- Lt Col Langley Sharp MBE
- ARRSE Rating
- 4 Mushroom Heads
First, I think it worth stating that this book is really well written. It is Sharp's first book but you wouldn't know it: his style is fluent and the book, despite its potential for dullness, given the subject matter, is really easy to read.
Having a read a number of tweets and other reviews which vary, seemingly according to the reviewer's view of the British Army, I came at this book slightly hesitantly. I've read, and discussed, both sides of the argument when it comes to considering the British Army's successes and failures since WW2. I think I would agree that the Army arrived in Iraq with an over-confidence in its counter-insurgency capability, based on its experiences in Northern Ireland. I would also counter that just because the Army didn't 'win' in Northern Ireland, doesn't mean it hadn't learnt valuable lessons; I would also suggest that many of the reasons for (possible/perceived) strategic failure were political and out of the Army's hands. That is not to absolve the Army hierarchy for all aspects of its time in Iraq (and Afghanistan), but it is to observe that the case is not open and shut one way or the other.
I make this fairly laboured point because much of the criticism of the book appears to be based on reviewers criticising Sharp for suggesting that the British Army can be used as a leadership model, given its perceived (strategic) leadership failures over the past two decades.
I would posit that Army leadership should be looked at through the filter of the Tactical, Operational, and Strategic levels of operations. I think it can safely be said that the Army's (lower) Tactical hierarchy emerged from Iraq and Afghanistan with its head held high: I include everyone from the LCpl Section 2IC up to the COs of regiments and battalions based on the back streets of Basra and the tangled Green Zone of the Helmand river valley. At Brigade and Divisional level (and I'll leave others to debate the actual vs theoretical divide between higher Tactical and Operational) we also led well, but we must acknowledge that we were politically forced to take some questionable military decisions (cf the withdrawal from Basra to the COB, for instance). At the Strategic level, the Army is probably at its most vulnerable: accused of acting like politicians, rather than standing up to politicians.
Again I have laboured the point, but it underpins the fact that I believe it is perfectly reasonable to take the tactical level of leadership of the British Army as an exemplar of good practice, even if that cohort of leaders were serving on campaigns that ultimately met with limited success.
All in all, I think this is a well-written book that is easily readable by both those in the Army and outside. The lessons are valuable whatever your level of leadership: this should be mandated reading for those going through the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and those attending Junior/Senior Brecon (and their all arms equivalents).