Archive for the 'Britain' Category



U.S. Agrees to Divulge British Nuclear Secrets to Russia

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 2 months ago

From The Telegraph:

Information about every Trident missile the US supplies to Britain will be given to Russia as part of an arms control deal signed by President Barack Obama next week.

Duncan Lennox, editor of Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems, said: “They want to find out whether Britain has more missiles than we say we have, and having the unique identifiers might help them.”

Professor Malcolm Chalmers said: “This appears to be significant because while the UK has announced how many missiles it possesses, there has been no way for the Russians to verify this. Over time, the unique identifiers will provide them with another data point to gauge the size of the British arsenal.”

Defence analysts claim the agreement risks undermining Britain’s policy of refusing to confirm the exact size of its nuclear arsenal.

The fact that the Americans used British nuclear secrets as a bargaining chip also sheds new light on the so-called “special relationship”, which is shown often to be a one-sided affair by US diplomatic communications obtained by the WikiLeaks website.

Details of the behind-the-scenes talks are contained in more than 1,400 US embassy cables published to date by the Telegraph, including almost 800 sent from the London Embassy, which are published online today.

Although the treaty was not supposed to have any impact on Britain, the leaked cables show that Russia used the talks to demand more information about the UK’s Trident missiles, which are manufactured and maintained in the US.

Washington lobbied London in 2009 for permission to supply Moscow with detailed data about the performance of UK missiles. The UK refused, but the US agreed to hand over the serial numbers of Trident missiles it transfers to Britain.

The Telegraph is referring to the New START treaty already ratified by the U.S. Senate, and for which Secretary Gates lobbied.  I had previously argued that the treaty was one-sided and brought the U.S. no discernible advantage in any area of weapons or nuclear technology, or foreign policy.  When Ronald Reagan advocated for the initial START treaty, even Time Magazine noted that it was one-sided in favor of the U.S., a fact which caused Time incorrectly to predict its failure.  Reagan negotiated from a position of strength.

But what we’ve learned now goes past a bad treaty – and it was a bad treaty.  It goes to reputation, to status, to honoring allies and friendships, to standing.  It makes this administration out to be pusillanimous weasels willing to sell out even our closest friends to enemies and criminals for a mere smattering of success on the world stage.

We pressed the reset button in foreign policy with Russia, but Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev viewed this as having made us sniveling lackeys.  Our enemies think we are fools and clowns, while our allies cannot trust us.  So much for success on the world stage.  Mr. Obama, we all knew Ronald Reagan, and you sir are no Ronald Reagan.

Obama’s Smart Diplomacy with Great Britain

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 3 months ago

Mr. Obama is showing off his smart diplomacy again.

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Mr Obama said: ‘We don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people.’

And here I thought that the U.S. and the U.K held a special relationship!  You know, we have claimed that “the Administration has reinvigorated U.S. foreign policy with robust diplomacy and strengthened our traditional alliances.”  I guess the U.K. isn’t a traditional ally like I thought they were.  Maybe they don’t think so either.

We also claimed that we are building “new alliances.”  Well, at least we aren’t doing something so stupid as snubbing upstart allies like Georgia, especially since Putin threatened to hang Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili “by the balls.”

It’s good to show strength and respect for tradition, you know.

U.S. Marines and British Advisers at Odds in Helmand

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 7 months ago

From Rajiv Chandrasekaran with The Washington Post:

U.S. Marines and British civilian advisers are waging two wars in the hilly northern half of Helmand province: They’re fighting the Taliban, and they’re quarreling with each other.

The disagreements among the supposed allies are almost as frequent as firefights with insurgents. The Americans contend that the British forces they replaced this spring were too complacent in dealing with the Taliban. The British maintain that the Americans are too aggressive and that they are compromising hard-fought security gains by pushing into irrelevant places and overextending themselves.

“They were here for four years,” one field-grade Marine officer huffed about the British military. “What did they do?”

“They’ve been in Musa Qala for four months,” a British civilian in Helmand said of the U.S. Marines. “The situation up there has gotten worse, not better.”

The disputes here, which also extend to the pace of reconstruction projects and the embrace of a former warlord who has become the police chief, illuminate the tensions that are flaring as U.S. forces surge into parts of southern Afghanistan that had once been the almost-exclusive domain of NATO allies. There are now about 20,000 U.S. troops in Helmand; the 10,000 British soldiers who once roamed all over the province are now consolidating their operations in a handful of districts around the provincial capital.

The new U.S. troops in the south are intended to replace departing Dutch soldiers and relieve pressure on under-resourced and overburdened military personnel from Britain and Canada, where public support for the war has fallen even more precipitously than in the United States. But the transition entails significant new risks for U.S. forces, who are now responsible for more dangerous parts of the country.

To the south of Musa Qala, U.S. Marines are in the process of moving into Sangin district, where more than 100 British troops – nearly one-third of that country’s total war dead – were killed over the past four years. Senior Marine officers initially resisted being saddled with the area, which they dubbed “the killing fields,” but they relented after pressure from top U.S. commanders.

The influx also has elicited conflicting emotions from coalition partners. British and Canadian officers say they didn’t have the manpower or equipment to confront a mushrooming insurgency by themselves, but they also cringe at the need to be bailed out by the United States.

“There’s a mix of relief and regret,” said a British officer. “We’ve spilled a lot of blood in Sangin and Musa Qala, and we’re quite frankly happy to leave those places, but we don’t want this to look like another Basra,” referring to the southern Iraqi city that U.S. and Iraqi forces had to rescue after it was seized by militias upon a British pullout in 2007.

Analysis & Commentary

But it does indeed look like another Basra.  Let’s take a stroll down memory lane for a moment.

At home, Britons were stunned by the graphic footage of their soldiers being assaulted in a city thought to be “safe,” especially in comparison to the blood-soaked urban areas of the Sunni Triangle which dominate news coverage emanating out of Iraq. The violent imagery was only the latest and most troubling indication of the British military’s failure in Basra and its environs, a disastrous turn of events which seemed unthinkable two years ago, when British troops were welcomed into Basra with relatively open arms.

The root of this failure stems from the very strategy that was once lauded as the antidote for insurgent violence. Known as the “soft approach,” the British strategy in southern Iraq centered on non-aggressive, nearly passive responses to violent flare-ups. Instead of raids and street battles, the British concentrated on building relationships with local leaders and fostering consensus among Iraqi politicos. In Basra, the British were quick to build and expand training programs for a city police force. As a symbol of their faith in stability-by-civility, the British military took to donning the soft beret while on patrol, avoiding the connotations of war supposedly raised by the American-style Kevlar helmets.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion, this “soft” approach seemed remarkably successful, especially when juxtaposed with the chaos that had engulfed other parts of Iraq. Basra seemed to adapt relatively well to the new order of things, with little in the way of street battles or casualties. Both the British and American media — ever-ready to point out the comparable failures of American arms — energetically hailed the peaceful and stable atmosphere in Basra as a significant indicator of the virtues of the British approach, upholding it as the tactical antithesis to the brutal and aggressive Yanks. The Dallas Morning News reported in 2003 that military experts from Britain were already boasting that U.S. forces in Iraq could “take a cue from the way their British counterparts have taken control of Basra.” Charles Heyman, editor of the highly-respected defense journal Jane’s, asserted: “The main lesson that the Americans can learn from Basra and apply to Baghdad is to use the ‘softly-softly’ approach.”

The reporting also featured erudite denunciations of the rigid rules of engagement that governed the United States military, while simultaneously championing British outreach. Ian Kemp, a noted British defense expert, suggested in November 2004 that the “major obstacle” in past U.S. occupations and peacekeeping efforts was their inability to connect with locals due to the doctrinal preeminence of force protection. In other words, had Americans possessed the courage to interface with the Iraqi, they might enjoy greater success.

It did not take long before the English press allowed the great straw man of a violent American society to seep into their explanations for the divergent approaches. The Sunday Times of London proclaimed “armies reflect their societies for better or for worse. In Britain, guns are frowned upon — and British troops faced with demonstrations in Northern Ireland must go through five or six stages, including a verbal warning as the situation gets progressively more nasty, before they are allowed to shoot. In America, guns are second nature.” Such flimsy and anecdotal reasoning — borne solely out of classical European elitist arrogance — tinged much of the reporting out of Basra.

AS A RESULT OF THE EFFUSIVE media celebration, even some in the British military began believing their own hype, with soldiers suggesting to reporters in May 2003 that the U.S. military should “look to them for a lesson or two.” As a British sergeant told the Christian Science Monitor: “We are trained for every inevitability and we do this better than the Americans.” According to other unnamed British military officials, America had “a poor record” at keeping the peace while Basra only reinforced the assertion that the British maintain “the best urban peacekeeping force in the world.”

Continuing with the state of affairs in Basra after the application of such a soft approach:

Richard Beeston, diplomatic editor of The Times of London recently returned (in 2007) from a visit to Basra, his first since 2003. He says in 2003, British soldiers were on foot patrol, drove through town in unarmored vehicles and fished in the waters of the Shaat al Arab on their days off. He says the changes he saw four years later are enormous.

“Nowadays all troop movement in and out of the city are conducted at night by helicopter because it’s been deemed too dangerous to go on the road and its dangerous to fly choppers during the day,” he says.

Beeston says during his latest visit, he noticed a map of the city in one of the military briefing rooms. About half of the city was marked as no-go areas.

British headquarters are mortared and rocketed almost everynight.

This is indicative of many parts of southern Iraq, says Wayne White, a former State department middle east intelligence officer. White says the south is riddled with rival Shiite groups vying for power, and roving criminal gangs because there’s nothing to stop them.

“There’s virtually nothing down there in the way of governance that answers to Baghdad in an effective way,” White says. “There are mayors, there are police but in many cases these people have no loyalty to Baghdad, operate along with the militias, have sympathy with them.”

The British efforts were roundly criticized by residents of Basra as well as the ISF, and British forces ultimately had to retreat under the excuse that it was the very presence of the British themselves that was causing the violence (there is no better way to end a war than to withdraw out of the fight, or so the British convinced themselves).

Recall also that the British made that awful deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam in which he was supposed to bring his fighters to Musa Qala to help retake the city from the Taliban (in exchange for governorship of the city).  All Salaam ended up doing was sitting in a house ten miles away screaming like a little girl for Karzai to come and rescue him when the fight started .  The British are as hated in Musa Qala for this fiasco as they were in Basra.

To be sure, the British enlisted men are as faithful, loyal and brave as any troops in the world.  It is their senior leadership, their officer corps and their counterinsurgency doctrine that is causing the problems.  And I am told that to a man, the British officers believe in the government in a box theory of counterinsurgency, even after such a notion failed in Basra, Musa Qala and then finally in Marjah.

Finally, the reason that the U.S. Marines have British advisers in Helmand isn’t clear.  The continued presence of them will only cause continued conflicts.  The U.S. Marines have their own brand of counterinsurgency, and it worked in the Anbar Province of Iraq.  In fact, small wars is a specialty of the Corps, and perhaps the British advisers could take back a thing or two from the Marines to their own command.

In closing, it’s also very disturbing that the British have lost or allowed to get stolen 59 Minimi machine guns.  That’s right.  Read and believe.

Serious questions are being asked about a cover-up by commanders in Helmand after the 59 Minimi machine guns were not reported missing for almost a year. The theft was revealed only when American forces recovered two of the guns following a battle with the Taliban.

He has ordered an inquiry into why enough weapons to equip an infantry battalion could go missing without anyone noticing or being informed.

The light machine guns, which can fire 1,000 rounds a minute, were flown from Britain to Camp Bastion in Helmand last October. They were then transported overland to British forces operating at Kandahar airfield but it is believed the convoy was either ambushed or the weapons were illegally sold. No one realised or reported that they had gone missing until last month, when American forces operating in southern Afghanistan discovered two of the guns, whose serial numbers matched those stolen. Defence sources have described the incident as a “terrible embarrassment for British forces”.

“We have no evidence that they have been used against British forces but clearly it’s an alarming situation,” said one defence source.

A Royal Military Police investigation has been under way since the end of last month. Dr Fox was said to be “livid” and “hit the roof” when told about the incident.

“Alongside the official investigation, he has ordered a wider review of how weapons are transported and is asking some serious questions over how this happened,” an MoD source said. “It’s astonishing that 59 machine guns went missing last year and no one realised it for months.”

Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, who was told about the incident this week, is said to be furious that the weapons were allowed to be taken by the insurgents and, potentially, could have been used against British troops.

A review of transport practices is irrelevant.  A time of prayer, a bit of seriousness and a good house cleaning is in order for the MoD and the British Army.

One Kilometer Outside Musa Qala

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 1 month ago

British troops are poised to hand over control of Musa Qala to the U.S. Marines.

British troops are to hand over control of the largest town in north Helmand to US forces as part of a major “rebalancing” of UK forces in Helmand, the Defence Secretary said yesterday.

Speaking on a visit to Helmand, the Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, said that Musa Qala would be handed over to US forces in the next month and that “further changes” are likely to ensure that British forces have the “greatest effect in countering the threat posed by the insurgency and protecting the civilian population.”

The decision to hand over Musa Qala to US forces had been one of a series of options under consideration by senior Nato commanders. In January The Times reported that British troops were likely to be pulled out of Musa Qala, Kajaki and possibly the iconic town of Sangin …

British troops originally moved into Musa Qala in June of 2006 to counter Taleban attacks that threatened to overwhelm weak local security forces in the town. In late 2006 British forces withdrew from Musa Qala under the terms of a controversial deal that saw local tribes promises to exclude the Taliban and govern the town.

However, Taliban fighters retook Musa Qala in February 2007 and held it till December when it was retaken in a major offensive by a mixed US and UK force. The retaking of the town was aided by the defection of a local Taleban commander, Mullah Abdul Salaam, who was subsequently installed as the local district governor.

Twenty-three British soldiers have died in and around the town. General Messenger said that British forces would leave behind a success story.

There is a problem within the Ministry of Defence (and the higher echelon of the chain of command) in Britain.  Musa Qala is not a success story.  The British warrior is a good as any on earth, but the officer corps has a troubling predilection to grant themselves special dispensation to turn their own failures into successes (it happened with the campaign in Basra).

Let’s take a quick detour through recent history.  The British were on the front end of the attempt to make deals with the Taliban, and even earlier, the local tribes.  A deal was indeed struck with the locals to turn away the Taliban.  The promise didn’t obtain, and the Taliban took control of Musa Qala.

In a tip of the hat to more deal-making, the British befriended one Mullah Abdul Salaam, a so-called “former mid-level Taliban commander” who promised to bring his fighters to bear upon the Taliban during the initial assault of U.S. and British troops to retake Musa Qala.  In fact, upon the initiation of the assault, Salaam “stayed in his compound in Shakahraz, ten miles east, with a small cortège of fighters, where he made increasingly desperate pleas for help.”  In other words, he screamed like a little girl.

This whole incident has been a stain on the British effort, and is not indicative of the high quality enlisted men in the British military.  The CTC Sentinel at West Point had some very direct words to the MoD regarding Musa Qala in July 2008.

Since the initial withdrawal from Musa Qala in 2006, the British image for military capability in general and counter-insurgency competence in particular has suffered a number of setbacks, by no means all in Afghanistan. The success of Iraqi forces in Basra in 2008 was widely seen as them doing a job that the British had left unfinished for political reasons. Britain’s relations with Kabul have suffered a number of setbacks, from the removal of diplomats following direct negotiations (bypassing Kabul) with the Taliban at Musa Qala in 2006 to Kabul’s rejection of Lord Paddy Ashdown to be the new UN envoy in Afghanistan … If the United Kingdom fails in Musa Qala, its relations with coalition partners and Afghans alike is likely to be harmed, and it may have a further impact on its international standing.

One and a half years ago the relations between Salaam and the British troops had soured.  The British had accused him of corruption and thuggery, while he had accused the British of undermining his “authority.”  Salaam was “feathering his own nest” while reconstruction is not forthcoming from the largesse poured into Musa Qala.  It would appear that relations have not gotten any better in the last year.  “At their latest meeting, Mullah Salaam is complaining that the Household Cavalry Regiment Battlegroup, which has been here for nearly six months, simply isn’t violent enough.”

This is from a man who couldn’t convince his own “fighters” to make good on their promises to take Musa Qala back from the Taliban.  Yet it also appears that Salaam hasn’t added one iota to the security around the area in the time that he has been “governor” of the area.  Government officials still can’t move more than one kilometer outside of Musa Qala because of security problems.

It’s time for some serious counterinsurgency in and around Musa Qala, and this means that Salaam must go, or be relegated to the sidelines as the irrelevant lackey that he is.  If the British didn’t have the resources to pacify the area, then the U.S. Marines might be able to squeeze the enemy out of hiding and kill them – and retake the roads in the area.  And so much for tribal engagement and deals with the Taliban as the answer to every problem in Afghanistan.

Prior:

The British and Musa Qala

The Example of Musa Qala

Musa Qala and the Argument for Force Projection

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

About that Rescued New York Times Reporter

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 7 months ago

Jules Crittenden has a roundup of reactions to the British Special Boat Service troops’ rescue of the NYT reporter (also see The Washington Post).  Its’ impressive to me that the British took on this responsibility.  But it is the solemn duty of a country to mourn its lost, grieve its wounded, and bear the national burden of moral judgments during a time of war.  To be sure, there are limits as we have discussed in the release of the photo of young Joshua Bernard.  The concern there is not national exposure but protection of the family.

But as a country laments and engages in outrage, sometimes it’s simply appropriate to listen rather than critique.  My own feeling about this is that I support embedded reporting.  Ernie Pyle did it, and still maintained his independence from the story lines coming from the public relations efforts.  Ernie Pyle died too, but embedding is still the way to go.  But when embedding is done the reporter is obligated – morally and legally – to follow the rules set in place by those who are protecting him or her.

If a reporter wants to get the scoop or turn the story without the aid of or reference to our troops (Nir Rosen comes to mind), then my feeling is that when you play the dice you take your chances.  In a world that increasingly looks for cradle to grave security from the state, taking chances is seen as a way to strike it rich but a way to do so while relying on the government as a safety net.  It shouldn’t be that way.

But on a more personal level (as a Marine father), it needs to be remembered that every casualty is a son of America.  It’s easy to depersonalize casualties for those who are not close to someone who has lost a child to the war(s).  The country blocks out the information, but when it’s in front of you every day it’s a difficult task to accomplish.  As casualties mount, the country increasingly needs to see the moral imperative for the losses.

It’s just the way it is.  War is a costly and awful thing, and a country must be dedicated to the cause for what it sees as good and morally justified reasons in order to maintain commitment.  I cannot possibly see how the UK can justify the loss of one of its sons for a New York Times reporter.  Some discussions on this issue will foray into policy.  I’m not talking about policy.  I’m talking about value judgments.  In order to understand this from the perspective of a British parent who has lost his son to save a reporter, one needs to think viscerally and personally.  Policy just won’t do.  Sometimes it’s appropriate to ponder over the dark things that other people experience.  It helps to form values.

Miliband Encourages Terrorism

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 2 months ago

Sanjeev Miglani with Reuters gives us the news about the visit of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband to India.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband may yet end up achieving the opposite of what he intended in India when he called for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute in the interests of regional security.

To some Indians, linking the attacks in Mumbai – which New Delhi says originated from Pakistan – to the issue of Kashmir is not just insensitive, it is also a wake-up call. The lesson they have drawn is this: for all the world’s sense of outrage over Mumbai, India will have to deal with Pakistan on its own, and not expect foreign powers to lean on its neighbour in the manner it wants.

Miliband’s visit was a “jarring reminder to India to stop off-shoring its Pakistan policy,” writes Indian security affairs analyst Brahma Chellaney in the Asian Age. He then goes on to call for a set of measures including a military option short of war to weaken Pakistan …

But this may well be a pointer to a stiffening mood in India as it heads into an election that could bring the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party into power. And then all bets would be off as to what would be India’s policy towards Pakistan.

Over the weekend, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Lal Krishna Advani gathered a bunch of military chiefs, security analysts and party bosses, and the verdict from that meeting was India had been too soft on Pakistan.

“After Mumbai, any self-respecting government would have adopted a much more robust response which alone could compel Pakistan to not only bring to book those behind the incident but also to wind down the infrastructure of terror,” the BJP said in a statement. “Instead India adopted the mildest of response, not like an emerging global player.”

Thanks to Miglani for a good report.  So that the import of what Miliband has done in India doesn’t escape, let’s rehearse a bit.

Miliband has taken the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, recently conducted out of Karachi, Pakistan, and connected them to the solution to Kashmir.  This is simply breathtaking.  In order to placate Pakastan and ensure regional stability, Miliband counsels coming to an understanding over Kashmir.

But the fact that such a tactic would encourage exactly the opposite escapes Miliband.  We have discussed the Pakistani duplicity before, where the ISI and Pakistan Army has used and is currently using the Taliban as a buffer for what it sees as its real enemies, Afghanistan and especially India.  Coming to a “mutual understanding” over Kashmir, especially as it relates to the connection of Mumbai with Kashmir, would only encourage the strategy of use of the Taliban and the terror tactics they promulgate.  When success is achieved, the action is confirmed.

Regardless of whether a mutual understanding is achieved over Kashmir, the connection of it to the Mumbai attacks is the worst possible foreign policy imaginable for Britain or any Western country.  And what Miliband accomplished was not the connection of Kashmir to Mumbai, but rather, the hardening of India and its worldview.

Nice job.  The law of unintended consequences.  Learn it.  As for Miliband, the Brits have an administration that perfectly follows in the footsteps of Neville Chamberlain.  Chamberlain didn’t think about unintended consequences either.

The British Deal with the Mahdi Militia

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 8 months ago

The Times Online has given us a further glimpse into secret deals between the British and the Mahdi militia that kept the Brits out of the recent battle for Basra.

A secret deal between Britain and the notorious al-Mahdi militia prevented British Forces from coming to the aid of their US and Iraqi allies for nearly a week during the battle for Basra this year, The Times has learnt.

Four thousand British troops – including elements of the SAS and an entire mechanised brigade – watched from the sidelines for six days because of an “accommodation” with the Iranian-backed group, according to American and Iraqi officers who took part in the assault.

US Marines and soldiers had to be rushed in to fill the void, fighting bitter street battles and facing mortar fire, rockets and roadside bombs with their Iraqi counterparts.

Hundreds of militiamen were killed or arrested in the fighting. About 60 Iraqis were killed or injured. One US Marine died and seven were wounded.

US advisers who accompanied the Iraqi forces into the fight were shocked to learn of the accommodation made last summer by British Intelligence and elements of al-Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia Muslim cleric.

The deal, which aimed to encourage the Shia movement back into the political process and marginalise extremist factions, has dealt a huge blow to Britain’s reputation in Iraq.

A spokesman for the MoD said that the reason why troops were not sent immediately into Basra was because there was “no structure in place” in the city for units to go back in to start mentoring the Iraqi troops.

Colonel Imad, who heads the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, the most experienced division, commanded one of the quick-reaction battalions summoned to assist British-trained local forces, who faltered from the outset because of inexperience and lack of support.

He said: “Without the support of the Americans we would not have accomplished the mission because the British Forces had done nothing there …

You can accuse the Americans of many things [said one MoD source], such as hamfistedness, but you can’t accuse them of not addressing a situation when it arises. While we had a strategy of evasion, the Americans just went in and addressed the problem.”

Another British official said that the deal was intended as an IRA-style reconciliation. “That is what we were trying to do but it did not work.” The official added that “accommodation” had become a dirty word.

US officials knew of the discussions, which continued until March this year. They facilitated the peaceful exit of British troops from a palace compound in Basra last September in return for the release of a number of prisoners. The arrangement fell apart on March 25 when Mr al-Maliki ordered his surprise assault on Basra, catching both the Americans and British off-guard.

Let’s observe at the outset what we have observed before in British Rules of Engagement and Brave Warriors. The British armed forces contains some of the best grunts on earth. It’s the leadership that’s the problem, as it has always been.

Next, there are so many layers of MoD subterfuge in this piece that the gullible would become confused. Fortunately, we at The Captain’s Journal aren’t gullible. The article makes it sound as if the once peaceful Basra allowed the Jaish al Mahdi and the British to cut a deal, allowing the Brits to “peacefully” redeploy to the airport. This is pure fabrication and fairy tales. From the beginning of the British effort in Basra there has been a continual degradation of security (see Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement).

Concerning the MoD accusation of American “hamfistedness,” this tactic has become comical if not completely tired and worn out. The U.S. Marines won Anbar. The British lost Basra. For the Brits to wax eloquent about American hamfistedness is rather like complaining that the Little British Car doesn’t go as fast as the American Muscle Car. It’s prideful whining while brave men die and lose limbs, brain function, hearing and eyesight. It’s sickening.

As for the IRA-style reconciliation, it has been long known that the British pulled their irrelevant experience from Northern Ireland into the campaign for Iraq. It failed them from the outset, but the outmoded paradigm was never relinquished by British senior military leadership. Again, it’s the leadership (from Des Browne on down) that is to blame.

Finally, reputations are quick to be lost and hard to gain back. The British have come away from the campaign badly damaged, and yet they still carry forward the failed policies of negotiations – this time with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The British reputation can be rebuilt, but not like that.

Prior:

The Example of Musa Qala

British Leadership Without a Clue

Competing Strategies in Afghanistan

The Good and Bad in Basra

More British Trouble in Basra

Flushing Out the British Narrative

Continued Chaos in Basra

Talking with the Enemy

Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement

The Rise of the JAM

The Example of Musa Qala

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 9 months ago

We have previously covered the secret negotiations between MI6 agents and mid-level Taliban commanders, the result of which was the agreement between British forces and one Mullah Abdul Salaam who had promised military help when British and U.S. forces retook Musa Qala late in 2007.  The military assistance never materialized, and instead of engaging in the battle, Salaam and his “fighters” stayed in his compound in Shakahraz, ten miles east, with a small cortège of fighters, where he made increasingly desperate pleas for help.  “He said that he would bring all the tribes with him but they never materialised,” recalled one British officer at the forefront of the operation. “Instead, all that happened was a series of increasingly fraught and frantic calls from him for help to Karzai.”

For this he was rewarded with rule of Musa Qala.  But not more than half a year later relations between Salaam and the British have badly degraded.  The British have accused him of corruption and thuggery, while he has accused the British of undermining his “authority.”  Salaam is “feathering his own nest” while reconstruction is not forthcoming.  As for the most recent account of the situation in Musa Qala, the Times recently penned an important article on the crumbling dream of utopia in Musa Qala.  It is a sorry tale of lack of electricity, lack of services, wasted and lost reconstruction money, complaints from city elders, and comparisons with life under the Taliban (where it is being said that life was easier and without corruption).

The security is still problematic since the retaking of Musa Qala.

Musa Qala seems a desolate place of broken houses and rubble, though we are assured it has a clinic, a mosque and a paid workforce. The building in which we sleep was once a hotel and then the headquarters of the Taleban, but is now little more than a concrete shell, pock-marked by bullet-holes. The town’s security depends on its resident defence force – 5 Scots (the Argylls) and the Afghan National Army.

Its population is testimony to its instability – estimates vary from 3,000 to 20,000. We sleep outside, under mosquito nets, taking care to shade our torches in the night, woken occasionally by the sound of artillery fire (which we hope is ours not theirs).

This remains a highly charged war zone. Three days ago, while we were in the district centre – the army camp on the outskirts of Musa Qala – three platoons of D Company of the Argylls came back from a 48-hour patrol to the north of the town, in the course of which they came under heavy fire on three separate occasions. Private David Poderis, 37, showed us tangible evidence of the Taleban’s ferocity in the form of two neat bullet-holes in his helmet.

Finally, the CTC Sentinel at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, July 2008, has an important article by David C. Isby entitled “The High Stakes Battle for the Future of Musa Qala.”  A very few of his observations are pointed out below (while the entire article is recommended reading).

The Musa Qala Taliban were not destroyed in battle, but moved largely to adjacent districts in 2007. Helmand member of parliament Nasima Niazi has claimed that the Taliban remain active in Musa Qala despite the reoccupation. Security outside the district center remains uncertain [page 11].

The British 2006 campaign in southern Afghanistan has already become part of military history—marked by a popular 2007 exhibition at the National Army Museum in London—but the results of that fighting have not helped the United Kingdom’s image as NATO’s foremost practitioner of counter-insurgency and stability operations, employing tactics refined since Malaya in conflicts worldwide. Rather, the image was of besieged “platoon house” outposts under Taliban attack and of too few deployed forces being desperately under-resourced. British forces in Afghanistan lack an ability to fund quick response development programs in a way comparable to the United States, and, according to the Economist, “a growing number of British officers grudgingly recognize that America is learning the lessons of irregular warfare, drawn mainly from British colonial experience, better than the modern British Army” [page 11 & 12].

Since the initial withdrawal from Musa Qala in 2006, the British image for military capability in general and counter-insurgency competence in particular has suffered a number of setbacks, by no means all in Afghanistan. The success of Iraqi forces in Basra in 2008 was widely seen as them doing a job that the British had left unfinished for political reasons. Britain’s relations with Kabul have suffered a number of setbacks, from the removal of diplomats following direct negotiations (bypassing Kabul) with the Taliban at Musa Qala in 2006 to Kabul’s rejection of Lord Paddy Ashdown to be the new UN envoy in Afghanistan. British differences with the government in Kabul have increased, and Britain has become the focus of much of the frustration with coalition efforts [page 12].

Isby goes on to discuss the importance of Musa Qala for Kabul and then for the UK.

For the United Kingdom, it is a chance to show that the second largest coalition member in terms of troops in Afghanistan can demonstrate results on the ground commensurate with their status in bilateral and multilateral security relationships. As British policy is to channel aid through Kabul where feasible, this provides an opportunity for aid to be directed in Musa Qala in order to show a long-term commitment at preventing the Taliban from returning to burn schools and kill Afghans. If the United Kingdom fails in Musa Qala, its relations with coalition partners and Afghans alike is likely to be harmed, and it may have a further impact on its international standing.

We have already pointed out that the British grunts are among the bravest on earth, but the problems here are associated with strategy and force projection.  The campaign didn’t begin well in Musa Qala, with the British appointing by fiat a man who had neither moral authority nor personal investment in the area.  The situation has degraded since then.

Musa Qala is a thorny set of problems, but this could also have been said of the Anbar Province.  But the U.S. Marines had continual force projection for a protracted period of time, and when kinetic operations needed to be mixed with biometrics and gated communities, this transition was instantaneous.  Then when Lt. Colonels had to be at city council meetings, they participated as warrior-scholars.

When Marine Lt. Col. Bill Mullen showed up at the city council meeting here Tuesday, everyone wanted a piece of him. There was the sheikh who wants to open a school, the judge who wants the colonel to be at the jail when several inmates are freed, and the Iraqi who just wants a burned-out trash bin removed from his neighborhood.

As insurgent violence continues to decrease in Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar Province – an improvement that President Bush heralded in his visit to Al Asad Air Base Monday as one sign of progress in the war – the conversation is shifting in Anbar. Where sheikhs and tribal leaders once only asked the US to protect them from Sunni extremists, now they want to know how to get their streets cleaned and where to buy generators …

The changes here have allowed provincial and local governments to get established over the past few months, US officials here say. And now, true to the tribal culture that permeates Iraqi society, Sunni sheikhs here want to create a relationship of true patronage with what they consider to be the biggest and most powerful tribe here: the Marines of Anbar Province.

The U.S. Marines have had significant success in the Garmser area of operations in the Helmand Province, but the 24th MEU will be rotating out soon.  Whether the replacements are U.S. Marines or British forces, the strategy must be one of being the most powerful tribe in Helmand.  Only then can a society be [re]constructed so that forces can turn over to legitimate governmental authorities and stand down.  It is a proven paradigm, and without it, we will fail in Afghanistan.

There is no magic to perform, no secret Gnostic words to utter, no tricks.  Troops are necessary, and warrior-scholars who can fight a battle as well as govern a city council meeting.  Under-resourced forces and shady deals with corrupt, second rate, has-been Taliban commanders (or religiously motivated hard core Taliban commanders) simply won’t do the job.  The CTC Sentinel has it right concerning the need for the British (and NATO) to get Musa Qala right.  The CTC Sentinel might be overestimating the importance of Musa Qala to the campaign.  The real importance of Musa Qala is the shining example it gives us as to the wrong way to do counterinsurgency in a tribal region fighting a transnational insurgency.

Prior:

Musa Qala and the Argument for Force Projection

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

The Failure of Talking with the Taliban

British Rules of Engagement and Brave Warriors

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 9 months ago

In the fall of 2007 British troops in the Garmser area were involved in a firefight in which their rules of engagement placed them in danger, and likely caused the deaths of several troops.

A mission involving British soldiers in Afghanistan in which two men died after coming under heavy enemy fire, had to be stopped for an hour to enable officers to discuss what rules of engagement they were using, an inquest heard today.

The night-time operation near Garmsir on September 8, 2007, described by one soldier as “Operation Certain Death” was led by Major Jamie Nowell.

Giving evidence to the inquest in Trowbridge, Wiltshire today, Nowell said the problems started when he told his air support to open fire on four militants spotted in a trench.

He was then told over the radio that his airborne colleagues were not permitted to engage the enemy.

Nowell explained that his men were under “429 A” rules of engagement, which meant they could engage the identified enemy while the men in the air were on “Card A” which permitted them to fire only in self-defence.

“I could not understand how it happened,” he said.

“Eventually the aircraft was put on 429 A, but it took 60 minutes. The opportunity to engage with the Taliban was lost.”

The incident “dented the confidence of commanders on the ground” he said, but had “no real impact” on the operation as a whole.

A short time later, one of Nowell’s platoons came under heavy fire from the Taliban.

Wiltshire coroner David Masters said it would have “put lives at risk”.

Of course this foolishness put lives at risk, and contrary to Nowell’s confusion, with the preeminence of lawfare over warfare in the battle space today, it isn’t at all difficult to understand how this happened.  Since it put lives at risk, and also since the platoon came under fire after the Taliban weren’t engaged, it’s likely that, notwithstanding the assertion that this had no “real impact” on the operations, lives were lost because of this fiasco.

The rules of engagement (outside of a few countries like Poland which allows significant freedom for snipers) look much the same for most Western countries.  We have discussed this in More ROE Problems in which we gave the opportunity to study the standing rules of engagement CJCSI 3121.01A, the rules for the use of force CJCSI 3121.02, and the theater-specific rules of engagement for Iraq, and challenged the fact that the ROE and RUF contain no notion of offensive operations.  Self defense is the hub upon which all of the rules turn.  This also formulated the basis, no doubt, for General Kearney’s misbegotten idea to charge two U.S. snipers with murder because they had targeted a known Taliban who happened not to be holding a weapon at the time.

It is intractable, this refusal to address offensive operations, and it is pathological, this notion that lawfare should hold such an esteemed and prestigious perch in the middle of combat.  The Captain’s Journal has worked tirelessly to knock lawfare off of this perch, but lives continue to be sacrificed to this nonsense.  Britain apparently suffers from the same stupid ideas of lawyers sitting in sterile offices writing rules for warfare they have never experienced, and to which they will never risk their lives.  If it sounds ridiculous for Generals to charge snipers with murder, and pilots to refuse to target the enemy, it’s because it is.  Some things are not complicated.

But there is good news, too.  While the British experience in Basra was calamitous, and the panicked calls for negotiations with the Taliban by Brown and Miliband were embarrassing, The Captain’s Journal has always claimed that these failures were the fault of high level leadership, not of the rank and file warrior.  True enough, there is another side to this engagement after the commanders waxed on about rules written down on paper.  It is a story of bravery.

Sergeant Craig Brelsford was taking part in a night-time mission dubbed “Operation Certain Death” behind enemy lines, trying to destroy vantage points near the Taliban stronghold of Garmsir in Helmand Province.

As he and his comrades crept across the landscape of bombed-out buildings and drainage ditches under cover of darkness, the enemy opened fire, immediately felling four of a section of seven soldiers.

The battle that ensued on September 8, 2007 lasted several hours, left two dead and saw three others badly injured.

It became one of the most-documented examples of the bravery of British troops and resulted in clutch of gallantry awards for the regiment, including three MCs, a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross and five Mentions in Dispatches.

One of those killed was Private Johan Botha, 25, from South Africa. According to reports shortly after the incident, Taliban fighters tried to grab his body as a trophy, but the men from A Company the 2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment, fought to stop them from as little as 15 yards away.

Sgt Brelsford, 25, from Nottingham, led a team of the men who nicknamed themselves the Spartans back into a stream of bullets and rocket-propelled grenades in a bid to retrieve Pte Botha’s body.

He was killed within minutes, leaving his mother to collect his posthumous MC award for bravery.

Another soldier to receive the MC was Private Luke Cole, 22, who despite suffering serious thigh and stomach injuries, managed to drag himself to a colleague to provide life-saving first aid. He then picked up a rifle to lay down suppressive fire and stop the Taliban taking Pte Botha’s body.

The platoon commander, Captain Simon Cupples, 25, helped to pull two men to safety, including Pte Cole, for which he was later awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross – an honour for bravery second only to the Victoria Cross.

At the inquest into Pte Botha and Sgt Brelsford’s deaths yesterday, he described crawling in the darkness, trying to locate casualties under Taliban fire.

He said he asked Sgt Brelsford, leading another section, to push forward to find Pte Botha while he extracted the other two wounded men.

A few minutes later, he heard a cry of “Man down”.

Capt Cupples said: “All the blokes that night, they all went forward, there was incredible bravery.”

Second Lieutenant Michael Lockett was knocked unconscious during the firefight, but recovered and led another team to extract wounded soldiers, an act for which he too received an MC. “During this incident my life and those of my colleagues were in danger more times than I can remember,” he told the hearing.

As you grab a pint tonight, sit alone for a while and imagine yourself in the middle of this firefight.  Say a prayer thanking God for such men, along with similar brave American warriors.  Ask for peace for their families, and pray that God continues to grace our lives with warriors of this caliber – in spite of ourselves.

British Leadership Without a Clue

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 10 months ago

We have previously discussed the unilateral surrender of both Secretary David Miliband and Secretary Des Brown to the Taliban.  Continuing the parade of the confused is Britain’s top military officer, who initially does a very good job of advocating the implementation of soft power.

Britain’s top military officer described Afghanistan as “medieval” on Tuesday and said it could take decades before the country shows steady development.

Air Chief Marshall Jock Stirrup said it would be 15 years at current growth rates before Afghanistan reached the level of Bangladesh. Civilian reconstruction efforts would have to continue long after military operations.

“This is not something that could be done in one, two or three years because we are talking about a country that is essentially medieval, that has very little in the way of infrastructure, very little in the way of human resource, that has an endemic culture of corruption,” Stirrup told journalists.

“This truly is a long-term endeavour. I don’t think it is that long-term an endeavour for the military. I think we are talking about some years but we are not talking about decades,” said the chief of the defence staff.

“In terms of developing the country from an almost medieval status, that has to be an enterprise of decades.”

Okay, so far, so good.  The Captain’s Journal is good to go with this.  Now, slick your hair back and hold onto your breeches.

Stirrup said the major threat in the country was not necessarily the Taliban or al Qaeda, but building up a level of governance that allowed the country to function properly.

Can this man really be that clueless?  There are many countries which need infrastructure.  There are many countries which need investment for two or more decades.  There are many countries close to medieval status, or worse (perhaps some tribes in the Amazon delta, or Haiti, and some locations in Africa).  And it is certainly true that soft power needs to be applied to remove whatever incentive there is for those who are not hard core religious fighters to join their ranks (e.g., money as a replacement for poverty).

But many countries suffer from poverty, and yet there is no Taliban or al Qaeda present to foment attacks upon Western civilization.  Can this man really believe that the major threat to Afghanistan is anything but al Qaeda or the Taliban?  Can he really believe that proper infrastructure will cause al Qaeda and the Taliban to stand down in their efforts to undermine Afghanistan?  If so, then he doesn’t understand their motivations.  If not, then who other than the Taliban would be more dangerous to the people?  Has Stirrup asked himself even these basic questions about his beliefs?


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