What Basra can teach us about Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

We have previously discussed the bravery of British troops in kinetic engagements in Afghanistan, so there is no question of either the capabilities or courage of UK Army and Marines, or the position of The Captain’s Journal concerning the same. But we have covered British operations in the past for the purpose of understanding what the population and culture can teach us about counterinsurgency. Just such a report was recently published, and it confirms our previous positions on the campaign in Basra.

“The situation in Basra is much better than before when this was a terrorised city controlled by car-loads of militiamen,” the doctor said. “The offices of these armed men were like the security offices under Saddam Hussein, not to mention the empty houses that were used to torture anyone who dared to criticise their practices.”

He praised the conduct of soldiers from the 1st Division of the Iraqi Army, the fledgling military’s best-trained unit, who took part in the Basra offensive to boost the numbers of the homegrown 14th Division.

“We noticed the fighting ability of the 1st Division. They were well equipped, had professional training and worked well with local citizens to ensure success and defy the gangsters,” Dr Muhiddeen said.

He had less of a glowing impression of the British military, which had control of security in Basra from March 2003 until December 2007, a period that saw the al-Mehdi Army militia grow in strength and influence.

“British forces did not make an impression on the people of Basra. They let the militia control the city and stayed away from events.”

Ms Ali was also unimpressed, describing the British troops as lodgers.

“As we know, people who rent stay away from trouble even if it is harming the house he has rented,” she said.

“In my personal opinion, although I have no expertise, the US forces always want to appear strong and able to succeed in any battle. They will never allow militias to ruin the reputation of the US army.

The British troops were only “lodgers” because their strategy was misinformed, and their strategy was misinformed because of senior leadership. A whole host of problems contributed to the British failure in Basra, including rules of engagement, British Army leadership, and a reflexive belief that the lessons of Northern Ireland could be applied directly to Iraq. What the U.S. Marines knew upon takeover of operations in the Anbar Province is that the population must immediately respect them, and any loss of confidence in the ability to trust their security to them or loss of respect because of a any signs of weakness, spelled the doom of the campaign.

Going forward in Afghanistan, U.S. and British military thinkers must be of a single mind. There can be no more natural partners than the U.S. and U.K. in the global war in which we are now engaged.


You are currently reading "What Basra can teach us about Counterinsurgency", entry #1468 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Basra,British Army,Counterinsurgency and was published November 3rd, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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