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Thread: The UK in Afghanistan

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    Quote Originally Posted by Infanteer View Post
    Based upon your previous post and this response, are you saying that if the British units in Helmand spent 12 months in theater instead of 6 months, that they would be much more successful?
    Actually my position has been that in a war against insurgents who are (in the main) local to the area and know the terrain and climate like the back of their hand you need to strive for continuity not only at the command level but also down to the trigger pullers if you are to neutralise their battlefield advantage.

    If you want to follow my train of thought on this you can start at about post #216 of this thread as I really can't answer you with quick yes/no on this.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Granite_State View Post
    Is this true? I trained briefly with Royal Marines last summer (two weeks) and they talked about and showed us videos of pretty aggressive live fire training. I also remember Patrick Hennessey mentioning the British Army's "live fire tactical training" as a particular point of pride in his (great) book.
    I would tend to go with what the Commander of Herrick 11 (six months to April 2010) wrote in his debrief and that was:

    Realistic Training. We were hugely constrained by UK safety regulations, and took risk in theatre as a result. I reckon that it took us two months in theatre before we were at our optimum level. Most of my concern lay in the area of live firing, where I believe that our safety margins are far too great for people who are about to deploy on operations, and where things like mortar safety distances and the inability to fire over people constrains realistic training. We currently have to use RSOI (Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration) to plug the gaps in MST; which is not supposed to be its purpose.
    ... and what if I may ask made Patrick Hennessey's book 'great'?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Infanteer View Post
    I'll repost this in response to a nice little PM I got from JMA, keeping in line with the debate as per the moderator direction.
    Oh yes... where would we be without the moderators...

    JMA has been critical of the UK effort in Afghanistan since day 1 - which is fine; I've been critical of ISAF as well. However, it's one thing to be critical but its another thing to simply hag on the guy who made the decision without pointing out what he should have done, while being able to (a) admit the circumstances that were beyond the control/knowledge of the decision makers (both military and civilian) (b) understand events that came up after the commitment that may not have been predictable before.
    Not quite. A mere observer can tell that a baseball pitcher is bad or damn useless without necessarily being able diagnose the problem with his technique or suggest remedial action. It would be obvious.

    I seem to recall you were a platoon commander back in 2006 when you did your Afghanistan tour. Surely now as you look back you will 'see' things that you could have done better and that you would recommend young officers following along should adopt? Also things which should not be done?

    If you read this thread (and some others) you will see where the remedial action was not just plain better basic training I did in fact suggest some alternatives. In some cases I probably didn't offer alternatives (I can't remember). But I did get the "then you do better" retort. And the answer to that is yes I could do better (in nearly every case, certainly couldn't do worse) and believe there are probably 100s who could do better. A lot of the problems relate to the strategy which the subunits on the ground can do nothing about but an equal amount relates to just plain poor soldiering skills.

    I remember one of the first s**t storms (to use your term) I got into here was when I criticised the conduct of an ambush a US platoon screwed up. Yes they killed some Terries but there was enough there to have jailed at least two of the platoon (the one who compromised the ambush before initiation and the other who looted a cellphone which could have been used for immediate battlefield int and psyops). A swarm of bees descended... and incompetence was defended strenuously.

    Then more recently I made some comment on video of a US callsign in contact where the quality of the tactics and drills quite frankly defied belief. Again the swarm descended and incompetence was strenuously defended.

    Even more recently a series of BBC videos on aspect of the Brit deployments in Helmand have been made available about which I have not yet really commented on... mainly because the Brits are down, they know they are down and there is no point in putting the boot in.

    Hence my question - what were real options in 2005 and early 2006? I asked the question, so he can provide the courtesy of an answer, or of at least admit he doesn't have one (if that is the case). That's generally how questions work.
    And my answer on this is that reading the Defence Committee - Fourth Report
    Operations in Afghanistan
    will reveal it all. There is no longer any need to speculate its all there. There is a lot in that report that needs to be digested.
    Last edited by JMA; 08-01-2011 at 01:30 PM.

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    We need to be critical of how we have operated in Afghanistan, failing to admit we have done something wrong or that perhaps went about it in the wrong way means that mistakes will me made again and again. The quality of British soldiers in the field is just one point, not having served in the military i don't feel i can, or should comment on such matters. In terms of COIN stragetgy i feel thats a different matter, i might be an armchair commentator but the char is surrounded by a lot of reading material. Getting back to the current discussion however, i'm interested in what JMA is saying. Outside of pre-deployment training restrictions, where do you see the shortfallings in the British military? We shouldn't be slinging mud, these is a place for healthy debate.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Look at it from this angle if you will.

    There is a war the politicians want to start or get involved in. So they deploy troops there into an environment totally foreign to the soldiers being deployed. Sticking to their comfort zone we hear them saying things like "this is what we do" and "this is how we do it" as they shoe horn their previous experience into the new theatre whether it fits or not.

    The Paras got involved in a bunch of mini-Arnhems, while the Marines even managed to do an amphibious landing across Kajaki Dam and the mech boys drove up and down "mowing the grass". Each in their comfort zone, each doing what they know best and in the process leaving the Pashtuns who were sitting on the high ground watching them asking each other WTF the British were doing.

    Little attention to terrain and enemy (the whole METT-TC thing).
    Not true. I would say that it displayed little understanding of terrain (especially the human terrain), but it certainly was not ignored. I suspect that the fact that the UK entered Helmand with no clearly articulated strategic objectives (or strategy to achieve them) and there was no coherent campaign plan (UK, NATO or ISAF) in the early years also attributed to the lack of tactical coherence with each brigade fighting its own 6 month campaign.

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    To make matters worse prior to deployment in Afghanistan they go to Kenya for a month to prepare. Another month away from home where other than the ability to conduct live-firing (away from the prying eyes of the Health and Safety Nazis) any link with Afghanistan is tenuous.
    Not true. Kenya is not mission specific training, it is generic (routine) training and the live firing rules used in Kenya are exactly the same as those used in the UK. Training in Kenya is pertinent to, but not for, operations in Afghanistan. We trained in Kenya prior to Afghanistan and will train there after Afghanistan.

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    The whole focus is doing the six months tour as per the 'harmony guidelines' and then getting back home (and back to some real soldiering maybe?) The brigadier aims at a CBE rather than a mere DSO and so on down the line to the troopie who just wants to make it home alive and with all his limbs intact.
    More then a little truth in this less the 'real soldiering' swipe. Harmony guidelines is a complex area based around medical, welfare and organisational issues. They need looked at and I favour 9 month tours with 24 months tour intervals - this will not breach medical guidance.

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Some don't make it and the family's pain and suffering is compounded by a public inquest which raises doubts about leadership, training, equipment shortages and the lack of resources (which all serves to undermine the war effort).
    True. I do not favour the personification of war and I think that Coroners' Inquests do as much harm as good; but the law states they are to happen and no politican will change this law. Of course if we buried our servicemen overseas there would not be the same requirement...

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Now what is really startling is that the Brit military used to be skilled, resourceful and competent and certainly since Iraq seems to have collapsed in a heap.

    Where does the fault lie?

    Certainly with the politicians... but then you voted for them so you get what you deserve.

    Certainly with the civil servants in the MoD (who IMHO are nothing but flame thrower material ) and should be cleaned out root and branch during the cost cutting.

    Certainly with the general staff who have been contaminated (I believe) by their contact with the civil servants in the MoD and Foreign Office (during their attachments to these departments from the rank of major up).
    Several points to address:
    • The army was probably never as competent as you think it was. Certainly the history of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns looks very similar to the earlier Afghan Wars, Crimea, Boer, WW1, WW2 and N Ireland campaigns. Armies prepare for one war, fight another and learn - the issue is how quickly they learn.
    • The politicians reflect society
    • The army reflects society
    • The ways wars are fought reflect the societies fighting the war
    • Civil servants are not the issue, but the (dysfunctional) chain of command is.
    • The armed forces have been politicised (small 'p'), especially at the higher levels.


    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Now when it gets to the serious stuff like sending troops into battle without the correct kit (or IMHO sending them into battle with the correct kit but to the extent that all they can do is waddle around like the Michelin Man) then the families are correct in believing it is tantamount to criminal negligence. (Look back in this thread and you will see that I didn't get too much support for my position at the time.)
    There is an element of 'have your cake and eat it' here... The Army started the AFG and Iraq with an attitude towards risk that was robust - kit was 'sufficient' not necessarily the best. As the casualties mounted and the coroner's inquests were heard the appetite for risk declined significantly. This has lead to the current waddling around like the Michelin Man - a direct result of coroner's reports and families' concerns which are largely (but not exclusively) focused on physical protection. This is also a reflection on political and societal realities in what is for the UK at large, a small and discretionary war.

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    My subunit in 1979 had seven married members out of the hundred odd in number. They were among the officers (2) and the senior NCOs (4) and one troopie. Now at the risk of being contentious (which hasn't bothered me before ) I assume that (as in my day) junior officers and troopies have to ask permission to get married? IMHO you don't want to encourage officers to marry before the rank of captain and other ranks until they have been in the service for 5+ years at least.

    Sadly the type of girls who often hang around military barracks and prey on the troopies most often don't share middle class family values and would snare a troopie for a roof over their head, spend his money and play the field when he was in the bush. Then there were the girls who were seeing three different guys from different subunits as they rotated for R&R which led to a major show down and fights between troopies when the whole battalion came back at the same time to receive the Freedom of the City. So to be brutally frank domestic issues and dear John letters comes with the territory and is something officers and (mainly) the SNCOs must deal with.
    Permission to marry no longer required. The adage of 'subalterns cannot, captains may, majors should and colonels must' still holds true, but it cannot be enforced. Same applies to junior ranks. However I am glad to see that some things never change and that your boys knew the same kind of girls that my boys do!

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Then it comes down to the soldier himself. Why did he join up? This is why I believe the units of the greatest value are those where members are required to undergo a "challenging" voluntary selection course. It is quite obvious (IMHO) that it is found that a lower incidence of PTSD is found among the Marines and the Paras as opposed to the crap-hat and fish-and-chip units.

    The bottom line I believe is that Britain needs to get a military that want to be soldiers in word and deed and will be found ready and willing when the nation calls. The opportunity in this time of cuts to ring the changes is in the offing... but will they take advantage of the opportunity?
    Infantry soldiers join up because they want to fight - especially at the moment where they know that they all will deploy on operations and get a fight.
    It is a truism that those units that undertake a challenging voluntary selection course, elite units, tend to attract a higher calibre of soldier and select an on average higher calibre of soldier. However good soldiers join 'crap hat' and 'fish and chip' regiments (I joined my regiment because it was my family and local regiment ). While there are good and bad soldiers good and bad units are normally made by good and bad leaders and training. The impact of the current cuts and the drawdown in operational tempo is likely to make it harder to recruit and retain personnel.
    RR

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    Default Short Falls in the UK Military

    • Over ambitious (or poor strategic decision making mechanisms in government which fail to tie in 'ends', 'ways' and 'means' effectively).
    • Under-resourced (or just exceptionally bad at resource management).
    • Sclerotic chain of command.
    • Intellectually weak and lacking in intellectual integrity.
    • Politicised (small 'p') general staff.


    But things have improved hugely over the last 6 years in all areas. The biggest changes still be made are in intellectual ethos, a (still) unwieldy and bureacratic chain of command and the politicisation aspect.
    RR

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    Good to hear from you again. Lets deal with the areas of non-agreement first, shall we.

    Quote Originally Posted by Red Rat View Post
    Not true. I would say that it displayed little understanding of terrain (especially the human terrain), but it certainly was not ignored. I suspect that the fact that the UK entered Helmand with no clearly articulated strategic objectives (or strategy to achieve them) and there was no coherent campaign plan (UK, NATO or ISAF) in the early years also attributed to the lack of tactical coherence with each brigade fighting its own 6 month campaign.
    I said 'little attention' and you said 'little understanding' and I did not say 'ignored'.

    I will rephrase my original comment as follows: Too little attention to terrain and enemy (the whole METT-TC thing).

    Let me try and expand on what I mean.

    Am reading Forbes' The Afghan Wars at the moment and given the Brit military history with Afghanistan there should have been a better appreciation of what can go wrong in such campaigns and what will go wrong if such campaigns are approached in a half hearted manner. Yet the campaign was approach 'on the cheap' and strictly on terms of comfort to the military (i.e. the harmony guidelines) without making any significant changes that would require discomfort of the military having to adapt to the campaign on hand. What was the hackneyed comment of the time about the army not going to take its attention off some future hypothetical war by too narrow a focus on Afghanistan again? Big mistake paid for (as they say) through blood and treasure.

    Remember, my point all along was that the way to ensure operational efficiency was through continuity and that could only be assured through permanent battalions with a trickle replacement policy. It certainly works in terms of terrain. We had poms/yanks trickling in over the years and they were easily absorbed and adapted in remarkably short time to the terrain and vegetation etc etc. I always smiled when after six months a pom would greet a new one and begin to clue him in on the African bush. They learned fast when they were thrown in with a bunch who had been around. I had a young yank who loved it. Said it was like being in the middle of a national geographic movie (when in remote areas) and even better as he got the chance to shoot some 'bad guys' (he returned to the US after the war and ended up as a CSM (in their sense) and is I believe in the Ranger Hall of Fame). But to toss a whole 'virgin' company into the deep end is just plain stupid IMHO.

    Forbes quotes General Nott:

    The conduct of the thousand and one politicals has ruined our cause, and bared the throats of every European in this country to the sword and knife of the revengful Afghan and the bloody Belooch; and unless several regiments be quickly sent, not a man will be left to describe the fate of his comrades.
    These past experiences should have alerted the military to how the shenanigans of the politicians would impact on the soldiers down the line. No lesson learned. Seems that the only people who trust British politicians and civil servants are the Brit military

    Then to the enemy and from Skeen's Passing It On:

    The truth is, you can do a great deal that seems risky, provided you put yourself in the enemy’s place, think as he would, and then don’t do what he expects you to. And when he has been fooled two or three times, play for a change the straight silly game he is accustomed to from us, and his heart will break.

    This applies to every act, from the decisions of the higher commanders to the handling of the section by the latest lance-corporal. One of the reasons why the Pathan has been so successful in the past and has such a reputation for cunning is that he has reckoned on our playing the obvious soldier’s game, and has been right. Copy his game, and go one better, and he is done.
    To achieve this you need to know your enemy.

    OK, so how prepared were the Marines for the current deployment? What percentage arrived with some degree of command of Pashtu? How many hours of training in Pashtun culture and traditions was received by all troops? What training was carried out in (as close as damn it) similar terrain? How much longer range (than usual) shooting training carried out?

    I could go on but I believe I have made my point. The Afghan tour remains shoe-horned into a busy schedule where the real soldering gets done... and as a result the regiments pay the price.

    Not true. Kenya is not mission specific training, it is generic (routine) training and the live firing rules used in Kenya are exactly the same as those used in the UK. Training in Kenya is pertinent to, but not for, operations in Afghanistan. We trained in Kenya prior to Afghanistan and will train there after Afghanistan.
    I stand corrected. So there is really no reason to go to Kenya for a month then. So what is the real reason behind having a Brit battalion in Kenya (almost) all the time? A hedge against a coup there?

    As I said earlier if it is OK to take the soldiers away from home for another month in the 'harmony guidelines' cycle then add it to the Afghan tour and allow for a battle camp of a month in Afghanistan to allow for acclimatisation and training on the local terrain of the latest TTPs.
    Last edited by JMA; 08-02-2011 at 04:06 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    I said 'little attention' and you said 'little understanding' and I did not say 'ignored'.
    I stand chastened at attention!

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Am reading Forbes' The Afghan Wars at the moment and given the Brit military history with Afghanistan there should have been a better appreciation of what can go wrong in such campaigns and what will go wrong if such campaigns are approached in a half hearted manner. Yet the campaign was approach 'on the cheap' and strictly on terms of comfort to the military (i.e. the harmony guidelines) without making any significant changes that would require discomfort of the military having to adapt to the campaign on hand. What was the hackneyed comment of the time about the army not going to take its attention off some future hypothetical war by too narrow a focus on Afghanistan again? Big mistake paid for (as they say) through blood and treasure.
    Until late 2008 Iraq remained the UK's Main Effort and Afghanistan was a subsidiary effort.
    They were both campaigns on the cheap because they were not the national main effort and they were not wars of national survival; they were both 'small' discretionary wars.
    The armed forces however did not go on to a war footing until 2008/09, far too late. There were various reasons for this, institutional and political; none in my opinion good.
    I think that the 'hackneyed comment' you refer to is the army's desire to "train for 'a' war, not 'the' war". This is still the case. The army trains generically on the basics and then, 9 months out, trains specifically for Afghanistan.

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Remember, my point all along was that the way to ensure operational efficiency was through continuity and that could only be assured through permanent battalions with a trickle replacement policy. It certainly works in terms of terrain. We had poms/yanks trickling in over the years and they were easily absorbed and adapted in remarkably short time to the terrain and vegetation etc etc. I always smiled when after six months a pom would greet a new one and begin to clue him in on the African bush. They learned fast when they were thrown in with a bunch who had been around. I had a young yank who loved it. Said it was like being in the middle of a national geographic movie (when in remote areas) and even better as he got the chance to shoot some 'bad guys' (he returned to the US after the war and ended up as a CSM (in their sense) and is I believe in the Ranger Hall of Fame). But to toss a whole 'virgin' company into the deep end is just plain stupid IMHO.
    There are pros and cons for keeping people a long time in theatre and in combat. There are also second and third order organisational issues by adopting such an approach. I do not think that the UK approach was right. My preference was and is for a permanent cadre for formation HQs and enablers (int, sigs, logistics et al) and units rotating in for 9 month tours. Units rotate in on a trickle basis, saving pressure on the training equipment pool and the airbridge. I think if we had put units into AFG on a permanent footing and trickle people in as you suggest the impact would have been:

    • Recrutiing and retention in the non-deploying army would have collapsed
    • Training in the non-deploying army would have all but stopped (we had run out of money by 2007, if training could not be linked to deployment it just was not happening)


    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Forbes quotes General Nott:

    These past experiences should have alerted the military to how the shenanigans of the politicians would impact on the soldiers down the line. No lesson learned. Seems that the only people who trust British politicians and civil servants are the Brit military
    I do not think that the Brit military trusts the politicians in the sense that you say, but I do think that the relationship between politicians and senior military appears to have been dysfunctional at best.

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    To achieve this you need to know your enemy.

    OK, so how prepared were the Marines for the current deployment? What percentage arrived with some degree of command of Pashtu? How many hours of training in Pashtun culture and traditions was received by all troops? What training was carried out in (as close as damn it) similar terrain? How much longer range (than usual) shooting training carried out?

    I could go on but I believe I have made my point. The Afghan tour remains shoe-horned into a busy schedule where the real soldering gets done... and as a result the regiments pay the price.
    If my memory serves me right: One in every company will have been on a 12 month language course, one in every platoon on a 3 month language course, one in every section on a 3 week course and everyone will have had some basic language training.

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    I stand corrected. So there is really no reason to go to Kenya for a month then. So what is the real reason behind having a Brit battalion in Kenya (almost) all the time? A hedge against a coup there?
    We get to do training there cheaply, in hot arid conditions, in a foreign culture, practising our expeditionary logistics and we do not have sufficient training areas in the UK to train all the units we have to the level we require them to be trained at. For the troops currently moving back from Germany we are having to try and buy a new manoeuvre training area in the UK to replace those we currently use in Germany. The UK is a small island with an awful lot of people, there is not much area available, that which is cheap is not suitable, that which is suitable is not cheap...

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    As I said earlier if it is OK to take the soldiers away from home for another month in the 'harmony guidelines' cycle then add it to the Afghan tour and allow for a battle camp of a month in Afghanistan to allow for acclimatisation and training on the local terrain of the latest TTPs.
    Harmony guidelines also incorporate training time spent away. We could quite easily do as you say and stop training in Kenya and conduct that training in Afghanistan (troops do conduct an extensive training package in theatre on arrival), but we are capped on the number of troops we are allowed in theatre and that is a flat cap that is not cognisant of what they are actually doing - so if we bring troops in to train we have to take troops out... It is barking - but that is the way it is!

    In short:

    • The army failed to adapt quickly enough to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    • The army remains loathe to twist itself entirely out of shape for operations in Afghainstan for some good and some bad reasons.
    • The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were limited wars and fought with limited resources and limited political capitol.
    • The strategic direction of the war was poor.
    • The Ministry of Defence is not functioning well as either a department of state or as an operational HQ (it is both).
    • The civil military relationship at the highest level appears not to be functioning well.
    Last edited by Red Rat; 08-02-2011 at 06:05 PM. Reason: typo
    RR

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    Default UK in Kenya

    JMA,

    You asked:
    So what is the real reason behind having a Brit battalion in Kenya (almost) all the time? A hedge against a coup there?
    IIRC there is an Anglo-Kenyan defence agreement, dating back to independence, which allows the UK access to Kenyan facilities, but not fixed bases. Google defeated my research to find a reference for a formal treaty; there is this official MoD website entry:http://www.army.mod.uk/operations-de...nts/22724.aspx

    Note the declared training is not all-year and is well explained officially on:http://www.defenceweb.co.za/index.ph...and&Itemid=105

    My recollection is that for many years after Kenyan independence in 1965 there were no permanent UK presence, let alone exercises and I expect relations only changed in 1979-80 when Kenya contributed to Rhodesia's transition to Zimbabwe. The Royal Navy regularly visited Mombasa for a long time.

    Responding to a coup is not a rationale for our presence. The British Army engineers did once deploy in Nairobi, when the US Embassy was attacked in 1998, with their heavy lifting equipment, although you will not readily find any newsreel or photos of this - a sign perhaps of Kenyan sensitivity?
    davidbfpo

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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    JMA,

    You asked:

    IIRC there is an Anglo-Kenyan defence agreement, dating back to independence, which allows the UK access to Kenyan facilities, but not fixed bases. Google defeated my research to find a reference for a formal treaty; there is this official MoD website entry:http://www.army.mod.uk/operations-de...nts/22724.aspx

    Note the declared training is not all-year and is well explained officially on:http://www.defenceweb.co.za/index.ph...and&Itemid=105

    My recollection is that for many years after Kenyan independence in 1965 there were no permanent UK presence, let alone exercises and I expect relations only changed in 1979-80 when Kenya contributed to Rhodesia's transition to Zimbabwe. The Royal Navy regularly visited Mombasa for a long time.

    Responding to a coup is not a rationale for our presence. The British Army engineers did once deploy in Nairobi, when the US Embassy was attacked in 1998, with their heavy lifting equipment, although you will not readily find any newsreel or photos of this - a sign perhaps of Kenyan sensitivity?
    I ended my question with a wink as it was tongue in cheek.

    Thanks for the explanation. I suppose it is a matter of use it or lose it then (meaning the access for training).

    Remind me, if you will, how Kenya endeared herself to the Brits over Rhodesia.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Rat View Post
    [B] More then a little truth in this less the 'real soldiering' swipe. Harmony guidelines is a complex area based around medical, welfare and organisational issues. They need looked at and I favour 9 month tours with 24 months tour intervals - this will not breach medical guidance.
    Reminds me of a quote attributed to Farrar the Para: 'The thing about war is it sorts out the professionals from the time servers.' For time servers a war can be a real bother and upset their comfortable routine.

    And I would counter by saying that instead of the "Harmony guidelines is a complex area based around medical, welfare and organisational issues." they should be based on straightforward operational requirements.

    Some months ago longer tours seemed unlikely but due to the cost cutting (and sadly not driven by operational continuity considerations) they are now but still under the harmony guidelines. Perhaps it is time to revisit the rationale behind these guidelines?

    True. I do not favour the personification of war and I think that Coroners' Inquests do as much harm as good; but the law states they are to happen and no politican will change this law. Of course if we buried our servicemen overseas there would not be the same requirement...
    Interesting point.

    The positive is that these public inquests somehow may serve to shame the MoD/Military into correcting the obvious shortcomings.

    Several points to address:[*]The army was probably never as competent as you think it was. Certainly the history of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns looks very similar to the earlier Afghan Wars, Crimea, Boer, WW1, WW2 and N Ireland campaigns. Armies prepare for one war, fight another and learn - the issue is how quickly they learn.
    Big armies don't stand a chance for reform but smaller more focussed armies do. The officers that must be selected for are those that can operate intelligently and intuitively in relative independence of a tight chain of command. Officers who can't operate outside laid down doctrine and TTPs (while acceptable in a general mobilisation) should be selected out.

    As the military history of nations goes the Brits are up there with the best... in most cases they won the last battle of each war.

    [*]The politicians reflect society
    Yes you get what you deserve.

    [*]The army reflects society
    Not quite. You generally get to be able to have some reasonable employment criteria. Yes I know there are anti-discrimination laws which tend to allow access by all sorts of odd bods but there must be a work around for that, surely?

    [*]The ways wars are fought reflect the societies fighting the war
    And if it gets any worse for some that the only viable option for some countries will be to use proxies.

    [*]Civil servants are not the issue, but the (dysfunctional) chain of command is.
    I tend to believe both are equally part of the problem.

    [*]The armed forces have been politicised (small 'p'), especially at the higher levels.
    That should be relatively easy to address (through the cuts and redundancies). The only problem is that the commander needed to implement that would himself be tainted by virtue of his seniority.

    There is an element of 'have your cake and eat it' here... The Army started the AFG and Iraq with an attitude towards risk that was robust - kit was 'sufficient' not necessarily the best. As the casualties mounted and the coroner's inquests were heard the appetite for risk declined significantly. This has lead to the current waddling around like the Michelin Man - a direct result of coroner's reports and families' concerns which are largely (but not exclusively) focused on physical protection. This is also a reflection on political and societal realities in what is for the UK at large, a small and discretionary war.
    As we have discussed ad nauseam it is the IED casualties which have been and remain the problem. Can anyone in the MoD or military stand there with his hand on his heart and say that everything possible was done to reduce the IED carnage? And here I am not only talking about countermeasures but also TTPs.

    Permission to marry no longer required. The adage of 'subalterns cannot, captains may, majors should and colonels must' still holds true, but it cannot be enforced. Same applies to junior ranks. However I am glad to see that some things never change and that your boys knew the same kind of girls that my boys do!
    Yes funny that. These kids could be as brave as hell in the tightest situations yet were no match for the guile of these predatory vixens. Sad isn't it.

    Infantry soldiers join up because they want to fight - especially at the moment where they know that they all will deploy on operations and get a fight.
    They will be disappointed as they will be lucky to get more than six months of fighting in their first four years. I wonder what the response would be if a recruiting drive for four years based in Bagram (with R&R in the UK and a nice combat allowance thrown in). Yes, and if they wanted to stay on thereafter they would have first option of transferring to one of the home regiments.

    It is a truism that those units that undertake a challenging voluntary selection course, elite units, tend to attract a higher calibre of soldier and select an on average higher calibre of soldier. However good soldiers join 'crap hat' and 'fish and chip' regiments (I joined my regiment because it was my family and local regiment ). While there are good and bad soldiers good and bad units are normally made by good and bad leaders and training. The impact of the current cuts and the drawdown in operational tempo is likely to make it harder to recruit and retain personnel.
    Is there anyone stupid enough or brave enough (as you please) to call a Jock regiment a crap-hat or fish-and-chip outfit (other than a drunk Aussie in a pub full of Jocks)?
    Last edited by JMA; 08-03-2011 at 12:47 AM.

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    Default The Top Brass and the Politicians: Strained Relations

    A month old, RUSI commentary on relations between the UK military and politicians, which starts with:
    Recent tensions between British politicians and the military top brass are a symptom of the uncertainty over whose long term vision for British defence policy is the more realistic. Such tensions are not new, demonstrating the inability of policymakers to get to grips with strategy.
    Link:http://www.rusi.org/analysis/comment...4E10D753A41ED/
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Rat View Post
    • The army failed to adapt quickly enough to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    • The army remains loathe to twist itself entirely out of shape for operations in Afghainstan for some good and some bad reasons.
    • The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were limited wars and fought with limited resources and limited political capitol.
    • The strategic direction of the war was poor.
    • The Ministry of Defence is not functioning well as either a department of state or as an operational HQ (it is both).
    • The civil military relationship at the highest level appears not to be functioning well.
    As usual, very astute post Red Rat.

    I can't help but think that bullet 4 is the critical pre-summer 2006 point. ISAF in 2005 seemed reduce strategic thinking to the lowest common denominator; was the spread of PRTs under ISAF to take over OEF the means to an end or the end in itself? I know the government will profess the former but it often seems the latter.

    Again, I don't know what the intelligence picture was looking like for decision makers in 2005 - were the Canadians, Dutch and British too optimistic in seeing the relatively lukewarm insurgency continue, or were we ignoring the obvious?

    Points 1-3 stand as the the critical post-summer 2006 points; once the nations of ISAF realized they were handed a s**t-sandwich from OEF, did they take the right steps? JMA's comment about CBEs is accurate - I always got the impression that the Institutional Army tried to bend the Campaigning Army to its will. Things like making the effort to get computers delivered to remote outposts to have yearly evaluations written (at the start of fighting season, of all times) or the fact that a battalion was losing its best NCOs to French language training during a critical relief in place; I've seen similar anecdotes with the British Army.

    Over all, these big hand, small map issues are the ones to look at. I feel that the debates between 6 month vs 9 month tours or more helicopters aren't important in terms of decisive campaign issues, as those tactical matters would make no difference to the fact that you have a Pashtun population who isn't very receptive to Kabul or its foreign friends; those forces of history are hard to fight.

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    I am reading 'AFGHANTSY' at the moment (Amazon Link) and it is amazing the similarities between our experiences and the Soviet...

    I think in terms of intelligence picture we went in effectively blind and without an understanding of what we could be getting in to let alone why.

    In terms of IEDs I think the British Army was well aware of the IED threat, it was our biggest killer in N Ireland from the 80s onwards and our biggest killer in Iraq. When I first went to Afghanistan (2004) there was much concern then about the proliferation and speed of development of IEDs. I think that across the board the army did adapt very quickly to IEDs, with equipment and TTPs (I feel the 'Snatch' debate (over the use of lightly armoured landrovers) is almost a red herring in that their use was determined by risk. What the debate was about was how much risk was acceptable). In terms of ECM our equipment continued to evolve to keep abreast of the threat, as did our TTPs, (one could argue that current TTPs are driven by the IED threat to the exclusion of other threats now). The same with vehicles - several types of vehicles have entered and left service over the course of the campaign to meet threats, but there will always be a lag between threat and protection, if only because it takes time to develop and then produce protection.

    I am not quite sure what 'CBE' stands for (Infanteer) but until 2008 the army was not put on a war footing, and even in 2008 the explicit orders received to put the British Army on a war footing explicitly excluded many personnel factors - leading to many of the factors that JMA (quite rightly) rails against.
    Last edited by Red Rat; 08-04-2011 at 07:50 AM. Reason: typo
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Rat View Post
    I stand chastened at attention!
    I owe you one, you owe me one, will you be available late September?

    Until late 2008 Iraq remained the UK's Main Effort and Afghanistan was a subsidiary effort. They were both campaigns on the cheap because they were not the national main effort and they were not wars of national survival; they were both 'small' discretionary wars. The armed forces however did not go on to a war footing until 2008/09, far too late. There were various reasons for this, institutional and political; none in my opinion good.
    Surely any war (in which you get to bury your soldiers) should be taken seriously? One does not expect a general mobilisation and also not quite as much effort as the Falklands but certainly a serious adjustment to the routine between tours. So what I am saying that even a small war needs to be taken seriously and properly resourced as it is only the scale and the troops and assets required that varies.

    I think that the 'hackneyed comment' you refer to is the army's desire to "train for 'a' war, not 'the' war". This is still the case. The army trains generically on the basics and then, 9 months out, trains specifically for Afghanistan.
    Well if you have a current war on at least do that one justice as failure to do so will result in national humiliation on the battlefield with attendant loss of life. That is unforgivable.

    Look I hate to tell you this but if what was shown on the BBC 'Our War' series represents the result of nine months specific Afghanistan focussed training then one must despair.

    There are pros and cons for keeping people a long time in theatre and in combat.
    The cons seem to be relating to marital strain and increased potential for PSTD.

    As to PTSD (as diagnosed by the Brits) its not really a major issue among regular troops (and even less so among the better units). And really it is the incidence of acute PTSD that one should be mainly concerned with (rather than the level of PTSD a civie involved in a nasty motor accident would get).

    There are also second and third order organisational issues by adopting such an approach. I do not think that the UK approach was right.
    Yes I'm sure the MoD and Army HQ would be able to come up with any number of reasons why Afghanistan should not receive close attention that may mean (heaven forbid) adapting and interfering with the peacetime routine. Certainly the approach was not right but the question is whether anyone has learned from it.

    My preference was and is for a permanent cadre for formation HQs and enablers (int, sigs, logistics et al) and units rotating in for 9 month tours. Units rotate in on a trickle basis, saving pressure on the training equipment pool and the airbridge. I think if we had put units into AFG on a permanent footing and trickle people in as you suggest the impact would have been:

    • Recrutiing and retention in the non-deploying army would have collapsed
    • Training in the non-deploying army would have all but stopped (we had run out of money by 2007, if training could not be linked to deployment it just was not happening)
    Not sure exchanging one of the seven battalions every month is a trickle (maybe for the yanks it would be given their force level).

    I agree that any continuity is better than none but continuity at company and platoon levels is just as important given the area bound pop-centric approach in Afghanistan.

    Clearly I don't know what the financial constraints were/are but my point remains simply that (for better or worse) there is a war in Afghanistan and the Brits should at least give it their best shot.

    I do not think that the Brit military trusts the politicians in the sense that you say, but I do think that the relationship between politicians and senior military appears to have been dysfunctional at best.
    ...and the relationship between the civil servants (in the MoD and Foreign Office) and the general staff?

    If my memory serves me right: One in every company will have been on a 12 month language course, one in every platoon on a 3 month language course, one in every section on a 3 week course and everyone will have had some basic language training.
    Not really good enough is it. Do you still have an Education Corps? If they were to attach a team of Pashtu speakers (probably on contract) to a battalion for the two years between tours perhaps there would be some progress in language and cultural studies. And since there is no money for training there will be plenty of time for language classes

    We get to do training there cheaply, in hot arid conditions, in a foreign culture, practising our expeditionary logistics and we do not have sufficient training areas in the UK to train all the units we have to the level we require them to be trained at. For the troops currently moving back from Germany we are having to try and buy a new manoeuvre training area in the UK to replace those we currently use in Germany. The UK is a small island with an awful lot of people, there is not much area available, that which is cheap is not suitable, that which is suitable is not cheap...
    Add that Kenya month on the front end of a tour and do a battle camp in Afghanistan. Let the non-deploying units use Kenya. My point is simple, a month of training and acclimatisation in Afghanistan at the start of the tour has more value than a month in Kenya a few months before.

    Harmony guidelines also incorporate training time spent away. We could quite easily do as you say and stop training in Kenya and conduct that training in Afghanistan (troops do conduct an extensive training package in theatre on arrival), but we are capped on the number of troops we are allowed in theatre and that is a flat cap that is not cognisant of what they are actually doing - so if we bring troops in to train we have to take troops out... It is barking - but that is the way it is!
    I would have thought that it would be easy to change given the advantages and benefits. If not look towards a tame Pashtun area in Pakistan

    In short:

    • The army failed to adapt quickly enough to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    • The army remains loathe to twist itself entirely out of shape for operations in Afghainstan for some good and some bad reasons.
    • The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were limited wars and fought with limited resources and limited political capitol.
    • The strategic direction of the war was poor.
    • The Ministry of Defence is not functioning well as either a department of state or as an operational HQ (it is both).
    • The civil military relationship at the highest level appears not to be functioning well.
    Yes to all with the question what is being done about it.

    As to the Grand Strategy (which I presume is a united Afghanistan under a central government in Kabul) I am not sure it is achievable without a fair amount of autonomy for certain areas.

    If the Grand Strategy is not achievable then really all else does not matter. But the soldiers instead of just going through the motions should at least give it their best shot with the best resources being made available.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Rat View Post
    I am not quite sure what 'CBE' stands for (Infanteer) ...
    I mentioned that the brigade commanders were motivated to earn a CBE rather than a mere DSO and as such needed to do something spectacular during their tour.

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    Default Pointer to Soviet experiences

    Quote Originally Posted by Red Rat View Post
    I am reading 'AFGHANTSY' at the moment (Amazon Link) and it is amazing the similarities between our experiences and the Soviet...
    There are two links to excerpts from 'Afghantsy' on the Soviets in Afg. thread:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ead.php?t=9483
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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    I owe you one, you owe me one, will you be available late September?
    Unlikely Work going through a certain degree of turbulence at the moment...
    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Surely any war (in which you get to bury your soldiers) should be taken seriously? One does not expect a general mobilisation and also not quite as much effort as the Falklands but certainly a serious adjustment to the routine between tours. So what I am saying that even a small war needs to be taken seriously and properly resourced as it is only the scale and the troops and assets required that varies.
    Quite right, and the Army and the MOD failed to make the necessary and sufficient adjustments in time.


    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Look I hate to tell you this but if what was shown on the BBC 'Our War' series represents the result of nine months specific Afghanistan focussed training then one must despair.
    If you are referring to a certain 'fish and chip mob' from eastern England then yes, that was very embarrassing...


    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    The cons seem to be relating to marital strain and increased potential for PSTD.
    I suspect that the cons are more the fact that if we went to the system that you propose we would be able downsize the army considerably more then the generals wish.


    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Yes I'm sure the MoD and Army HQ would be able to come up with any number of reasons why Afghanistan should not receive close attention that may mean (heaven forbid) adapting and interfering with the peacetime routine. Certainly the approach was not right but the question is whether anyone has learned from it.
    Hard to say. Most of the scrutiny is coming from external sources; I have heard of very little internal (MOD) scrutiny as to what we did and why. I suspect that individuals have learnt (indeed I have heard very senior figures elucidate what went wrong and why and express an intention to fix it), but the organisation has not. Certainly I have yet to hear of any evidence of significant change in the decision making machanisms that caused the less then optimal performance...

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Clearly I don't know what the financial constraints were/are but my point remains simply that (for better or worse) there is a war in Afghanistan and the Brits should at least give it their best shot.
    You would think so wouldn't you... I think the House of Commons Defence Committee report is clear that there was a significant breakdown in what the tactical commanders were saying and what the operational and stratageic level HQs were telling politicians. This may have lead to the Government thinking that it was resourcing effectively....


    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Not really good enough is it. Do you still have an Education Corps? If they were to attach a team of Pashtu speakers (probably on contract) to a battalion for the two years between tours perhaps there would be some progress in language and cultural studies. And since there is no money for training there will be plenty of time for language classes
    Still have the Education Corps! Every soldier deploying on the front appears to know some 20-30 Pashtu phrases which seems to cover them for day to day interaction with the locals. As ever we can throw more resources at the problem, but there is a finite pot of resources. Pashtu teachers are expensive to hire and we found very few willing to relocate to Germany (for instance) to train our people. Plus soldiers are busy so we are fitting more stuff into a crowded programme or we will have the assets sitting idle. I am not saying that it cannot be done, but the cost/gains benefit might not be great.

    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    I would have thought that it would be easy to change given the advantages and benefits. If not look towards a tame Pashtun area in Pakistan
    Yes, but tame areas tend to turn not so tame with the addition of foreign troops!


    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    As to the Grand Strategy (which I presume is a united Afghanistan under a central government in Kabul) I am not sure it is achievable without a fair amount of autonomy for certain areas.
    What we need is a strong Afghan ruler, in the mold of Hussein or Gaddaffi, or Stalin...
    RR

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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Rat View Post
    I am reading 'AFGHANTSY' at the moment (Amazon Link) and it is amazing the similarities between our experiences and the Soviet...
    I also found The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan to be a good read. (Available on Kindle)

    Grau et al's The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost from the Soviet angle is one I will pick up there next month.

    I wonder how many officers who have served in Afghanistan have studied (not just read) Grau's other books? And if he is still with us how many times has he been invited to talk to the officers and men during their preparations to deploy?

    Maybe a few.

    So his next book will be "The US in Afghanistan: How another Superpower Fought and Lost."

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    Default Thread's theme straying of late

    Moderator's Note

    Many of the recent posts do not sit well in this thread, The UK in Afghanistan, so I will be moving them to the more general, current thread Winning in Afghanistan:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...t=7128&page=44

    I will add a caption to that thread and any posts moved. Work in progress today. Meantime carry on.
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