Tag Archives: united kingdom

Result of NATO’s expedition to Afghanistan: Worse than a Defeat

Summary: NATO’s expedition to Afghanistan returns, having accomplished nothing but adding another chapter to the destruction of that sad region. Now begins the next phase: to induce amnesia, so that we learn as little from it as we did from Vietnam. James Meek reviews four books about the insurgency at home, people fighting the government’s narrative to help us remember and so do better in the future. Much depends on this. No matter how powerful, a people who cannot learn from experience have no good future.

Afghanistan war

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Excerpt from “Worse than a Defeat

Review by James Meek

London Review of Books

18 December 2014 issue

Posted with the permission of the author and the LRB.

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Books Reviewed

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‘The British wrote cheques they could not cash.’
— American Special Forces officer

In the morning, I left the village where I’d spent the night, the village where, in the ninth century, a famous king had beaten the army of a northern warlord. I climbed a steep path to a high plateau and walked along dusty tracks. There was gunfire in the distance. In the early afternoon I rested on a hilltop, on the ramparts of ancient fortifications whose shape was outlined in soft bulges and shadings on the slopes. Down in the fertile flatlands, I could see rows of the armoured behemoths Britain bought to protect its troops in Afghanistan from roadside bombs, painted the colour of desert sand and crowded around the maintenance sheds of a military base. There was a roar from the road below and the squeak of tank tracks. A column of Warriors clanked up the hill. The Warrior is a strong fighting vehicle. It can protect a team of soldiers as it carries them into battle. Bullets bounce off it. A single inch-thick shell from its cannon can do terrible damage to anything unarmoured it hits. But these Warriors looked tired. They came into service in the late 1980s, just as the Cold War they’d been designed for was ending, and Afghanistan has a way of diminishing and humbling military technology.

I’d walked the same route last year, leaving Edington after breakfast, walking round the edge of the military exercise area on Salisbury Plain and pausing at the Iron Age fort on Battlesbury Hill, which looks out over the British army’s Wiltshire estate. Since then most of the army in Afghanistan had come back to Britain, and an item of furniture had been added to the Battlesbury ramparts, among the cow parsley and purple clover: a bench. I was glad to sit down, as my pack was heavy. But the bench is also a shrine. When I came across it – this was in July – candles had been placed on it and a sun-bleached cloth poppy fastened to the back rest. It’s a memorial to six British soldiers: Nigel Coupe of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, and Jake Hartley, Anthony Frampton, Christopher Kershaw, Daniel Wade and Daniel Wilford of the Yorkshire Regiment. All except Coupe, a sergeant and father of two children, were aged between 19 and 21. They died in Afghanistan in March 2012, out on patrol in Helmand province, when their Warrior triggered the pressure plate of a huge home-made mine. The explosion flipped the vehicle on its side, blew off the gun turret, ignited its ammunition and killed everyone inside.

The British army is back in Warminster and its other bases around the country. Its eight-year venture in southern Afghanistan is over. The extent of the military and political catastrophe it represents is hard to overstate. It was doomed to fail before it began, and fail it did, at a terrible cost in lives and money.

How bad was it? In a way it was worse than a defeat, because to be defeated, an army and its masters must understand the nature of the conflict they are fighting. Britain never did understand, and now we would rather not think about it. The troops are home from a campaign that lasted 13 years, including Iraq in the middle. They are coming home from their bases in Germany, too. The many car parks’ worth of mine-proof vehicles you can see from Battlesbury Hill, ordered tardily for Afghanistan at a million pounds apiece, will be painted European green and dispersed to other barracks.

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Will 21st Century USA have a surprise boom, as did the 19th Century UK?

Summary:  Today we have an essay by Andrew Odlyzko, one of the top polymaths and futurists writing today. He reminds us of the difficulty in accurately predicting the future, and the peril of relying on past successes to solve our problems. The industrial revolution relieved the UK’s crushing debt in the 19th century. As the post-WW2 boom relieved the US’s large war debt.  The future might not be so kind to us.

Industrial revolution

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Excerpt from
Crushing national debts, economic revolutions,
and extraordinary popular delusions

By Andrew Odlyzko
Professor of Mathematics. University of Minnesota)

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Introduction

A superpower with crippling debt, exorbitant taxes, glaring inequality, wages far exceeding those of competitors, high and persistent unemployment, lack of basic workplace skills, malnutrition, a rapidly growing rival across the ocean to the West, heated debates about the role of government in the economy, and widespread pessimism about the future. Could that be any country but the U.S. today, with China as the looming threat?

Toss in costly military misadventures in the Middle East, Greece unable to pay its debts, a sclerotic domestic legal system clogging up the economy, and the rising competitor flouting copyright and other property rights and relying on slave labor, and the case seems clinched. Yet this is also an accurate description of Britain around 1850, with the United States as the transatlantic rival. Surprisingly, what followed was an explosive acceleration of the Industrial Revolution that saw the UK sprint ahead of others during the “Great Victorian Boom” of the third quarter of the 19th century.

Britain in the 1840s

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On counterinsurgency: Conclusions. Let’s hope we learn soon.

Summary:  In this last chapter of “On Counterinsurgency” Martin van Creveld sums up the results of the post-WWII history of counterinsurgency. this was first published in 2005; hopefully we’ll learn these lessons soon.

As the first phase (Iraq, Af-Pak) of our mad foreign wars winds down — and the second phase expands — we can still learn from this analysis by one of the West’s greatest living military historians. We can still turn off this path.  The passage of time closes options; we might soon pass the last exit to avoid serious war.

Contents

  1. Summary of the previous chapters
  2. The last chapter of this essay
  3. How did the US Military react to van Creveld’s advice?
  4. For a list of his publications and links to his other online works
  5. Posts about Fourth Generation Warfare

(1)  Summary of the previous chapters

For those who have not read the previous chapters, here’s a summary of the counterinsurgency problem from Chapter 6.2 in Martin van Creveld’s Changing Face of War (2006):

What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Ertrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed.

Counterinsurgency can damage even the finest army

(2)  Back to the last chapter of this essay:

“On Counterinsurgency”
by Martin van Creveld
From Combating Terrorism,
edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005)

Introduction

For background see The first lesson of our failed wars: we were warned, but choose not to listen.

This paper has into 4 parts, each posted separately.

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On Counterinsurgency: On Power and Compromises, the difference between victory & defeat

Summary:  In this third chapter of “On Counterinsurgency” Martin van Creveld describes the operational differences between winning and losing methods of counterinsurgency.  Victory comes to those who take difficult paths. Most nations take the easier path, and lose.

As the first phase (Iraq, Af-Pak) of our mad foreign wars winds down — and the second phase expands — we can still learn from this analysis by one of the West’s greatest living military historians. We can still turn off this path.  The passage of time closes options; we might soon pass the last exit to avoid serious war.

Successful counterinsurgency in Hama, Syria

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“On Counterinsurgency”
by Martin van Creveld
From Combating Terrorism,
edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005)

Introduction

For background see The first lesson of our failed wars: we were warned, but choose not to listen.

This paper has into 4 parts, posted separately.

  1. How We Got to Where We Are is a brief history of insurgency since 1941 and of the repeated failures in dealing with it.
  2. Two Methods focuses on President Assad’s suppression of the uprising at Hama in 1983 on the one hand and on British operations in Northern Ireland on the other, presenting them as extreme case studies in dealing with counterinsurgency.
  3. On Power and Compromises draws the lessons from the methods just presented and goes on to explain how, by vacillating between them, most counterinsurgents have guaranteed their own failure.
  4. Conclusions.

Part three:  On Power and Compromises

According to the well-known proverb, success has many fathers whereas failure is an orphan. However true this may be in respect to every other aspect of life, in the case of counter-insurgency clearly it does not apply.

As noted, entire libraries have been written on counter-insurgency campaigns that failed. Often the authors were the very people who had participated in, or were responsible for, the failures in question. For example, the term “low intensity war” itself was invented by the British General Frank Kitson; having taken part in a whole series of them, he was finally made commandant of the Staff College so he could teach others how it should be done. Very great efforts have been made to analyze the reasons and suggest ways to avoid a repetition. Judging by the way the Americans are conducting themselves in Iraq, to no avail.

By comparison, very little has been written about counterinsurgency campaigns that succeeded. One reason for this is because, since 1941, the number of such successes has been so limited that nine out of ten people cannot even remember them.

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On Counterinsurgency: The Two Methods that Win

Summary:  In this second chapter of “On Counterinsurgency” Martin van Creveld describes the two methods of crushing insurgencies.  We have tried neither; we might lack the capacity to use either method.  Note that both successes were, like almost all defeats of insurgencies, done by governments fighting domestic insurgencies. 

As the first phase (Iraq, Af-Pak) of our mad foreign wars winds down — and the second phase expands — we can still learn from this analysis by one of the West’s greatest living military historians. We can still turn off this path.  The passage of time closes options; we might soon pass the last exit to avoid serious war.

Counterinsurgency in Hama, Syria

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“On Counterinsurgency”
by Martin van Creveld
From Combating Terrorism,
edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005)

Introduction

For background see The first lesson of our failed wars: we were warned, but choose not to listen.

This paper falls into four parts, each posted separately.

  1. How We Got to Where We Are is a brief history of insurgency since 1941 and of the repeated failures in dealing with it.
  2. Two Methods focuses on President Assad’s suppression of the uprising at Hama in 1983 on the one hand and on British operations in Northern Ireland on the other, presenting them as extreme case studies in dealing with counterinsurgency.
  3. On Power and Compromises draws the lessons from the methods just presented and goes on to explain how, by vacillating between them, most counterinsurgents have guaranteed their own failure.
  4. Conclusions.

Part two. Two Methods to defeat insurgencies

(a)  Syria

In early 1982, President Hafez Asad’s (In Arabic, Asad means “Lion“) regime in Syria was twelve years old and was meeting growing opposition that did not make its future appear rosy. Part of the opposition came from the members of various ethnic groups who took issue with the fact that Asad, like his most important collaborators, was an Alawite. Now the Alawites are one of the less important Islamic sects, traditionally poor and discriminated against. Many in the Islamic world do not even regard them as true Moslems and claim that, instead of Allah, they worship the moon and the stars; it as if Germany had been ruled by a Serbic Mafia or Italy by a Greek one.

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Here’s a politician with guts (too bad he’s Scottish, we could use more like him)

Here’s an example of a rare breed:  a politician willing to resign from executive office over a matter of principle.  He retains his seat in Parliament, but will remain a backbencher until there’s a revolution in his party.  Will any of Team Obama resign on principal?

  1. Blow to Gordon Brown as Eric Joyce, aide to Defence Secretary, resigns
  2. Bio of Eric Joyce
  3. His resignation letter
  4. How many US cabinet secretaries have resigned on principal?
  5. Afterword and for more information

(1)  The news

Blow to Gordon Brown as Eric Joyce, aide to Defence Secretary, resigns“, The Times, 4 September 2009 — Excerpt:

{Prime Minister} Gordon Brown’s attempt to bolster faltering public support for the war in Afghanistan was derailed last night by the resignation of a ministerial aide. Eric Joyce quit as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, with an extraordinary attack on the Government’s handling of the conflict.

(2)  Brief bio of Eric Joyce

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