The British army's determination to "crack on" in Helmand may be brave, but foolishby Anthony King / September 4, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
Writing in this month’s Prospect, Stephen Grey details the political and military mistakes that have been made in Helmand. Perhaps most importantly, he identifies the role of the institutional culture of Britain’s armed forces: “cracking on”—the unshakeable determination of Britain’s troops. Grey is right that the ethos of “cracking on” is the army’s greatest quality; effective armies require fortitude and morale in order to endure the losses that they will inevitably suffer. Yet, as he notes, it may be the army’s greatest weakness too.
Having worked with the British armed forces for the last five years, watching them on operations in Kabul and Basra, it has become clear to me that the culture of “cracking on” may not mean merely that British troops from the Somme to Sangin have dutifully enacted orders which they know to be poor but, more seriously, it affects operational command itself. As Grey notes, British commanders have blithely conducted missions in Helmand despite a woeful lack of intelligence about the theatre and knowingly inadequate military resources for any realistic chance of success.