have been in pain in the arse forever, it was their early 19th C raiding of the Indus valley that caused British India to expand to the West.

Its also useful to remember that the goal of COIN is to create temporal and political space. It is next to impossible militarily defeat insurgents without hugely onerous restrictions on the civil population (which can backfire on you) but you can impose significant costs on them, the main thing is to buy time and promote development and improvement for the locals (both military and civil).

I reckon it will be a decade before meaningful judgement can be passed on the campaign. At present its mostly hot air and cherry picking to try and ‘prove’ some pet point. It’s useful to remember that the number of UK KIA in the peak year was almost exactly the same as NI. Basic tactics and operational art seem to have been sound, as ever the equipment was not initially totally right (name a modern war where it was) and it could probably be argued that the troop density was too low, but local commanders thought they had to spread themselves. I’ve also no doubt it would have been a lot easier if it had been possible to impose fairly tough movement restrictions on the locals (it would then have ben possible to properly apply some effective UK tactics (at which the US is hopeless!).

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
October 25, 2014 4:38 am

JH, you sure something bigger is not on the move/ RE
” to push the price down. This seems aimed to punish Russia for backing Assad in Syria. The Russian economy is heading for crisis. This will b*gg*r Putin’s rearmament effort, so good for the West, but it may bankrupt American fracking firms, also bringing down the banks that lent to them.”
– Syria..Ukraine?
– crisis -> the elite will topple Putin for the lack of French cognac faster than he has time to pull back from rearmament
– convulsions in the ME would perfectly justify a domestic energy production subsidy restricted to, say, 5 years to bail out the fracking industry (and the banks; pls see what kind of money was expemded under TARP… and it reurned a profit!). Which capitalistic country was it that bought GM when that was necessary? Noe watch the news clips for the words ” I will do whatever is necessary… whatever it takes”

As one of our friends here once asked: Do I charge for the geopolitical advice?

Anyway, high stakes for the Saudis. A crown prince as an F-15 jockey bombing the monster that at least to a degree emerged with Saudi support. Not just internal risks; when I was last there, they were showing Russian TV news, with a general explaining how the Russian AF would be perfectly capable of bombing Saudi oil installations by flying through Iranian airspace. Even the laymen (in military matters, that is) were debating if the F-15s were good enough to stop the Suhois!

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
October 25, 2014 4:57 am

Anyone in charge of intelligence (that is much broader than the military only) would have done well to read David Loyn’s Butcher and Bolt (October 2008). The subtitle of this excellent book is “Two Hundred Years of Foreign Engagement in Afghanistan. The book focuses on the 19th century British, 20th century Russian and present US war in Afghanistan. The book “provides the definitive analysis of the lessons these conflicts have for the present day.” The same tactical mistakes are being made. This is most obvious with the British and Russian efforts to control the mountainous passes into Afghanistan; in their attitudes towards the mujahideen and Afghan people; the lack of cultural understanding; the historical tradition of the Afghan loathing of foreigners in their country.
– RE ” The problem has been the Pushtun folk memory. Of course the Pushtun have been in pain in the arse forever, it was their early 19th C raiding of the Indus valley that caused British India to expand to the West.”

The book’s narrative ends at about the same time when the mission was changed and the ramping up of troop numbers began. Look up the chapter on “good Taleban”.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
October 25, 2014 7:38 am

‘It’s useful to remember that the number of UK KIA in the peak year was almost exactly the same as NI’

Although at it’s peak Op Banner manpower was nearly 21000 and from the early eighties lowered and surged as appropriate from about 10000 to 17000.

So proportionately did we receive larger casualties than NI? although casualties are inevitable when faced with an opponent willing to give you a run for your money so the casualties are not the problem per se.

‘I reckon it will be a decade before meaningful judgement can be passed on the campaign’

Politically and in the long term the jury is still out, military planning and resources after current plan was found to need adapting I think is an open and shut case.

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 25, 2014 10:55 am

ACC The Russian Elite got their money out before the sanctions hit. They can send their private jets to Switzerland/Cyprus to stock up on XO. Capital flight is one problem crashing the Rouble at the moment.
As for America printing its way out of a banking crisis. Not so sure they could get away with it again. Not popular in the run up to a Presidential election to give unlimited funds to Wall Street.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
October 25, 2014 11:19 am

It would not be a bad slogan to go into presidential elections with:
” Look, I used America’s real power, unlike the dum-dums preceding me, who were just increasing imperial overreach and thus accelerating our fall from n:o 1 position. See, no body bags, either.”

Assuming Putin falls quicker than the fracking industry…

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 25, 2014 11:32 am

ACC Wandering round the interweb, it seems Putin is counting on China to bail him out. Currency swaps, telecoms & gas pipelines for now. However China is facing slowdown in home & car sales. Will China be able/want to bail out the US & Russia at the same time?

IXION
October 25, 2014 12:29 pm

Obsvr

The stated aim of the campaign was the defeat and removal from power of the Taliban, and establishment of a democratic govt who’s writ ran throughout the country.

MISSION FAIL. By an empirical measurement we massively over reached ourselves and failed.

We may have done SOME good, and as ever our basic soldiering was excellent.

Remind me, where were we fighting the Taliban?

But the principles of the campaign and the basis on which it was launched. Opperation ‘cock eyed optimism’ was a fail.

Look at your own argument about the south and east being ‘Problomatic’. Does your dictionary define problematic as:- Territory in control of terrorists and fundamentalists we went out there to destroy????

As for the defeat of the VC arguement it only works if you believe the VC werent part of the same machine as the NVA.

They were and the US Lost. For pretty much the same reason it lost in Afghanistan.

IXION
October 25, 2014 12:36 pm

Acc

The problem was those ordering the Afghan operation did not just not read that book. They seemingly failed to read ANY sensible treaty on the history of military intervention in Afghanistan.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 25, 2014 1:32 pm

IXION,

In which case, for the failure that you see, do not dare to lay the blame at the door of the uniformed part of the MOD, but do so at the rest of Government. People full of liberal shits without a backbone, or a brain in many cases.

John Hartley
John Hartley
October 25, 2014 1:54 pm

Afghanistan (my simplistic view). Blair liked to strut the World stage, thinking he was equal to a US President. I suspect he & his cabinet thought they could get some glory by sending a small UK force to assist the Americans. ie. the Americans do the heavy lifting, while UK troops hand out sweets to kids, help aid work, womens rights & other PC causes. Nice headlines in the papers. When it started to go wrong, we should have either pulled out, or sent in the heavy armour & enough helicopters to win. Instead there was denial. Too little, too late. Senior officers too timid to really stand up to the clueless politicians. Senior ministers wishing the victory, but not willing to fund the means. Much dithering.

monkey
monkey
October 25, 2014 1:55 pm

Hartley
“it seems Putin is counting on China to bail him out.”
God help him as they lure him in with promises and drag it out for years if not a decade like they did with the 61 bn c m ‘Power of Siberia’ gas pipeline they have just signed a 30 year deal for.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/russia-launches-construction-of-gas-pipeline-to-china-in-400-billion-deal-9704237.html
China have also built a new 13 bn c m gas pipeline from Myanmar to add supply stability to the 31 bn c m capacity one from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan which they are also expanding. All in all gas wise China is looking to reduce its dependence on LPG imports from the ME . Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia which account for about half its yearly consumption whilst it develops indigenous sources but is facing pressure to consume more as it tries to move away from coal.
http://www.eia.gov/countries/analysisbriefs/China/images/shale_oil_basins_map.png

Mike W
October 25, 2014 2:32 pm

Red Trousers

“In which case, for the failure that you see, do not dare to lay the blame at the door of the uniformed part of the MOD, but do so at the rest of Government. People full of liberal shits without a backbone, or a brain in many cases.”

Hear, hear and hear again! You never spoke a truer word, RT. The ventures in both Iraq and Afghanistan were inadequately funded and resourced in terms of both personnel and kit. From what I’ve read, Brown even refused to fund many of the UORs that were put in for the latter campaign or delayed them.

Trouble is, to what do we now confine ourselves in terms of intervention? Are we restricted to the piece of advice give to Peter Ustinov by his superior officer in that funny story about what happened when his unit paid off at Waterloo station at the end of WWII. They had been all through N.Africa, Sicily, Italy and parts of Europe.

The officer wheezed, took a drag on his cigarette through nicotine-stained lips and said, “Do you know what I’ve learned during this bloody, awful, ghastly war, Ustinov?”

“No, sir,. What’s that?

A pause, another drag on the cigarette, and then, “Never go south of Dover!”

Are we because of enfeeblement, followed by emasculation, followed by further enfeeblement, followed by further emasculation, able to do anything of real significance now?

IXION
October 25, 2014 4:08 pm

R T.

I not only dare. I shout it from the rooftops loud and proud.

That the politicos were fuckwits in clownshoes is a given.

But what we are discussing here is a TV program in which snr army officers have come forward and stated they knew by jingo:-

‘we didn’t have the men, we didn’t the equipment, and we didn’t have the money too’.

That they took way to many risks, and eventually when the military tide went out it became obvious we hadn’t got any trunks on.

If I had buried a loved one due to this fuck up and now some 3 star fool appears on Telly and says

“I knew we couldn’t pull it off if there was any real resistance”

If he hadn’t conveniently retired I would want him sacked.

They should be ashamed they did not resign their commissions rather than follow such orders.

The subject of Gulf 1 has been mentioned.

Both Powell and Shwartzkopf (both I understand Vietnam vets) made it clear they got what they wanted… the entire us army or Bush could look for some different Generals.

Our generals were supposed to be pros.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 25, 2014 5:00 pm

IXION,

You approach this from a fundamentally different point of departure than I.

You basically look to blame some senior officers for the military being unsuited to what is a nonmilitary task. What a shock, a liberal pansy having a rant.

I blame the politicians (mostly) for forcing the military to do a nonmilitary task.

IXION
October 25, 2014 5:16 pm

RT

I was expecting the usual abuse.

You are (deliberatly)? Missing the point.

Nobody forced the snr officers involved in this to do anything. They could have, indeed should have, said not with me in command boyo unless you give me x y z.

If Afghan was not a military role then FTF is???!!!!!!

And again if it was ‘unsuited’ then they should have said so, boldy, at the time, in the face of Trust me Tony. Not safely (for them) after they have retired.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
October 25, 2014 5:22 pm

IXION,

I was expecting your usual stupidity.

Just what part of nation-building do you think is a military task?

After the door kicking phase, don’t you think that other organs of State are a bit more useful, and have you not noticed that it takes our own country no less than 24 government departments to function, and not just the MoD?

Now, ask yourself this. Is the MoD completely in charge of the PM, who directs the entire work of government, or is is the other way around?

Mike W
October 25, 2014 5:56 pm

TD

Whom do you mean by “the seniors” at the MoD? Civil Service mandarins or top military brass? Or both?

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
October 25, 2014 6:05 pm

Monkey already covered most of the ground, but of these

“Currency swaps, telecoms & gas pipelines for now” only pipelines are going currency, and even in them the long run is as much of competition for exploration/ transshipment as it is, for now, about diversifying markets for Russian (proper, which of course includes Siberia) gas.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
October 25, 2014 6:22 pm

@TD – Politicians rather more so, I think…having wilfully decided neither to understand defence nor fund it properly despite consistently insisting that “the Defence of the Realm is the first priority of Government” to keep the tabloid readers happy…

The rot starting in 1989 when some half-witted political reptile coined the idea of a “peace dividend”…when anybody with any – I say again ANY knowledge of history could have explained slowly and in words of one syllable that when the plates shift because an Empire falls, decays or walks away the world gets more dangerous not less…always has, always will…

Doesn’t add much to the debate, but I feel better having said it. :-)

GNB

IXION
October 25, 2014 6:40 pm

RT

Of course the PM tells the MOD, who tell the soldiers. But at that rank they have the option of telling the PM to FO. And handing in their pips.

If nation building was not a military task why did generals agree to command troops to do it?

In any event we elected to use military force to depose the defacto and de jure (but frankly evil) govt of a sovereign state. Having done so, many of the deposed took it into their heads to object, with a violence that should have surprised no one who could read. That they did so means we had to stay and shoot back. That sounds like a job for soldiers. Of course I am not an expert…

As a matter of interrest what is a job for soldiers?

What should we have done post 2005?

And as I am setting exam questions… do try and answer without the personal abuse preamble. And show your working out.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
October 25, 2014 7:32 pm

Umm…
How do we translate that
“when the plates shift because an Empire falls, decays or walks away the world gets more dangerous not less…”
Into monosyllables for the campaign trail , to support this message:
“It would not be a bad slogan to go into presidential elections with:
” Look, I used America’s real power, unlike the dum-dums preceding me, who were just increasing imperial overreach and thus accelerating our fall from n:o 1 position.”

If the party heads here can hire campaign chiefs from the US, surely it works both ways?
– well, for the Tube it did not work, but that wasn’t int’l politics (exc. For Abu Hamza son )

monkey
monkey
October 25, 2014 7:35 pm

A link to what the UK Forces thought they were tasked with in Helmand.
http://www.army.mod.uk/operations-deployments/22802.aspx
“The primary role of the military personnel in each PRT(Provincial Reconstruction Teams) is to provide an enabling security environment in which the authority of the Afghan Government can be extended, and development and reconstruction work carried out.
Military personnel do this by patrolling and liaising with the local population, they are also in charge of directing assistance to the civilian elements, in particular at the levels of transport, medical assistance and engineering.
With a secure environment in place, civilian personnel can then work closely with the Afghan government and with the military to provide a seamless package of assistance, leading on political, economic, humanitarian and social aspects.”
They stayed and shot back when the Taliban tried to disrupt these efforts.
Having observed how the Taliban.Pakistani and Al-Qaeda forces overthrew the forces of Massoud between 1996 and September 9th 2001 (familiar date) when he was assassinated by Taliban suicide bombers by using almost the same tactics of seemingly random attacks and bombings of various sorts and whose origins like Massoud were from their days as Mujahedeen fighting the Soviets in the 79-89 war were they used the same tactics of disruption we could of guessed what would happen next as they realised we were making a difference and recovered from their initial defeat.
http://www.theglobaldispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/coalition-death-in-afghanistan-graph-chart-300×231.jpg

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
October 25, 2014 8:24 pm

@ACC…”If the toughest kid in the playground gets expelled, it doesn’t mean free ice-cream all round…it means much more fighting until everybody else knows where they stand” Would that do it? :-)

GNB

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
October 25, 2014 9:32 pm

@GNB,

Let me see… The Centcom did not exist until oil wars were deemed likely/ necessary.

The count of US Navies has gone down by one (nothing to do with the number of ships). With fracking and self sufficiency CentCom might go the same way?

Concentrating on the Pacific, with S China Sea and the Indian Ocean not fiġuering or only a-s”bays” of it, I can see
1. Obama, or next, taking more risks with Russia (a nuisance, but only a regional power): corral them in
2. Make Saudi Arabia play for its survival… Survival of the USA not any more at stake. Stop all duplicicity, posturing and stirring up trouble in other parts of the Muslim world
3. As for your question: would that do it? Probably in the ME
– not so much in Europe, or somebody’s near-abroad
– what I am concerned about is that the calculation may have been like that all along, stirring up trouble to see how muçh can be chipped off the old Russian empire… When the 80 mph car hits the wall, call the EU ambulance… However,the ME trouble growing so big must have been a surprise. However, noew both Iran and Saudi Arabia need the US, to stop the balance tipping one way or the other.
– the much quoted British incompetence (not necessarily militarily) in and around Basra gave rise to quite an imbalanced status quo in the Gulf.such an expansion in the spheres of influence may well have been the spark for building up ISIL to push the Shia influence back geographically.
– ever wondered how come HAMAS was so well supplied (geography, as one would have supposed with a pro-West gvmnt in Iraq standing in- between)?

DGOS
DGOS
October 25, 2014 9:49 pm

Sorry off piste again..

Was it the same clowns in intelligence and FO (and now Treasury) who did not forsee the 2M Euro cock up!.

Surely someone should have examined implications of change in statisics .

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
October 26, 2014 9:05 am

Britain’s War In Afghanistan Comes To An End

The lowering of the Union Flag in Camp Bastion marks the end of Britain’s 13-year campaign – the longest conflict in modern times.

http://news.sky.com/story/1359797/britains-war-in-afghanistan-comes-to-an-end

That’s it then, all over. Get your excuses in early!

IXION
October 26, 2014 9:31 am

DN

Oh the excuses starred long ago……

IXION
October 26, 2014 9:58 am

DN

Actually the following are already deployed

1) Pansy liberal politicians.*
2) wholly undefined mission
3) totals inadequate equipment
4) totals inadequate numbers
5) totals inadequate finance.
6) Totally inadequate intelligence
7) Actually whilst all this was going on I was on a 10 year sabbatical in a cave in Tibet. Of course if they had asked me I would have told them………….
8) There was a war in Afghanistan???!!! .When did that happen??!! No one told me.
9) Oh well its years since it started we should look to the future, and not waste time apportioning blame after all its difficult to say after so much time who had a say in what.
10) Have you seen our new FRES vehicle. Its wonderful and it will be deployed by 2020 **

All detailed in my new book ‘How I nearly stood up to Tony Blair’ By General Lee uselesscarrierminded. (Rtd).

Avialable for chat shows, think tanks, weddings funerals Ba mitzvahs, and children’s parties…

* The good old reliable November Criminals rant
** The Military equivalent of “Hey look a Squirrel”!!!?????

IXION
October 26, 2014 10:02 am

Gereally on a more serious note.

Whither the Britsh Army now.

NO CASH
Not Enough men.

As the program postulates are we finaly going to accept “We are bloody Belgium’ at least Army wise????

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
October 26, 2014 10:31 am

IXION

You must have been watching the Andrew Marr show ;-)

‘As the program postulates are we finaly going to accept “We are bloody Belgium’ at least Army wise????’

I would not go that far, but we should now accept that we are not a military power in the way we recognise the term and maybe now and again not be a lead country in some ops? as to comparing spending with other nations it is just smoke and mirrors if we are in a league with nations in Europe who spend little on defence and a nation such as Saudi Arabia who gets involved in FA spends more.

Dan
Dan
October 26, 2014 10:36 am

The British Army needs to accept that some of the blame is with the British Army not the terrible politicians who made them try and do something with inadequate resources.

Go in Aghanistan in 2001 everyone supports and by 2003 we had a few hundred men in theatre and we were happy that on occasion we would send a few thousand on a 6 month deployment BUT be replaced by another nation.

Go into Helmand in 2005-6 was another decision and everyone blames everyone else for what was agreed with who and what then happened.

Blair was NOT in favour at that time he wanted to send more troops to support Bush in Iraq at that time but after the bad public reaction to even a marginal contribution to Falujah in 2005 he was persuaded that was not viable. The British political establishment then started to plan on the basis of a major US report that in 2006 basically recommended declare victory and get out. What we did not expect was Bush rejected the report, after the Nov 2006 mid terms he sacked Rumsfeld and ordered the Surge and then came looking for more troops in Iraq in 2007-8 when we had been planning to get out.

Afghanistan 2005 was partly a military priority, but mainly a political one in terms of the other NATO militarises wanted to justify their existence both to their own people and their own Treasuries and to the Pentagon. John Reid was DefSec at the time the decisions of going in were made, he agreed to go in as long as he had cast iron guarantee that Canada and Netherlands were going as well, (Canada had never been in Iraq, and Netherlands had recently left Iraq). All 3 went in with 2-3,000 men for a province and all 3 had allegedly limited objectives.

The difference is within weeks of arriving the gung ho attitude of the British Army with no political orders went roaring up the valley to occupy the block houses and try to impose control the entire province when most of the force was still unpacking initial supplies. The politicians were than faced with 5 years of being told they had not provided enough resources by the same generals who had been campaigning to go in and had been telling the politicians 3000 men would be enough.

The final force was 10,500 UK and 12,500 USMC, several thousand Danes and Balts, and by the end significant numbers of ANA, so 25-30,000 depending on how you don’t the ANA. If you had said that to any politician in 2005 it would never have been allowed.

The reason the dead are dead is Generals trying to justify their existence.
“we lost in Basra but we can win this one” one unnamed General
“We need to go in as NI is over, BAOR is over, Balkans is over without this the Treasury will cut the Army savagely” Sherrad Cowper Coles alleges Dannett view.

Martin
Editor
October 26, 2014 11:38 am

@ Ixion – didn’t Belgium have 30 Divisions in its Army in 1940. The UK never deployed 30 divisions in the European theatre of WW2 at any point. I don’t think we even had 30 in theatre by 1945. So maybe being Belgium in Army terms is not that bad at least in quantity.

While our military power has declined its worth noting that so has everyone else’s. Even the undisputed world heavy weight of the USA has a pretty small army by German or Russian historical standards and a fairly small navy by British or American historical standards.

we could have a much larger army but then it would just give our politicians more reason to run round the world trying to big themselves up on the international stage. If we are not going to run round being the worlds police man then all that large army would be doing is marching round Buckingham palace polishing its boots.

I don’t doubt that the security situation is deteriorating but I don’t see a British Army of any size being able to meaningfully do anything about it.

special Forces and airstrikes are the only tool that we can deploy against ISIL that has a chance of working.

while Russia poses some threat we cant seriously be arguing about launching an Army operation against a country with 6000 nuclear weapons. Its a job for Sanctions not tanks.

China is also a worry but it’s far enough away that it’s not an immediate concern and it’s too far away for us to deploy a meaningful army. a job for the Navy and airforce at most.

I just don’t see any real utility in having a much larger Army in the current environment. Better to have a smaller better equipped more deployable one.

Martin
Editor
October 26, 2014 11:44 am

@ Dan – Agreed, As you say even 30,000 boots on the ground could not win Helmand through sheer force. I also agree that its rarely the politicians that are forcing the top brass to enter such situations certainly not against military advice.

The fact is Generals like to go to war, so do soldiers. Unfortunately history rarely presents us with a nice clean moral war like 1982 or 1991 so sometimes they have to invent one.

Dan
Dan
October 26, 2014 11:52 am
Reply to  Martin

Martin

The 1945 mindset is one of our real problems, we like to pretend as if the senior military leaders in Whitehall are the IMPERIAL General Staff acting as if we had assets and responsibilities on a global scale.

In 1945 we still expected to command and control all the Coomonwealth and Imperial armed Forces, so we would have access to the million plus men of the Indian and Pakistani Army’s as well as a couple of extra Carrier and some more nuclear forces, we would be interested in and reporting on the Australians deployed in various Pacific failed states, the Ugandans in Somalia, the Nigerians operating in Mali and Sierra Leone, the Indians operating in the Congo etc etc.

What we should be trying to bring to the party is logistic support, money (paying Uganda to fight Somali pirates is much cheaper than a Western intervention), high tech air or Naval force if it would truly help.

10,000 men in a single province of Afghanistan for a decade did what exactly?

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
October 26, 2014 12:28 pm

‘special Forces and airstrikes are the only tool that we can deploy against ISIL that has a chance of working.’

Which worked well in Libya! what’s the latest news from there again? Airstrikes and SF are good at aiding an allied force or to create a safe haven (if you are willing to defend them, Srebrenica?) I do not think we have the appetite or ability to put large numbers of troops on the ground which will grant you direct influence except in extremes and as such I see no reason to have a larger Army or Navy, I would like to see an uplift for the RAF if we still want to reach out and touch people at short notice.

Mark
Mark
October 26, 2014 12:45 pm

http://news.sky.com/story/1359785/afghan-fighting-was-fruitless-and-expensive

estimate of a light brigade of about 3,000 men was only just adequate to secure a British presence in one town, Lashkagar.

“Anything beyond that risked sparking a conflict that we had no way to control,” the former SAS commander said.

Smarting from the failure to secure Basra in southern Iraq, senior British officers appeared to both SAS bosses as anxious to recover the forces reputation but blind to the potential costs and the resources kicking the Helmand hornet’s nest would need.

large chunks of the province have already slipped away from limited government control. Musa Qala and Now Zad have gone, Afghan troops are hanging on to a small base in Sangin.

And the drug khans are enjoying an unprecedented boom. Opium revenues are up by a third this year to $3bn.

Nick
Nick
October 26, 2014 1:07 pm

@David Niven

How short is short notice ? Lets take Syria. How long does it take (today) to move 8 Tornado, plus tanker support, logistics support, [AWACS in different circumstances] plus all the people needed to Cyprus ?

As opposed to moving one of our 2 carriers task groups from its normal station [which would be where – Middle East ?] to the eastern med (plus RFA T45, T23 support etc).

Pretty similar amount of time I would have thought. I would also guess the F35B number would be at least 15 assuming a reasonable mix of helicopters. The “problem” with the QE task force would be the lack of carrier based tanker and possibly proper AWACS (Crowsnest v Hawkeye).

Ignoring that sort of comparison which should apply from 2020 onwards, what sort of uplift do you want to see for the RAF ?

Give or take we should have over 100 Typhoon active, of which at least 60 should be available less the QR force and training….How many are potentially deployable ?

If you want more RAF reach, then you need 1) basing rights with the freedom to do whatever you pleased; 2) airlift capability to move and support the logistics chain; and 3) more tankers to support the deployed operation tempo on top of the day to day demand.