February 4, 2015

QotD: The retreat from Kabul, 1842

Filed under: Asia,Britain,Military,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

POSSIBLY there has been a greater shambles in the history of warfare than our withdrawal from Kabul; probably there has not. Even now, after a lifetime of consideration, I am at a loss for words to describe the superhuman stupidity, the truly monumental incompetence, the bland blindness to reason of Elphy Bey and his advisers. If you had taken the greatest military geniuses of the ages, placed them in command of our army, and asked them to ruin it utterly as speedily as possible, they could not — I mean it seriously — have done it as surely and swiftly as he did. And he believed he was doing his duty. The meanest sweeper in our train would have been a fitter commander.

Shelton was not told that we would march on the morning of the 6th January, until evening on the 5th. He laboured like a madman through the night, loading up the huge baggage train, assembling the troops within the cantonment in their order of march, and issuing orders for the conduct and disposal of the entire force. It is a few words on paper: as I remember it, there was a black night of drifting snow, with storm lanterns flickering, troops tramping unseen in the dark, a constant babble of voices, the neighing and whining of the great herd of baggage animals, the rumble of wagons, messengers dashing to and fro, great heaps of luggage piled high outside the houses, harassed officers demanding to know where such-and-such a regiment was stationed, and where so-and-so had gone, bugle calls ringing in the night wind, feet stamping, children crying, and on the lighted verandah of his office, Shelton, red-faced and dragging at his collar, with his staff scurrying about him while he tried to bring some order out of the inferno.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.

January 24, 2015

QotD: General Elphinstone in Afghanistan, 1842

Filed under: Asia,Britain,History,Military,Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

But looking back I can say that, all unwittingly, Kabul and the army were right to regard Elphy’s arrival as an incident of the greatest significance. It opened a chapter: it was a prelude to events that rang round the world. Elphy, ably assisted by McNaghten, was about to reach the peak of his career; he was going to produce the most shameful, ridiculous disaster in British military history.

No doubt Thomas Hughes would find it significant that in such a disaster I would emerge with fame, honour, and distinction — all quite unworthily acquired. But you, having followed my progress so far, won’t be surprised at all.

Let me say that when I talk of disasters I speak with authority. I have served at Balaclava, Cawnpore, and Little Big Horn. Name the biggest born fools who wore uniform in the nineteenth century — Cardigan, Sale, Custer, Raglan, Lucan — I knew them all. Think of all the conceivable misfortunes that can arise from combinations of folly, cowardice, and sheer bad luck, and I’ll give you chapter and verse. But I still state unhesitatingly, that for pure, vacillating stupidity, for superb incompetence to command, for ignorance combined with bad judgement — in short, for the true talent for catastrophe — Elphy Bey stood alone. Others abide our question, but Elphy outshines them all as the greatest military idiot of our own or any other day.

Only he could have permitted the First Afghan War and let it develop to such a ruinous defeat. It was not easy: he started with a good army, a secure position, some excellent officers, a disorganized enemy, and repeated opportunities to save the situation. But Elphy, with the touch of true genius, swept aside these obstacles with unerring precision, and out of order wrought complete chaos. We shall not, with luck, look upon his like again.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.

November 29, 2014

Lorne Scots unveil two Cenotaph additions in Brampton and Georgetown

Filed under: Cancon,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

My old militia regiment was in the news recently:

Lorne Scots at Georgetown Cenotaph

The communities of Brampton and Georgetown paid a special tribute to veterans of Afghanistan during Remembrance Week, adding the 12-year mission to local cenotaphs dedicated to Canada’s war dead.

On the year that the Canadian mission in Afghanistan drew to a close, civic leaders in both communities determined that adding “Afghanistan,” beneath the names of Canada’s other major conflicts would be a fitting tribute.

In separate ceremonies during Remembrance Week, The Lorne Scots (Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment) were given the honour of unveiling the new additions to the cenotaphs at the Brampton War Memorial and the Georgetown War Memorial.

“We are honoured by our communities and their tributes, this is a fine way to honour the soldiers who fell or were wounded in Afghanistan,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Duane Hickson, Commanding Officer of the Lorne Scots and an Afghanistan veteran. “And it’s very fitting to be doing this during Remembrance Week.”

The Canadian Armed Forces first deployed to Afghanistan in October, 2001, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The first Lorne Scot deployed in 2004, with the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, with the Regiment’s biggest contributions in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The final Lorne Scot returned in September 2013 as part of the final rotation of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

By the end of the mission, the Lorne Scots had deployed 46 soldiers and officers, nearly 25% of the unit, to Afghanistan, with the last soldier returning in 2013.

The Lorne Scots take pride in their role in their communities, participating in community events and parades every year, and represent them to the nation and on the world stage when they deploy abroad. LCol Hickson said the Regiment was honoured to be asked to take part in the unveiling and will continue to serve their nation and their communities.

November 11, 2014

Mark Knopfler – “Remembrance Day”

Filed under: Britain,Cancon,History,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:11

A Remembrance Day slideshow using Mark Knopfler’s wonderful “Remembrance Day” song from the album Get Lucky (2009). The early part of the song conveys many British images, but I have added some very Canadian images also which fit with many of the lyrics. The theme and message is universal… ‘we will remember them’.

August 11, 2014

Canada’s Special Forces

Filed under: Cancon,Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

CANSOFCOMbadgeLast month, I posted an item on the organization of the Canadian Army, but I didn’t include the Canadian special forces … partly because the special forces are Canada’s “fourth” branch of service and not organizationally part of the Canadian Army … and partly because I just plain forgot about them. Having just read a short article in the most recent Dorchester Review, I was reminded to include Canada’s special forces units (as much as we know about them, anyway). Special forces fall under their own service command, separate from the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the Royal Canadian Air Force, known as the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM), established in 2006.

The core unit of CANSOFCOM is the original Joint Task Force-2 (JTF2) which was formed in 1992-3 when the Canadian Forces took over the domestic counterterrorism role from the RCMP. When JTF2 was included in the new command, other units were established to support a wider range of missions and capabilities. CANSOFCOM is headed by a Brigadier General and composed of a headquarters and the following units:

Although the official web page for CANSOFCOM emphasizes its domestic role, Canadian special forces have also been involved in overseas operations beginning (so far as we know) with Afghanistan in 2001-2. Very little information about JTF2 missions in specific or CANSOFCOM in general has been released by the government, and this is unlikely to change in the near future. Joseph Jockel’s article in the Dorchester Review states:

The consequences of the successful deployment […] are clearer. JTF2 had been tested and admitted to the “international tier 1 counterterrorism community”, the other members being the special forces of the US, UK, and Australia. A good indication of this was that the US military planned to include Canadian special forces in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A year after Canada declined to go to Iraq, “the US government sends a démarche to Ottawa specifically requesting JTF2 deploy to Afghanistan for a second one-year commitment”. Ottawa “obliges relatively quickly to the US request for forces and CANSOF deploys for a second one-year commitment in the summer 2005″

The Wikipedia page has more:

Core tasks

CANSOFCOM’s core tasks are: to provide the Canadian Forces with a capacity to prevent and react to terrorism in all environments, to provide the CF with a capability to perform other missions as directed by the Government of Canada, such as direct action (DA), special reconnaissance (SR), defence diplomacy and military assistance (DDMA), as well as special humanitarian assistance (such as the evacuation of non-combatants).

Commanding officers

On September 12, 2005, Colonel David Barr was appointed the provisional commander of the CANSOFCOM. During his tenure as commander, Colonel Barr also deployed to Afghanistan as commander of the Canadian special operations task force in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Major-General D. Michael Day, OMM CD – Commander of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command 2007–2011

Brigadier-General D.W. Thompson, OMM MSC CD is the current commander of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, appointed in April 2011.

The current command chief warrant officer is Chief Warrant Officer John H. Graham, MSM CD.


With operational uniforms, all members of CANSOFCOM wear the tan beret, regardless of their environment (navy, army or air force), with the badge of their personnel branch or, in the case of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps and Royal Canadian Infantry Corps members, the badge of their former regiment. With ceremonial and service dress, navy members wear service caps with tan bands, army members wear tan berets and air force members wear blue wedge caps with a tan insert.

June 16, 2014

When “victory” isn’t an end-game option

Filed under: Government,Middle East,Military,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:45

Clive Crook talks about the strengths and weaknesses of US foreign policy for Bloomberg View:

As Iraq unravels, a painful truth about U.S. politics and foreign policy is becoming more evident: The U.S. is very good in all-or-nothing situations, but all-or-nothing situations don’t often arise.

This is a country that can and will meet existential threats with unity of purpose and vast resources. In this regard, even now, it stands alone. Few threats rise to that level. Lesser dangers can still be serious, without commanding or justifying that kind of response. Precisely for that reason, they put greater stress on democratic politics, and U.S. politics seems ever less able to cope.


Cordesman’s advice on conducting “non-wars against non-terrorists” boils down to this: Lower your expectations and be patient. In many countries, that way of thinking is of necessity the default. In the U.S., it isn’t. Americans want victory, and they want it now. And if they can’t win, they ask, why get involved at all?

In the foreseeable future, there’ll be no victory against jihadism. That’s partly because it doesn’t pose enough of a threat to justify total war against it. Yet the idea that jihadism poses no threat to the U.S. and can simply be ignored is risible. The danger can’t be crushed; it can only be managed. This means confronting it intelligently and patiently — with allies wherever possible, and always measuring the (uncertain) benefits of action against the (uncertain) costs.

“Mission accomplished” illustrates what Cordesman calls the end-state fallacy — the idea that deep-seated conflicts can be brought neatly to an end. So does President Barack Obama’s remark on the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011: “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.”

Another fallacy is to organize policy around the idea that every conflict has a good side and a bad side. Foreign policy isn’t a morality play. Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq and Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan exemplify this second error. Perhaps, at the time, both men were better than the alternatives. Even if they were, they were bound to remain part of the problem.

H/T to Jonathan Rauch for the link.

June 9, 2014

The not-so-hidden racism in the Bergdahl release

Filed under: Humour,Military,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:22

Nicole Mullen explains why you’re an awful racist if you don’t see the awful racism in the swap of five Taliban prisoners for US Army hero/deserter Bowe Bergdahl:

Treating politics like professional wrestling rivalries comes with its fair share of downfalls though, and this Bergdahl case is a perfect example of such shortcomings. As a leftist myself, I was quick to dismiss any notion of Bergdahl’s traitorous behavior, nor did I take exception to Obama’s decision to circumvent congressional approval when he released five terrorists from Gitmo. I simply read that a trade occurred, googled to find out how the right felt about it, and then blindly argued against every single point that they made. Is Bergdahl a deserter? Of course not, he’s a hero. What evidence do I have of that? None. Who cares? I’m right and you’re wrong.

But, this is where the breakdown occurs, because there’s something my fellow liberals are missing in all of this, and only part of it is to blame on fervent, unquestioning support of the president. It’s odd to me that in a whole industry of race obsessed blowhards collecting freelancing checks, I’m the only one who noticed how racist the Bergdahl trade was.

I want to make it clear that I’m not criticizing the president for his decision to rescue Bergdahl, but there’s something that the white left is afraid to talk about here. When Obama traded five men of color for one white man – he made a very clear statement about race. He let the entire world know that one white life is worth at least five brown ones, and that is incredibly fucked up and gross and problematic.

Think for a second – if Bush had made that trade, is there any doubt that we would be calling him out for how outrageously racist it was? If a white man had traded five brown men for one white man, we would be quick to see it for what it was – an affirmation of white privilege and power. But, because Obama is a man of color himself, it seems as if no one noticed.

I can only imagine the struggle Obama, a man of people of color, must have felt as he authorized that trade. He was betraying himself – the black part of himself – while simultaneously affirming the privilege and power structures inherent in the white part of himself. The courage it took to make that decision is remarkable, and again, I feel like he made the right choice, but we should really look at this situation and use it as a way to reflect on our cultural attitudes to the devaluation and reductive characterization of colorful men that we objectify through cisrace projections of cultural self-worth.

January 8, 2014

Tactical “lessons learned” from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan

Filed under: Middle East,Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:04

A couple of weeks back, Strategy Page posted some of the things that US and allied troops have had to learn from their experiences in combat since deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. These tactical tips and tricks include:

The list is long and often embarrassing. For example, in peacetime troops are taught to drive carefully, in order to avoid accidents. But in combat the safest form of driving is fast and, to peacetime sensibilities, reckless. Even if commanders seek to practice “combat driving” in peacetime they do so in the knowledge that after a few bad accidents orders will come down to not drive like that because it causes bad publicity.

It’s a somewhat similar situation with battlefield first aid. It’s difficult to provide many troops with realistic training, especially since it’s harder to train on pigs or goats with the animal welfare zealots constantly trying to sue you into training methods that will get more troops killed in combat.

Another bad habit armies tend to drift into during peacetime is using weapons for training less and less. These things are, after all dangerous and with all the safety precautions and restrictions it is understandable why firing practice is cut and cut until it’s a rare event. But once war breaks out you quickly appreciate why sending troops to the weapons range several times a week is one of those lifesaving things you need to do.


Along with learning how to drive like a madman, you have to practice hard so you can change tires like one as well. In combat you will often have to do this under fire, so you must learn to do it quickly. This does two things. First, you learn how long it takes, even when you are in a hurry. This can be a useful bit of information if you are under fire while changing the flat. Second, practicing it forces you to make sure the spare tire is in good shape, and can quickly be reached (along with any tools needed.)

Then you must learn how Mister Grenade can be your friend, even on the crowded streets of a city like Baghdad or Kandahar. If your vehicle has a glove compartment, re-label it as the “grenade compartment.” Carry one smoke, one fragmentation and one tear gas grenade. If you’re stuck in traffic and the situation outside it starting to look dicey, then drop a smoke grenade out the window and try to get moving. You MUST be moving if you drop the tear gas grenade, because you cannot drive through the tears. Most other drivers will give you a wide berth when they see the smoke or tear gas grenade go off. For those who keep coming, with evil intent, the fragmentation grenade may come in handy (it is good for getting at bad people hiding behind something.) Remember, when using grenades, do not touch the pin until the grenade is outside the window. Accidents happen, and having a smoke grenade go off in your vehicle will ruin your day, at the very least.

November 11, 2013

We will remember them

Filed under: Britain,Cancon,History,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

A Remembrance Day slideshow using Mark Knopfler’s wonderful “Remembrance Day” song from the album Get Lucky (2009). The early part of the song conveys many British images, but I have added some very Canadian images also which fit with many of the lyrics. The theme and message is universal… ‘we will remember them’.

November 7, 2013

Rick Mercer on the plight of injured veterans

Filed under: Cancon,Government,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:10

October 12, 2013

Afghan troops and abandoned tribal traditions

Filed under: Asia — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Strategy Page explains why Afghan soldiers will not be giving up the “spray and pray” combat style any time soon:

While Afghans admire the superior fighting ability of NATO troops, they have a difficult time adopting the equipment and techniques that make these foreigners more lethal and less vulnerable on the battlefield. The problem is that most Afghans are still basically tribal warriors at heart. In a battle even those with good shooting skills will fire wildly and move about with more spirit than sense. The average Afghan, brought up to follow the traditional warrior traditions, is not trained to carry out a lot of smart battlefield moves and is easily panicked. The Pushtun tribesmen of this part of the world have a tradition of fleeing a lost battle and not fighting to the last man. Thus, if you can make the Afghans think they are about to be surrounded by superior forces they will flee. U.S. and Afghan government forces not only have better training and leadership but also know these traditional tribal tactics and how best to exploit them.

The problem NATO trainers and advisors have is that too many Afghan troops and police will, under the stress of combat, revert back to their tribal ways. That means going head-to-head with the enemy for a shootout and maybe even some hand-to-hand action. The NATO advisors who accompany most Afghan battalions, to observe how well the training is used and advise on how to deal with problems, find that the Afghan commanders and NCOs have a hard time stopping their troops from going old school and often just go along with it. This despite the fact that the Afghan commanders are smart guys and are well aware of how much more effective the Western tactics are. But the Afghan commanders also realize that once most foreign troops are gone at the end of 2014, there may be no more NATO air support and it may take a while before the Afghan Air Force can provide much smart bomb capability. So it makes some sense to develop tactics that combine Western and Afghan methods. The NATO advisors are thinking short term while the Afghan commanders are taking the long view.


The decline of the traditional Afghan marksmanship dates back three decades. Back before the Russians showed up in 1979, the best weapon an Afghan could hope to have was a World War II, or World War I, era bolt action rifle. These weapons were eclipsed in the 1980s by a lot of free (for Afghans fighting the invading Russians) AK-47s and the RPG rocket launchers. The young guys took to the AK-37 and the thrill of emptying a 30 round magazine on full automatic. Not bad for a brief firefight and suddenly hardly anyone, except a few old timers, wanted to use the old bolt action rifle or learn how to hit anything with single shots. The RPG rocket launcher became the favored way to take out long-distance (up to 500 meters) targets. It was portable artillery for the tribal warrior and great fun for a warrior to use.

It was not noticed much outside of Afghanistan that this shift in weaponry brought to an end a long Afghan tradition of precision, long range shooting. Before the 1980s, this skill was treasured for both hunting and warfare. When doing neither, Afghan men played games centered on marksmanship. One, for example, involved a group of men chipping in and buying a goat. The animal was then tethered to a rock, often on a hill, and then the half dozen or so men moved several hundred meters away and drew lots to see who would fire in what order. The first man to drop the goat won it. Since Afghanistan was the poorest nation in Asia, ammo was expensive, and older men taught the young boys all the proper moves needed to get that first shot off accurately and make it count.

August 21, 2013

Dispatches from the front – “the American police officer works a battlefield every day he patrols his sector”

Filed under: Law,Liberty,USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 14:47

Radley Balko on some of the interesting and revealing responses to his book Rise of the Warrior Cop:

Over the last several days, the popular online police magazine PoliceOne site has been rolling out a series of opinion pieces in response to my book. As you might expect, most of them are critical, although a couple have been thoughtful.

One essay by Sgt. Glenn French was particularly disturbing. French serves as commander of a SWAT team in Sterling Heights, Michigan. French doesn’t criticize me for arguing that too many police officers have adopted this battlefield mindset. Rather, he embraces the combat mentality, and encourages other cops to do the same. Referring to an article I wrote here at HuffPost, French writes:

    “What would it take to dial back such excessive police measures?” the author wrote. “The obvious place to start would be ending the federal grants that encourage police forces to acquire gear that is more appropriate for the battlefield. Beyond that, it is crucial to change the culture of militarization in American law enforcement.”

    We trainers have spent the past decade trying to ingrain in our students the concept that the American police officer works a battlefield every day he patrols his sector.

Note the choice of words. Not neighborhood, but “sector.” Although I suppose such parsing isn’t even necessary when French just comes right out and declares America a battlefield. Note too that French isn’t even referring to SWAT teams, here. He’s suggesting that all cops be taught to view the streets and neighborhoods they patrol in this way.

French then tosses out some dubious statistics.

    The fact is, more American police officers have died fighting crime in the United States over the past 12 years than American soldiers were killed in action at war in Afghanistan. According to ODMP.org, 1,831 cops have been killed in the line of duty since 2001. According to iCasualties.org, the number of our military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan is 1,789.

    Cops on the beat are facing the same dangers on the streets as our brave soldiers do in war.

Even accepting French’s preposterous premise here, his numbers are wrong. The U.S. has lost 2,264 troops in Afghanistan, about 22 percent more than French claims. Moreover, more than half police officer deaths since 2001 were due to accidents (mostly car accidents), not felonious homicide. Additionally, depending on how you define the term, there are between 600,000 and 800,000 law enforcement officers working in the United States. We have about 65,000 troops in Afghanistan. So comparing overall fatalities is absurd. The rates of cops killed versus soldiers killed aren’t even close. And that’s not factoring in the soldiers who’ve come home without limbs. The dangers faced by cops and soldiers in Afghanistan aren’t remotely comparable.

July 18, 2013

The cost of withdrawal

Filed under: Military,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:14

A couple of days ago, I posted an item on the costs of removing military equipment from Afghanistan (that is, due to lack of direct port access, thousands of tons of gear have to be flown out at an eye-watering $14,000 per ton). The Washington Post had an article yesterday discussing the customs dispute between the US military and the Afghan government which is making the situation even more fraught:

An escalating dispute between the Afghan government and the United States over customs procedures has halted the flow of U.S. military equipment across Afghanistan’s borders, forcing commanders to rely more heavily on air transport, which has dramatically increased the cost of the drawdown, according to military officials.

The Afghan government is demanding that the U.S. military pay $1,000 for each shipping container leaving the country that does not have a corresponding, validated customs form. The country’s customs agency says the American military has racked up $70 million in fines.

If left unresolved, the disagreement could inflate the price tag of the U.S. military drawdown by hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars because of the higher cost of shipping by air — an unwelcome expenditure at a time when the Pentagon is scrambling to cope with steep congressionally mandated budget cuts and the White House is attempting to jump-start negotiations over a long-term security cooperation deal with Kabul.

The Afghan government’s demand for payment is part of a broader dispute over Kabul’s authority to tax entities from the United States, its chief benefactor. As the war economy that for years bankrolled Afghanistan’s political elite starts to deflate, the government is increasingly insisting that U.S. defense contractors pay business taxes and fines for a range of alleged violations.

H/T to Doug Mataconis who also wrote:

We invaded Afghanistan, arguably liberating them from the grip of the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies. We’ve spent ten years or so fighting to protect the government of Hamid Karzai from those same forces. And now they want to charge us to leave? Surely, this is a first, isn’t it? On the other hand, I can see a benefit here. If we knew going into a war that we’d have to pay money to get out at the end perhaps we’d be less willing to start it.

July 15, 2013

Expensive military gear to become piles of scrap

Filed under: Economics,Military,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Strategy Page explains why billions of dollars in military equipment will be scrapped in Afghanistan:

It’s going to cost some $14 billion to deal with $26 billion worth of American equipment in Afghanistan. Half that cost will be for shipping gear out, but the other $7 billion will be the cost of equipment not worth shipping home and either destroyed or donated to the Afghans. About 78,000 tons of gear will be destroyed, including over 2,000 armored vehicles. Some has to be moved, given to the Afghan security forces, sold locally or destroyed. About 9,000 MRAPs will be sent back to the United States.

Unlike Iraq, where heavy stuff, like armored vehicles and trucks, could simply drive to a nearby port and put on a ship, Afghanistan has no ports. The nearest ones are in Pakistan and the road trip is expensive and dangerous because of the theft and the threat of attacks (by terrorists or gangsters seeking “protection” fees). So a lot more gear will be flown out of Afghanistan, which is quite expensive. The current plan calls for 28,000 vehicles and 20,000 shipping containers of gear are to be moved by the end of 2014.

The U.S. and NATO supplies coming in (or going out) via railroad from Western Europe, go through Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, to Afghanistan. This approach costs $400 a ton to move material to or from Afghanistan, versus three times that to truck it in from Pakistani ports, or $14,000 a ton to fly stuff in, or $10,000 a ton if you just fly material in from a friendly (Persian Gulf) port. For example, $600,000 MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) cost $140,000 to fly in from the Gulf. Some 2,000 of these MRAPs in Afghanistan are no longer needed by the United States or the Afghan forces so are being cut up for scrap in Afghanistan.

April 6, 2013

Emile Simpson hailed as “one of the greatest military historians of his generation”

Filed under: History,Media,Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

In the Times Literary Supplement, Michael Howard is so impressed with Simpson’s book that he goes out on a limb to recommend it:

Some four decades ago, the TLS sent me a book to review by a young lecturer at Sandhurst entitled The Face of Battle. It impressed me so much that I described it as “one of the best half-dozen books on warfare to have appeared since the Second World War”. I wondered at the time if I had made a total fool of myself, but I need not have worried. The author, the late Sir John Keegan, proved to be one of the greatest military historians of his generation. It would be rash to put my money on such a dark horse again, but I shall. Emile Simpson’s War From the Ground Up is a work of such importance that it should be compulsory reading at every level in the military; from the most recently enlisted cadet to the Chief of the Defence Staff and, even more important, the members of the National Security Council who guide him.

Emile Simpson does not presume to show us how to conduct war, but he tells us how to think about it. He saw service in Afghanistan as a young officer in the Gurkhas, and his thinking is solidly rooted in that experience. Like Clausewitz 200 years earlier, Simpson found himself caught up in a campaign for whose conduct nothing in his training had prepared him; and like Clausewitz he realized that to understand why this was so he had to analyse the whole nature of war, from the top down as well as from the ground up. Afghanistan, he concluded, was only an extreme example of the transformation that war has undergone during his lifetime; and that itself is due to the transformation of the societies that fight it.

[. . .]

It is impossible to summarize Emile Simpson’s ideas without distorting them. His own style is so muscular and aphoristic that he can concentrate complex arguments into memorable sentences that will have a life of their own. His familiarity with the work of Aristotle and the history of the English Reformation enables him to explain the requirements of a strategic narrative as effectively as his experiences in Afghanistan illuminate his understanding of the relationship between operational requirements and political objectives. In short (and here I shall really go overboard) War From the Ground Up deserves to be seen as a coda to Clausewitz’s On War. But it has the advantage of being considerably shorter.

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