Archive for the 'British Army' Category

The Failing UK Strategy in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 9 months ago

Abu Muqawama links a stinging report in the Telegraph.  Writing in the British Army Review, an official MoD publication, Major SN Miller, stated: “Lets not kid ourselves. To date Operation Herrick [the British codename for the War in Afghanistan] has been a failure”. (Editorial comment: Can professional journalists not learn the basic rule of quotation marks belonging outside the period?).

The reader should spend the time to study this Telegraph report in its entirety.  Noteworthy is that AM reflexively goes into a discussion of the fact that a number of British officers he knows have taken to reading FM 3-24 because the UK hasn’t given the right training to their own officers.

But note also that there is little if any of this in the discussion in the Telegraph.  What you do find is that:

Maj Miller, who has served in Afghanistan, also attacks the Department For International Development (DFID) for pumping millions of pounds of taxpayers money into a government where he claimed “corruption, inefficiency and incompetence” are “endemic” …

“Self-protection has become the main tactic, reinforced by air strikes that can backfire and undermine the campaign.

“Even as the Army renders itself more and more immobile with heavier vehicles and infantrymen weighing as much as a medieval knight, still the fantasy of the “manoeuvrist approach is peddled in staff courses.

“There is nothing manoeuvrist about weeks of petty, attritional fire fights within a few kilometres radius of a Forward Operating Base. The reason for all this is clear – zero casualties has become the tacit assumption behind operations.

“The Taliban are not being “coerced”, “deterred”, or “destabilised”. They simply disperse, knowing that the British cannot sustain pressure, and they return like the tide when the British troops withdraw, after a short period, back to their bases” …

“Until the government properly resources the war in Afghanistan, our strategy will fail.

The picture is not one of not knowing how to do it.  It’s one of under-resourcing, FOB-centric, casualty-averse operations, and corruption within Afghanistan itself (ironically, we covered CNAS’s own contribution to under-resourcing in CNAS Releases Afghanistan Study).

To be sure, FM 3-24 touches on much of this, but most of it is common sense.  Skirmishes with Taliban fighters (versus what the U.S. Marines are doing in Now Zad) is wasteful of time, money, resources, and the good will of the Afghans.

The issue is not publishing the UK version of FM 3-24.  The issue is will and fortitude.  And by the way, while we have hit on the UK hard for their failure in Basra (due in part to their ROE and belief in the applicability of their experience in Northern Ireland to anywhere else on earth), we have also noted the brave UK warriors under duress.  The problem is no more in the enlisted ranks than it is the lack of a field manual (publishing the UK version of FM 3-24 won’t solve the world’s problems, nor the problems of the UK Army).  The problem is in the politics and the officer corps.

See also British Hated Because of Musa Qala (and associated links provided).

Final British Withdrawal from Basra

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 10 months ago

The Captain’s Journal has provided extensive coverage and commentary of the British misadventure in Basra, and without repeating much of what we have said over the past couple of years, it bears mentioning that the U.K. has turned over security to the U.S. and will complete its withdrawal from Basra.  While we have provided extensive analysis of the devolution of security (e.g., see Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement), a recent Asia Times article gives yet another datum that should have been a warning to the Brits concerning the state of affairs in Basra.

Informed British military opinion has repeatedly castigated the British government’s failure – ever since the war’s outbreak – to adequately resource its own soldiers. For the 2003 invasion of southern Iraq – Operation Telic – the British deployed some 46,000 troops, but rapidly reduced this number to around 9,000. This was in hindsight a highly overconfident decision. Furthermore, the initial British post-invasion strategy focused on the use of counter-insurgency techniques learned in Malaysia and Northern Ireland rather than a surge in numbers as effectively piloted further north in Baghdad in 2006 by US General David Petraeus.

But Basra proved not to be like Belfast at all during the British occupation. In the teeth of a fanatical Shi’ite insurgency from 2004 – led by the Shi’ite Mahdi Army and Iran-linked Badr Brigades – mortar, rocket and roadside bomb attacks plagued the overstretched British contingent badly.

Surge tactics were not used while the British lacked sufficient numbers of helicopters and the types of armored vehicles needed to protect against roadside improvised bombs effectively. Relations between the Basra city police – obviously infiltrated by Shi’ite militants – and the British army during 2005-2006 were uncomfortable to put it mildly.

Equally, the British military’s decision in August 2006 to hand over a forward base at Abu Naji, al-Amarah, to Iraqi security forces – many of whom were likewise linked to Shi’ite insurgent groups – has been criticized consistently. This permitted insurgents a safe haven in which to manufacture roadside devices for use against the British with relative impunity.

The hope is that the Iraqi people will be able to reject Iranian hegemony alone, including ridding its own forces of sympathetic elements.  But at least early on, the ISF simply could not be trusted.  Recall one experience of U.S. forces in Anbar.

About a month ago, the Iraqi brigade, which is predominantly Shiite, was assigned a new area and instructed to stay away from Nasr Wa Salam, Colonel Pinkerton said. But he said he believed that the Iraqi soldiers remain intent on preventing Sunni Arabs, a majority here, from controlling the area. He cites a pattern of aggression by Iraqi troops toward Abu Azzam’s men and other Sunnis, who he believes are often detained for no reason.

Recently, and without warning, Colonel Pinkerton said, 80 Iraqi soldiers in armored vehicles charged out of their sector toward Nasr Wa Salam but were blocked by an American platoon. The Iraqis refused to say where they were going and threatened to drive right through the American soldiers, whom they greatly outnumbered.

Eventually, with Apache helicopter gunships circling overhead and American gunners aiming their weapons at them, the Iraqi soldiers retreated. “It hasn’t come to firing bullets yet,” Colonel Pinkerton said …

Colonel Pinkerton’s experiences here, he said, have inverted the usual American instincts born of years of hard fighting against Sunni insurgents.

“I could stand among 1,800 Sunnis in Abu Ghraib,” he said, “and feel more comfortable than standing in a formation of Iraqi soldiers.”

And one example from Fallujah, 2007.  The Marines fought alongside former insurgents and against hard core insurgents and al Qaeda, and the relationship was one of trust.  As for the Iraqi Security Forces of which people like Nibras Kazimi sing the praises, the Marines would never sleep around them without an armed duty Marine, and without being separated by concertina wire and other indicators of intrusion into their area.  They were treacherous and untrustworthy troops.

The Brits ought to have known than handing a FOB over to the ISF in this area and at this time would have led to safe haven for Iranian-backed insurgents.  They were simply married to COIN doctrine developed in the womb of the relatively safe Northern Ireland.  But the lesson for Iraq, Afghanistan, and indeed, the balance of the world, is that COIN doctrine developed among your own people (who hold to roughly the same religious views, speak the same language, have the same cultural morays, etc.) will lead to large scale dysfunction of your troops when applied anywhere else.  The fault lies not with the enlisted man, but the British Army leadership.

British Hated Because of Musa Qala

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 2 months ago

The Captain’s Journal has made it clear before concerning the British that our gripe is not with the enlisted man who has been heroic and hard fighting, but with the officers and strategy-makers of the British Army who have let their experiences in Northern Ireland cloud their judgment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We have also covered the deal the British struck with one Mullah Abdul Salaam, a so-called mid-level Taliban commander who allegedly sided with the British, with the British thinking that Salaam would field fighters when the British and U.S. attacked Musa Qala to retake it from hard core Taliban fighters.  As it turns out, Salaam was pretty much just a despicable and cowardly weasel.

There was no uprising. When Afghan, British and US units closed in on Musa Qala last month, Mullah Salaam 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.”

So instead of fighting the Taliban, he and his men stayed home and screamed like school girls.  Some deal the British made – a pig in a poke.  But yet, he was the “only game in town” and spoke “bloody well,” so he was rewarded with governorship of Musa Qala by the British.

The British have since accused him of corruption, while Salaam has leveled counter-accusations of the British undermining his authority in testimony to how bad the relations have become.  Security is still problematic in Musa Qala, and Dexter Filkins at the New York Times gives us a little glimpse into the current state of affairs of Musa Qala.  Many themes here at The Captain’s Journal appear in the Filkins article, including the notion that the countryside is being turned over to the Taliban because there aren’t enough troops to protect the population.  But one exchange occurs regarding Musa Qala that is instructive for all such future tactics employed by either the British or U.S.

Mr. Hediat said he had no great gripes with the British soldiers who were occupying the town — for one thing, he said, they do not raid houses and peer at the women. But the biggest complaint, he said, was the Afghan the British installed as the district governor, Mullah Salam. The governor is unpopular and corrupt, demanding bribes and tributes from anyone who needs something.

“This is why people hate the British, because they put Mullah Salam in power, and they keep him there,” he said.

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.”  Isby made several key conclusions.

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].

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.

The Musa Qala tactic stands out as one that should never be repeated.  It should also be noted that the Afghan population has very little confidence in tribal militias versus the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police (i.e., in spite of the corruption in the police and ineptitude in the Army, they are seen as better than the alternatives).  In the mean time, the British must find a way to dismember Salaam’s network of corruption in Musa Qala in order to restore confidence in their counterinsurgency capabilities.  Thus far they have failed – miserably.


The Example of Musa Qala

Musa Qala and the Argument for Force Projection

Our Deal with Mullah Abdul Salaam

The Failure of Talking with the Taliban

British Brass Defends Basra Campaign

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 3 months ago

The Captain’s Journal has a history on the one hand of defending the bravery of the enlisted British soldier, and on the other of criticizing the strategy that the British brass brought to the campaign in Southern Iraq. Without a doubt the British enlisted man wanted to participate in counterinsurgency in Basra, and also quite without a doubt, his chain of command effectively prevented him from doing so.

Now comes Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup who vigorously defends the British campaign, and more particularly, we note, the decisions by the military brass.

Although operation charge of the knights got off to an inauspicious start, its eventual success and subsequent developments have transformed the situation in Basra. But the operation has also attracted a degree of controversy, particularly with regard to the British role.

So I want to take this opportunity to lay to rest some of the myths that have emerged. Myths such as: the British had given up in Basra; that they’d done a deal to hand the city over to the militias; and that they failed to support the Iraqis during charge of the knights. But to do so, I need to take you back a bit. Back to the latter part of 2006, in fact. Now at that particular time, we and the United States were in a process of transition, working to transfer responsibility for security away from the coalition to the Iraqi government. But there were obstacles to this transition. And the obstacles were different in different parts of the country. The problem for the Americans in Baghdad and the surrounding areas was that the Iraqis were too busy trying to kill one another to face up to the question of how Shia and Sunni could co-exist politically. The problem for the British in the south east was that the Iraqis were too busy trying to kill us to focus on the intra-Shia political issues in Basra. These different problems required different solutions.

Thus has the Air Chief Marshal created a false picture of the British task versus the American task. First of all, the U.S. Army in Baghdad and surrounding areas was indeed targeted by both al Qaeda and radical Shi’a elements, including the Jaish al Mahdi. But more to the point, the Air Chief Marshal has conveniently ignored the fact that the U.S. Marines in Anbar were under attack twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year for a very long time. They know what it’s like to have fighters trying to kill them, but even before the U.S. Army in Baghdad, they implemented combat outposts, traditional counterinsurgency tactics, and even more advanced tactics such as sand berms, gated communities and biometrics, and the concerned citizens program along with payments for labor. More than 1000 Marines perished in Anbar as a result of the campaign, so it is disingenuous and insulting for the Air Chief Marshal to attempt to portray the British dilemma as somehow unique in history, or even the history of Iraq. Continuing:

The US decided to increase its force levels – the surge – in order to suppress Sunni-Shia violence and create space within which the political process had some chance of success. This was a key step. But the process got a helping hand from a most unexpected quarter: al Qaida in Iraq. Their appalling treatment of the Sunni tribes in the areas they dominated – such as Anbar province – led to their rejection by the local population, which then looked to the coalition for support.

It is an adulteration of the narrative to insert the feature of the tribal awakening and population’s rejection of al Qaeda without also including the months and even years of buildup to this via combat operations to prove to the population who was the stronger tribe and who could be trusted with security and protection. Again, the narrative must be complete in order to be accurate. Again continuing:

The UK made repeated attempts to deal with extremist militia violence in the south east. We planned and sought to execute numerous Special Forces operations. We also developed Operation Salamanca – an ambitious, comprehensive and hard-edged plan to confront and subdue the militias. All of these combined powerful offensive action with stabilisation and development activity. But each was, in the event, emasculated. Because we simply couldn’t get the agreement of the Iraqi government; their own internal politics made it impossible. The Iraqi government was at that stage still dependent on the political support of Muqtada al Sadr, which made decisive action against the Jaish al-Mahdi somewhat problematic for them. And there was a growing desire to assert Iraqi sovereignty, manifested by increasing restrictions on our offensive activity.

Here again the Air Chief Marshal is only telling his listeners part of the narrative. The Jaish al Mahdi and power of Moqtada al Sadr is largely a creation of the UK, which after he was in the actual custody of the 3/2 Marines in 2004, went to great lengths to ensure his release and safety by performing an emergency transport of Ali al Sistani (who was in the UK at the time undergoing medical treatment) back to Iraq to negotiate his release with the support of the UK. At that time, the JAM numbered a few hundred followers, and by the time the British were no longer effective in Basra they numbered in the thousands. Again continuing:

Interestingly, one of its best and most enduring legacies – the destruction of the hated and feared Jamiat police station, source of so much corruption and intimidation – brought down on us the wrath of the government in Baghdad. So the question was how else we could free Basra from its cycle of violence. Early in 2007 we came to the conclusion that we were going to have to do something significant to break the impasse. Something that would force the Iraqis to face up to their problems and to their responsibilities. We judged that the only way to do this was to withdraw our permanently based forces from Basra city, and to put the Iraqis in the lead there.

The “wrath of the government in Baghdad.” Maybe the U.S. Marines weren’t too concerned about the wrath of the government in Baghdad when the Iraqi officials turned on the Marines for engaging the Sunnis in the Concerned Citizens program (later called the Sons of Iraq) because the Shi’a officials in power believed the program to be an embarrassment to Iraq at the hands of the Americans who were making deals with “gangs of killers.” There were even reports of U.S. troops standing down far superior numbers of Iraqi troops along with armor, bent on doing harm to Sunni members of the Sons of Iraq, coming close to exchanging fire with the ISF. Take particular note of this incident – it means that the U.S. forces came close to a military confrontation with the ISF in the protection of the Sunni population. So much for the notion of the British enduring the “wrath of the government.”

The fact of the matter is that the soft cover, the almost invisible force projection and the low visibility, and the extremely restrictive rules of engagement aided the continual diminution of the security situation in Basra rather than stopped it. Further, the Iraqi government only dealt with the JAM when it became obvious that the UK insisted on there being one to begin with. A counterinsurgency strategy suited for Northern Ireland just doesn’t apply to Iraq, but the British found this out too late to do much in the way of counterinsurgency. Unfortunately, the Air Chief Marshal still hasn’t learned anything about the campaign.


What Basra can teach us about Counterinsurgency

The Good and Bad in Basra

More British Trouble in Basra

Continued Chaos in Basra

Calamity in Basra and British Rules of Engagement

The Rise of the JAM

What Basra can teach us about Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 4 months ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense Analysts Echo The Captain’s Journal Concerning Kajaki Dam

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 6 months ago

In The British Approach to Counterinsurgency (and in the associated comments), The Captain’s Journal made it clear that while the British had good reason to celebrate the passage of a hydroelectric turbine to the Kajaki dam in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, unfortunately it had to pass through some foreboding terrain, area owned by the Taliban. This is a pointer to larger problems. Indeed, 200 Taliban had to be killed on the way to the dam. This should cause the celebratory mood to pause long enough to consider how the dam, its transmission lines, its operators and the electrical grid in the towns are to be protected. We linked previous articles in which we had discussed these same issues regarding infrastructure in Iraq.

In one such instance, al Qaeda interfered with an irrigation canal simply by shoveling dirt into it. In other instances the electricity grid had proven to be unreliable due to its far flung and widely distributed nature. Killing the Taliban, we argued, is necessary for the protection of the infrastructure. In order to protect the infrastructure, one has to neutralize its enemies. Now, defense analysts and experts are weighing in echoing these same themes.

British forces pulled off an epic mission to deliver a 200-tonne turbine to a dam in the heart of Taliban territory in Helmand, but the $100m project must overcome serious obstacles before it can improve the lives of local Afghans, security analysts said yesterday.

Nearly 5,000 troops were involved in the operation to bring the turbine and other machinery through 100 miles of insurgent strongholds to the village of Kajaki, where it will be used to refurbish an ageing hydroelectric dam.

However, engineers predict it will take months before the dam is running at full capacity, and it will be at least two years before the electricity it generates reaches the 1.8 million intended beneficiaries, who live in remote villages in the Helmand river valley.

Even then, electricity supplies are likely to face disruption from Taliban attacks unless the region is cleared of militants, analysts said.

The area is not densely populated, so the power lines must cover many miles of hostile land to reach the remote villages that are due to be linked up to the dam. British troops in Helmand control an area of only a few miles radius beyond the Kajaki dam, so pylons and substations will have to cross what is now a stronghold for militants operating in the region.

“The power lines coming out of Kajaki are going to be extremely vulnerable to attack,” said Matthew Clements, Eurasia analyst at Jane’s Defence. “The arrival of the extra turbine is a major blow to the Taliban, so they are going to be keen to make sure the project fails.”

[ … ]

“In Iraq we’ve seen that overhead power lines are extremely difficult to protect, and there’s no point generating electricity if you can’t distribute it,” said Paul Smyth, head of operational studies at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies.

It’s a matter of focus. Although there is no on-off digital switch to stop the insurgency, and although the notions of kinetic operations and infrastructure cannot be completely sequential, still, there must be some basic level of security in order for nonkinetic operations to be successful. Killing 200+ Taliban shouldn’t be seen merely as an effect of the recent British operations in Southern Afghanistan. It should be one of the primary goals.

The British Approach to Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 7 months ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kajaki dam has been the object of intense combat.

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

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


The Role of Electricity in State Stabilization

Targeting the Insurgency Versus Protecting the Infrastructure

The British Deal with the Mahdi Militia

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 7 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.


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
14 years, 8 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.


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
14 years, 8 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.

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