Archive for the 'British Army' Category

British Soldiers Told Not To Shoot IED Emplacers

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 10 months ago

This remarkable report comes from The Telegraph.

British soldiers who spot Taliban fighters planting roadside bombs are told not to shoot them because they do not pose an immediate threat, the Ministry of Defence has admitted.

They are instead being ordered to just observe insurgents and record their position to reduce the risk of civilian casualties.

The controversial policy emerged at an inquest into the death of Sgt Peter Rayner, 34, a soldier from the 2nd Batallion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment who was killed in October last year by an improvised explosive device as he led a patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Wendy Rayner, 40, disclosed that in the days leading up to his death her husband been told that it was not his job to attack insurgents laying bombs.

Mrs Rayner, who lives with their young son in Bradford, told the inquest that the insurgents were being allowed to get away with the murder of British troops.

She said: “They are not allowed to fire on these terrorists. If they can see people leaving these IEDs, why can’t they take them out? One officer even told him ‘I am an army Captain and you will do your job’.

“We have lost too many men out there, they had seen people planting IEDs yet could not open fire or make contact with them. I believe strongly if people had taken on board what he was saying more he might have been here today.”

Under the Geneva Convention and the nationally administered Rules of Engagement the 9,500 British troops in Afghanistan are told they can only attack if there is an immediate threat to life.

A key part of the MoD’s counter-insurgency theory holds that it is more important to win over civilians by not killing innocent people than it is to eliminate every potential insurgent.

Analysis & Commentary

The penultimate paragraph is total crap, and the MoD knows it.  IED emplacers are combatants, and the British Soldiers no more have to wait for a gun to be pointed at their heads than a sniper has to wait for the same thing from a Taliban fighter 1000 yards away.

So that excuse is just a ruse.  The final paragraph outlines the real reason for the problem.  The British military doctrines for counterinsurgency, taken primarily from their experience in Northern Ireland, includes almost at every step of the process the de-escalation of violence no matter what the cost.

It not only loses counterinsurgencies, but it loses the support of the public (and in part, the later causes the former).  It’s what the British did in Basra, and it’s what they did in Musa Qala.  The enlisted men in the British Army are brave and well-trained, and the U.S. Marines have the utmost respect for the British Royal Marines.  But there is a doctrinal sickness in the officer corps of the British Army.  Not the British public, and not the British enlisted man.  The officer corps.  The officer corps of the British Army needs a gut check before it ever attempts another war of any kind, conventional, hybrid or counterinsurgency.

Prior: True Confessions of British Counterinsurgency

True Confessions of British Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
13 years ago

General Sir David Richards recently discussed the British experience in the Helmand Province, and he gave an interesting perspective to the British public.

Serious intelligence failures meant British commanders were unprepared for the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan as soldiers “turned up a hornets’ nest”, three of the country’s most senior military officers have said.

General Sir David Richards, the chief of the defence staff, told MPs the British had got involved in a very serious situation, adding: “War is a bummer.”

A failure of intelligence, notably about tribal loyalties and aggressive US operations, and ill-thought out attempts to eradicate the opium poppy harvest, combined to exacerbate an already dangerous situation facing the 3,000 British troops sent to Helmand by the Blair government in 2006, the officers said.

[ … ]

Houghton, a widely respected general who, along with Richards, was interviewed by Cameron for the top military post, listed a number of problems that came together.

Britain’s military commitment to Iraq was higher than it was anticipated it would still be in 2006, and British troops arrived in May, “the natural start of the fighting season”.

The Taliban, at the time, encouraged the belief that foreign troops were out to eradicate the poppy harvest, a valuable source of income for local farmers. Some 200,000 labourers migrated from Pakistan to help with the poppy harvest, and some were happy to stay as “guns for hire”.

Houghton added that US troops had just engaged in “particularly kinetic” [aggressive] military operations at the time.

Moreover, at the behest of President Hamid Karzai, British troops were deployed to forward “platoon houses” in northern Helmand areas such as Sangin and Musa Qala. The soldiers turned out to be dangerously exposed and too few in number.

Assessing the list for a moment, the Brits did indeed deploy to hard area, the same areas that know a U.S. Marine presence right now.  There have not been enough troops, and the Brits certainly had a hard time of things in Helmand.  They didn’t have the necessary troops to cover the Province, and Taliban fighters had taken over Now Zad as an R&R area.  When the U.S. Marines arrived in Now Zad they brought two trauma physicians with them due to the severe injuries they sustained.  They routinely slept forward deployed in groups of two or three Marines in what they would later term as “Hobbit Holes” dug into the earth and other structures.  Now Zad was almost entirely outside the wire.

Yet the British Generals are hedging.  It wasn’t the lack of troops that lost Musa Qala.  It was the ill-conceived alliance with one Mullah Abdul Salaam.  But the most significant observation concerns U.S. operations, and the British regarded them as “particularly kinetic.”  A clearer statement is given to us by The Independent.

These included the Taliban’s portrayal of moves to eradicate opium plants as evidence that the UK forces wanted to destroy local farmers’ livelihoods, the appointment of a new provincial governor which destabilised the tribal balance, and previous intensive American military operations which “whipped up” the situation.

American military operations whipped up the situation.  This is an absolutely remarkable comment.  Just remarkable.  In Getting the Narrative Right on Southern Afghanistan I strongly criticized a strategic assessment conducted by Professor Theo Farrell of Kings College in London.  Being a classy fellow, Theo offered a clinical and unemotional response in the comments.

In my visits to Helmand, I have found differences of opinion – some expressed in strong terms – betw Brit and USMC officers. But I consider this entirely natural (indeed there are considerable differences of opinion w/in the Brit Army, as I expect they are w/in the US Army and USMC). So I don’t want to overplay these. The one general difference that I would draw out is over the pace of progress. Basically Marine commanders push the pace beyond that which the British consider sustainable and indeed desirable. Fast progress on the military line of ops is not sustainable in COIN if it outpaces too much the governance and development lines of ops.

I don’t think there is a ‘gov in a box’ theory of COIN. Basically, this term came from somewhere in ISAF command as part of a media spin which ultimately backfired. I believe that M4 was referring to the District Delivery Program, which was a GIRoA program to rapidly develop governance in 80 key terrain districts. 6 were selected for trial, 4 in Helmand. Nad-e-Ali was one of these, and it may be that Marjah was part of this package (as before Op MOSHTARAK, Marjah was actually part of Nad-e-Ali; it became a full fledged district afterwards). DDP has some promise. And the latest word I hear is that Marjah is looking pretty good. But the main point of my analysis, which I refer to in this interview, is that COIN takes time. The CLEAR can be done fairly quickly, as indeed the Marines demonstrated in Marjah. But the HOLD requires the slow building up, consolidation and/or improvement of governance, infrastructure and basic services. That stuff just can’t be rushed. You can’t fedex it in.

Let me also emphasise that I’m not saying for a moment that the Brits have all the answers or that they are somehow better at COIN than the US Marines. British Army officers are the first to admit now that they’ve much to learn from their American brothers in arms. And indeed, 52 Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade have only praise for the MEU (I think it was the 24 MEU) which provided critical support to Task Force Helmand in 2007-08. I spent some time with the 2/8 Marines in Garmsir in late 2009. As I emphasise in my report on Op MOSHTARAK for British Land Warfare Command, armies aren’t good or bad at COIN, commanders and units are. Anyway, my report can be downloaded from here.

I appreciate the professor’s good natured comments.  But I still think we’re missing each other’s point.  If Theo cares to elaborate further I welcome the correction or clarification.  As to the issue of “government in a box,” I simply cannot account for General McChrystal’s remark that Marjah was a “bleeding ulcer” just months (or weeks) after arrival of the Marines.  Only someone with a childlike belief in magic could possibly believe that the Marines could waltz into Marjah with a governor and make things okay.  Michael Yon also tells me that to a man, the British officers believe in the “government in a box” view of counterinsurgency.

But more to the point, I am not implying, nor would I imply, that the U.S. Marines are better at counterinsurgency than the British.  The U.S. Marines claim that they the greatest at everything, and cheaper and faster than anyone else, but that’s just propaganda and they say it all the time about everything.  Tactics are just that, and any army can be trained for tactics as long as they have high quality NCOs, and the British and Americans do have high quality NCOs.  Additionally, I know first hand that the U.S. Marines (whom I know) have the utmost respect for the Royal Marines, more so in fact than they do for themselves.  But who is better at tactics is irrelevant.  The aggregation of tactics does not make a strategy.

Speaking of the U.S. Marine presence in Garmsir (24th MEU), they did more than support a British operations.  They killed some 400 Taliban fighters, and in spite of complaints over the heavy kinetics by the British, turned over an AO back to the British that was relatively stable and free of Taliban violence.  When the Marines took Garmsir, the local elders were even courting the Marines and told them “if you protect us, we will be able to protect you.”

But upon returning to Garmsir and taking over from the British, they met stiff Taliban resistance.  The locals told the Marines that they wanted them to follow and kill every single Taliban fighter, but the U.S. Marines and the British are still significantly at odds over their approach to counterinsurgency.  The Marines made a conscious choice to be more aggressive than the British in Sangin, and the British advisers continue to counsel the same approach that the British took in Helmand.  They want the U.S. to “de-escalate” the situation.

The point has never gone to tactics and the ability to implement them.  There is a school of counterinsurgency that believes that until heavy kinetics has the insurgency on the run and effectively defeated, legitimate governance cannot exist.  The opposite school sees a more symbiotic relationship between actors and root causes in counterinsurgency.

It isn’t my intent to argue this disagreement in this article.  My point is that while the British may be the best and most staunch allies of the U.S., the perspectives concerning counterinsurgency, stability operations and irregular warfare couldn’t be more dissimilar.  I say again, for General Sir David Richards to remark that U.S. kinetic operations “whipped up” the situation is truly remarkable itself.  Just remarkable.

U.S. Marines More Aggressive in Sangin Than British

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 6 months ago

From the Los Angeles Times:

SANGIN, Afghanistan (AP) — U.S. Marines who recently inherited this lush river valley in southern Helmand province from British forces have tossed aside their predecessor’s playbook in favor of a more aggressive strategy to tame one of the most violent places in Afghanistan.

U.S. commanders say success is critical in Sangin district — where British forces suffered nearly one-third of their deaths in the war — because it is the last remaining sanctuary in Helmand where the Taliban can freely process the opium and heroin that largely fund the insurgency.

The district also serves as a key crossroads to funnel drugs, weapons and fighters throughout Helmand and into neighboring Kandahar province, the spiritual heartland of the Taliban and the most important battleground for coalition forces. The U.S.-led coalition hopes its offensive in the south will kill or capture key Taliban commanders, rout militants from their strongholds and break the insurgency’s back. That will allow the coalition and the Afghans to improve government services, bring new development and a sense of security.

“Sangin has been an area where drug lords, Taliban and people who don’t want the government to come in and legitimize things have holed up,” said Lt. Col. Jason Morris, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. The unit took over responsibility for Sangin in mid-October nearly a month after the British withdrew.

That withdrawal — after more than 100 deaths over four years of combat — has raised concerns among some in Britain about the perception of U.S. Marines finishing a job the British couldn’t handle. Many claimed that happened in the Iraqi city of Basra in 2007.

U.S. commanders denied that’s the case in Sangin and said the withdrawal was just the final step in consolidating British forces in central Helmand and leaving the north and south to the Americans. Sangin is located in the north of the province.

But one of the first things the Marines did when they took over Sangin was close roughly half the 22 patrol bases the British set up throughout the district — a clear rejection of the main pillar of Britain’s strategy, which was based on neighborhood policing tactics used in Northern Ireland.

The bases were meant to improve security in Sangin, but the British ended up allocating a large percentage of their soldiers to protect them from being overrun by the Taliban. That gave the insurgents almost total freedom of movement in the district.

“The fact that a lot of those patrol bases were closed down frees up maneuver forces so that you can go out and take the fight to the enemy,” Morris said during an interview at the battalion’s main base in the district center, Forward Operating Base Jackson.

As Morris spoke, the sound of heavy machine gun fire and mortar explosions echoed in the background for nearly 30 minutes as Marines tried to kill insurgents who were firing at the base from a set of abandoned compounds about 500 feet away.

The Marines later called in an AC-130 gunship to launch a Hellfire missile, a 500-pound bomb and a precision-guided artillery round at the compounds, rocking the base with deafening explosions that shook dirt loose from the ceilings of the tents. Tribal elders later said the munitions killed seven Taliban fighters.

The battalion has been in more than 100 firefights since it arrived, and the proximity of many of them to FOB Jackson illustrates just how much freedom of movement the Taliban still have in Sangin.

The Marines have worked to improve security by significantly increasing the number of patrols compared to the British and by pushing into areas north and south of the district center where British forces rarely went. That process started when the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment deployed to Sangin in July and fought beside the British until the current battalion took over.

Even though the battalion has slightly fewer forces than the 1,200-strong British Royal Marines unit that was here previously, commanders say they have been able to step up the number of patrols because they have far fewer Marines stuck guarding bases.

But some analysts have speculated that the coalition would need at least one more battalion in Sangin if it wanted to clear and hold the whole district. Some Marines said privately that more forces would be necessary, especially in the Upper Sangin Valley where coalition troops had not gone in years until recently.

The battalion’s current area of operations is roughly 25 square miles and contains a mix of lush fields around the Helmand River, dense clusters of tall mud compounds and patches of barren desert. It contains some 25,000 people, but many of Sangin’s residents live outside the area in which the Marines operate. The entire district is roughly 200 square miles, and district governor Mohammad Sharif said it houses about 100,000 people.

The battalion has gotten help from a pair of Marine reconnaissance companies operating in the Upper Sangin Valley and a company of Georgian soldiers based on the West side of the Helmand River. There are also several hundred Afghan army and police in Sangin, but they are fairly dependent on the Marines for supplies and logistics.

In addition to conducting more patrols, the Marine battalion has adopted a more aggressive posture than the British, according to Afghan army Lt. Mohammad Anwar, who has been in Sangin for two years.

“When the Taliban attacked, the British would retreat into their base, but the Marines fight back,” said Anwar.

Insurgents fired at members of 1st Platoon, India Company, during a recent patrol near the battalion’s main base, and the Marines responded with a deafening roar of machine gun fire, grenades, and mortars. They also tried to launch a rocket that turned out to be a dud.

“The Taliban like to engage us, and I like to make it an unfair fight,” said India Company’s commander, Capt. Chris Esrey of Havelock, North Carolina. “If you shoot at us with 7.62 (millimeter bullets), I’m going to respond with rockets.”

But Taliban attacks have taken their toll. Thirteen Marines have been killed and 49 wounded since the battalion arrived. Most of those casualties have come from IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, that the insurgents hide in compounds, along trails and in dense fields where they are hard to detect.

Analysis & Commentary

The point of citing this report is not for embarrassment of the British forces, and regular readers know that full well.  But there are a few common themes from this report with my own advocacy over the last several years.

First, take measure of what I have noted concerning the British philosophy of counterinsurgency, namely that its roots and doctrinal basis comes from a locale which had basically the same religious roots, the same general heritage, a shared dedication to Western values, and an institutionalized security apparatus – Northern Ireland.  Of course, this was nothing like Basra, and even less like Afghanistan.  The officer corps of the British Army took this doctrine into Basra, and lost (as my coverage conclusively demonstrates).

They took this doctrine into Sangin (and much of Helmand), and in the main weren’t successful.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with the bravery of the enlisted man, as I have discussed.  It has to do with an officer corps which cannot escape the gravity of its own narrative, taken exclusively from Northern Ireland.  For a much better model to follow, the British could have chosen to follow their work in Malaya (See Karl Hack, “The Malayan Emergency as Counterinsurgency Paradigm,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 2009.  Thanks to Colonel Gian Gentile for pointing out this fine study to me.).  The problem is one of leadership, not the ability to follow or follow up.

Second, note that this approach (i.e., the more aggressive stance by the U.S. Marines) requires force projection, and among other things, this requires troops.  More are needed, and unless U.S. leadership is willing to stand in the gap and advocate the same thing, the strategy is hopelessly mired because of under-resourcing.

Finally, note that the more aggressive stance yields immediate fruit, at least among the indigenous forces.  The ANA naturally takes heart when they see the enemy being dealt a significant blow.  Nothing is better for morale than success.

Counterinsurgency: Let’s Drink Tea Later

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 months ago

Canadians are running into cultural issues in Kandahar.

The Pashtun people of southern Afghanistan have a saying: “He is not a Pathan who does not give a blow for a pinch.”

“Nang” and “badal” — honour and revenge, respectively — trump even the holy book of the Qur’an for many Pashtuns, and so it is with caution that Canada sends its troops to live among them as part of its widening counter-insurgency strategy in Kandahar province.

It’s widely understood that, as the proverb suggests, a Pashtun (or Pathan) man will respond aggressively to even the most minor slight, extracting revenge to defend the honour of himself and his family. Those considered friends and guests are protected and respected with the same zeal.

“Respect and honour is very important to them,” said Capt. Paul Stokes, a member of the Royal Canadian Regiment battle group currently in Kandahar.

Canadian soldiers bound for Afghanistan are taught about the different tribal and family affiliations that have affected the tides of war in the region for generations. They’re warned of the sometimes primitive living conditions and taught a few words of Pashto. Some even carry well-thumbed phrasebooks.

But nothing can entirely prepare them for the experience of living among the locals, Stokes said. “You can teach it in class, but you don’t appreciate it until you see the differences and experience it.”

Canadian soldiers currently live and work among Afghan police and soldiers and live in or near small villages, venturing out every day to try to forge trust within the local population.

They attend elaborate community meetings, known as shuras, where the pace is plodding and the casual drift of time can prove a challenge for military-minded westerners like Stokes.

“The western culture is a very fast-paced culture, with emails and TV. We want to get to a meetings and get right to the heart of the matter. That’s not the way it is (in Afghanistan),” he said.

“You go there, you have tea, you have coffee, you have food, you may have an entire meal and talk about your families and friends, and then — whether it be 15 minutes later or an hour later — you get to the heart of the discussion.”

Capt. Ashley Collette has travelled to Third World countries before, so the living conditions she and her platoon found in the village of Nakhonay were less of a shock to her than to some of her colleagues.

Life in the village in Panjwaii, southwest of Kandahar city, has more benefits than drawbacks, but it has not been without its challenges, she said.

“The experience itself of living right alongside the locals is one that I’d argue you can’t really prepare yourself for. It’s a unique experience in itself,” Collette said.

Being unable to speak the language is also a problem.

Of course being unable to speak the language is a problem, just as are poor translators.  And true enough, little contributions to the population are a good thing.  In Fallujah 2007 there was a problem with feral dogs (packs of dogs would literally attack Marine patrols as well as the population).  In addition to what the Marines did to the population (e.g., heavy policing, kicking doors in, etc.), one thing they did for the population was to perform patrols with the sole purpose of getting the feral dog population under control.  They accomplished this in short order.  The people of Fallujah appreciated this.

But one thing that the Marines didn’t do was change their behavior.  In spite of the Iraqi cultural revulsion at dogs, the Marines had theirs – both bomb sniffing and adopted dogs – the adopted dogs helping in locating and warning indications of feral dogs packs.  The Marines projected forces regardless of cultural morays, and the tea-drinking came later when the population decided that the Marines would win.

The Marines are taking turnover of Sangin from the British, and there is mixed reaction.

… tribal elder Muhammad Khan says British troops were mindful of local culture, and treated people well.

”The former infidels [British] were better than these new ones [Americans],” said Mr Khan.

“Britons were respectful of our culture and traditions. They wouldn’t search someone on a motorcycle with his wife in the back seat.

”But American troops don’t care. They stop us and search both man and his woman. This is what we know of Americans.”

A number of residents have reservations about the arrival of US forces.

Gul Muhammad, from Sangin town, said: ”I liked the way British soldiers conducted operations.

“After they were attacked, they would go to the exact house and target the very attacker without harming others.”

Another resident expressed his concerns about civilian casualties.

”Americans behave differently,” said Aazar Gulalai. “They attack indiscriminately and target everybody in the vicinity after they are targeted by the Taliban, or suffer casualties in a mine explosion.

”All of them shoot at us. They all target us. We and the Taliban become the same for them after they are attacked.

”We are civilians. We don’t have any animosity with the Taliban, or government.”

Sangin is one of the most heavily populated districts in Helmand, with a population of around 150,000.

But a number of people left the town of Sangin in recent years as a result of fighting. One of them, Abdul Wali, hopes that he will be able to return home soon.

”We left Sangin because of continual attacks and fighting,” says Abdul Wali. “I hope Americans will bring security with them and schools will be opened.”

Over the past few months, Americans have already taken on security responsibility for many other districts in Helmand, including Nawa, Garmsir, Marjah, Khanshin and Nawzad.

A number of people in these districts claim that British forces failed to bring security there because they did not want to risk fighting the Taliban.

”Americans are serious,” says Muhabbat Khan, a resident of Nawa district. “Security is much better now here. The British were only concerned about their on security.

”British troops couldn’t handle casualties. They used to retreat all the time and this would further embolden the Taliban.”

A few residents of Sangin expressed hope that Americans would bring not only security to their district, but much needed development and jobs for the people.

Several observations are in order.  First, the British can certainly take casualties, and their bravery is not in question.  What the example of Musa Qala showed us is that the British approach to counterinsurgency is different because of their officer corps.  Two years ago the British enacted their plans to deescalate the violence against the Taliban.  The rest, they say, is history.

But more to the point, the counterinsurgency reactionary would study this report and decide that it’s time for cultural re-education.  Send the Marines to more PowerPoint presentations, and make sure that they have all of their cultural I’s dotted and T’s crossed.  To the Marines in Anbar this was irrelevant, and it should be irrelevant to the Marines in Helmand.

Returning to the first report about the high sounding Pashtun traditions of honor, it wouldn’t appear that their honor isn’t so great that they would forbid the Taliban from ruling them with a heavy hand and purvey death to the insurgents.  Indeed, the population in Sangin wants it all too.  They want security and then jobs, but they have no animosity towards anyone.

Regardless of their lack of animosity, they will be forced to choose sides, and they will contribute to their own security or they will have none, from either the Marines or the Taliban.  They can drink tea later.  There is work to do first for everyone involved.

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

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 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.

Proliferation of Bad Analysis on Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 11 months ago

Readers should beware of bad analysis work on Afghanistan.  There is an increasing frequency of it, so many analyses that I do not have the time to catalog them all.  I will mention only two such examples.

First, Rajiv Chandrasekaran writing at The Washington Post outlines a supposedly successful villagers’ revolt against the Taliban in Southern Afghanistan.  Christian Bleuer writing at Registan is duly sarcastic, and if you want to read about the ZZ Top beards you will have to drop by Registan and read Christian’s prose.

Ian comments that the reason this has people salivating is that it resembles the Anbar pattern.  Let me state in the clearest possible way I know how.  NO . IT . DOES . NOT. The Anbar pattern had to do with force projection at the beginning of the campaign by the Marines, force projection by Marines during the middle phase of the campaign, and force projection by the Marines near the end of the campaign.  Let me also be especially clear on this next point.  Had it not been for the U.S. Marines, the tribal awakening in Ramadi would have failed.  They simply weren’t strong enough, well equipped enough, supplied well enough, or numerous enough to defeat the AQI, Ansar al Sunna, and the other bad actors in Ramadi.  Furthermore, in places like Fallujah it had nothing whatsoever to do with tribes or any awakening.

By the way, the SOF does look especially stupid in their ZZ Top beards, and since they are focused on kinetics rather than embedding with the population, the beards serve no useful purpose other than to make them look stupid.  But I digress.

Next, let’s deal with a piece by Stephen Grey at Foreign Policy as he takes on the British campaign in Helmand.  Copious quotes are reproduced below, but the reader is advised to read his entire essay.

As painfully described in an investigation published last week by the Times of London, the charge against military top brass, and those like Stirrup who talked endlessly of constant progress on the ground, is of filtering complaints from field commanders and junior soldiers so that politicians under the previous Labour administration got spared the full picture of how badly things were going in Helmand and the many shortfalls, for example, of war-winning military equipment and in basic welfare for the troops and their injured. Britain went into Helmand, the article described, with its “eyes shut and fingers crossed.”

Adam Holloway, a former Guards officer and now backbench Tory MP, added in the Sunday Times: “There was a tendency under the Labour government to promote ‘politicians in uniform’ rather than officers willing to give frank advice about the strategic drift in Afghanistan.”

As Holloway implies, some of the criticism of senior commanders like Stirrup for failing to “back our boys,” rather misses the point. While the insufficiency of resources like helicopters, bomb technicians, and mine-protected vehicles was arguably a betrayal of the “military covenant” that a nation owes an armed forces bearing so much sacrifice, none of these deficiencies go far to explaining why the war has been going so badly.

So what did go wrong with British leadership in Helmand? What part did the U.K. play in the transformation of what was a quiet backwater of the country in 2006 into this violent quagmire which now requires a garrison of 20,000 foreign troops (twice what the Soviets deployed to the province)?

The British had deployed in 2006 with an original plan for Helmand that echoed key elements of what was to become Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s strategy. Its mission was to avoid combat and concentrate on protecting the population by providing basic security and fostering development in a narrow zone of central Helmand.

But the plan was not followed. As rebellion spread, the force of 3,300 personnel, representing an initial combat strength at first of little more nine platoons, were scattered across the district centers of northern Helmand. Pinned down in small Alamo-style outposts, their presence served as a magnet for the Taliban and an inspiration for general revolt. And, forced to defend themselves, they resorted to air strikes and heavy weapons that rubble-ized the centers of towns like Sangin and Musa Qala, and forced out the populations of Garmsir, Kajaki and Now Zad.

Now committed to defending a vast geographical area (and persuaded by President Karzai that any withdrawal would hand the Taliban a major victory), over successive years, Britain’s Task Force Helmand tripled in size but, despite reinforcement by Danes, Estonians and American units, was always outstretched by the spreading rebellion. British troops and their Afghan partners have never been in sufficient strength in any one place to dominate the ground effectively and provide the kind of basic security required to implement the central elements of an effective counterinsurgency approach, like reform of local government or meaningful development work. While the U.K. trumpeted its “comprehensive approach” — the unified application of both civil and military power — the slogan was a parody of reality.

The population of Helmand is highly-dispersed, scattered among the compounds that dot the “Green Zone,” as the irrigated land on either side of the Helmand River and its tributaries is called. While the British-led Task Force could cling on to the major towns like Sangin, Gereshk, and Lashkah Gah, real population security depended on securing the land that stretches between them.

Wedded at first to a conventional mindset, British operations initially sought to break the back of the Taliban revolt with endless and bloody “sweeps” up and down the Green Zone. The Taliban got suppressed for a few weeks or months and then came back. Troops came to refer to this disparagingly as “mowing the lawn.”

The sweeps got followed by another approach of “ribbon security” — an aspiration of constructing a chain of Forward Operating Bases up and down the Green Zone to provide a more extensive enduring presence — up the Helmand from Gereshk to Sangin and then ultimately upstream as far as the strategic hydroelectric dam at Kajaki.

The approach was flawed. There were never enough troops for such ambition. And the overstretch got worse by the fall of 2008, when the revolt started spreading to previously relatively-quiet central Helmand and the gates of the provincial capital, Lashkah Gah. In the assaults that began in July 2009, the British drained resources from Sangin and pushed troops into the central Babaji and Malgir districts west of Lashkah Gah. They were joined now by U.S. Marines who took over Garmsir, Nawa, and the southern Helmand district of Khan Neshin. The U.S. Marine presence has been expanding ever since, leading to today’s change-of-command.

This analysis is incorrect in a number of places, and misses the point in many others.  First off, let’s grant Mr. Grey the point about lack of adequate forces.  I have harped on this deficiency for four years, and will continue to do so.  But the analysis veers off into logically unrelated and largely irrelevant memes.  For example, Marine presence hasn’t increased steadily for years in Helmand.  The Marines (24th MEU, coverage found in category Marines in Helmand from 2008) entered Garmsir in 2004 and engaged in heavy kinetic operations, killing some 400 Taliban fighters and in fact having to pay out compensation for damage to homes in Garmsir.  Rather than alienating the population, the hard tactics caused the population to demand that they stay and ensure security.

Rather than staying, they turned over to British forces who then proceeded to pursue the same soft tactics they had in the balance of the Helmand Province, only to lose Garmsir in 2009 with the Marines having to retake it in 2010.  Bombing and shelling (“rubble-izing” as Stephen puts it) places like Musa Qala is quite irrelevant.  For an analysis of the horrible deal we made with Mullah Abdul Salaam in Musa Qala and the harm that it did to the campaign, see my category on Musa Qala.  The British were entirely responsible for that fiasco, and rather than being hated for shelling the city, they were hated for installing a stupid, corrupt coward to rule the city and for actually believing that he would protect the population and drive out the Taliban.

I won’t go on, but suffice it to say, there is a proliferation of analysis at the moment that simply doesn’t make the grade.  They are from those coming late to the campaign, or those who cannot jettison their population-centric COIN dogma, or for whatever reason.  Read everything you can, but be careful what you believe.

One Kilometer Outside Musa Qala

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 2 months 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.


The British and Musa Qala

The Example of Musa Qala

Musa Qala and the Argument for Force Projection

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

Rules of Engagement: Letting the Enemy Go Free

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 5 months ago

More than two years ago I outlined the calamity that British rules of engagement had caused to their campaign in Basra.  The security situation began very well at the initiation of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but devolved into one in which the British were completely ineffective at fighting the insurgency and had evacuated their outposts and retreated to their largest base.

Due to leaked MoD papers we now know certain details directly from the British on just how hamstrung their troop were due to the ROE.

Despite fighting “the most sustained conflict since the Korean War”, the rules left troops with one hand tied behind their backs, the secret documents said. Ministers refused to change the rules although they caused “significant” casualties.

British soldiers were banned from opening fire unless the Iraqis were actually pointing their weapons at them.

Insurgents from Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army quickly “worked out” the rules and exploited them causing many casualties, according to the documents.

“On many occasions,” says one, British patrols in the town of Amarah saw “Muqtada militia stood on rooftops from where they had fired in the past, with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms at their feet”.

Although clearly waiting to attack, the Iraqis could not be fired on because they were not pointing their weapons at the British. As the patrol passed, say the documents, the insurgents would then “pick up their weapons and fire”.

The documents leaked to The Daily Telegraph are secret “post-operational reports” written by British commanders in Iraq, and classified transcripts of interviews they gave to the MoD.

In them, Major General Andrew Stewart, the senior British operational commander in Iraq, says: “The US could not believe that in our area you were not able to fire at someone who had a weapon just because he wasn’t pointing it at you.”

The Americans were on warfighting tactics, yet Britain stuck to its “peacekeeping” rules despite a significant upsurge in violence after the arrest of a key al-Sadr lieutenant in 2004 …

In one of its fiercest engagements, the “Battle of Danny Boy”, at a checkpoint in May 2004, the British were attacked by 100 insurgents, leaving two soldiers seriously injured. Yet, the documents say, they had to allow 40 of the attackers to “walk away” with their weapons, after they lowered their guns. The same people later attacked the unit again, killing two soldiers.

The documents appear to show that Gen Stewart tried to get the rules of engagement changed, but was frustrated by ministers.

He says that the rules his men were working under did contain a “dormant war-fighting profile,” allowing more action, but “activation of this profile was reserved to Ministerial level” and did not happen.

Gen Stewart describes the rules of engagement as “constraining,” and “frustrating” but says they “did help us win over the locals by not being over-robust… you have to show restraint if you are to win hearts and minds”.

From another account by a British Soldier, “In 2003 the rules were that if someone shot at you, you could shoot them back but not if they were turned with their back to you.”

This last part about restrictive ROE helping to win over the locals is a bit of wishful thinking and fatuous, doctrinaire absurdity.  If the locals had been won over they would have given up the insurgency.  As it was, the Iraqi Security Forces, combined with U.S. forces, had to retake Basra while the British sat at their base watching (later retreating entirely from Basra).

The ISF regularly dismissed the British as sissies and cowards even though they clearly are not, and British Colonel Tim Collins has claimed that the British retreat from Basra has badly damaged the reputation of the British Army (this damage being inflicted by MoD strategy rather than the enlisted men who have been proven to be brave and well trained).

This example should be a clarion call to give chase to and kill the enemy as the surest way to win the hearts and minds of the locals, and thus win the campaign.  You might recall some of the rules of engagement in Afghanistan?

• No night or surprise searches.

• Villagers have to be warned prior to searches.

• ANA or ANP must accompany U.S. units on searches.

• U.S. soldiers may not fire at the enemy unless the enemy is preparing to fire first.

• U.S. forces cannot engage the enemy if civilians are present.

• Only women can search women.

• Troops can fire at an insurgent if they catch him placing an IED but not if insurgents are walking away from an area where explosives have been laid.

These same rules refused artillery support for four Marines who were killed in combat action in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan while pleading for help via radio.  Having forgotten the lessons of Iraq (where robust ROE in Anbar by the Marines helped to win that part of the campaign), we have reverted to the failed British model in Basra.  Intentionally repeating failed history is the strategy of losers.

While the Afghan National Army Sleeps …

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 9 months ago

The video below is yet another disheartening account of the complete lack of professionalism and seriousness of the ANA.  The one mistake that the British forces made is in trusting the night watch (what the U.S. Marines would officially call Guardian Angel, but unofficially simply call ‘duty’) to remain awake without a Brit watching him and providing their own security.  This was a huge mistake.  There is more difficulty in getting the ANA to take the home searches seriously.  General McChrystal’s edict disallowing ISAF forces from entering homes is problematic.

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Thousands of British Troops Too Fat to Deploy?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 9 months ago

A disturbing report from the Daily Mail.

Thousands of British troops cannot be sent to Afghanistan because they are too fat to fight, a leaked army memo revealed.

The war effort is being hampered by the number of front-line troops who are either obese or too unfit to be deployed to Helmand in the south of the country.

The news comes at a time when commanders are desperately fighting for more troops to be sent to the province to replace those who have been injured or killed.

According to the emergency memo, a ‘worrying trend of obesity’ is preventing soldiers from being deployed to the province.

It raises concerns that soldiers are failing to carry out the basic minimum of two hours physical exercise a week.

The document, obtained by the Observer, also warns that Britain’s ‘operational effectiveness’ is being undermined by low levels of fitness and raises concerns that lives could be lost because some soldiers are not fit enough to cope with the challenging conditions in Afghanistan.

‘The numbers of personnel unable to deploy and concerns about obesity throughout the army are clearly linked to current attitudes towards physical training,’ the memo from Major Brian Dupree of the army physical training corps in Wiltshire states.

He called for the army to ‘reinvigorate a warrior ethos and a culture of being fit’, concluding that it had ‘not consistently maintained our standards of physical fitness’.

To tackle the problem, the army is introducing a ‘body composition measurement’ in October to target overweight soldiers. It will also enforce a minimum of three physical training sessions a week.

The news comes as military commanders are demanding more British troops be sent to Afghanistan to protect ground recently gained from the Taliban in Operation Panther’s Claw.

An extra 125 troops have already been sent to replace those injured or killed in the offensive which has seen the highest number of British casualties since the conflict began.

There are currently 3,860 army personnel classified as PUD – personnel unable to deploy – with a further 8,190 classified as ‘of limited deployability’ for medical reasons.

The MoD said it could not provide a breakdown of these figures.

The current army fitness policy states that to be fit to fight requires a minimum of two to three hours of physical activity per week.

In the memo, which is dated July 10, Major Dupree said: ‘It is clear that even this most basic policy is not being implemented.

‘To cope with the demands of hybrid operations in Afghanistan and future conflicts the army needs personnel with that battle-winning edge that sustains them through adversity. It is clear this message has been diluted recently and this attitude must change.

‘The increasing PUD list and concerns over obesity in the services are clearly linked to this indifferent attitude.’

Patrick Mercer, head of strategy at the Army Training & Recruiting Agency, said: ‘This lack of personal fitness is a disgraceful state of affairs. The army is desperately undermanned anyway and for obesity to be a problem is extraordinary.’

The memo comes three years after the army relaxed its rules to allow recruits with a higher body mass index (BMI) to join after research found that two thirds of British teenagers were too fat to meet fitness requirements.

Applicants with a BMI of 32 – two points above the World Health Organisation’s definition of obesity – can now enlist.

Is this a joke?  I hesitate even to link and comment on this article because I wonder if it’s going to be proven a hoax.  Perhaps some British reader can weigh in and tell us if this report is legitimate.

Even if the condition is ameliorated, two hours of physical training per week is a preposterous level of training for Solders.  By the end of the day today, between weight training (today was bench press, inclined bench press, and curls, Tuesday it’s legs, Wednesday it’s back and posterior deltoids, etc.) and my aerobic activity, I will have put in more than two hours of physical training, and I am 50 years old.  Again, I put in more than two hours per day, not per week.  Surely this report is in error.  Surely.  Can one of our loyal British readers confirm or deny this report, or at least place this in context for us?

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