June 22, 2009

Sleepwalking into Helmand

From the Daily Telegraph, excerpting a paper published in the British Army Review:

Writing in the British Army Review, an official MoD publication, Major SN Miller, stated: "Lets not kid ourselves. To date Operation Herrick [the British codename for the War in Afghanistan] has been a failure".


He claimed that hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers money had been wasted on a war which had failed to deliver any real reconstruction, governance or security.


Rather than "winning hearts and minds", Major Miller, who serves in the Defence Intelligence Staff serving Intelligence Corps, said the British presence had had the opposite effect.


But his most blistering attack was on the UK's counter-narcotics policy, where the illicit sale of drugs has been successfully used by the Taliban to fund the insurgency and kill British troops.


He wrote: "British policy towards the poppy crop has been an unmitigated disaster. The chief "effect" of the British presence in Helmand has been to transform Helmand into the opium centre of the world.


"This remarkable milestone was achieved just two years into the British intervention."

I recently read a much more sympathetic portrayal of the British efforts in the south that was co-written by Theo Farrell (who has a lot more love for the British Army than you would expect from an Irishman married to a Frenchwoman). And in conversations with U.S. officers in Afghanistan, it appears as if there is good understanding that the conflict in RC-South is much different from -- and in some ways more difficult than -- the fight in RC-East. Still, blunt talk from a British officer should not be ignored. And the British national security establishments have, if possible, emerged from Afghanistan with even more egg on their faces than their American counterparts. A U.S. Marine Corps officer I know who recently trained with the British reported they were all reading FM 3-24, largely because their own military has failed time and time again since 2005 to write a new COIN manual of their own.

Maj Miller claimed that the British government "sleepwalked" into Helmand in 2006 "without any meaningful reconstruction plan, without the resources to undertake-nation building tasks, and, critically, without any desire to fight a major insurgency".


He added: "It was thanks to the tenacity of the common soldier and the paratrooper that British embarrassment was saved."