Defence chiefs must be called to account

Discussion in 'Staff College and Staff Officers' started by msr, Aug 16, 2011.

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  1. msr

    msr LE

    Losing Small Wars, British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (Yale University Press) , former intelligence officer Frank Ledwidge catalogues the failings and mistakes surrounding those two hopelessly unplanned and misconceived operations.

    Defence chiefs must be called to account | News |

    Ledwidge says he has "no hesitation in calling the high command of the armed forces to account for...nothing less than dereliction of duty" He adds: "Yet no senior officer has been held to account; none has been dismissed; none has resigned; none has been removed from his position".

    From the review of the book:

    Partly on the strength of their apparent success in 'small wars' such as Malaya and Northern Ireland, the British armed forces have long been perceived as world class, if not world-beating. Yet under British control Basra degenerated into a lawless city riven with militia violence and fear, while tactical mistakes and strategic incompetence in Helmand province resulted in numerous casualties and a burgeoning opium trade. In both cases the British were eventually and humiliatingly baled out by the US military. In this thoughtful and compellingly readable book, former military intelligence officer Frank Ledwidge, a veteran of both campaigns, examines the British involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking how and why it went so wrong. With the aid of copious research, interviews with senior officers and his own experiences, he looks in detail at how British strategy is developed and how senior officers are trained. He discusses the culture of the British military and argues that at the root of these flawed operations has been a reliance on obsolete structures, approaches and tactics, a culture of not asking difficult questions and above all an inability to adapt to new challenges. This is an eye-opening analysis of the causes of military failure, and its enormous costs.
  2. Without wishing to be seen to unduly defend our own; it would seem from the tone of the article and my limited knowledge of the subject (Basra in particular) that the problem is principally political rather than military. I'm not sure how the political restrictions placed on the UK forces in Basra prior to the end of TELIC are the fault of the military head shed. Likewise, the view that at the military level the UK has got Helmand wrong is, I think, questionable; particularly when we see footage of the USMC bulldozing mosques and firing Python equivalents along streets in areas hitherto in UK AOs. I won't be the only one to think that his suggestion that UK forces were bailed out in Helmand because of UK military incompetence is somewhat disingenuous; in fact I'd suggest the requirement came from lack of UK military resource (particularly troop density), hardly the military's fault.
  3. Considering Jock Stirrup was telling everyone who would listen that the British forces in Helmand had everything they needed when your average Cub Scout could have seen that our forces were as woefully underequipped as ever, there's at least some senior officers who are just as much to blame as the politicians. He'll hardly have been the only one who thought of career and political advancement over where his real loyalties should have been - the men and women who made up the forces he was privileged to command.

    Senior officers from all three services have let their men down over and over again for a long time - political posturing over the other services that have helped no-one bar the Treasury and diamond plated equipment projects that are clearly physically impossible (I'd like an armoured car with the same armour and firepower as a Challenger 2 but which weighs the same as a Land Rover please) while allowing the soldiers who serve under them to turn up to war after war after war with second rate equipment and not even enough of that while crowing about 'punching above our weight' and 'doing more with less' as if being pitied by other nations and being nicknamed 'Borrowers' is something to be proud of.
    • Like Like x 4
  4. how about you do the fighting and let them do the talking
  5. i agree that this was the main cause of the problems we had there but surely the CoC should've had the balls to turn to their political master and publically state that we could not achieve the mission with the resources we had.
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  6. Is that a poor attempt at baiting/ trolling or are you just incredibly thick?
  7. If you've read PJHQ's lessons learned for TELIC, we quite freely admit it's the Military's fault, just as much as the Politicians. Of course, this doesn't fit into the narrative about our "brave boys" in a "world class" Army, so lets just quietly ignore those facts shall we?

    Anyway, MoD Civil Servants, what an utter waste of space - they lost us the war in Basra.....
  8. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    Bit early to write off the Helmand mission but Basra in the latter stages seems to have been a retreat into inner-city bases with no real effort being made to suppress incoming fire for fear of civ cas. That strategy (if you can call it that) is unsustainable, so it is hardly surprising that we retreated to Basra Air Base and let the Iraqis charge in to restore order/civilization. And given that this was happening - ie giving up on the mission - when Bush staked everything on his surge, things look doubly damning.

    Helmand is a different kettle of fish, and certainly force density was an issue in the Americans coming in to take over half the province.

    That having been said, it took the USMC (with, I have been told, essentially the same force package in/around the town) approximately six months to pacify Sangin - something we had been unable to do for five years.

    It would be nice to think that we had broken the back of resistance and the Americans simply mopped up, but they took very heavy cas at the outset. The lack of news and cas now coming out of the town suggest that the much more aggressive tactics used by the USMC - which faced heavy criticism on this forum (as per the above) - may have done the trick.

    My personal feeling (from an armchair 8000 miles away) is that the British Army was very good at war, low-intensity and otherwise, throughout the 1950s (Korea, Suez and Malaya) 1960s (Borneo, Aden, Oman) and 1970s (NI and Oman), Of those, Korea was high intenstiy and protracted (three years); Suez was short but sharp; the rest were low-intensity but protracted.

    Come the 1980s and 90s, - bar the very short, sharp businesses of Falklands, Gulf I and Sierra Leone - the UK military was involved in protracted but very, very low intensity work in NI, and peacekeeping operations in the Balkans.

    These were the proving grounds where the UK's millennial senior officers got their knees dirty, and I sense an inability to rise to the challenges of not one, but two protracted COIN campaigns that - unlike NI - featured continuous high-intensity combat. IOW, the Iraq occupation and Helmand mission were totally outside their frame of reference.
  9. RP578

    RP578 LE Book Reviewer

    I think he's making a tongue in cheek reference to the PM's earlier comment. See today's Guardian:
    Defence chiefs must be called to account | News |

  10. Having read the article and been to both places, I find little fault in the Guardian analysis. In Iraq successive senior officers failed to understand that we were in an insurgency, not a crime spree and spent far too much time trying to second guess what London and Washington wanted to be told, rather than seek clear direction and trying to achieve a military outcome - we never even had a campaign plan and in the end were commuting to the war! I am sure Sun Tzu and Clausewitz both said something about not embarking on war without knowing what we want to achieve

    Examples: Every single convoy to Basra Palace on T9/ 10 resulted in British deaths EXCEPT when we had (borrowed US) AH up. Why did the UK not have it's own? Because senior commanders in the COB did not fight the white. Afghanistan had them, Iraq did not, we have lost this war, get over it. Arguably, the ROE in place for early HERRICKS meant that there was enough air power that could bomb/ strafe on demand. The nature of the urban terrain in Basra made AH the ideal platform. But we had none as senior military officers gave'politically aware military advice' rather than the truth! En worked out that AH dominated the routes and so pretty much left people alone when they were up - or at least faded away when AH unmasked.

    We left a BG up on the border looking at the desert because London thought Washington wanted us to. As a result no arms shipments were interdicted, troops up North were unsupportable and we had to withdraw. Everyone involved knew that WMIK and CVR(T) ALONE could not hope to secure the massive border but cracked on and did their best.

    The COB was getting hammered with IDF (as a result of IDF hitting the SAAH, BP, OSB and us closing all of them as the enemy concentrated his efforts) - enemy analysis - most likely COA - keep mortaring the Brits and they will go home. They were right.

    HMD - not enough troops, got caught out. Had to fight hard to regain initiative and in doing so killed lots of the locals. Took long time to regain consent and now, when force density, tactics and eqpt are all much better we have announced we have lost interest and are leaving - en reaction - keep a bit of pressure on and wait for us to bail out.

    Look now at Libya - what are the RAF dropping bombs on, how does that relate to UK long term policy and what do we intend to get out of it? The public are utterly disinterested in what is happening - not a good start point for a war of choice. What next? Hmm, catastrphic success, deploy troops to help the new government. Make a few inroads, make the odd mistake. Back the wrong horse, offend a town and end up with blokes firing on people. Turn consent into ambivalence into hostilty and the game starts again - all without a political endstate or any method of linking ends way and means.

    My experience is that we had a generation of Cold War battalion comds who had commanded Bns in NI and could not make the leap required from a good Div CAST to being our man in Basra/ Lash. I think the next crop (who were all bde comds/ BG comds) on TELIC and HERRICK will do better - I just hope they have the courage to ask for what is needed rather than group think their way into another quaqmire. Gen Newton and others show glimpses of 'getting it' - any General who bangs on about golden threads, capbadge loyalty, the need for for a full spectrum capability should be dragged out to the front of LF and cashiered. We need to win the wars we are in, not equip ourselves for the ones we would prefer to fight.

    Recent British record - W0, D0, L1 and one entering extra time....
    • Like Like x 3
  11. msr

    msr LE


    FORMER_FYRDMAN LE Book Reviewer

    I'd be very interested to see how many POR recommendations were seriously considered or actually implemented. The attitude I encountered was 'we've developed a story about what happened that we can live with, don't rock the boat or disturb us with unpalatable facts.' Intellectual curiosity was not encouraged - the answer's a Battlegroup, now what's the question?
  13. This is great - I've been saying we lost in Basrah for ages and felt like I was the only person with that opinion.

    What we need to do now is admit we lost in order to publicly force a change in the way the armed forces operate!
  14. Grumblegrunt

    Grumblegrunt LE Book Reviewer

    I think the whole world knew we were doing a bad job with good men except the mod. they went in with the NI work book but failed to put enough boots on the ground with enough force to give the required slapping when necessary and interdict iranian cheekiness.