Thursday, 8 July 2010

1-2-3-4 What Are We Fighting For...

I've already said my piece on this little gem - Understanding the Helmand Campaign: British military operations in Afghanistan - to come out of Chatham House over in the comments section here, but, my, doesn't it repay a reading if, like me, you're only too conscious of not being a military or diplomatic expert.

Basically it argues that the British military have ignored their own rule book and Military Doctrine ("concentrate your forces'') in the field in Afghanistan; engaged in showy tactical operations that have put their troops in danger due to inter-regimental rivalry and a deep set disdain for anything - like peace building,for instance - except war fighting; and sought to carry out certain missions simply to justify - presumably to the other services - that their shiny new Apache helicopters really were worth it. And all written by someone with an obvious deep sympathy and respect for the British Army....

Now, at this point, one would normally be reaching for hoary old thoughts about Lions being led by Donkeys or looking up Orwell on that thing about the British Army always being prepared for the previous war, or even the one about England being a family with the wrong members in charge.

But think about it a bit more: none of those over familiar tropes actually fit the situation being described. It calls, I think, for more the sort thing that Tom P and Chris Dillow worry away at- agency theory. I've argued elsewhere that this paper suggests:

(i)No one in New Labour ('the owners') had the faintest idea of how to challenge the Army ('the Executives') at a professional level, or inject any political/strategic perspectives in the campaign;
(ii) The Chiefs of Staff (Head-honcho Executives) didn't have effective control over the middle managers leading the killing on the factory floor, all of whom seem more interested in making a name for themselves than, ahem, following the company strategy agreed by the shareholders.

Now, one quick read of a Chatham House paper does not somehow make me Mark Urban. I'm quite aware of my limitation in thinking about this area. But I have to say that the one thing more scary that an Army being sent to fight a purposeful imperial war is one where no one actually knows what they're bloody doing, and it's all a series of disconnected episodes that boil down to attempts to fight bureaucratic turf wars and climb the greasy pole....

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