Monday, August 3, 2009
In a report made public over the weekend, Britain’s House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chastised the US for “the absence of a unified vision and strategy” in conducting the war in Afghanistan. It warns of “considerable cultural indifference” by coalition partners (translation: Americans). And it blames the US for its use of UAV rocket attacks. It goes on to berate other NATO members for not contributing to the coalition effort. It blames everyone but the British themselves. Yet it is the British who have exhibited the lack of a unified strategy often by defying coalition policies and negotiating its own truces with the Taliban in its area of responsibility. In one case, after the truce had been signed, the Taliban quickly occupied a city that had been in coalition hands and subsequently the Taliban had to be removed by force. But worse than this duplicity is the deep seated defeatism of the senior British military leadership in Afghanistan that is the problem. It became so bad last October, US SecDef Gates found it necessary to give a blistering rebuttal of a newspaper interview given by the senior British commander. From the Telegraph (10/07/2008): “While we face significant challenges in Afghanistan, there certainly is no reason to be defeatist or to underestimate the opportunities to be successful in the long run,” Mr Gates said on board a military aircraft flying to Europe for Nato meetings. He was speaking in reaction to comments from Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, who said in a newspaper that the war against the Taliban could not be won, and the ambassador, Sherard Cowper-Coles, who said an "acceptable dictator" would be the best political solution for Afghanistan. Any US commander would be relieved on the spot for such a statement. This not the first time the British have exhibited such a shameful lack of backbone. In Iraq, they negotiated a truce with al Sadr’s Shia militias in Basra, ceding total control of the city to them. They moved their base of operations out of the city to a safer area near the airport. They simply took themselves out of combat. The Telegraph again reports (10/28/2007): Rather than fight on, they have struck a deal – or accommodation, as they describe it – with the Shia militias that dominate the city, promising to stay out in return for assurances that they will not be attacked. Since withdrawing, the British have not set foot in the city and even have to ask for permission if they want to skirt the edges to get to the Iranian border on the other side. When 6 months later, after Prime Minister Maliki had taken control of the Shia areas of Baghdad, he then set his sights on the militias in Basra in the British area of responsibility. Where were the British? They were no place to be found. So using what the press called an ill trained force, the Iraqi army took on the militias and cleaned house in three days. The militia thugs threw down their arms and people, for the first time in years, walked the streets without fear. There is no love lost between Maliki and the British. They had confined themselves to barracks and stayed out of the fray when they were needed most. If they had only the courage to simply pack their bags and leave, he might have respected them. So in December 2008, when it came time to set withdrawal deadlines under the UN mandate, he threw the insult back. Unlike the US forces which were given until the end of July 2010, roughly a year and a half to leave, the British were told to pack and be gone a year earlier, barely enough time to get all the equipment and men out. Yet after completing their humiliating departure last Friday, the British now have the gall to tell Americans we don’t know how to fight and win a war. But the latest pontifications from the Foreign Affairs Committee are no different from those espoused four years earlier by British Brigadier, Nigel Aylwin-Foster when he blasted the US counter insurgency strategy as overly harsh in an article in a British military journal. He even used similar terms such as “cultural ignorance” and “institutional racism.” As it turned out the British model failed in Iraq and the US succeeded. You don’t take a city like Fallujah by giving jelly beans to the kids. It takes going in, and staying, and living there, the Marine model. And, yes a lot of hard and dirty fighting too. Perhaps the British Ministry of Defense should concentrate on bigger and better jelly beans. The liberal politicians would love it, and also apparently the generals. But it won’t win wars. Update: One of the best recaps of the British failure in Iraq was put together by Greyhawk at The Mudville Gazette. From published articles, he traces the British involvement from the early days in April 2003 until the fall of Basra at the hands of the Iraqi Army. It is good read for history buffs and scholars. Read it here. Also, Richard North, publisher of the blog EU Referendum has written a book Ministry of Defeat 2003-2009. I haven’t read it yet, but his writings on his blog have been superlative.