More of Blair’s generals.

A few weeks ago, I did a partial review of Blair’s Generals, a collection of essays about the wars since 1997 by the generals who commanded British forces in them, organised and edited by Hew Strachan at KCL and heavily censored, as it turned out, by the MoD. Here’s phase two.

Nick Parker says the operation in Sierra Leone worked because the FCO had a plan. Action by the military, and by DFID, was in support of this plan. From his point of view, the operational-level commander was the high commissioner. The FCO chain of command seemed to work better than the military one, which was OK as far as PJHQ but broke down in MoD Main Building. DFID’s was really awful, because it wasn’t allowed to spend money without someone in London approving it.

Graeme Lamb’s contribution is…special. We get a lengthy rant about being a Spartan who cares nothing for anyone and who despises the modern cult of image, but who also spends a great deal of time projecting his image and whining about anyone who dare criticise. Some of this jumps head first into outright fascism. He complains about “the modern methods of business”, approvingly quotes something called The Business General, and looks forward to the coming wars over food that might bring back a concern for something beyond self.

He then remarks that getting a grip on the flow of oil into Baiji refinery, refined products out, and cash in both directions was absolutely critical. I remember that was in the New York Times.

Andrew Murray discusses his tour of Afghanistan with 52 Brigade in 2007. He describes his campaign plan as being all about influence, and notes that he had to improvise the means of it completely as the army could offer him little capability for propaganda. He issued a reading list to his staff that included Kahneman & Tversky’s Judgment under Uncertainty, but also Cass Sunstein’s Nudge and Superfreakonomics. He also quotes General Richards’ concept of operations for Afghanistan, which was…not particularly clear, and would probably have caused some surprise had it been published at the time.

Like so many in phase one, he felt Afghanistan was going OK when he handed over.

Justin Maciejewski writes in the place of Richard Sherriff, whom he served as operations officer in Basra. Sherriff is still on the active list and his contribution was suppressed by MoD. He says bluntly that Iraq was a disaster and we should never have got involved, and we learn that by 2006 people were already talking about “honour” during planning for the next rotation and for Operation SINBAD. Also, he says, the various British officers who acted as deputy commanders in Baghdad had very little to do with the army in Basra, which communicated only with London and tried to ignore the rest of Iraq.

That said, he points out that much of this planning closely foreshadowed the “surge”, and Sherriff attempted to integrate the British into a wider national campaign plan, to the extent that he got the Americans to reinforce MNDSE with more helicopters. The original plan foresaw a succession of aggressive raids to weaken the various enemy forces in Basra, followed by consolidation with a neighbourhood presence of British troops and Iraqi police, and an effort to deliver aid and political goods. Nouri al-Maliki’s government insisted first on a less aggressive plan, and then on going ahead early. They also committed very few Iraqi troops – 2 infantry battalions and a military police company, less a third of the force rotating to Baghdad as reinforcements.

The enemy responded by plastering Basra Palace with rockets, causing the civil element of the operation to be called off and the US consulate there to use their chain of command (see Parker) to demand that something must be done. Without more numbers, there was too much of Basra in range to patrol often enough to suppress the rocketing. He argues that the situation at the beginning of 2006 was stalemate.

This brings us to Jonathan Shaw, who took over as MNDSE commander at this point. He argues that although they evolved tactics to fight the rocketing, what they really lacked was air power, specifically surveillance and attack helicopters. Although the US consulate reported back that it was getting rocketed, and this led to a stream of badgering messages demanding more unspecified action, it didn’t induce the Americans to help in any way. Meanwhile, the Army Air Corps and the RAF were increasingly called on for Afghanistan, as were the Fleet Air Arm (this was important because their Mk.6 Sea Kings were used to monitor the rockets with radar, identify the rocket team with cameras, and then call in an air strike). This led to the assessment that most of the fighting, as opposed to the rockets, was “thief vs. thief” and it was time to pick a thief and move out to the airport.

Shaw thinks things were pretty much OK when he rotated out.

This was the period in the run-up to Operation “Charge of the Knights” when the Americans were being snippy. The British commander at the time, Richard Iron, has a lot of interesting stuff to say – notably that the Basra security plan was worked out by MNDSE based on Northern Ireland documents, but had never been put into effect due to the lack of Iraqi Army or police to fill it. He also says that Shaw’s disengagement had the effect of losing contact with most of their best intelligence sources, and reveals that there were no – no – British advisors embedded in the 10th Iraqi Division in Basra.

This is interesting because training, the Multinational Security Transition Command’s job, reported to the higher-level MNF(I) HQ in Baghdad rather than to MNDSE or the operations-focused MNC(I). What were the various British top generals there, like Bill Rollo, up to? He has little to say. The point is also made that British training efforts were concentrated on the police, on the Northern Irish principle of police primacy, and this seems to have been a waste of time.

Anyway, on this occasion, unlike Operation SINBAD, some 15 Iraqi Army battalions under 5 brigades showed up. So did the MNC(I) advanced headquarters and a mass of US helicopters and drones. Clearly, the degree of political commitment had changed on the part of several actors. However, the Iraqis insisted on going it alone, again. Was this Maliki still not wanting to provoke the Shia powers, and setting the IA up to fail? Or was he trying to ensure that the coalition would commit to the operation?

Either way, despite what is described as a US information operation directed at the British, the 4th Mechanised Brigade is reorganised in a hurry to provide advisory teams to the Iraqis. It is perhaps not very surprising or informative that an operation with 60 per cent of two and a half battalions didn’t work when one with 15+ and perhaps double the air power did.

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