August 15, 2007
Why the Brits are Losing BasraBy James Lewis
Why is the most best European fighting army, the British, losing the battle for Basra in southern Iraq? Because the UK Ministry of Defense supplied its soldiers with the wrong equipment, having invested its shrinking budget in long-term European Ego Projects to keep the military bureaucracy happy.
Given soft vehicles that are terrifyingly vulnerable to IEDs and car bombs, the Brits initially claimed that "soft power" would do the job -- just as the Dutch boasted that having tea with the Taliban would ensure peace and love in their area of Afghanistan. But the British MOD was just rationalizing its own weakness, especially in equipment. British soldiers were sacrificed to politics.
All that is not my conclusion: It comes from close analysis over the last several years by the excellent British blog Eureferendum, which has its own sources in the UK Ministry of Defense. Building blast-resistant military vehicles starts with ancient knowledge: To deal with bombs and shells, you need armored walls that deflect the blast, positioned diagonally to the incoming force. That is why fortifications were built centuries ago with massive, slanted sides.
Blast-resistant vehicles are basically trucks with slanted, V-shaped body hulls. They are very effective in deflecting car bombs and IED explosions, the major killers in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, as Euroreferendum constantly points out, armored vehicles must be designed so that soldiers are never seated over the front wheels, which are most likely to set off mines. The US Marines, always fast to adapt, are bringing bomb-deflecting vehicles into the Iraq battle as fast as possible, in preference to vulnerable Humvees. So is the US Army. In Afghanistan, the Aussies and Canadians are also using properly-built combat trucks. Only the British are lagging behind, inexplicably.
After yet another group of British soldiers died in thin-skinned "Snatch" Land Rovers, Euroreferendum just wrote,
The British media are just beginning to catch on. From the Telegraph,
But if Eureferendum is to be believed, the death rate isn't just dozens of soldiers but scores. And the Mastiffs are not being supplied in nearly high enough numbers even several years into the war. It's a terrifying tale of incompetence and mismanagement, high in the chain of command.
Soft-skinned rectangular vehicles are not the only equipment failure that Eureferendum has called attention to, time and time again. In Afghanistan, British soldiers live in tents rather than fortified housing, while taking regular mortar attacks. They have not had anti-artillery radar, to pinpoint and strike back at attackers before they run off. Air support has been dismal, helicopters almost non-existent.
Just read Eureferendum's careful tracking of the story and thank your lucky stars for former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld, who forced our military establishment to adapt, adapt, and adapt again. The political losers in the US DOD are still screaming, of course, but without ruthless reshaping of our military we would have lost every war in history. Abraham Lincoln reshaped the US Army, and FDR did too. Ronald Reagan forced reorganization in the DOD and CIA. Rummy did it for the WOT, because our military career structure was still tailored for massive army-to-army warfare against the Soviets in Europe.
What we are facing today is the opposite of conventional large-scale war, and much of the career incentive structure in the military has had to change. Special Forces have been elevated to their own command. We've seen scores of hostile leaks from the Pentagon in the New York Times and WaPo, as officers find their careers threatened. The payoff comes in saved lives and vastly improved fighting effectiveness. We overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan using three hundred CIA and Special Forces on the ground, plus precision USAF bombing and a lot of bribe money.
As a result of tough military reorganization we are now much better equipped to apply General Petraeus' newly formalized counter-insurgency doctrine. Yes, the Brits are admirable soldiers, smart and tough on the ground, but their defense careerists back home have been a disaster.
The Basra failure is a mirror image of the Concorde Supersonic Ego-jet, which never made any financial sense, but simply allowed European aerospace to parade around the world, claiming it had the only civilian supersonic passenger jet. Well, that was true. Meanwhile, other airplanes were winning in the market because the Concorde was much too small and expensive for the average air passenger. The Concorde ultimately had to go. It was a pure prestige investment, like all those African palaces that were built by kleptocrat dictators. Post-colonial African governments suffered from a gaping inferiority complex, and so does contemporary Europe. The response is similar.
Instead of preparing for clearly visible dangers today, Europe's military investments are going into giant prestige projects for the future European Army, expensive multinational investments like aircraft carriers and the Eurofighter jet, none of which are ready for combat, while cheaper and more effective weapons systems are ignored. Europe is not facing the Soviet Army; but it is pretending to, so the EU can buy off as many countries as possible with "defense" moneys. (We do the same thing in the US Congress, except that our military actually fights wars. Our voters also have some control over who goes to Congress, while the EU is unelected. So our military must keep their noses to the grindstone. Since Europe is always happy to let Uncle Sam do the hard work in Kosovo and the Middle East, they can get away with a pretend military. But what will happen when Uncle Sam walks away?)
Instead of preparing for counterinsurgency warfare, the most predictable ground war for the near future, the EU wants the biggest, flashiest and most gold-plated toys. The EU Galileo satellite navigation system is soaking up billions of euros just to duplicate the free American GPS system, because Europe must have its own high-tech toys. Compared to the European Union, the US Congress looks like a congregation of virgins.
British soldiers are paying in blood for the decisions of their political masters. Since the UK is being steadily seduced into the EU, the military bureaucracy is being rewarded for all the wrong things. So is every other UK ministry. And the average citizen is asleep in front of the telly.
You can call it poetic justice: While Europe went mad with anti-American rage during the Bush years, the Europeans also sabotaged themselves. Europe has been in massive denial of the terror threat, of Islamic fascism, and of nuclear proliferation to rogue regimes in the Middle East. Instead, they have been marching around like a cock with barnyard matter on its feet, blissfully ignorant of mounting dangers.
Meanwhile a flock of black vultures are circling the fat cities of Europe. We need another Winston Churchill, but all we see today is hordes of political hacks.
James Lewis blogs at http://www.dangeroustimes.wordpress.com/