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Ten myths about the British army: Libyan lessons for London
Material posted: -Publication date: 29-10-2011

14 October 2011 the head of the Ministry of defence of great Britain Liam Fox resigned. The media had published the version according to which the reason of his retirement broke out in the office the scandal associated with his friend who is in business negotiations was represented by Deputy under Secretary of defense, not occupying any public post. This version is care of the Minister people people, if the British troops at this time were not involved in the Libyan conflict. The care of the Minister of defence in this situation looked very strange, and not without reason...

The overall situation in Libya, a number of operations on its territory (including the storming of Tripoli), in which forces British special forces suffered serious losses, is likely to become a real causes of the resignation of a British Minister of defense.

Proof versions are the results of the research performed at the Institute of strategic studies army war College the United States. 22 September on the Institute's website published a story titled "Debunking the myth of the actions against partisans: Britain and irregular war – past, present and future"[1]. Authored by a renowned expert on counterinsurgency actions Andrew Mumford (Andrew Mumford).

In that study, it is noted that during the years since the end of world war II, the army of the United Kingdom took part in many operations connected with the suppression of partisan or insurgent resistance. The accumulated experience allows to judge about the British army as one of the most prepared in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations. Given this, experts of the Pentagon hoped that the global war on terror, which have lead American troops – exactly what the British troops are, so they realize their long experience kontrpartiya war. However, as the analysis has shown, the action of the British forces in irregular hostilities recently proved that British forces are not able to fight effectively in the changed conditions of modern low-intensity conflict, when the features of the formation of the guerrilla forces, their network structure and global penetration, does not allow British troops to use their previous experience.

Experts of the strategic studies Institute (SSI) of the U.S. army to study objectively shows weakness and inefficiency of the British troops in irregular campaign on the example of discrediting the myths about the British army.

First of all, the authors show that the British army, contrary to the myth of its flexibility, adaptability and fast learning, was very conservative and bone structure – for the ten years of the global war on terror army of the United Kingdom has not made any conclusion that was amply demonstrated during a failed operation in Libya.

The second myththat is associated with allegedly special gift of the British military art of strategic planning. Contrary to this myth, the authors prove that whenever the British troops engaged in a conflict, the initial stage of entering was characterized by inertia, by mismanagement and internal turmoil that does not fit with the established view about the strategic wisdom of the British command. This is most evident, according to the authors, manifested in Northern Ireland. In the first critical years of the conflict, the British leadership could not offer any acceptable strategy of behavior, leading to the perpetuation of conflict.

With regard to the actions of the British after the September 11, 2001, the authors of the report point to a kind of amnesia of the British military leadership – the actions of the British allies was counter-productive in the fight against global networks of al-Qaeda. It sounds strange, but nothing from previous experience by the British army for ten years was not used.

The main mistake here is the desire of the British military leadership to act on the template – use wherever possible previously successful experience and unwillingness to adapt to the changed context. However, experience has shown that the current opponents in irregular war differs significantly from the partisan socialists during the Cold war and blind copying then acquired experience on the current situation naturally gives the opposite result.

The third myth – the British troops are able to flexibly adapt to kontrpartiya war. According to British military experts, the process of transformation of the armed forces of the United Kingdom by the requirements of the concept settecentesche conflict need to be linked to the limited resources available, internal policies and existing military culture. However, none of these three elements is not conducive to rapid adaptation to new conditions of the conflict.

In addition, the study and generalization of experience of application of forces and means of the British army during counterinsurgency operations conducted only on a case by case basis. So, by the autumn of 2009 was published field manual British army counterinsurgency actions[2]. Prior to this formal submission on the strategy and tactics of the actions in this area did not exist. This is largely due to the fact that most of the professionals of the British army who received the experience of counterinsurgency action in recent years has left military service, and the younger generation of officers had not yet acquired the required experience. There was a break of generations, which is so dangerous in the military – past experiences, earned with blood of dead soldiers and officers, the lost and the new purchased.

Overall, the lack of attention to tactics in low-intensity conflicts have a sad legacy of the Cold war, when this type of fighting was given very little attention in view of the dominance on the battlefield of weapons of mass destruction. It was believed that the tactics of operations against the guerrillas is not related to the tasks of the armed forces, and emphasis on learning - it's just a temporary phenomenon. Moreover, high-ranking officers believed that the shift in construction of the armed forces to act in irregular conflicts will entail the inability to effectively fight in conventional wars. Here the British and lacked flexibility – they were not able to develop a strategic vision for the transformation of the armed forces so that in the future they could equally and effectively deal with the guerrillas and the regular army of the enemy.

The fourth myth debunked is the British military system there is an established system of personnel training for action in counterinsurgency operations.

An objective fact is to study the irregular war is extremely difficult. This kind of confrontation is in many ways unique. It depends on many conditions and the nature of the opposing forces. Therefore, one of the most important components in the training should be tactical adaptability of the forces to the specific conditions of the conflict. The lack of capacity is not the only problem the British troops. In recent years neither American nor French nor Israeli or Russian troops did not show the presence of such tactical adaptability. This is why to speak about possibility of creation of system of training counterinsurgency actions cannot be taken literally. The problem of training consists in the fact that unlike traditional military education, emphasizing physical fitness, firearms and means of warfare, countering irregular forces must be clear about the very nature of the phenomenon of mutiny. The study of the problems of insurgency affected many strata of such knowledge, as culture, language, mentality of the enemy that is not part of the traditional military education.

In recent years the situation has changed for the better – almost all the educational institutions formed training courses for officers to conduct irregular warfare. However, a survey of 114 respondents from among officers of the army, conducted in 2009, showed that two-thirds of respondents do not have the slightest clue about the principles of action in the conduct of irregular war.

The fifth myth – Iraq is the Zenith of the incarnation sixty years of experience conducting counterinsurgency operations. The failure of the British action in Iraq was recorded in April 2008, with the exception of British troops from the planned operations in the southern regions of Iraq, including the city of Basra, where the British were never able to establish the appropriate level of control over the situation. British troops since 2007, systematically been left under their control the territory, focusing around the airport of Basra. This behavior of the British was strongly criticized not only by the Iraqi authorities, and U.S. allies. The result of the internal conflict have become contradictions between the British and the Americans on the further settlement of the conflict in Iraq and the stay of British troops in the country. This behavior of the British is a consequence of the impossibility to apply one of the existing historical patterns – so unique was the situation in Iraq.

In any case, American expectations 2003 from the actions of their allies were completely failed. Yet Iraq gave the British troops an unprecedented strategic scenario, since the campaign first began, when the British were to work as a Junior partner in the coalition in irregular conflict.

Myth six British troops can conduct counterinsurgency operations. In this thesis the specialists of SSI indicate that the experience of beating the British in Iraq showed that the British establishment is not prepared for a long irregular war. Moreover, the participation of British troops, both independently and in coalition with other countries in such operations in the future is under threat after the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, the funding of a number of articles of the military budget connected with counterinsurgency activities, was significantly reduced.

The seventh myth – the British don't talk to terrorists. This myth was born after Margaret Thatcher's response to the question about the possibility of negotiations with the Irish Republican army. Then the "iron lady" stated it – Britain will never dialogue with terrorists. However, in the first three years of the conflict in Northern Ireland, the British leadership had made several attempts on the organization of secret dialogue with the IRA. And this fact was not unique. Almost all low-intensity conflicts involving British troops, the leadership of this country has established secret contacts with the enemy, conducted active negotiations.

The eighth myth is "a battle for hearts and minds" and "low blood" are Holy theses British counterinsurgency strategy of action. Success in any counterinsurgency operation is to whether to retain the loyalty of the majority of the population of the country for operations against the rebels. To achieve this can be only protecting civilians and reducing to a minimum its involvement in the conflict. This was the basis of British counterinsurgency strategy of action. But the British themselves often deviate from this very fair statement.

The historical notion that the British campaign against the rebels has traditionally relied on the efforts in conquering the hearts and minds of the civilian population, should be forgotten as a myth of the colonial era. This was clearly demonstrated in 1971-75, when the British began to detain civilians without proof of involvement in the IRA. And subsequent detained in filtration camps with harsh conditions of stay could not encourage a good attitude of the civilian population of Northern Ireland by British troops.

Earlier, similar methods of intimidation were used by the British in another conflict in Kenya in 1952-60.

Cruel treatment of civilians without establishing the fact of belonging to terrorist groups has resulted in a number of official investigations, and follow-up information about the brutal interrogation techniques (practiced sleep deprivation, continuous light, hunger, continuous and prolonged standing against the wall) was closed maybe higher degrees of secrecy[3].

The repetition of such torture in Iraq have seriously undermined the ability of the British to gain the loyalty of the local population and hastening the failure of British operations in the country.

Myth ninth campaign in Malaya in 1948-60, this is a typical example of irregular conflict. The British response to the situation in Malaya in 1948-1960, as widely believe, is the first modern counterinsurgency operation and is often regarded by experts and practitioners as a model of successful operations. However, according to experts of the ISS it is not so. First of all, a British victory should be evaluated in the context of the effects of several external factors, namely: economic dividends from the Korean war, the failed tactics of guerrilla warfare from the insurgents, the lack of modern means of defeat the guerrillas, lack of funding, and the lack of military advisers from developed militarily countries. In addition, the withdrawal of British troops from former colonies and the Declaration of independence gave the British an excuse to successfully complete such a campaign. Thus, the campaign against the guerrillas that lasted 12 years and focused on the destruction of one isolated rebel group, may not be a tangible achievement, and hardly deserves attention.

Although this operation and initiated a number of campaigns, the experts of ISS indicate that it is in the course of it, originated slow and bone formation style of British counterinsurgency strategy of action, which allowed isolated guerrilla group to survive for twelve years. To the formal end of the end of the uprising in 1960, was written by the project field manuals British army for operations against the guerrillas, but its effectiveness in achieving the cessation of rebellion has been seriously exaggerated, and that he applied later is very limited.

The tenth and final myth – the true practice of the British troops action against the guerrillas. Analysis of the development of the art of war in the British army shows that in the field kontrpartiya action after the Second world war there is a sufficiently slow process of the evolution of views of the British military leadership, which gave the opportunity to their opponents to effectively use this slowness and sluggishness in combating the British army.

In addition, the study showed that all experience gained by the British in the fight against irregular enemy, as a rule acquired in the struggle with the groups scattered, poorly trained and poorly armed, strategically incompetent, without external and internal support. This partly explains why the British army was defeated, when she collided with adequate enemy in Iraq, and why she got stuck during the conflict in Libya.

Despite the dominance of the diplomatic component during irregular conflicts, the importance of military power remains dominant. And the inability of the British army to suppress by force the resistance of the enemy, as has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, does not compensate for any diplomatic victories in negotiations with the enemy.

Another striking feature of the British experience is that each campaign starts with a very low competence of British intelligence, unable to give accurate information to the military leadership of the country. From Malaya to Iraq Basra British intelligence was unable to foresee the intensification of the conflict and was completely unprepared. this turn of events. Certainly, in Britain there are obvious difficulties in the development of human intelligence in the rebel groups that are characterized by very closed structure. British intelligence has not yet gained the ability to identify the nature of the threats of modern times, when network structures are involved several global terrorist groups. However, important here is the fact that British intelligence has found a place in the strategy of counterinsurgency actions – the role of the security services and military intelligence is an integral part of success in the campaign.


Summarizing the study of the ability of the British army to act in the face of unconventional threats, the SSI experts have concluded that a decade of experience in the British army today cannot be effectively used, and the inability of the British army to work effectively with a network opponent of a new nature, makes it slightly effective partner in the coalition.

Halo British army, as a skilled fighter with the partisans were largely the result of propaganda – wishful here presented as real.

For this reason, there is no doubt that the failure of the operation of the special forces of the British army in Libya was a foregone conclusion. Without help from NATO, the British forces could not have achieved half facing any problems during this conflict.

Today, when the value of the counterinsurgency action to prevail in the military doctrines of a number of countries, the British army would have to abandon its long-term "experience", as it were established under greenhouse conditions and may not be used in the modern reality of counterinsurgency operations.

British military leadership to come to terms with come to terms with setbacks and to make necessary conclusions – time will tell, until then, British forces will remain a burden to their American allies.



[2] British Army Field Manual, Vol. 1 Pt. 10, Countering Insurgency

[3] it is about a special manual, "Joint Directive on Military Interrogation in Internal Security Operations Overseas".

Tags: war , security , Libya , threat

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