The Wikileaks material just the latest in a depressingly long list of recent military humiliations - humiliations that are an unpleasant and unusual for a nation that used to prize its martial assets and heritage. US officials have been saying: - UK Army under resourced in Helmand - Thank god we are deploying our marines there to sort it out - UK Army not up to the job Perhaps more damningly, Afghan officials and civilians have been saying: - UK troops are less aggressive than US troops in combat - UK troops in Sangin simply sat in bases rather than connecting to populace - They would rather have US than UK troops deployed And as has been noted here before: Contrary to some posters opinions that Helmand was always the worst and most dangerous province in Afghan, it was relatively peaceful before UK troops arrived in 2006. And none of the above is new. They come on top of: - The RM and RN humiliation at the hands of the Iranians - Allegations by UK special forces that UK infantry in Southern Iraq were risk-averse and unmotivated - Criticism from all sides (including internally) that the UK military is unable to do COIN operations, despite an enviable heritage of it - Army being forced to retreat from Basra by a rag-tag militia, requiring to the Iraqi Army to recapture and assert control over the city (reasonably successfully, it now appears) - An apparent lack of brainpower in the brigade-level-and-up leadership in the Army on what the goals were in Helmand, and how to achieve them with the resources available. Yet the reaction of other posters on this forum seems to be: - How dare those Americans criticize us! (A reaction which overlooks the fact that these docs were confidential, and never meant to seen in public - ie this is what the Americans really THINK, but have not SAID) - We should never have been working alongside the Americans in the first place. (Alas, the Armed Forces do as they are ordered by the elected government of the day) - Lets leave Afghan ASAP (OK, but lets call it what it is: Not a pullout but another defeat/retreat to add to Iraq.) Of course there are the issues of: - Our kit was not good enough (Perhaps, but UK troops have suffered for this in many perhaps most recent wars, yet still came out with reputations intact; Korea springs to mind) - We did not have enough men. (Clearly, but where does this leave the concept that the UK Army punches above its weight? Moreover, why is the army only able to sustain one tenth of its strength on active service at a time?) So: Have the UK Armed Forces ("The Best in the World") in the late 1990s and millennium lost the combative edge which was so widely respected internationally from the 1950s-1990s? - Did - bar the Falklands operation - the forces grow too used to peacekeeping and operations in the 1990s? - Did the MOD overly prioritize deployment of paras and marines on kinetic operations in the 1980s and 1990s, leaving line battalions to wither on low-intensity and peacekeeping operations? - Is the current UK too casualty-sensitive, leading to risk aversion among officers and troops? - A retired general of my acquaintance tells me that the Army now does not trust its leadership beyond the battalion command level. Is this true? If so, what is the solution? - Is the current British soldier or officer up to the standards of the current US soldier or marine in terms of gear, fitness, motivation, training/education? - Same question re our other commonwealth and European allies? (I have heard US marines praising Estonians in Helmand, but declining to pass judgment on Brits. Likewise, US SF have said to me they think the Aussies are the best SF units, not ours.) - Speaking to two group of Americans soldiers and marines in November, they seem to believe in the mission in Afghan. Does the British soldier? - Man for man, or unit for unit, is the British Army the best in the world? And was it ever? Perhaps the most important questions are: - If we do pull out, draw down or leave Afghan without any significant achievement on the ground (the latter is a real possibility), can the UK afford to be seen by our international partners as fair weather friends? Alternatively, is a military reputation no longer as important as it used to be in global affairs? We retreated from Basra, and the Spanish retreated from Iraq have these defeats sullied or otherwise damaged our national reputations? And if the answer to the latter question is no should we be spending as much as we do on the Armed Forces? Is it time for 21st century UK to radically de-prioritize the forces?