UK forces were too complacent in Afghanistan


Britain’s top military commander has admitted for the first time that America was right to criticise the way in which British troops carried out counter-insurgency operations against the Taleban in southern Afghanistan when they first deployed to Helmand province in 2006.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff and a former head of the RAF, blamed commanders for being “smug and complacent” about the challenges they faced in Helmand.

His words echoed accusations made by Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, and several senior American military officers who claimed that their British counterparts spent too much time boasting about their experiences in Northern Ireland.

John Reid, who was Defence Secretary when the 3,500-strong 16 Air Assault Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Ed Butler, was deployed to Helmand in 2006, said at the time: "We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years time without firing one shot because our mission is the reconstruction."

For six months, the paratroopers faced daily attacks by the Taleban and suffered substantial casualties. The Ministry of Defence was forced to double the number of troops and today there are more than 8,000 servicemen and women in southern Afghanistan, still facing attacks and still suffering a high rate of casualties.

In an interview with The Economist Sir Jock acknowledged that there had been criticisms from some Americans over the performance of the British. He warned that such differences must not be allowed to “fracture and disintegrate” the cohesion of the alliance fighting the Taleban.

“I think that we were a bit too complacent about our experiences in Northern Ireland and, certainly, on occasion, we were a bit too smug about those experiences,” he said.


I agree with Jock Stirrup's assessment. BTW, what a great name. He should have been a cavalry officer.

I have noted before that UK senior officers were not aggressive at all in the counterinsurgency mission in Iraq of Afghanistan. It should be noted that the British troops who have engaged the enemy have done so with great skill and bravery. It is too bad they have not had better leadership.

Recently that seems to have changed and the Royal Marine Commandos have been especially effective around Kandahar.


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