« Dear Gordon... | Main | Climate Change - The Big Report »

Ministry of Defeat

Defence of the Realm

The Army is in "denial" over Iraq, claims Richard North, author of Ministry of Defeat, a startling new book published today, the first comprehensive history of the British occupation of southern Iraq.

Charting the progress of the occupation, relying on "open source" material, the extensive official and Arab media coverage, and high level sources, he finds that the military made many serious blunders which led to an irrecoverable position. This eventually forced the retreat into a single base in Basra, leaving the city and its surrounds to fundamentalist Islamic milita....
The Army, as a corporate body, let down men and women on the ground, who performed admirably, fighting a vicious and unprincipled enemy. They were handicapped by poor strategy, inadequate equipment and insufficient resources. Without their perseverance, their skills and in some cases quite extraordinary courage, things might have been far worse.
The sad fact though is that the Army failed. More dangerously, it is refusing to acknowledge that failure and risks making the same mistakes in Afghanistan, particularly in terms of equipment procurement, where it is clear that lessons have not been learned.


A must for students of modern history and warfare.

Comments

Richard North? Hmmm - spent some time in the army has he? Thought not.

We used to call these people the kind of names that should never sully an Englishman's Blog!!

Hindsight is always 20/20 and I can fight every campaign we were ever involved in and do it better. However judgements made when under fire can be very different.

And let us not forget that our left loving government loathed and detested the military who are hamstrung with politically correct training; occupational 'helf' and safety (always amused me that one) and substandard equipment.

Rachel,

What Richard North argues against is not the man or woman on the ground under fire. He gives commentary on the glacial and sometimes wrongheaded military procurement system, the failings of the MOD top brass to learn from the past*, the puff piece media approach to military operations and a consistent lack of interest by Parliament in the welfare of the people in our armed forces. He's never shied away from saying British forces at the sharp end are doing as good a job as they can.

* Eg: Why didn't British forces have any v-shaped hull patrol vehicles when they went into one of the most heavily mined countries in the world? Experiences from Aden onwards proved the value of them. The Malay Emergency and others provide valuable knowledge on how to combat insurgents but there was no will or the right equipment to do that in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gareth - I appreciate what you say - but there is the saying "damned with faint praise". No-one deliberately sets out to create "poor strategy" or "many serious blunders" - these are usually the outcome of poor planning experience and bad training. The old system of "train hard: fight easy" seems to have left us.

In my experience,the military can never justify its existance with a left wing party in government, the defence budget is usually the first to be devastatingly cut to support more attractive welfare scheme.

Without the funding, resources and training are inadequate. Whether it be the man on the ground or the staff in the HQ - all suffer. it is easy for someone like Richard North to find fault and splash guilt around, but we do not see it quite like that.

Everyone does their best with what they have - and while we have those who make bad decisions, or make wrong calls, we also have some brilliant oommanders out there. I would prefer to have that recognised with work on improving those less effective than this "Blame Game" which achieves nothing but resentment.

Rachel

Generally, if you have not already read it, I cannot recommend Lewis Page's "Lions Donkeys and Dinosaurs" too highly.

Rachael: No, it is not "easy for someone like Richard North to find fault and splash guilt around...". For a complex subject like this, it takes a great deal of time, research, discussion and the help of a great many people inside and out of the forces who share my concerns.

Not least, as to the funding, if you want to look at the issue seriously, you will find that the incredible waste on indequate equipment (for instance, £100 million on the Vector which has just been withdrawn - £345 million on the Pheonix which never performed adequately and has been withdrawn - the Viking, which has been withdrawn - the Tellar ditto) would more than easily pay for the equipment that is needed, notwithstanding that the correct equipment works out cheaper in the long run anyway.

Clearly, you have not read the book and in that sense, you are effectively exactly that which you imply me to me - ill-informed. It is too easy to rely on the mantras of "underfunding" which is a nice little comfort blanket, but if you crawl out from under it, you will find that reality is a very different place.

And, for the record, we were saying that the Vector was a dangerous vehicle before it was introduced. We are not talking about decisions "made under fire" here but strategic and policy decisions, which cost many lives.

"The Army, as a corporate body, let down men and women on the ground, who performed admirably, fighting a vicious and unprincipled enemy. They were handicapped by poor strategy, inadequate equipment and insufficient resources. Without their perseverance, their skills and in some cases quite extraordinary courage, things might have been far worse."

Does this remind you of the Anglo-Boer War by any chance?

Rhachel said "In my experience,the military can never justify its existence with a left wing party in government, the defence budget is usually the first to be devastatingly cut to support more attractive welfare scheme."

Well sorry but we are not talking about some theoretical Left Wing bogey man government we are talking about Labour 1997-2010, the Defence Budget was not cut it grew every year, in cash terms Britain spends more on Defence than all but 2 or 3 countries on the planet. The point is what is done with that money and the majority of the Defence establishment saw Iraq as a distraction and a sideshow, in some ways Rumsfeld and the US defence Establishment made the same mistake the US plan was something like 200,000 men Day 1, 100,000 Day 90, 50,000: Day 180 and total withdrawal by year 2, with well over 150,000 still there during year 7, that has not worked out so well. UK arrived with a similar attitude, one we knew Better than the Yanks how to handle occupations but at the same time a commitment to get the hell out as quick as reasonable. Why procure sensible Mine protection vehicles if by the time you invest in them everyone is going to be home?

The RAF want Eurofighters to re-fight the Battle of Britain against a mythical enemy and hanging bombs off the wings does not make them ground support aircraft.
The Navy want the Carriers because they want the Carriers.
The MP's want jobs in the factories and shipyards that make Eurofighters and Carriers because they are big and visible and have powerful lobbying groups.

To get the money for, better healthcare for troops injured in wars going on now, or better mine protection vehicles for the wars being fought today, or better surveillance and intelligence for the wars being fought today then the nice to have for a mythical enemy of the future is going to have to be delayed or cancelled.

It is as if in 1940 people were arguing against anti submarine warfare as the U-Boats were not the real threat it was obvious that in 1950 Stalin would be and we should not be distracted from preparing for war with Stalin! It is even worse as it is not clear who their major power threat is!

Post a comment