Nice one John Keegan

Read this in the Torygraph, thought it pretty much summed things up at the mo.  Sympathies go out to all of the fine Infanteers who have spent months on standby, only not to go in the end...  It is  a little long but is worth a read.

Afghanistan stretches the red and green lines too thin
By John Keegan
(Filed: 19/03/2002)

THE announcement by Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, in the Commons yesterday that 45 Commando and supporting elements are to join an American brigade to take part in operations against remaining Taliban and al-Qa'eda fighters demonstrates that the Afghan days of the war on terrorism are not over.

The decision to send the troops makes it clear that Operation Anaconda, the joint American-Afghan operation designed to mop up Islamic forces in south-east Afghanistan, has not wholly succeeded and that an extra push is required.

It is also clear that the Pentagon is keen to have British troops involved and has accepted at face value the Prime Minister's assurances of Britain's wholehearted support for the United States in the anti-terrorist war.

The dispatch of 45 Commando, together with parts of 32 Commando Brigade's artillery regiment and combat engineers element, leaves Britain's national rapid-reaction force thinly stretched. Its two main components are the Air Assault Brigade, largely drawn from the Parachute Regiment, and the Commando Brigade.

Part of the Parachute Regiment has recently been deployed in Afghanistan, and now needs a rest, while the other parts are committed to operations nearer home. Sending 45 Commando abroad leaves only two sister commandos in Britain, while the Air Assault Brigade now has only two infantry battalions immediately available for duty. Their associated artillery, engineers and logistic units are also over-stretched.

Mr Hoon has recently indicated his intention of committing more of the Army's non-specialist strength to the emergency role. That is entirely to be welcomed. The recent tendency of the Ministry of Defence to turn automatically to the airborne and commando forces to fulfil emergency overseas operations has risked the creation of a "two-tier" army, in which all high-profile tasks are passed to the wearers of maroon and commando berets - "the red and green machine", as it is sometimes called - and the steady regiments of county infantry and footguards are consigned to mundane duties in Northern Ireland and other peacekeeping sectors.
Part 2
The impression emerges, certainly strongly felt by the county regiments, that they are not judged competent enough to fulfil unexpected or spearhead roles. It is unfortunate that, on this occasion as too often before in recent years, a commando has been selected to lead an operation in coalition with the Americans in the war on terror. In the Gulf war, with which this deployment has been specifically compared, all the regiments were drawn from the Army's main body and they performed their role with great skill and success.

The Defence Secretary, in recent statements, has disclosed that he recognises the danger posed to the morale of the whole Army by allowing high-profile regiments to monopolise operations that make headlines, depriving others of the opportunity to show their mettle.

In these particular circumstances, when an immediate high-strength response is required to an unusual threat, he may be excused for turning once again to one of Britain's two specialist brigades. He should thereafter, however, be looking to make good his assurances that the whole Army will in future be used to supply units for emergency operations. The footguards and the infantry of the line have been the Army's traditional backbone and there is no reason to believe that they do not remain so.

In any case, there must be a limit to the alternate use of airborne and commando troops - only two formations - to fulfil all the military commitments that the Government undertakes. After this deployment, which robs the Commando Brigade of most of its deployable strength and with the Air Assault Brigade resting from recent operations, Britain will be hard pressed to find sufficient strength if another emergency occurs.

Mr Hoon is emerging, as Labour ministers often do, as a better defence secretary than expected. Having begun in a tiresomely politically correct mode, apparently committed to a feminist agenda about the suitability of women for the most punishing combat roles, he has distanced himself from absurdity, made friends with the military and is fighting the Services' corner.

Like many Labour politicians, who begin with the assumption that the military rank structure embodies the divisions in society they like least, he now recognises that the military leadership is on better terms with those loosely described as "ordinary" people than almost any other directing sector, that officers strive to minimise the differences between the few and the many, esteeming the many as those who make the Services work and that military units, ships, regiments and squadrons are total institutions that seek to care for the welfare of all their members.

It is not enough, however, for Mr Hoon to have established his credentials with the Services for which he is responsible. They are in urgent need of increased funding. Alone among other public service sectors, the Armed Forces have actually achieved budgetary savings, both relative and absolute, in the lifetime of the Labour Government.

The Prime Minister freely concedes the value he places on the contribution made by our sailors, soldiers and airmen to the foreign policy espoused by his administration. The Chancellor needs to make good that value in concrete terms. The defence budget is tapering away. The money made available barely suffices to cover fixed costs. Extra commitments drain what remains in the coffers and leaves scarcely anything over to cover the promises of necessary expenditure that hang in the balance, notably for new aircraft carriers.

In a few years' time, unless the promises are kept, Britain will no longer be able to undertake any military mission alongside its great ally, the United States. The writing is on the wall.
Dog -

Whatever happened to Land's (or was it D Inf's) plan to "environmentally role" Lt Role Bns - some as mountain, some as desert (some as arctic ? & jungle ?) as a way of giving them something interesting to do rather than stag-on in Edinburgh ?  Surely one of the ones featured in Soldier doing their mountain training should be being pushed for a slot in the Hindu Kush ? (And this is a genuine question - not an attempt to provoke a rise or start some sort of childish Booties/Paras/3rd Loamshires could or could not do the job argument).


I think someone realised that doing one or two exercises in Norway doesn´t turn you into Mountain warfare troops.  To generate the necessary experience/expertise/instructors takes a long period of time, just ask the RM.  Arms plotting every few years is what kills this idea.
This is not meant to be banter but actually a serious response.  If the Army wants to generate mountain/ jungle/ armoured(!) expertise then it should be prepared to dedicate those Bns to the job full time.
Certainly a good point that it takes a fair amount of time - 18 months or so  - to really get 'into role' - and often by the time a battalion is expert, they re-role. However, this is more to do with lack of quality training time and half-cocked re-roling training than an inherent weakness in the rotation policy. Case in point, when we reroled to WR after NI, we had a cadre of AI Augmentees and a stack of pamphlets - and were told to figure Armoured Warfare out for ourselves. Today, the Armd Inf Trg Advisory Team permanently runs Battalion Training to a good standard for entire Battalions converting to WR. The same should happen to the Environmental Bns - send a JW Bn to Brunei complete for 3-4 months to become useful, then return to the UK to tick over and fulfil it's RAAT commitments etc. The alternative - permanent specialist roling I fear would take us down the road of a corps of Infantry - a hackneyed and tired argument which would raise more problems than it would solve.
Dare I say it, it takes more than just a Lt Role Bn to specialise in a harsh enviroment for it to become a creditable force to be considered as an alternative to a Commando Gp deploying war fighting to somewhere like Afganistan.

You are aware I'm sure that of the 1700 deploying 700 are from 45 Cdo the remainder are drawn from 29 Regt RA, 59 Cdo Sqn RE and the Cdo Log Regt RM.  All these ARMY CS and CSS specalists are Cold Weather Warfare Trained year on year.

It is a sad indictment of the state of Army specalisation when the only regular units (outside 3 Cdo Bde) that now deploy and conduct cold weather warfare training each winter is the AMF(L) CSS Bn and 249 Sig Sqn, the only remaining elements of the AMF(L) once the Lt Role Bn was removed (3 Para) and Force Arty broken up.

Its no good D Inf sending a Bn every 2 years to ski in the Alps or train in the jungle unless the rest of the package goes with you.
This is entirely the point.  Of course it take stime to re-role, having just done said from LI to AI I absolutely agree.  We would not yet profess to be experts now, but give us a year or so, with the excellent training packages afforded the heavy end (where the FRC appears to be working) and we'll be there.

The DInf plan can work, but Bns must be able to get up to speed, then stay in role for a good length of time to be a credible option.
In my case, I spent less than 2 years as a "jungle" battalion during which time we undertook a NI 6 monther with the necessary training.  one NATIVE TRAIL and a GRAND PRIX was insufficient.  AI Bns stay in role for a min of 6 years, why not Light Roles.

As for the paras in SL, tell me they were a jungle Bn!  No disrespect to the paras but the only J qualified Bn would be the Gurkha Brunei gang.  As far as I am aware there remains no Bn level J trg.
Problem is, B_M, Fruit & Veg Bns get a lot more blokes away on JWI Courses, and Jungle/hot weather deploymentyts, unconstrained as they are from the RAAT table...furthermore, they're also getting the majority of emergency operational experience thanks to Uncle Tone and the MODs refusal to use anyone else. Not the fault of our esteemed Airborne brothers - but just the way it is. If good county infantry battalions were left alone to train...blah blah blah...
Why do we [i.e. you],  need to re-role?  Every time a Bn/Regt re-roles it becomes collectively incompetent for a protracted period; this does not appear to have been a problem for Paras who - for over half a century have specialised in being "light" infantry - regardless of their means of deployment.  Ditto the cabbageheads.

Incidentally,  both species have been - pretty much - static, based at a small handful of UK locations over most of the post-WW2 period, without, apparently,  losing their 'operational edge', but gaining the advantages of a life outside the Kaserne, a career for their wives/partners,  stable schooling and medical cover for their offspring and a decent chance of home ownership+occupation, regardless of marital status, and without damage to unit cohesion.

Why, therefore - when the empire consists of a little bit of Cyprus and a Gibraltar dockyard that El Presidente Tone is busy trying to give back to Franco's grandsons,  do we insist on maintaining a unit rotation scheme designed to stop Victorian regiments going collectively ga-ga as a result of perpetual confinement to the the cantonments of Dheolali?  Dammit, I can drive to Osnabruck quicker than I can reach Edinburgh from practically anywhere in UK!

[p.s. I don't think the Hereford Gun Club do Arms Plotting either...]
Some of your points make sense Stonker, but you are also wrong on some accounts.
For example, who gets to be the poor inf bns (or Gunners, stand-by 22 Regt), who get to permanently man the garrison posting in the Emerald Toilet.
As is clear, the peace dividend has not affected our role over there, due to the re-roling of the PSNI, who are losing their counter-terrorist edge as they become community policemen.  Who do oyu think will stand the gap on that front?  It's us.

As for the Paras / Marines, yes, take your point about your locations etc, but aren't you now going in and out of role as para trained etc? (Realise it will not take you too long to re-role).  I would also argue that due to your selection processes that you get a more motivated level of recruits as a general rule, who specifically want to be associated with your image / ethos.  I would argue that soldiers join my regiment for example to serve alongside those from where they come from.

Having just had it explained I am also glad to say that it appears the whole jungle / mountain thing is probably going to be restructured.  Thankfully someone realised that it was generally bollocks in a regional brigade set-up.  (And speaking form experience as one of those regiments who has had an arrsed-up summer on stand-by only not to go, but to watch others go instead, I know all about two-tierism).

The thing is, until we go to the Royal Corps of Inf (God forbid) then this will continue to be a problem.  Have a look on one of the other threads which goes into the arguments for and against.  Arms plotting will be necessary as we have some really arrse, but until things change dramatically, necessary postings.  You fancy two years in Londonderry?  No, didn't think so.

And as for the Hereford Gun Club, who are they going to arms plot with.  No mock-up embassies next to my assault course I'm afraid!
Sorry, Dog old chap - you done me wrong - distinctly not airborne or marine myself - line infantry, and in the last two years or so I've heard all sorts of nonsense used to justify arms plotting - including that it is essential to Regimental Identity [c.f. Paras/Marines].

I don't doubt that there are significant issues to be examined vis--vis the grim 2-year tours in slums like Episkopi [there was a time when NI resident bn postings were universally regarded as jolly good fun, and in time they are likely to be so again].

But at the end of the day, we continue to maintain an extremely expensive rotation system which drives operational effectiveness down and not up.  How many units rotate out of an Armoured Bde annually?  How long do their successors take to become competent?  Do they ever really become expert?

While we're at it, we might ask ourselves how it was that the Germans managed to produce consistently superior battalions in the last century, without the benefit of the RAAT system.  Does a system that constantly 'guts' units of junior commanders for the benefit of others actually add to or detract from overall cohesion, morale and readiness?

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