Utility of the British colonial experience for Operations in Afghanistan

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by falcone, Aug 15, 2010.

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  1. Hello,
    I am a PhD Researcher trying to find out about the impact of the colonial experience on the operations in Afghanistan.

    I would like to address a question to the active members of the British military in this forum who were or are deployed to Helmand:

    From your personal experience in Afghanistan, do you think the British experience with "small wars" did make a change in the making of strategy and the planning and conduct of operations - compared to militaries from other nations, such as Germany?

    There are a number of aspects which could be related to this: For example, to what extent did you to apply the COIN principles established after Malaya? Has the knowledge you had from past COIN campaigns helped you in understanding the priorities of COIN strategy? To what extent did practices from Northern Ireland influence the British campaign? Or did the "lessons" from the 19th century Anglo-Afghan Wars influence in any ways your perception of the country and the assessment of the conflict?

    I am looking forward to your opinions and ideas - thank you very much for your help!
    Please do not hesitate to send me a personal message, if preferred.

    Best wishes,
  2. Mr Happy

    Mr Happy LE Moderator

    I think your first question needs to be:

    To what extent are you aware that current COIN doctrine is based on Colonial experiences?

    Because I suspect that the answer to that is "none whatsoever". It probably is a a root somewhere, but its been so heavily influenced by (particularly) Northern Ireland that its beyond recognition. I doubt anybody is left in the army who instructs on courses (except as guest lecturers) that would start a lesson with "When I was in Malay..".

    Possible obvious exception is Them but I suspect that is more Jungle ops than COIN.
  3. I agree with Happy that anything pre-NI has had little impact on current COIN doctrine.

    Although they will claim their own thought processes, the US military were heavily influenced by the British in formulating their doctrine post 2003. The difference being they have the resources to impliment it, we don't.

    As for the 19th C. Anglo-Afghan experience, 130 years ago General Roberts was two weeks in to his epic march from Kabul to Kandahar. His 10,000 British and Indian troops covered 213 miles in 21 days in searing heat to destroy a numerically superior Afghan force in prepared positions. One of the truly great feats of war. It's relevance today I would suggest is zilch - except for demonstrating the dogged stoicism needed to prevail, something the British soldier had then, as now, in abundance.
  4. I suspect that the author is approaching this from the position that NI was a Colonial affair.
  5. Budget is the key driver in planning modern operations, not historical best practice....
  6. Why not. It was certainly one of our "small wars". It is how much influence that it has had that is the question in hand.
  7. Biped

    Biped LE Book Reviewer

    Do our patrolling methods owe quite a bit to it?
  8. I would agree with other posts that you are beginning with an erroneous premise.
    Afghanistan was never a colony and the use of old colonial COIN tactics has little to teach in the war being fought today.

    However, I would agree that lessons can & should be learnt from history.
    But I would redirect you to the methods and manner in which the British fought & pacified what is now called the FATA of the NWFP in the times of British India.

    I would particularly commend to you General Skeen's book Passing it On which has been reprinted & should be in every platoon commanders knapsack.
    Subtitled Short Talks on Tribal Fighting on the North West Frontier of India it is a very good tactical primer on gashting & patrolling Pushtun lands.

    Two more recent publications are of particular strategic interest:
    Waziristan - Tha Faqir of Ipi and the Indian Army
    [The North West Frontier revolt of 1936-37]

    by Alan Warren published by Oxford 2000
    this book is horrifyingly prescient.


    Crisis on the Frontier
    The Third Afghan War & the Campaign in Waziristan 1919-20

    by Brian Robson

    The best primer on Afghanistan is IMO
    Afghanistan by Martin Ewins

    For a paradigm of how this whole farrago will play out, I would suggest
    Sir Patrick Macrory's: Signal Catastrophe - The Retreat from Kabul 1842
    with Karzai playing the roll of the present-day Shah Shujah.

    Finally, Winston Churchill's Malakand Field Force 1897 has some very apposite
    observations that are as true today as when they were written.

    You may also find this list of online dissertations useful.
    Online PhD Dissertations and Master's Theses

    I would particularly draw your attention to Andrew M. Roe's
    British governance of the North-West Frontier (1919 to 1947): a blueprint for contemporary Afghanistan? 2005
    which can be downloaded here.
    Combined Arms Research Library Digital Library : Item Viewer

    PM me if you require any further pointers and welcome to ARRSE.
    I hope you will share your conclusions with us when you have completed your thesis.
  9. First, I suggest you identify what UK strategy is regarding Helmand. Please do not conflate public statements by politicians with their real policy intent - and thus strategy to effect that policy. You may wish to read through this considered piece: http://www.fpri.org/orbis/5302/BetzCormack.IraqAfghanistanBritishStrategy.pdf

    Second, if you are to compare with Germany, for example, then the core difference between "strategy and the planning and conduct of operations" has all to do with the difference in current policy aspiration and the narrow-mindededness of certain political leaders (Merkel is not on a mission from god in the same way Blair was!!) - nothing to do with hand-me-down memories of colonial.

    Third, British colonial 'successes' were very often after quite brutal efforts by local forces lead by colonial officers. It seems to me that the Petreaus' legacy to which the UK is essentially beholden, is moving in completely the opposite direction.

    And finally, I suggest any lingering post-colonial baggage of 'how to do COIN' has proven a hinderance to the British Army in the 21st Century and left other nations aghast at how 'we' have preached superior knowledge which has then not been reflected by actions and results.

    Current UK military strategy, planning and conduct of operations is dictated by CURRENT political imperatives (policy goal, resources made available, fear of casualties etc etc) and CURRENT equipment holdings (movement dictated by inappropriate transport and anti-IED equipment etc etc).
  10. Critical. I'd suggest that we are now, for example, behind the USA in terms of COIN operations simply because of the unwillingness of our govt to mesh with the military and deliver the coherent drive at all levels - Strategically to tactically that a COIN operation needs to succeed.
  11. Having been a Colonial Officer in Africa, Police rather than Army, It appears to me that the British Army has huge experience in fighting most kinds of war, Jungle, Desert, Urban etc, this undoubtedly helps them in Afghanistan! However in my opinion, the biggest handicap it faces in Afghanistan today in dealing effectively with the Taliban, apart from budgetry constraints, is the modern electronic media coverage linked with the large "human rights" legal industry, where throwing a rubber boot at a terrorist prisoner gets 2 excellent Marines prosecuted! Any supposed infringement or excess can be beamed around the world in seconds and seized upon by any group opposed to our presence!
    As in NI it allows the terrorists to act almost with impunity if "innocent non combatants" are in the area shielding the attackers!
    Unacceptably high "collateral damage" figures has already necessitated changes in the rules of engagement!
    The Army in the 19th & up to the mid 20th Century did not have to keep looking over its shoulder before dealing effectively with any insurgent!
  12. Where have you gone Eric?

    I trust that you haven't disappeared in disappointment that the responses tended to refute your research assumption rather than support them.

    How Iraq and Helmand strategy has been formed, and operational missions conducted in relation to policy goals, is an extremely important subject and one I wish the academic world would approach with more enthusiasm and vigor. I myself am preparing a paper concerning the failure of the UK to create a coherent strategy and a reliance on public grandstanding and finger-crossing.

    I would strongly suggest you go back to the beginning with a clean sheet of paper. Then read more thoroughly read the thousands of threads on ARRSE on this subject. Time consuming I know, but you will then have you the foundation of a genuine thesis to air. I fear you have fallen into the common trap of deciding what you want to prove and then hope to find the evidence to support it, rather than looking at the raw evidence and analysing what it means.

    Good luck.
  13. rampant

    rampant LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    Ahh the undergraduate approach to essay writing......

    FORMER_FYRDMAN LE Book Reviewer

    Whitecity - "I fear you have fallen into the common trap of deciding what you want to prove and then hope to find the evidence to support it, rather than looking at the raw evidence and analysing what it means."

    And New Labour's approach to Foreign Policy as well.
  15. I would say its the current Phd imperetive, you dont have time for coherent research anymore - you used to have 7 years, then it got cut to 5 now its 3. Of which you spend the best part of a year writing up. So you get basically 6-8 months to do primary research and are massively over relient on finding evidence that supports your reading list conclusions from year 1.

    Which is a shame.

    I would take whitecity's advice but without more information as to your school of thought and school of instruction I don't think we can be of much direct help (i.e. are you in IR analysis or proper strategic studies?)