Small Wars Journal

Tuppence for your COIN Thoughts

Mon, 11/04/2013 - 1:39pm

Tuppence for your COIN Thoughts - War on the Rocks Book Review by Frank Hoffman.

David H. Ucko and Robert Egnell, Counterinsurgency in Crisis: Britain and the Challenges of Modern Warfare (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013)

This is not a comfortable book to read for members or friends of the British armed forces.  And it should generate equally discomforting questions for its American readers.  Counterinsurgency in Crisis is a dispassionate and objectively critical evaluation of UK strategic performance in its last two conflicts-Iraq and then Afghanistan.  Both authors have relevant scholarly credentials and prior works on civil conflicts and counterinsurgency.  Ucko (who is a colleague of mine at the National Defense University) and Egnell begin slowly, but end up with an eviscerating indictment of British preparation, strategic direction, and operational practice.  “There is no fig leaf large enough here to cover the deep flaws in the British government’s own approach and conduct in their counterinsurgency campaigns,” they conclude…

Read on.


Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 11/06/2013 - 11:02am

To the shock of anyone that's ever read any of my comments around here, I am going to defend the British armed forces. A little bit, anyway.

The British have a history in that region (Afghanistan/Pakistan/India), to put it mildly. That history is not American history and sure doesn't line up nicely with a Eurocentric NATO history, either.

They are connected to Pakistan, especially, in complicated ways, and with India and Afghanistan too.

The British also have a history of trying to convince the Americans to look at British interests as the same as American interests (and vice versa) but this takes strange twists and turns in Pakistan and the larger region. The US has this relationship with the Saudis (who also pollute the British sytem).

And Tony Blair seems to have really believed in the remaking the world bit, and still talks in that way.

So what was the strategy of the British? Playing hard as the Americans in Afghanistan might have got them kudos from Americans and kept us interested in their security (would we ever really stop? Culturally, I mean) but holding back and going lightly would be better given their complicated diaspora and immigration issues.

And the British military got no money to boot, no money to effect these grand illusions of their political masters. What were they supposed to do? At every turn, something wrong, something to be made worse, relations with the Americans, or problems at home, or problems abroad in areas they planned to cultivate for business or banking.

We are all in a transition period, I believe we in the West will move toward something better, but this transition period isn't pleasant. That's why we will all have to learn strategic restraint. If you don't know what is going on, don't do too much. I'm sure we'll regret some of it, but what other options are there that don't bankrupt us or pollute the strategic environment for Americans, British, etc?

I am fascinated with how a military extracts at least something of value when given a task set that is basically bonkers. How to do this?


Mon, 11/04/2013 - 3:24pm

In reply to by davidbfpo

Thanks for linking David - Dave D.