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Thread: Anglo-US friction over ops in Iraq

  1. #1
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    Default British Forces Chief: "Why Our Allies Messed It Up For Us in Iraq

    From Mick Smith's blog. The British reply to criticism.

    http://timesonline.typepad.com/mick_...h-defence.html
    Not to be confused with Rank Amatuer (2 words)
    http://www.rsl-dc.blogspot.com/

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    Council Member Hacksaw's Avatar
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    Default Hmmm....

    I should offer a disclaimer first, I am a UK apologist. I spent time at CENTCOM following 9/11... My association with UK officers/NCOs through GO was nothing but rewarding, and I defend UK at almost every opportunity...

    However... I find very few things more distasteful than a senior officer going on the speech/book trail to "set the record straight". The US is certainly not immune to such behavior, in fact we seem to be a world leader in that as well...

    I just don't think this an intellectually honest assessment of UK performance in the South/Basra, but then again the US has had its share of "odd interpreatation" of combat operations in Iraq itself (I can think of a briefing regarding the performance of rotary wing a/c in OIF I that was a particular affront to anyone's sense of reality).

    I just wish these senior officers would stand up offer praise to Soldiers when and where warranted, and accept responsibility for the rest. Way back in the day as I was being mentored I was taught that an officer accepts responsibility for all under his command and passes accolades to his subordinates/Soldiers (e.g. 2LT your platoon really kicked @ss in that STX lane - sir I'll inform the men)

    Soldiers deserve better...

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hacksaw View Post
    I should offer a disclaimer first, I am a UK apologist. I spent time at CENTCOM following 9/11... My association with UK officers/NCOs through GO was nothing but rewarding, and I defend UK at almost every opportunity...

    However... I find very few things more distasteful than a senior officer going on the speech/book trail to "set the record straight". The US is certainly not immune to such behavior, in fact we seem to be a world leader in that as well...

    I just don't think this an intellectually honest assessment of UK performance in the South/Basra, but then again the US has had its share of "odd interpreatation" of combat operations in Iraq itself (I can think of a briefing regarding the performance of rotary wing a/c in OIF I that was a particular affront to anyone's sense of reality).

    I just wish these senior officers would stand up offer praise to Soldiers when and where warranted, and accept responsibility for the rest. Way back in the day as I was being mentored I was taught that an officer accepts responsibility for all under his command and passes accolades to his subordinates/Soldiers (e.g. 2LT your platoon really kicked @ss in that STX lane - sir I'll inform the men)

    Soldiers deserve better...

    Live well and row

    Agreed with one caveat: as I read the piece I found the Brit general's comments to be rather balanced and well said. The issues I have with the article are the author's insistence on hyping those comments into something larger. For that I would say this is another case of British media looking for a cause. That is not say that US media is any less guilty of exactly the same thing. Sells newspapers I guess
    Last edited by Tom Odom; 12-04-2008 at 01:09 PM.

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    Given all the abuse I get, why would anyone else want to be even a lower case ra?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hacksaw View Post
    Way back in the day as I was being mentored I was taught that an officer accepts responsibility for all under his command and passes accolades to his subordinates/Soldiers (e.g. 2LT your platoon really kicked @ss in that STX lane - sir I'll inform the men)
    Ever wonder if they told you that, so you'd be willing to take the blame when they mess up?
    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    Sometimes it takes someone without deep experience to think creatively.

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    Default

    The surge and the Awakenings were not mutually exclusive. This is a favorite excuse of surge opponents, that it was actually the Awakenings that turned the corner in Iraq. It was actually a confluence of COIN tactics applied in certain cities that were having success in creating security, the tribes recognition that the Americans could effectively provide security from AQI, and their subsequent displeasure with AQI. They would not have joined the Americans simply b/c they were fed up with AQI if the Americans proved incapable of protecting them. The surge consisted of taking this model and applying it as a national, unified strategy.

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    Registered User PJW's Avatar
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    Default

    As a Brit, I find it to some degree insulting that the Chief of the Defence Staff felt he needed to 'set the record straight'. The mad posturings of Maliki and his reliance on Al Sada should come as no suprise. Neither should the interpretation of UK's actions in Basrah by the world's media be paid too much attention.

    The tag-line in the article is hugely misleading and the provocation it was, no doubt, meant to engender is unhelpful

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    Council Member Hacksaw's Avatar
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    Default On owning your own problems

    Quote Originally Posted by Rank amateur View Post
    Ever wonder if they told you that, so you'd be willing to take the blame when they mess up?
    Rank amateur...

    The mentoring I was referring to came from senior officers I respected...

    I never once regretted the approach...

    Once folks understand you are willing to step in front of the bus for them, they tend to work real hard so that it wasn't necessary (and when it was - they usually jumped to take responsibility for their actions)...

    All this is not to say that an offending Soldier/NCO was not disciplined for doing stupid stuff, just that the vast majority of stuff can be handled internal to the unit (if properly led), and owning failings in your unit while informing CDR how you were going to mitigate the same failing again is usually gratefully embraced by leaders who are too often surrounded by "leaders" unwilling to own/police their responsibilities...

    PJW,

    You stated far more briefly and coherently what I intended to do so earlier... Why the "need" to set the record straight, those were his words...

    Thanks,

    Live well and row
    Hacksaw
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    Default Not buying it...

    Maybe that was his view of things. I was in Charge of the Knights with my Iraqi NP battalion and know what I saw in Basra.

    1. If the UK at the COB knew anything about the operation it is a surprise. Any attempt to pull SA prior to the mission was blocked or deflected with "we do not know what you are talking about." Even after the operation, coordination with any UK elements (aside from those at Basra Palace) was non-existant.

    2. Its a great plan to put the Iraqis in the lead, but you can't throw them into the fire. My battalion could do independent operations and from time to time did, but not without our guidance and assistance. The U.S. developed a plan to develop and mentor the ISF which contrary to some professional opinions has been successful. It was only after the fact (after CoTK) did the British establish MiTTs in Basra. If they existed prior to the operation it was news to me.

    3. You can argue all you want on how the UK pullout of Basra was not a retreat or say it was done to remove an impasse/ solve problems, etc, but the bottom line was that it is viewed as a retreat in the face of mounting pressure. It created a vacuum that allowed the JAM and Iran to move in. I lived at Basra Palace for 9 months, I saw the mortared living areas and carnage. Political necessity to keep the casaulties low and let the Iraqis figure things out was what lead to Basra's loss to JAM and Iran. To further strengthen my point,. look at the FP guidelines at the COB (the most stringent I have seen) and designed IMO to prevent casualties for political reasons.

    4. No Iraqi commander in Basra holds a favorable opinion of the British. Im sorry to report the truth, but every Iraqi officer (some very senior) have an unfavorable opinion of the British they worked with. If British operations there were so successful prior to CotK, then why this attitude?

    In the end it is for the MoD to anayze what worked or failed in Basra. Obviously I can speak to only what I saw in 2008 and through conversations about what happened previously.

    I am not trying to point fingers b/c it really doesn't matter now. The UK and Austrailian forces I met in Basra were largely professional and had a great warrior ethos. Some I felt were less than stellar and simply marking time until they finished their tour.

    Note:
    I do not mean to sound brash or insulting, just my opinions and observations.

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Default Hostility between British and American military leaders revealed

    That title was chosen by Col. ret. Vandergriff for a text in his blog.
    Considering the content of that blog text, I'd call that a very skilled understatement

    The whole thing is as astonishing as it fits into the general picture.


    http://donvandergriff.wordpress.com/2009/11/28/hostility-between-british-and-american-military-leaders-revealed/


    Quoting makes little sense, short of a full quote. You gotta read it, for he already wrote a summary of the disaster himself.

    I expect that certain statements made by the British officers in the source will have strategic consequences. They certainly have the potential to contribute to a British strategic shift - especially the ones about the 'special relationship'.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    That title was chosen by Col. ret. Vandergriff for a text in his blog.
    Considering the content of that blog text, I'd call that a very skilled understatement

    The whole thing is as astonishing as it fits into the general picture.


    http://donvandergriff.wordpress.com/2009/11/28/hostility-between-british-and-american-military-leaders-revealed/


    Quoting makes little sense, short of a full quote. You gotta read it, for he already wrote a summary of the disaster himself.

    I expect that certain statements made by the British officers in the source will have strategic consequences. They certainly have the potential to contribute to a British strategic shift - especially the ones about the 'special relationship'.
    Fuchs,

    It is key to understand the time in history this occured - 2003-2004, where we had less than ideal US leadership in Baghdad and elsewhere (Sanchez/Bremer), Sanchez in particular is my candidate for worst human being I have observed on active duty in the US Army.

    I think subsequent years things improved a bit. I personally have had nothing but professional interactions with the Brits. If you think that was bad, you should probably read up on US/UK tensions during WWII.

    Finally, whole thing seems like sour grapes - if the memos were recent or reflected current events things might be different.
    Niel
    "A Sherman can give you a very nice... edge."- Oddball, Kelly's Heroes
    Who is Cavguy?

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    “If it isn’t on the PowerPoint slide, then it doesn’t happen.”
    My impression was that if it made it to the PowerPoint slide, then everybody just assumed that it would magically occur.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Old smoke obscures today

    The "leaked" series of documents from a 'Lessons Learned' process within the UK military is oddly timed to coincide with the inquiry into the Gulf War, known as the Chilcot Inquiry: http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/ . Given that these documents refer to a low period in Anglo-US military relations gives me pause to think why now have they appeared?

    Somewhere in my reading pile is an article on how close Anglo-US military relations are today, which I will locate tomorrow.

    There is undoubtedly tension for some in the relationship, however 'Special', that after years of the UK military (Army) boasting of COIN prowess - that the "bubble" was painfully burst in Basra and IMHO in Helmand Province. As others have commented (such as: http://defenceoftherealm.blogspot.com/ ) the UK failure is more than political, resources and more it includes our military leadership.

    Some in UK Army realise - having seen them at firsthand in Helmand - that the USMC have rapidly learnt COIN and are now better than we are.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Red Rat's Avatar
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    I think part of the issue also lies in the very confused chain of command which existed between the UK in Basra and the US in Baghdad. While technically under Baghdad control, IMHO the UK played its cards as though MND(SE) was under direct UK control and not part of an overall Coalition. Link to this the lack of clear direction from the UK and the situation is set for all sorts of horrors!

    From a UK perspective: Confused Chain of Command, lack of resources, strategic drift instead of direction (the only direction appeared to be 'don't rock the boat' and 'don't incur casualties') and (IMHO) an overwhelming sense at the time that 'we must be great at COIN after 25 years in N Ireland - so we needn't apply ourselves to this spot of bother'... and the scene is set!

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    A DoS Reprimand.

    Heck, I got one of those from a FSO PRT Leader for suggesting that his PRT needed to realign its mission and practices.

    Same guy that, when we were working with MND-North to reopen bridges at Bayji (between Salah ad Din and Kirkuk/Tamim) wrote me an e-mail to say that "even of it is good for the provinces" inter-provincial activities are contrary to the Office of Provincial Affairs' strategy.

    I was in Baghdad when I got that, and MNF-I's Strateffects 2 star was reading it over my shoulder. (Didn't sit well, but typical).

    I was planning to frame the two together.

    Easy to understand how missions go awry and implementation fails due to bureacratic and inter-agency snafus.

    I still believe that the biggest reason why we can't use all the bright people and abundant resources to any positive end has to do with interagency.

    One of my favorite books posits the Theory of the Complexity Joint Action as: if there are 100 dependent steps required for successful implementation, and a 99% chance that each step will be successful, then there is a 100% probability of failure.

    What was the problem in Afghanistan? More cooks than Iraq by a factor of 5 or 10.

    Steve

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    Default My Hobby Horse

    Steve--

    Although there is no way to achieve perfect unity of effort in an interagency an coalition environment, there are ways of greatly improving its quality.
    1. To the maximum extent possible put one person in charge - that achieves unity of command. It works most of the time in a normal US Embassy - everybody answers to the Ambassador and those who don't get sent home. (An Ambassador friend told me how he sent his Station chief home and that action stood him in good stead in future assignments.)
    2. Make sure that the objective is clear andunderstood by all parties in the same terms. This it, in fact, a prerequisite to successful unity of effort.
    3. Constant, open comms among the players.
    4. Be willing to understand where your partners are coming from and accept that they might well have better ideas than you do about how to achieve the objective.
    Even with all that, there will be failures but our failures should be fewer thanthos of our adversaries and eneemies.

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Council Member Pete's Avatar
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    Q: Do you have advice on operating with Coalition Forces?

    A: I realise now that I am a European, not an American. We managed to get on better militarily and administratively with our European partners and indeed at times with the Arabs than with the Americans. Europeans chat to each other whereas dialogue is alien to the US military.

    They need to reintroduce dialogue as a tool of command because, although it is easy to speak to Americans face-to-face and understand each other completely, dealing with them corporately is akin to dealing with a group of Martians. If it isn't on the PowerPoint slide, it doesn't happen.
    The statement above by a British officer is from one of the links posted by Fuchs to stories in the Daily Telegraph in November 2009. One of my pet peeves about the U.S. military is its overuse of acronyms and jargon when speaking or writing in the King's English would make things much more clear to everyone involved; there ought to be dialogue until everyone understands what is to be done. One of the things that impressed me about a Marine Corps ANGLICO Team during an exercise in 1982 was the way its officers and NCOs spoke to their people in plain English. Communicating clearly is probably even more important during coalition operations.

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    Default It's Army English, not the king's!

    Quote Originally Posted by Pete View Post
    The statement above by a British officer is from one of the links posted by Fuchs to stories in the Daily Telegraph in November 2009. One of my pet peeves about the U.S. military is its overuse of acronyms and jargon when speaking or writing in the King's English would make things much more clear to everyone involved; there ought to be dialogue until everyone understands what is to be done. One of the things that impressed me about a Marine Corps ANGLICO Team during an exercise in 1982 was the way its officers and NCOs spoke to their people in plain English. Communicating clearly is probably even more important during coalition operations.
    Pete-

    One of my big frustrations at ILE is that the Army folks don't think about translating things for us sister service folks. I think this is partially because the Army is so big and partially because the Army doesn't have to work as often in the joint environment at the tactical level. Since USAF units (especially the Combat Air Forces or shooters) often train with Navy and Marine Corps air, as well as coalition partners, we are forced to learn to communicate with folks who don't speak our language. Institutionalizing this by making 50% of Red Flags coalition flags has helped too. Also helps that Top Gun and USAF Weapons School have a robust relationship, and all the doctrine is coordinated by the 561st Joint Tactics Squadron.

    The other amusing thing as an outsider is how each branch has it's own language within the Army - and other branches don't know their lingo either. Sustainers seem to particularly love acronyms that no one else really understands.

    Which raises an interesting question... do you think the impending drawdown of the Army will lead to more attempts to train with coalition partners? How often are the UK, Canada, Australia, etc land forces invited to NTC rotations or other exercises? It seems like us going it alone will be increasingly less likely in the future...

    V/R,

    Cliff

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