Monday, July 13, 2009

Ill served and ill equipped

The government have (rightly) come in for a lot of criticism over the deaths of a number of British soldiers in Afghanistan over the last few days. Although I don't wish to trivialise those deaths which are, of course, tragic for every individual family I do think they need to be considered in context - particularly the fact that they occurred during what is a major military operation. It is the nature of war that when an army goes out to actively seek and engage an enemy they will take casualties at a significantly higher rate than they would while performing routine patrols.

Let us not forget either that the war in Afghanistan is the one which most of our media and politicians deemed to be the "just" and "legal" war. Personally, I believe that any war is legal - what is illegal are certain methods used in fighting a war (and most of those illegal acts are committed by our enemies) and I was happy to support action in Afghanistan and Iraq - but not the continued occupation of those countries which I believe serves no useful purpose.

Politicians on all sides tell us that they are acting in British interests by keeping British soldiers out there, but I have yet to see any justification of this. What interest is being served? Okay - I admit that I have rather flippantly suggested that we are learning a lot about our weapons and equipment (which have proven to be woefully inadequate) as well as developing new tactics and strategies for for dealing with asymmetrical warfare - flippant, but also very valid - but this is not why we are told they are there for.

Furthermore, those lessons we are learning about our weapons and equipment being inadequate are not being acted upon. The lack of close air support (CAS) is not being addressed. Why? Because our leaders can not get their heads away from highly complex and incredibly expensive helicopters. Helicopters are incredibly useful machines in the right theatre and have proven to be extraordinarily effective against armour, but - aside from their transport capabilities - this isn't the right theatre and the enemy doesn't have any armour worthy of the name.

Perhaps one of the most telling facts about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is the fact that they have each lasted as long as or longer than the Second World War, but in that time there have been no significant development of new weapons. Partly this is due to the limited thinking that takes place in the MoD who have committed the bulk of armed forces spending to long term, ill conceived projects that are completely unsuited for the sort of warfare our soldiers are being required to fight, but it's also due to the lack of expertise and manufacturing capability we have in Britain.

Meanwhile, the most effective aircraft we have in the theatre is an aeroplane first designed in the 1950's and our soldiers are still equipped with a glorified rabbit gun. It's no coincidence that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have seen the re-emergence of the sniper armed with long range, high caliber rifles which is just about the only thing we have that can reliably hit a man at distance and make sure he bloody well stays hit.

So, given that our leaders are not bothering to listen to any of the lessons we are learning from these wars - what is the point of us staying there? What British interests are being served by our soldiers being in Afghanistan? In what way does the death of one of our lads help to improve the security of this nation - particularly given the fact that our government are still allowing all and sundry to pour into this country at will?

Like I said, I had no problem with us attacking Afghanistan (or anybody else that thinks they can use proxy warfare against Britain - and yes, that includes Iran) but only as a short, sharp invasion with limited and clear military objectives. Go in, achieve those goals - then get out again - leaving whatever regime was to emerge there in no doubt that they would get the same treatment even at the slightest suspicion that we were being threatened by their behaviour.

Our troops are being let down by our leaders by being left out on a limb. They don't know what they are doing there, they don't have the right equipment for what they can do there and the government have persistently failed to listen to any lessons that we have learned from there.

Time to get out.


Sal said...

As an American, I don't think that we should just "get out." Rathr er, we need an exit strategy to make sure that the goals of going in are actually accomplished. You are seeing that in Iraq now. Afghanistan needs such a plan, but under our current American administration, I don't think you'll see one from this side of the pond. Leaving immediately just to get out could have disastrous future implications.

One other note. I often see the argument that we have been in Afghanistan and Iraq longer than in World War II. In a way, that is a false claim. After World War II, the allied powers occupied Germany for a number of years as Germany rebuilt. In fact, the occupation of Germany by America and Britain did not end until 1955. During the intervening 10 years between the end of World War II and the Germany Treaty going into effect on May 5, 1955, there was much violence, many small incidents that involved troop casualties, and small combat operations to round up insurgents.

So in a way, World War II lasted 18 years (1938-1955) with 7 years of major combat operations (1938-1945) and ten years of post-combat occupation (1945-1955). By that standard, Iraq and Afghanistan have been efficiently executed wars and occupations.

Just o

Stan said...

I don't see any "disastrous future implications" from our leaving Afghanistan - could you elaborate?

As I said, it would be under the understanding that any hint of threat from that region - either directly or indirectly - would illicit a powerful military response. However, I do concede that this is politically unlikely. The nature of our governments and their deference to the UN and "international law" would mean they would be unlikely to get the mandate required for further responses - as such, they have no choice but to remain there ad infinitum. My resolution would be to not give a monkey's what the UN think, say or do - nobody else does.

You are quite right to say that we were in Germany for a considerable time beyond the official end of the war (1945) - but that wasn't the point I was making.

I was pointing out that during the six years that WW2 lasted there were significant developments in weapons and considerable efforts to manufacture and deploy those weapons to maximum effect (from all sides). A similar development has been singularly lacking in the eight years of the Afghan war - certainly from the British point of view. As an American I'm sure you are well aware of the fact that the most effective CAS aircraft in the US inventory is probably the A10 - a (relatively) cheap, robust, fixed wing and old aeroplane which the US military have extended the life of as a result of its effectiveness in the theatre.

It's also worth mentioning that the post WW2 years of occupation were marked by an intensive "denazification" programme which - although caused problems with the collapse of authority in the early years of the occupation - was incredibly effective. There is no equivalent "detalibanisation" programme in Afghanistan as we are far too constrained by political correctness and cultural cringing. We were far more effective at "deba'athficating" Iraq - but Iraq was secular so we were less constrained by our leaders knee-bending to Islam.

Finally, I agree completely that both Iraq and Afghanistan have been well executed wars and occupations from a military perspective - it is the political side I have issues with. The performance, bravery and committment of our troops to performing the tasks asked of them is, for me, never in doubt - but the aims and objectives of our leaders are seriously questionable.

Anonymous said...

The obvious ramifications of our "getting out" are that it would be seen as a victory for radical Islam, and Lord knows, there's enough home grown terrorists there already. Raising what would be sen as a white flag would cause mayhem and embolded extremists throughout Europe.
We either fight them on their own ground with soldiers and marines, or fight them on ours with cops and firemen.