Military Review

Great Britain in the wars of the 21st century

British Generals in Blair's Wars, ASHGATE, Jonathan Bailey, Richard Iron and Hew Strachan, 2013, published last year in London, is based on a series of seminars at Oxford University. The events were held in 2005 – 2011 under the general title Campaigning and Command and Control in the framework of the university program The Changing Character of War.

In English, the term "leadership of troops" (generalship) has a common root with the highest officer rank, which determined the composition of the seminars: 19, retired generals, two brigadiers, two colonels, two professors at Oxford and London universities, one high-ranking official of the government apparatus. In addition, six active generals of the armed forces of Great Britain participated in the seminars. Among them was the current chief of defense staff (the equivalent of our chief of general staff), but the Ministry of Defense forbade everyone to publish their speeches. This is a typical example of civil-military relations in the English army, discipline and understanding by the military of restrictions on freedom of speech.

The book has 26 chapters written by 26 authors. Each is a seminar presentation prepared immediately after returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, often emotional and without political correctness. Editing in hindsight was not allowed, so the dignity of the book is in the frankness and presentation of the boiled in the general's soul.

It is not possible to give a comment to each chapter in a newspaper article, so we will try to highlight the main points. The book is opened by a chapter written by Major General Bailey (before his dismissal, by the head of the Department for the Development of Doctrines of the Army Headquarters) entitled "Political Context: Why We Went to War and the Discrepancy between Goals, Methods and Means."

The first to enter and exit

The author recalls that in 1998, the British government published a new Strategic Defense Review, which identified global challenges and interests of the country. The course was taken on the creation of the armed forces, focused on achieving rapid success in expeditionary operations. The long-term involvement of groups in overseas theaters was predicted to be unlikely and undesirable. It was believed that the United Kingdom would be able to "strike, more powerful than its capabilities allow" (sports terminology was used - to punch above its weight) - the traditional principle of London’s foreign and military policy. And in coalition operations, the British Armed Forces should be first involved in the conflict and the first to leave it (first in, first out). On the basis of the Strategic Defense Review, the Ministry of Defense developed Strategic Planning Guidelines, which detailed the concepts of use, the possible composition of groups, the development directions of weapons and military equipment, and other issues typical of the development of operational and strategic documents. It turned out to be the most difficult to determine the approximate areas of use of troops and, accordingly, specific tasks, since this flowed from foreign policy priorities. But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Great Britain in this period steadily lost its leading role in determining foreign policy benchmarks. All the fundamental issues of this direction were concentrated in the office of Prime Minister Anthony Blair. Downing Street, 10, turned into a semblance of the White House, increasingly changing ideas and mainstream trends in accordance with the position of its Washington original. It has become fashionable to talk about humanitarian operations, the promotion of democratic values ​​in other countries, etc.

Great Britain in the wars of the 21st century

Great Britain in the wars of the 21st centuryOf course, the key factor that influenced Britain’s decision to join the US intervention in Iraq was Prime Minister Blair himself. Only his personal initiative, perseverance and unwillingness to reckon with the opinion of other cabinet members put the British Armed Forces in a very difficult position, since they were not ready to participate simultaneously in two conflicts - in Iraq and Afghanistan. Impact and personal character of Blair. According to the former foreign minister, Lord Owen, the prime minister was distinguished by arrogance, excessive self-confidence, restlessness and complete inattention to details. His statements that “globalization is not only an economic, but also a political and military phenomenon”, caused extreme concern in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense, as they were not only supported by any resources, but were very doubtful from a legal point of view.

Blair’s decisions to participate in the two campaigns were in complete contradiction with the development program of the armed forces, which had been implemented since 1998. It was not short, victorious expeditionary operations first in, first out, but long-term exhausting campaigns without clearly defined goals and objectives (“promoting democratic values” and “building a democratic state” could not be military objectives). By this the British army was not ready. Moreover, many ministries and departments did not participate in the campaigns because of the fear of Blair that this would cause a public negative reaction from other cabinet members, so the army had to otduvatsya for all. But the ground forces, reduced in accordance with the plans for military construction, could not support the two groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as fulfill their ongoing obligations in Northern Ireland, Cyprus and other places. This required ten brigade sets, and there were only eight available. I had to hastily create two more brigades, call them light. It soon turned out that the new units also had to be equipped with heavy armored vehicles to protect the personnel, and they became “heavier”. All this drained the already limited resources of the Ministry of Defense. When in the media, a wave of criticism about the weak protection of British troops in conflict zones arose, Blair made a statement: "... We will provide commanders with all the weapons and equipment they request." But the promises were empty. One of the brigade commanders, having believed the prime minister, sent a request to the military department for completing armored vehicles and received an unequivocal answer: "There is no funds for the current fiscal year." Already in 2010, during a parliamentary inquiry, former Secretary of Defense Jeffrey Hoon blamed Blair and his successor, Gordon Brown, for the lack of allocated resources to ensure British participation in two campaigns. In the end, this led to unjustified losses of personnel and insignificant compared with the American contribution to the solution of coalition tasks.

So, politicians did not consider it necessary to allocate the necessary resources. They were even more aggravated by their misunderstanding of what they want from contingents sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, what is the ultimate goal of operations, what is the criterion of success and when it is possible to return troops home. It was against such a political background that British generals in these two countries had to perform tasks.

But what the British troops faced in Iraq were not expected by the most experienced military leaders. After the victorious invasion together with the Americans, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein began the occupation period, but no tasks were worked out in advance. The size of the coalition group was planned to be reduced from 150 to 50 thousand. The decision of the American leadership, contrary to the objections of the British to demobilize the Iraqi army and dissolve the Ba'ath party, which was a state-forming structure, turned out to be completely catastrophic. Partisan struggle began, but the British command was not ready for active countermeasures. It is not by chance that when General Michael Jackson, Chief of Staff of the British Ground Forces, made his first trip to Iraq in the summer of 2003, his briefing on the situation, Major General Cross, called “pull the defeat out of the jaws of victory.”

Gentlemen are asking for fire

How to evaluate the reasons for the first failures of the military? One of the main reasons is the following: after the end of the Cold War, there were no fundamental changes in operational and combat training, the thesis “if the troops are ready for a big war, they will cope with other conflicts” prevailed. It turned out that it is not. Counter-guerrilla actions demanded a completely different tactics, weapons, management organization. The irony was that the British had considerable experience in conducting counterinsurgency in their former colonies and in Northern Ireland. But, as Lieutenant-General Kizli, deputy commander of the coalition forces in Iraq, notes, “anti-intellectualism”, traditional for the British army, has worked. Its meaning is formulated as follows: "Especially not to get involved in the study of war as a science, since any theory or doctrine was viewed as something that restrains the initiative and freedom of action of the commander."

The thesis arises from the tradition illuminated by centuries to consider the officer as a gentleman who in his spare time goes in for sports or hunting, and does not sit at books, otherwise he will become a scribe or, even worse, a clever man and lose the respect of his comrades. Of course, the twenty-first century introduced adjustments, but the tradition was tenacious. In the same context, Kiezley notes that the British understood the importance of such a category as operational art, came only in the last two decades of the twentieth century and even then under pressure from the Americans, although in Germany and the USSR it was developed on 50 years earlier (mentioned, by the way, Soviet theorists Alexander Svechin and Vladimir Triandafilov). With undisguised bitterness, Colonel Alderson writes in the chapter entitled “To study once”: “British troops entered Iraq, not understanding what kind of military operations they would have to face. At first, the Americans did not understand either, but they quickly enough realized the peculiarities of the counter-guerrilla struggle and, on the initiative of General Petraeus, developed a charter and created a counter-terrorism center. ” The UK opened a similar body in 2009 in order to disband in three years. Neglect of theory to some extent compensated for the centuries-old colonial experience of the British army. In Basra, they immediately abandoned the helmets, and sometimes body armor, began to play local football, the commanders drank tea with the elders for hours. When the Shiite’s armed upheavals began, they applied the rules developed in Northern Ireland - do not shoot backwards, weapon apply selectively (selectively), realizing the principle of soft power. It worked to some extent, but caused displeasure of the Americans. The head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer, demanded that General Stuart, the British commander in Basra, be replaced for not killing Iraqis.

In most of the articles, in different versions, another problem is discussed which the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have encountered. This is an insufficient number of groups. The authors refer to a study by RAND Corporation, which, based on an analysis of counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism campaigns in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, concluded that successful operations required at least 20 – 25 soldiers per thousand local residents, that is, 20 – 25 thousand per million. For reference: the population in Iraq and Afghanistan is about 30 million. The British experience is also remembered - in Northern Ireland, the number of the royal army reached 23 thousands. In Kosovo, the contingent numbered 60 thousands (its first commander, General Jackson, by the way, wrote a separate chapter, in which he once again outlined his conflict with General Clark after the Pristina roll of the Russian peacekeeping battalion). In all colonial wars, the British increased the composition of their troops at the expense of the native contingents, for example, the famous Indian army. However, in the considered countries, it was not necessary to rely on local formations at the initial stage of the campaigns, and in Afghanistan and now, despite billions of dollars of injections, the creation of national security forces is proceeding with great difficulty. The problem is not only in the activity of the Taliban, but also in the lack of a suitable human resource. Say, literacy is only ten percent. ISAF Deputy Commander Lieutenant-General Riley said: "All intelligent and educated are either killed or left the country." In reality, coalition forces in Iraq had up to 150 thousands of troops, in Afghanistan ISAF had about 50 thousands. Therefore, from the main phases of counterinsurgency actions — a clash, a sweep, a hold, the creation of an infrastructure of local power — the British only had enough power for the first two, and there was no one to hold the territory. “In fact, they mow the lawn several times,” one of the authors of the book, a professor at Oxford University Strachan, described the actions of the English contingent in the Afghan province of Helmand.

To the obvious shortage of troops, the problems characteristic of modern coalition groups were added. In political terms, the coalition is considered an achievement, but in the military aspect it causes a headache to the commander of the contingent. Different languages, mentality and military culture, but most importantly - national restrictions on participation in hostilities, sometimes hidden, pop up in the most acute moment of the operation. Lieutenant-General Graham, deputy commander of the multinational corps in Iraq in 2004, gives the following example: the Center-South division under the command of the Polish general consisted of units and subunits from 17 countries, English is not native for all, everyone has different mandates and national restrictions. When the situation in the division’s area of ​​responsibility sharply deteriorated in August 2004, most units could not be used because they were only allowed to defend themselves. The commanders of the coalition forces had to move an American battalion tactical group from Mosul, which carried out an 48-kilometer march through 350-degree heat in 45 hours and discharged tensions. You can imagine how the soldiers and officers of this battalion spoke about the allies.

With the coalition problems were closely related and managerial. Virtually every commander of the English contingent was subordinate to two commands — the coalition and the national in London. It happened that connected with the wishes and local authorities. Quite often, the instructions mutually excluded each other, the generals had to show wonders of diplomacy and resourcefulness so as not to offend the higher authorities.

The brigade structure of the ground forces passed the test. After the Cold War, brigades became modular, that is, were formed depending on tactical and operational needs, which should give flexibility in management. But it is theoretically. In practice, the brigades reached numbers and weapons comparable to the divisions of previous years, became heavy and quite inflexible, and since the headquarters were significantly reduced, they were difficult to control.

How to lose the war

Interesting data is presented in a chapter written by Professor Wesley, Dean of the Faculty of Psychological Medicine, Royal College, University of London. On instructions from the Ministry of Defense, the college conducted a study on the psychological consequences of the presence of troops in Iraq. Here are the brief results.

The psychological state of British servicemen returning from Iraq (about a hundred thousand people) is generally assessed as normal and does not impose any restrictions on further service. Post-Traumatic Syndrome (PTS) was diagnosed in two to four percent of active duty military personnel and three to six percent of reservists. These are average numbers for all types of aircraft and services. For servicemen of ground forces directly involved in hostilities, the TCP indicator is four to six percent. It is curious that the figures are several times lower than those of the American army, where the level of TCP for dismissed military personnel, according to some data, reaches 20 percent.

According to estimates of King's College, the reasons are as follows. First, the intensity of the fighting in the English zone was significantly less than in the US. Secondly, British soldiers are on average four to five years older and are psychologically more stable. Third, the terms of their stay in the combat zone were strictly limited to six months. For Americans, business trips lasted for 12 months, and often they were extended to 15, and they did this not simultaneously, but in portions - for a month, two, three. But the main thing, apparently, was that the British units had a gap of 18 months between shipments to Iraq, the US units could send again to the combat zones earlier than a year later. And according to the rule in the US, in this case, the military could not resign, even if the term of the contract has already expired (Stop Loss rule).

The most curious thing about the Royal College study is that the PTS is not the most difficult problem for the UK ground forces. By severity, he is in third place after excessive drinking and depression. Alcohol is generally a serious problem for British troops, its level of consumption and in peacetime is higher than that of civilians. After returning from Iraq, it increased by 20 or more percent. This lasted up to two years, if earlier the serviceman was not sent to another trip to the zone of “Prohibition”.

What are the results of participation in the Blair wars? Already mentioned Colonel Alderson said: “Great Britain entered Iraq to maintain a special relationship with the United States, to fight shoulder to shoulder with its closest ally, but lost all the respect of the Americans, without hiding their desire to get out of there quickly, and without understanding which fighting plummeted. Helmand (Afghanistan) was entered by too small a force to control such large spaces and such a sophisticated adversary. ”

Outside of this book, I would like to give an assessment of Britain’s participation in the Afghan campaign, which the newspaper The Times 6 in January 2014 was given by Lord Paddy Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, the former officer of the marines, special forces officer: “This is a typical tutorial on how to lose the war ".

On the whole, the authors of the book characterize the 2003 – 2013 period as the most difficult decade for the British ground forces after the Second World War. We add that the book “British generals about the Blair wars” is unique in its objective, critical, and most importantly, timely analysis of army participation in two campaigns. Of course, a number of chapters are written in a purely memoir style, some self-justifying, but overall the publication is a rare example of frank talk about the serious problems of civil-military relations in modern Western society, the inertia of the military leadership thinking, weakness of military coalitions and those military deprivations which were multiplied by ill-conceived decisions of politicians.
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  1. AVV
    AVV 26 February 2014 16: 04
    The British are the state puppets and cannon fodder, whose interests they protect their own or the states is a big question !!! Anglo-Saxons in a word!
    1. Vadivak
      Vadivak 26 February 2014 20: 04
      Quote: AVV
      The British are state puppets and cannon fodder

      Americans are children compared to the cunning of the British. And what is the well-known expression - "the Englishwoman shits" Victoria has been the queen since 1837, the expression appeared later. But the connection with Victoria is clear
      1. andrei332809
        andrei332809 26 February 2014 20: 09
        Quote: Vadivak
        Victoria was the queen with 1837, an expression appeared later.

        so after all, a dog lived for a long time (did not want to offend animals). and where only a handful of stinky aglitsky didn’t remain. Any place on the map stick-finger stain in the British
    2. UREC
      UREC 26 February 2014 20: 34
      There is infa that just England is the Neck, and the USA is the "head".
      1. dark_65
        dark_65 26 February 2014 21: 00
        Are you surprised? All guano threw into the colony in due time, a brilliant move, otherwise the first revolutions would have been there.
      2. Per se.
        Per se. 26 February 2014 21: 04
        Quote: UREC
        There is infa that just England is the Neck, and the USA is the "head".
        Even if England is the tail, and the United States is the dog, then this is the British tail that wags the American dog. There is no more vile and dangerous enemy than England, this sworn "friend" of Russia. The Yankees, even though they are also a rotten tribe, however, as Vadivak said above, are children against the Britons.
  2. Rem
    Rem 26 February 2014 19: 46
    the British believe that the states are their colony overseas and the states believe that the British are their representation in Europe as a result, the mail is lost somewhere there
  3. andrei332809
    andrei332809 26 February 2014 19: 56
    here at the Britons prynts "traveled" in Afghanistan. Where would we send a teddy bear, a chubys and many more to "get some air"?
    1. alone
      alone 26 February 2014 20: 29
      )) Do not forget to equip the bear cub with several iPhones so that he does not get bored there
      1. Salamander
        Salamander 26 February 2014 21: 00
        Yeah, fighting iPhones))) Why are you all on him, he's just funny! What kind of a man is this to hang? laughing
    2. psychologist
      psychologist 26 February 2014 20: 35
      our "bear" cannot be sent on a voyage !! will fall asleep at the helm !!!)) and the chubysya helicopter will immediately offer to privatize and sell !! so we will not save enough turntables !!))))
  4. psychologist
    psychologist 26 February 2014 20: 33
    puppets of the USA. THIS LOOKS APPROXIMATELY AS A JOKER RUNNING NEAR SHERKHAN IN MAUGLI !!! One to one comparison !!!)
  5. platitsyn70
    platitsyn70 26 February 2014 21: 23
    in a word crap that those others.
  6. Consul-t
    Consul-t 26 February 2014 21: 49
    friends, the main thing in this article is different.
    The British as warriors were weak, but they began to understand this.
    We need to know the likely adversary, his capabilities, his strengths and weaknesses.
    1. SSR
      SSR 27 February 2014 07: 04
      This is interesting to me ...............
      Mosula is an American tactical battalion group that completed a 48-kilometer march in 350-degree heat in 45 hours and defused tensions

      It seems to me, or is it still a bit too much in time?
      If there are comrades competent in this matter, I will be very grateful.
  7. Partizan
    Partizan 26 February 2014 23: 27
    Thank you, neighing over most of the article, such, you know, subtle and somewhat strange, the word "English" humor.
  8. PSih2097
    PSih2097 26 February 2014 23: 43
    Give me control over any P36M2 mine, Great Briton will get rid of the metropolis ...
  9. polkovnik manuch
    polkovnik manuch 27 February 2014 00: 34
    This book comes across, I read. And now what can I say, the war in the east is a delicate matter.