The British Approach to Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

We have made it clear that we are glad to have the British as our allies in the war against the transnational insurgency in which we find ourselves. Furthermore, the Brits are able to field enlisted men who are as brave as any warrior on the planet. But fawning – and false – news coverage of British operations doesn’t help to gain an accurate picture of counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. Reader and commenter Dawg observes that the British media has ascribed the victory in Garmsir to the British.

The Captain’s Journal found this source a day or so before Dawg, and sent a rebuke to the editorial staff of the Independent, stating that given the copious data showing that the U.S. Marines retook Garmser from the Taliban, their article was the worst example of journalistic dishonesty we had ever witnessed.

However, that doesn’t mean that the British are not seeing significant combat in Southern Afghanistan. They are, but we have a question as to use of forces and overall strategy.

British commanders estimate that more than 200 Taliban were killed as they tried to prevent the convoy of 100 vehicles from getting the machinery to Kajaki hydroelectric dam where it will provide a significant increase in energy for up to two million Afghans.

The operation has been described as the biggest of its kind since the Second World War.

For the last five days the force has fought through the heart of Taliban territory to push through the 220 tonne turbine and other equipment that included a 90 tonne crane to lift it into place.

With a third turbine fixed at Kajaki it will mean that the extra electricity could double the irrigation output allowing farmers to plant two crops of wheat a year. With a dramatic rise in world wheat prices this could crucially mean that it becomes more profitable than producing opium which would deprive the Taliban of a major source of revenue.

Escorted by attack helicopters, armoured vehicles and men of the Parachute Regiment, the trucks trundled into Kajaki.

For the first 50 miles of its journey from the southern city of Kandahar the convoy was protected by American and Canadian troops. But for the second 50 mile leg through Taliban strongholds more than 3,000 British troops were needed to fight off the insurgents.

Lt Col Dave Wilson, of 23 Engineer Regiment, said the operation was the most significant “route clearance” operation since the Second World War with the sappers freeing the route of mines and improvised bombs.

“It was a huge achievement,” said Lt Col Wilson. “It was carried out through some of the most heavily mined areas of Afghanistan.”

While medics had prepared for casualties, commanders said there was only one wounded among the British, American, Canadian and Australian troops who took part in the operation – a British soldier was crushed when a trailer collapsed on him.

“As a template for the rest of this country, it’s shown that when we want to, at a time and a place of our choosing, we can overmatch the Taliban, no question,” said Lt Col James Learmont of 7 Para Royal Horse Artillery.

The Kajaki dam has been the object of intense combat.

But even this combat intensive effort to get the necessary electrical infrastructure to the dam won’t prevent it from being the object of more combat. If anything, it will probably encourage kinetic operations and an insecure environment, just as it did in Iraq when al Qaeda targeted electricity and water supplies. Observing that “when we want to, at a time and a place of our choosing, we can overmatch the Taliban, no question,” completely misses the point. Spot encounters don’t win a counterinsurgency.

The point is that in order for infrastructure to work, the enemies of that infrastructure must be targeted. The dam won’t long operate if its operators are all killed, or if other replacement parts have to undergo such intensive operations in order to be deployed at the plant. Infrastructure is good, as is good governance. But for these softer tactics in counterinsurgency to be successful, the Taliban must be engaged and killed. The softer side of counterinsurgency might win a lasting peace, but cannot win kinetic operations.

Prior:

The Role of Electricity in State Stabilization

Targeting the Insurgency Versus Protecting the Infrastructure

  • Tommy

    Herschel,

    What is false about the Times story ? Did they or did they not deliver the Turbine ?

    Best wishes,

    Tommy.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    I assume that the Telegraph story is completely true. I have no reason to doubt its veracity, and I assume that the turbine is delivered.

    The problem is the Independent story:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/how-british-forces-took-garmsir-from-the-taliban-908315.html

    Which discusses how the British took Garmser from the Taliban. The only problem is that the 24th MEU took Garmser from the Taliban, not the British (see my category “Marines in Helmand”). Facts are stubborn things.

    Then the post goes on to discuss whether the British focus should be on delivery of infrastructure or killing the Taliban. I would claim that the 200 Taliban they apparently killed is worth more to the COIN campaign than the turbine. Let’s see some more. Faster, please.

  • Tommy

    Ok. So I assume the accusation of “Fawning” also applies to the Independent story and not the Times and Telegraph report of the delivery of the Turbine ?

  • Tommy

    Also, as your the Man who seems to know – is this false ?

    Everything changed with the arrival of 1,000 US Marines from 24 Marine Expeditionary Unit. As A Company, 5 Scots battled and cleared south of the district centre, the Americans moved east and then further south down through the “Snake’s Head”, a tangle of small irrigation canals, destroying the enemy in their path. Now the new frontline is 10km to the south. The key question remains whether the Taliban will remain at bay when the American show of strength departs next month.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    As for fawning and false, I intended that to be applicable to the Independent report. Perhaps I shouldn’t have mixed two different issues into a single post, but, oh well.

    I don’t begrudge the Brits from celebrating the delivery of the turbine. If I were them, I would be celebrating the deaths of 200 enemy at the hands of the British Army. Just so. Let’s have more of the same.

    I agree that it is very much in doubt as to whether the terrain in and around Garmser will be held after the deployment home of the 24th MEU. You might know, but if I am not mistaken, their replacements in this AO are Scottish Marines.

    If the Scottish Marines are manned as they should be, and apply the force projection that they should, then they can hold the terrian. Let’s pray that they do. The campaign must be won.

  • Tommy

    Amen to that. Also god bless the 24th MEU, keep them safe and return them to their Families. Brave Men.

  • Dawg

    “War on Taliban cannot be won, says army chief”

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article4882597.ece

    Well, the brits are at it again, with their surrender-mongering. Yet another brit attempt at surrender. They are quite good at it, too, with expereince in Maysan and Basra 2003-2007, in Iraq and Musa Qala, Afghanistan in 2006. Never seen anyone as determined to surrender as the brits in this war. Obviously they’re not up to it and do not believe in the mission. Best for our War Effort if they just left Iraq and Afghanistan. As it is now, they are undermining the entire Afghan Campaign, with their constant defeatism. The Iraqis don’t want them and the Afghans do NOT want them, especially not the Pashtun tribes in the south. They didn’t want the brits there in the 1st place. This kind of thing from the brits only helps the enemy’s war effort. Not ours.
    Our Marines showed the brits how it is done.


You are currently reading "The British Approach to Counterinsurgency", entry #1283 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,British Army,Counterinsurgency,Infrastructure and was published September 2nd, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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