AFG, admitting the obvious.

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by hansvonhealing, Jun 9, 2010.

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  1. Also posted in the 'Afghan fighting' thread.

    The Times
    June 9, 2010

    Officers’ mess: military chiefs blamed for blundering into Helmand with ‘eyes shut and fingers crossed’

    By Deborah Haynes, Anthony Loyd, Sam Kiley, Tom Coghlan

    Military chiefs and civil servants ignored warnings that Britain was ill prepared to send troops to Helmand and signed off a deeply flawed plan, a succession of senior figures have told The Times.

    Even those in charge of the deployment admit that the decision to go to southern Afghanistan in 2006, which has cost the lives of nearly 300 servicemen and women, was a gamble and that mistakes were made because of poor intelligence. They insist, however, that the operation was justified to revitalise the Nato mission, combat the Taleban and reassert Britain’s military prowess after setbacks in Iraq.

    But a two-month investigation by The Times, which includes interviews with 32 senior military, political and Civil Service figures, reveals that there was deep disquiet over the handling of the mission from the start.

    Top ranks within the Ministry of Defence and other Whitehall departments are accused of:

    * grossly underestimating the threat from the Taleban;

    * ignoring warnings that planned troop numbers were inadequate;

    * offering only the military advice they thought ministers wanted to hear;

    * signing off on a confused command- and-control structure.

    The allegations come as a critical defence review gets under way and David Cameron decides how to plot the way ahead in Afghanistan’s most dangerous province.

    One senior serving officer who asked not to be named said of the planning stage: “There was institutional ignorance and denial. We who had bothered to put a bit of work in and had done the estimate realised that we needed much more than we were being given.”

    Another source, in government at the time, said that the military was pushing hard for the mission despite warnings that preparations were inadequate. “The advice to ministers grossly underestimated the risks,” he said. “The few people who were doubters were either too cowardly or too cautious to say what they really thought.”

    Major-General Andrew Mackay, a former commander of British troops in the province who has left the Army, accused the military of being too acquiescent in rolling over to political bidding. “The genesis of this approach is born of complacency, the thought that ‘we can deal with it as and when it happens’. It resulted, I believe, in the upper echelons of government going into Helmand with their eyes shut and their fingers crossed. For those who fought and died or suffered injuries in that period, this proved a very costly means of conducting counterinsurgency.”

    In January 2006, John Reid, then the Defence Secretary announced that Britain was sending 3,300 troops to Helmand on a stabilisation mission that would last three years and cost £1 billion. Within weeks the troops were fighting for their lives, reinforcements were rushed in and costs skyrocketed.

    Four years later, 20,000 US Marines are based in Helmand alongside 8,000 British Forces. The British death toll rose to 293 yesterday after another soldier was shot dead.

    The Special Air Service was one of the first to raise the alarm.

    Its report after a foray into Helmand in the summer of 2005 said that replacing the small, well-funded US mission in Lashkar Gah with a larger, under-funded British one was likely to create trouble. “They noted that there wasn’t much of an insurgency in Helmand, but that if you wanted one then send the British there,” said an officer who has seen the report.

    Mark Etherington, a development expert who helped write the cross-government plan for Helmand, said: “It was clear from the outset in my view that there had been a radical underestimation of the challenge.” Reporting back to the Cabinet Office, his team recommended further intelligence gathering and reconnaissance. “But there was a real sense of the clock ticking, that ‘the Minister is jolly keen to get into Helmand — don’t bring me bad news, bring me good news.’.”

    Countering the criticism, Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Fry, one of the main architects of the move south, said: “We felt that time was slipping through our fingers in Afghanistan. We had a campaign that was running out of steam, we had an insurgency which was gathering pace and we had a central government that was going from bad to worse. The strategic objective was the resuscitation of the Afghan campaign and by any standard that has been achieved.”
  2. Anyone else get the impression that the ground work is being laid for a withdrawal if / when the US go?
  3. The Helmand Deployment of 2006 is what happens when you have a bunch of yes men in charge of the armed forces.

    Still, I am sure their individual careers went from strength to strength.
  4. In the short term, things are not set to change...

    Daily Telegraph
    08 Jun 2010

    British troops to stay in Helmand
    British troops are to stay in Helmand, the Defence Secretary has said, indicating that he had all but ruled out a move to Kandahar after so many lives had been lost.

    By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent

    Dr Liam Fox said he had discussed the issue with General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander of the Nato mission in Afghanistan, during a visit to the country two weeks ago.

    The move has been proposed by senior Nato commanders as part of a scheme to replace the Canadian troops in the key southern city.

    Sources had suggested that the fight in Kandahar, the spiritual homeland of the Taliban, would be as tough as Helmand, where 292 British troops have lost their lives, but Dr Fox made it clear it would not be acceptable.

    Speaking during a press conference in London with his US opposite number, Robert Gates, Dr Fox said the 9,500 British troops, most of them in Helmand, had “carried a high cost to life and limb” as well as developing expertise in the terrain, politics and governance.

    Dr Fox said the move would also be expensive and added: “I think it would be quite a leap for us to leave Helmand to be redeployed in Kandahar.”

    Dr Fox said it was important to give flexibility to commanders on the ground but added: “I think it is highly unlikely that that will happen. And it is certainly not something that we will be proposing.”

    In the end, it appears Gen McChrystal did not ask for the move but even if he had, Dr Fox said: "It is highly unlikely that we would want to accede to that particular change."

    Mr Gates said British troops in Sangin, in the north of Helmand, were “in the middle of the thick of the fight” adding: “This is one of the toughest areas in all of Afghanistan.”

    He said he had not discussed a move to Kandahar with Dr Fox but the pair had talked about whether British troops needed more support on top of the 20,000 US Marines recently deployed there.

    Major General Richard Mills, of the US Marine Corps, assumed control of Nato forces in Helmand on June 1, while British commander, Maj Gen Nick Carter, took command in Kandahar.

    Dr Fox said the build up of troops in Kandahar was “one of a number of operations that are important, happening at different paces in different parts of the country” but it was important not to see “any one thing as key” to progress.

    The US Defence Secretary paid tribute to British troops who had “more than done their bit” and called Britain “one of our oldest and closest allies.”

    Dr Fox said the “special relationship” was not a “doey-eyed, Disney love-in” but one in which they were able to tackle a range of international challenges, including Iran.

    “Having got to the end of the Cold War, we want to do more than leave the next generation a new nuclear arms race in the world’s most unstable region,” he added.
  5. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    This quote...

    Its report after a foray into Helmand in the summer of 2005 said that replacing the small, well-funded US mission in Lashkar Gah with a larger, under-funded British one was likely to create trouble. “They noted that there wasn’t much of an insurgency in Helmand, but that if you wanted one then send the British there,” said an officer who has seen the report.

    ...seems bang on target.

    A colleague of mine took a taxi from Kabul to Helmand to check the lie of the land just prior to the UK's deployment. Reported that things were perfectly peaceful. Then the battlegroup arrived and the rest is history.

    Seems that after the Basra humilitation, the errors behind the drastically flawed Helmand deployment are now coming to light.

    Senior heads in both MOD and the Armed Forces should, if not roll, at least be firmly on the block.

    It could be argued that they are responsible for the most disastrous entanglements the British Army has suffered since WWII:
    Defeat in Basra at the hands of a ragtag bunch of thugs; and
    The stirring of an insurgency, and a strategy-less inability to control it, necessitating the deployment of the USMC to sort the mess out.

    Certainly, Korea was bloodier than Iraq and Afghan combined, but it was also shorter (three years), there was a withdrawal with honour, and an armistice that has largely held for 60 years.

    And perhaps (perhaps...) Suez was a greater national humiliation. But if so, it was a diplomatic, not a military one.
  6. I do find it curioUs that all three branches of the military attach great emphasis to "leadership" , in particular the army with it's much vaunted training institution, Sandhurst. And yet when it is needed most, at the very top, it is populated by careerist yes men, too afraid to tell politicians the truth, preferring to send their own men poorly equipped and supported into mortal danger.

    I would like to think they are ashamed of what they have become.

    I am also increasingly sympathetic to John Reid and his infamous quote at the beginning of the deployment. He was probably just repeating what a general had told him earlier...
  7. Unfortunately, when it comes down to it we are all trained to be "yes" men. What do we do in the Armed Forces? We do what we are told! The real problem is that right at the very top giving orders to the Generals is a group of individuals with NO MILITARY TRAINING OR EXPERIENCE AT ALL - the Prime Minister and his Minsisters. In the case of the lot in power at the time, they were also the same lot who genuinely couldnt give a toss about properly funding or supporting the Armed Forces.
  8. The problem is that the whole military promotion system is based on grovelling to the person who writes your next report, not matter how much of a fool that person is. After thirty odd years of such crawling it is a hard habit to break.
  9. Auld-Yin

    Auld-Yin LE Reviewer Book Reviewer Reviews Editor

    Why is this coming down to be an 'Officers' Mess' ? The people who sent the troops into Afghanistan, and said it would be done without expending one bullet in anger, were the politicians. If senior officers can be accused of anything it is of obeying orders.

    I realise that the role of those at the top of the forces tree is to advise their political masters, but once having done so, they are then bound by military law to follow the politicians' orders.

    If there is to be a witchhunt then make sure that the real culprits are hounded - the politicians, lead by Tony Blair.
  10. Back to the second report
    So perhaps their job there is done?

    Because there is another job for them to do?
  11. Wrong. They can also be accused of (allegedly) giving extremely poor advice to Ministers - with predictable results.
  12. Remember what happened to the Officers who provoked the displeasure of the government.

    I have great admiration for those with the courage to resign in protest.

  13. Nothing like deliberately misinforming on what Reid said, is there AY?
  14. When things went wrong years ago, I seem to remember very senior officers resigning in protest [men of honour] I really do think that the crop of top men in all three services over the period of the last government [with a couple of notable exceptions] have indeed failed to forceably tell their political masters what needed telling. Funny how compliant Stirrup was extended in the top post.
  15. I have had that feeling since before this lot took power. No reason to stay once Unca Sam starts to 'retrograde' - regardless of supposed threats to UK national security.

    Whitecity opines (and I agree) that the USA has entered "Exit" mode already. May not be quick, but will be spun as success . . . . . interesting to watch what happens around Kandahar, with McChrystal's "Government In A Box"

    I'm not sure it will do "what it says on the box": but at the same time I am pretty sure that that is of little interest to POTUS, as long as he can "show" that he has made the effort . . . .