The Generals must share the blame

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by civvygit, Oct 19, 2009.

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  1. cpunk

    cpunk LE Moderator

    He's sort of right and sort of wrong. There were substantial cuts when the government began cashing in the peace dividend at the end of the Cold War but even so, the British Army has effectively been 'running hot' since the first Gulf War, long before Labour's Defence review enunciated the expeditionary warfare plan. So I think his characterisation of the British Army as being in search of activity to justify its existence is well wide of the mark.

    Having said that, I agree with him that our military leaders have been working hard to shift the blame for their inadequacies onto the politicians. They seem unable to rise above inter-regimental and inter-service rivalries to the extent required and their ability to enunciate the needs of defence as a whole has been lacking. Politicians aren't defence specialists and few pretend to be: they need proper, well-thought out advice from service chiefs, and I do wonder whether they get very much of it.
     
  2. If my memory serves me rightly the author was a fellow tea boy (SO3) in HQ 1 (UK) Armd Div in the early 1990's - just as 4 Div became 1 Div.
     
  3. The glaring point which he ignores of course is the fact that having produced a much-lauded Defence review in 1998 the Government basically left it on a shelf somewhere because the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (any guess's?) flatly refused to pay for it. That IMHO, is the real scandal, and trying to blame the senior officers for it is ridiculous. It is pretty obvious to me that successive CGS's have become increasingly "militant" in their attempts to get this useless Govt. to take the defence of our country seriously. Witness Lord Guthries oft-quoted exchange with Brown:

    Brown: "You think I know nothing about defence"

    Guthrie: "No Chancellor, I know you know nothing about defence!

    I think Guthrie basically "Love-bombed" Blair and tried to get him onside by doing anything he wanted and showing willing. Blair did, by all accounts have great respect and admiration for the Forces, but not enough to make him overrule his Chancellor, which tells you all you need to know about Blair. The next CGS, Mike Jackson, was considerably more abrasive and confrontational with the politicos as the Army became increasingly stretched and the bodies started to arrive at BZN, and finally Dannat, having learnt by now that nothing but shame and public opprobrium would get these swine to do the right thing, effectively fell on his sword.
     
  4. This is, of course, perfect nonsense. One of the more galling sounds of the past two years has been that of Americans smugly observing that the British have been slow to learn the lessons of modern counter-insurgency. The criticism has been especially hard to bear because it is true. Many of the British army’s problems have been of its own making. As one officer participant has eloquently put it, the decision in 2006 ‘to scatter small groups of soldiers across the north of Helmand, in isolation, in an intelligence vacuum and with complete disregard for the most basic tenets of counter-insurgency was, quite simply, a gross military blunder’. And even if it is true that this decision was the result of ‘political pressure’ from London, it was the responsibility of the generals to resist such pressure and to insist that the troops be used sensibly.

    I absolutely agree with this statement and I have been banging the drum about the incompetence of the initial Helmand deployment in 2006 for some time. If I am correct, General Jackson had a hand in the planning and signing off of the deployment. This at the same time as the Basra Det was going badly wrong, placed huge pressure on UKAF.

    British generals screwed up, they sent a deployment of insufficient strength, under-supported and under-equipped into the unknown. There was no real plan. Since then, Afg has gone badly off the rails and has been described recently as an insurrection.

    I have always believed that the generals became frustrated with Iraq and saw Afg as a chance to fight a good/popular war against a poorly organised rag tag enemy.

    Oh dear, I guess we can blame Intelligence for that miscalculation. I would not blame Dannatt though, he did his best. The disgraceful aspect of all this is the failure of military commanders in general, to fight tooth and nail for the right funding and equipment. This is not the Great War, we should not be sending young men and women to their deaths because of shoddy equipment.

    There has been an obvious failure of leadership, strategic thinking and critical analysis, which might still end in defeat and the worthless loss of lives.

    Not good.
     
  5. Paul Robinson bases his whole argument on the fact that the policy of mounting expeditionary operations is flawed and un-affordable. It is hard to see how a country like the UK with historical dependancies and alleigances could do otherwise. Robinson seems to argue that the UK could have abandoned any sort of meaningful standing army once the threat from the USSR collapsed. If that were the case, most or all our allies could have done likewise - something they manifestly haven't done. Interesting that Paul Robinson decides to deride Britain for having an expeditionary capability and getting involved in conflicts like Afghanistan rather than singling out his adopted country of Canada who have done likewise. I suspect if he made these accusations against the Canadian military he would become very unpopular with his hosts and would undermine his own position in the Canadian Reserve Forces

    Had we not developed or maintained an expeditionary capability - and I would suggest it was the latter - we would not have been able to support our Balkan peacekeeping, intervene in Sierra Leone, contribute to the coalition in Iraq or fulfill a NATO role in Afghanistan. It would also preclude us from ever again defending sovereign territory like the Falklands or other dependancies.

    Paul Robinson argues that our Generals failed to argue with the political leaders. He uses a fatuous example of British Commanders argueing long into the early hours to resist Churchill. As the leader of a coalition government it is a fact that Churchill often had bizarre ideas and tried to think a bit too far out of the box at times. Some of his ideas were inspirational some were reigned back in and no doubt he and his cabinet worked endlessly through the night when required. Can anyone really see Brown or even Blair being locked in debate with the Generals for hours on end - I doubt they even gave CDS more than an hour or two at a time. Indeed the Government had such scant regard for Defence that the Secretary of State was only part time. If Gen Jackson or others had banged the table and refused to leave the building until matters were resolved then securtiy would have been called and senior officers would have been forcibly removed (that I would like to have seen).

    I have no doubt that during WW2 our military commanders managed to influence government ministers far more than in recent years - that has more to do with the predicamant of facing complete annialation then rather than a lack of ability of the commanders of today.

    Our Generals today have not chosen to go to war, they have been faced with a succession of political leaders who have been absolutely determined to make the ultimate political gesture on the world stage but without having the political will to pay for it. The British Army throughout history has taken on poltically motivated missions with financial constraints that are at best described as "challenging". It is not in the British Military psyche to say " No sir, we can't do that" We make do with limited resources and always have - the real question is how much longer can we do so?

    Paul Robinson does seem to have fallen into a stereo-typical trait so common to both journalists and Military Intelligence Officers - a profound belief that he (they) know and understand far better than senior commanders.
     
  6. Excellent post, well said. :wink:
     
  7. "Our Generals today have not chosen to go to war, they have been faced with a succession of political leaders who have been absolutely determined to make the ultimate political gesture on the world stage but without having the political will to pay for it. The British Army throughout history has taken on poltically motivated missions with financial constraints that are at best described as "challenging". It is not in the British Military psyche to say " No sir, we can't do that" We make do with limited resources and always have - the real question is how much longer can we do so?"

    I agree that the Iraq Invasion was a fait accompli for our Generals, though they still sought legal clarification before going to war. The 2006 Helmand Deployment was very different. Our Generals could easily have argued that it couldn't safely be done. They "made do" exactly as you say. Unfortunately they "made do" with complete disregard for recent russian experience in Afg and the knowledge that we suffered many painful lessons there in 19C.

    We deployed to Afg in the hopeful expectation that European NATO would reinforce the operation if needed at some unspecified point in the future. We also deployed with 8 support helicopters and a thin line of infantry troops.

    The European NATO troops never came (surprise surprise), and the lack of helicopters is an issue now familiar to the rest of the world. We failed to plan ahead for the switch in tactics to an IED strategy by the Taliban, resulting in scores of troops dying in poorly equipped vehicles.

    "Making Do" might have been OK in the past, but having a procurement strategy based on UOR is no way to fight a war. Blame politicians all you like, but, for example, not insisting on combat defence capability for tactical airlifters at the procurement stage indicates how far detached military "Top Brass" became from the reality of the prosecution of war, never mind expeditionary war.

    There are recent signs that lessons are being learnt, thank God.