Mike Martin - An Intimate War

#21
On one version of the review, there was another paragraph about "what happens next", but I cut it. I do think we can have a sustained knowledge of many many areas without a huge outlay, however, in many ways it would really challenge defence (cf Learning Org). That is what I think is makes the "baseline" so demanding.
 
#22
Aam Curtis-Bitter Lake...now on BBC iplayer, most interesting background, your man Martin appears to boot. I was left with quite a bit of thinking after watching this.
 
#23
Firstly, I would like to thank Arrse and the reviewers for hosting this debate. Despite my experiences, I am still an optimist and it would be nice to draw up what we think are the most important lessons from Herrick. The problem is, there are just so many of them, it is hard to know where to start.

Sarastro - you make some good points. Two things immediately popped into my head. Firstly, when I was trying to get the CULAD capability off the ground in Helmand, I had to deal a lot with the MOD in London about requirements etc. I told them that I needed Pushtu linguists who spoke a decent level of Pushtu. The response? They sent me Dari linguists and told me that I didn't know what I was talking about. Whether I was an expert or not at that point, they had designated me the expert and told me to get the capability off the ground. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

The next thing that popped into my head was the incentives structure in the army. Despite us saying that language, culture, hugging afghans etc was critical to our mission success, we still rewarded going in red on compounds and helicopter insertions and all other sorts of boyhood fantasies. A great case in point is the roll-out of the ALP programme, which in my view verged on the criminal. The company commanders were under huge pressure from the hierarchy to get ALPs into their areas, whether it was the right solution or not. And because they set the company commanders in competition with each other, fighting over the ALP tashkiel, rather than looking at the district as a whole, you ended up with us arming mutually antagonistic groups.

But this point about structure is so wide. For example, I travelled a lot in my job, visiting different units and advising etc. Officers fell into three groups broadly:

1) Those that didn't want to know about human terrain / culture / afghans. Full stop. They obeyed the incentives they were given (bravery medals, number of patrols done, tour reports etc). They still spoke about HT as being critical, but it was just words and their behaviour demonstrated what they really thought.

2) Those that did want to know (and recognised it as important) but were not equipped through not having the information or the skills. They were very rewarding to teach because once you gave them some often very basic tools they took to it like a duck to water.

3) Those that knew it was important and invested time in finding out about it, even though it was going against the incentive structure that they were placed in. These people had made a conscious decision to buck the trend to invest in what they thought was the right thing.

Group one were about 80%, group two were about 15% and group three about 5%.

So how could we have changed the incentive structures? Well, I think that that is a fruitful area for discussion, but to my mind, if we only had one thing to change about the way we approached Herrick that would be it - change the career structure, commond structure, reporting structure of the forces to incentivise people to do what we know is more effective in that type of war. I don't think we would have 'won' had we done that (largely because Herrick was unwinable), but we could have at least not messed it up so much.

The final point to make, rather depressingly, is that I am sure we are making these mistakes currently in Lybia, Syria, Iraq, Mali, Nigeria etc. General Carter - this is something you have to look at!!!!

Mike
 

Goatman

ADC
Book Reviewer
#24
Appreciate the time taken to engage with a forum that was once described to me (by the then Editor of Soldier magazine) as:

' About as important as the writing on a lavatory wall' :-D

Arrse reviewers bring a wealth of practical knowledge and understanding to bear. On the strength of what I have read here I will be buying the book.

( Via the Arrse Amazon link which, ahem, also helps the site)
 
#25
Equally, my impression is that no matter how enlightened people may have become they would still have been told to get back on-message - the influencers being from outside the services and who tend to spend a lot of time in and around Westminster
Nope. The services (albeit less those in Helmand and more those in MB/Andover) were the main influencers. Their battle was for the survival of the Army, not GIRoA. Unfortunately, they (broadly) lost both. It is always comforting to blame politicians but, in this instance, it is not right. At the very least, the PRT/TFH construct (and the wider Comprehensive approach) means all are implicated.
 

Cold_Collation

LE
Book Reviewer
#26
Nope. The services (albeit less those in Helmand and more those in MB/Andover) were the main influencers. Their battle was for the survival of the Army, not GIRoA. Unfortunately, they (broadly) lost both. It is always comforting to blame politicians but, in this instance, it is not right. At the very least, the PRT/TFH construct (and the wider Comprehensive approach) means all are implicated.
In which case, and I'm not contradicting you, why was the 'narrative' (if I might call it that) stuck to so rigidly? If those on the ground could see what was happening, why weren't they given their play?

A (more?) successful COIN outcome would have scored far more points than an ignominious withdrawal - especially after Basra.
 
#27
In which case, and I'm not contradicting you, why was the 'narrative' (if I might call it that) stuck to so rigidly? If those on the ground could see what was happening, why weren't they given their play?

A (more?) successful COIN outcome would have scored far more points than an ignominious withdrawal - especially after Basra.
Fair point - possibly because the real narratives:

1. military - we want a war that can prove how good we are after screwing up in Iraq so we can keep our toys and,
2. military/political - we want to wield (US) influence without investing real (UK) power

were so unpalatable that no one was going to admit them.

We did actually start to see the bones of a more successful COIN outcome from 2010 onwards (at least in the central area), but we had squandered the time we had been given by then (and, to be frank, both Mike's analysis and the Russian experience would suggest that 'success' in southern Afghanistan bears limited relation to any view of success elsewhere, so more time might not have been worth the candle anyway).
 
M

MotorBoat

Guest
#28
Bit of a hospital pass being the unsympathetic reviewer, to be honest - good luck with that one. You are going to need to have a fairly impressive knowledge of Helmand (Afghan Helmand, not ISAF Helmand) to be able to counter the underlying thesis - those other westerners I know with this knowledge I can't see fundamentally disagreeing with the main tenets of the book, and I am not sure if there are many Helmandis on ARRSE.

I suppose you could argue that more focus on kinetic effect and less on human terrain mapping was just what we were missing, but you might run out of steam with that. A more interesting issue is whether we should have made some kind of accommodation with the likes of SMA in the early days, or whether our distate for shoddy compromise and unprincipled dealings with murderous and corrupt warlords was partly our undoing.

Anyway, that can wait until the debate. Unless we get onto more important stuff, like sideburn lengths and trouser twisters.
I wonder what the ginger Irish fellow who was deeply embedded in Afghan would think?
 
#29
It is fairly depressing although probably correct to argue that our internal narratives, be they at Andover or Whitehall, had the dominant shaping effect on our prosecution of the war rather than an accurate portrayal of the situation.

It is probably further depressing to argue that many of the military seniors and politicians knew that the situation was fubared and still allowed it to continue (in fact I interviewed people who did state just that).

So what allows this compete blind denial of the truth? I would argue that there are several factors:

- the secrey behind which the forces (particularly the more secret bits) are allowed to operate behind. This allows them to make decisions that are not subject to appropriate scrutiny.
- the rediculous blind reverence with which our forces are held by the general public. Although this stops politicians properly holding them to account, in a funny way it suits politicians down to the ground because they are able to use the popular armed forces to carry out unpopular policies. We need a sensible approach to our forces, particularly in wars of choice. This is not keeping the Nazis out of Kent for heaven's sake.

Any others?

Mike
 
#30
Appreciate the time taken to engage with a forum that was once described to me (by the then Editor of Soldier magazine) as:

' About as important as the writing on a lavatory wall' :-D

Arrse reviewers bring a wealth of practical knowledge and understanding to bear. On the strength of what I have read here I will be buying the book.

( Via the Arrse Amazon link which, ahem, also helps the site)
Shows how little he knows about graffiti - I distinctly remember reading something on a lavatory wall about me when in Belfast many years ago. It was an embarrassing and dishearteningly accurate assessment of some of my leadership qualities.

Made me buck my ideas up no end.
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#31
@Auld-Yin The two reviews seem not to have survived the transition to the new site. Could you possibly put them back up, or perhaps just post them direct into this thread if reinstating them is too tricky?
 

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