Posts Tagged ‘UK’

Re-ordering the UK’s Campaign Primacy

4 August, 2008

In a weekend interview with The Daily Telegraph, which was also picked up by The Times, Brigadier Ed Butler – the former head of the SAS, and former commander of British forces in Afghanistan – claimed that not only were some British Muslims fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, but that militant Islamic groups in south-east Asia were also supporting terrorist plots in the UK.

“There are British passport holders who live in the UK who are being found in places like Kandahar… There is a link between Kandahar and urban conurbations in the UK. This is something the military understands, but the British public does not.”

Given this relationship between the foreign and domestic theatres, what are the implications for UK counterinsurgency strategy? In an article entitled Re-ordering the UK’s Campaign Primacy, IRG founder John Mackinlay argues that in the UK we are currently making a mistake in placing our expeditionary commitments over our domestic campaign, and that the current counterinsurgency discourse – as embodied in US Army / USMC FM 3-24 – is insufficiently nuanced to address the nature of the threat posed to Europe, and the UK in particular, by contemporary global insurgency:

Although doctrinally US and UK forces appear to have changed course, the core values of our security institutions remain the same, and at their most instinctive level they have not altered sufficiently to keep up with the changing world. In operational terms we are still facing backwards towards an era when counterinsurgency was a purely expeditionary activity, whereas in reality we need to be thinking more seriously about a 21st century adversary which does not require overseas territories, and which flourishes within our own population.

Representing an overwhelming US presence, US counterinsurgency doctrine is likely to become the concept for every future coalition. So it is this doctrine, and not a yet to be written NATO or national version, which will influence our future modus operandi.

FM3-24 has the appearance of novelty, it mentions the ‘global dimension’ and the possibility of ‘insurgent networks’, but in practical terms its prescriptions are only relevant to an expeditionary, territorial intervention focused on a particular state, with a clearly recognisable centre of gravity. The US doctrine is saying in effect that although the adversary which we seek to address is established globally and exerts itself in the virtual dimension, the military response will be a traditional unilateral expedition, whose capabilities will be tangible, territorial and limited to a space that is physical.

As a result of our failure to fully appreciate the inter-relationship of the domestic and expeditionary elements of our counterinsurgency campaign – or, at least, our failure to operationalise this understanding – it is argued that in the UK we are dangerously neglecting the former in pursuit of the latter.

In common with other European states the British government is engaged on two fronts, the overseas expeditions against the supposed sanctuaries in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a domestic campaign to stem disaffection and radicalisation in its own population. These campaigns are organisationally distinct. The overseas effort principally involves Defence, Foreign Affairs and Overseas Development, whereas the domestic plan of action principally involves the Home Affairs ministry. The problem is that in the UK the images and reverberations of the overseas campaign act against the domestic campaign. It is the continuous traffic of routine news and political debate concerning British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than old fashioned jihadi propaganda, which antagonises the vulnerable Muslim element of the British population, especially those who see their faith as the target of the war against terror.

Despite the obfuscations of its government, the British de facto give primacy to the expeditionary campaign. This prioritisation is not explicit, but by deed and declaration the government pursues its expeditionary campaigns in denial and disregard of mounting evidence that the UK’s foreign policy and military profile in the war against terror contributes to the increasing radicalisation of its own Muslim population.

Read the full article here:
Re-ordering the UK’s Campaign Primacy


UK CT & COIN Features – 14 June 2008

14 June, 2008

A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.


Tomorrow’s Army, Today’s Challenges

14 June, 2008

On Thursday, General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, gave a speech at the latest RUSI Future Land Warfare Conference, a transcript of which is available here [PDF].

Among his prescriptions for the future of the British Army is the following:

So let me focus on our key conclusions – which is that the Army of tomorrow must retain the capability to fight MCO and Stability Ops, both simultaneously and sequentially. We have reached the point now where the most likely operations are amongst the most demanding. Our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have clearly demonstrated that even with integrated technology and systems, the mass and footprint given by numbers are an essential element of the future Army – in other words we cannot get any smaller and I would argue strongly that we need to be bigger and to fully integrate our Regular and Territorial manpower focussed on most likely tasks.

Although we must maintain our ability to be expeditionary, the Army is moving away from the short lived doctrine that all campaigns can be short in duration. “Go First, Go Fast, Go Home” had a very short shelf life as a policy aspiration. We must have an increasing capacity to endure, which implies not only greater mass of people, but enough depth in joint enablers to allow wider concurrency together with greater endurance. In order to do this, I need a structure that is capable of the wide range of tasks in great numbers, which means that we will not be going down the path of a two tier specialised Army. We might need 30,000 for an MCO operation, but equally Stabilisation might require even more in certain stages. And I think it is also important to consider the inescapable fact that some Stabilisation Operations could be greatly shortened if large numbers are deployed. I have taken a lesson of the past 5 years of conflict that if you have an economy of force operation it will take far longer to reach your endstate – it is therefore a false economy.

In his speech, Dannatt essentially develops the ideas he originally set out in last year’s conference, in which he spoke on the evolving nature of contemporary conflict, and the doctrine and force structure the British Army must adopt if it is to meet the challenges it faces. Entitled “Tomorrow’s Army; Today’s Challenges”, a full transcript of that speech is available here, and is well worth reading in full. Below is an edited version breaking down his key points.


On the contemporary environment and the origins of the current transnational threat:

“I note, but don’t share, Francis Fukuyama’s view that the end of the 20th Century marked the triumph of the West and that capitalism, liberalism and democracy had emerged victors of that century’s protracted ideological conflicts. If he felt that the crumbling of Soviet Communism marked the “end of history”, I suggest he had forgotten to look back over his shoulder, where he might have noticed a Crescent-shaped shadow – a shadow coming into focus when the Cold War still had a decade or so to run, and perhaps some two decades before that other apparently defining event – 9/11.

…. while there was no defining event in 1979 like the Twin Towers or the Berlin Wall, it was a year when many powerful forces began moving – the plates adjoining the fault lines became active….

“So I suggest that what began a decade before the Wall came down, eventually led to the end of the stability of the old bi-polar World, and sowed the seeds of Global Terrorism – essentially an asymmetric response to a single Superpower by the militarily dispossessed and the historically humiliated – and which was dramatically illustrated by the airliner attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

On the need for continuing adaptation within the British Army, in the context of meeting the critical ongoing challenges presented by Afghanistan and Iraq:

“But it all takes time to turn the tanker as in the Army’s case we move from being Continentally-based facing a single threat, to becoming a genuinely Expeditionary Army, increasingly home-based but widely committed on operations – and the world is not standing still.

“As General Pete Schoomaker observed while he was still Chief of the US Army, it is difficult enough to change an Army, let alone to do so when you are trying to fight and win at least two wars.

“And, of course, it is the two major operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that are both key drivers of change and the all-consuming focus of the British Army at present.

“And it is success today in these two theatres – however you define success – that, as far as I am concerned, is both the top and bottom line because if we fail in either campaign, then I submit that in the face of that strident Islamist shadow, then tomorrow will be a very uncertain place.

On the nature of contemporary conflict in a globalised operational space, and the evolving role of the ‘home front’:

“As I have already commented, the end of the Cold War has not brought the ‘New World Order’ that many anticipated. Instead the range and variety of threats and challenges to our security have multiplied. The Army is being used for different purposes, further afield than we might have expected a few years ago, and in very demanding operational circumstances. We live in an economically and socially globalized society and the threats and challenges to our security are also global and have sympathizers in many societies and countries, including at home.

“These threats cannot be defeated by conventional means alone, as they are principally a conflict of values and ideas – a battle for hearts and minds – now on a global scale. And these threats do not just face us abroad, but increasingly we have identified that we need to understand our own home front. It is not only a matter of society feeding us with the soldiers of the future, but also it provides us with the basic consent for us to conduct military operations.

“The public will not continue to support the use of force in their name, unless the Army is trusted and respected, and this may be increasingly difficult to gain. The British Army is currently held in high esteem by our nation, but this is fragile and under no circumstances must we take this for granted. It will only be maintained through sustained and effective communication with the public at large and through our continued adherence to our core values and standards.

“It is therefore vital that we, as an Army, know what we stand for – thus our core values and of selfless commitment, courage, discipline, integrity, loyalty and respect for others are increasingly important as the foundation on which success will be built. And our standards of behaviour must be above reproach. And here is the crux of the question – if we are engaged in a wider battle of ideas, how do we maintain our firm moral bearing within the Army, when our wider society’s own moral compass may be spinning?

On shaping Army doctrine and training around an understanding of the enemy, and the on need for doctrinal development to be an iterative and adaptive process in the context of a long war:

“But it is also vital that we understand our opponents, their environment and their culture. In the same way that we studied the Soviets intensely for half a century, we must apply the same intellectual rigour to today’s challenges. However, in my view, our Manoeuvrist doctrine is well suited to respond to these challenges, for it encourages lateral thought and the ability to defeat multi-faceted and asymmetric threats, underpinned by our war-fighting ethos.

“I am determined that we should maximize our people’s potential through a greater understanding of the Manoeuvrist Approach and Mission Command, recognizing also the importance of a Comprehensive Approach within the framework of coherent campaign plans. I would hope that there is nobody in the room who is not completely familiar with the tenets of the Comprehensive Approach, and yet we still struggle to implement a truly unified purpose and methodology to tackle operations. We are operating in an era in which campaigns are likely to require non-kinetic effects more often than kinetic.

“The enduring problem will be that when the security situation is fragile, military forces will still be required to adopt the flexibility of approach to step across a number of lines of operation to fill gaps and provide additional capability – the trick is going to be how we best educate our people for this very demanding task. We are developing an understanding of each other and slowly we are educating and training each other – but it is slow, probably too slow.

“Furthermore, we need to recognize that we are probably engaged in a wider conflict that may last for a generation and I think this has yet to be recognized widely. The heady appeal of “go first, go fast, go home” has to be balanced with a willingness and a structure “to go strong, and go long”. In these circumstances, I think the nature of the Military Covenant, the relationship between the Organisation and the Individual, between the Army and the soldier, is critical. Although the nature of service is inherently unequal and soldiers often have to put in more than they receive, at the very least British Soldiers should always expect the Nation, the Army and their commanders to treat them fairly, to value and respect them as individuals and to sustain and reward them and their families with appropriate conditions of service.


“Furthermore, a key Issue identified by our recent work is how to prepare our people to deal with the complexity of operations now and in the future. We often try to template our operations – warfighting operations linking to COIN or perhaps the Contemporary Operating Environment of the “three, now four Block War” model, but our recent experience has told us that templates only go so far. The enduring, transitional and extremely complex nature of modern operations demands an iterative refreshment of doctrine and our capability requirements. More fundamentally, we need to develop the methods by which we can train and educate our soldiers – at all ranks – to help them manage this complexity. This requirement to be adaptable, agile and dynamic will continue to introduce tension into our force structure and equipment capability debates.

On developing a force structure appropriate to the contemporary environment:

“But moving more briefly to the Physical component, we must also ensure that the Army is both prepared for future operations and provided with the right equipment. It is, therefore, my intention that the physical capabilities of the Army, including the Joint Helicopter Command, deliver a comprehensive Land Manoeuvre capability to Defence. This will comprise a balanced Ground Manoeuvre capability of heavy, medium and light force elements working in partnership with an integrated Air Manoeuvre capability itself comprising an effective mix of lift, reconnaissance, attack and utility capabilities. And this overall Land Manoeuvre capability will either be supported by, or be in support of the air, maritime or SF components.

“Appropriate joint command and control, fires, intelligence and logistics will underpin our overall ability to conduct combined and joint operations across the full spectrum, synchronizing the full suite of kinetic and non-kinetic effects. Increasingly, in the context of one Army, the manpower for all of this will be drawn from genuinely integrated Regular and Reserve elements.

• From a ground manoeuvre perspective, while combined Arms brigades will remain the key building block for the conduct of the most likely operations, the ability to conduct high intensity war fighting operations at Divisional level (with three national brigades) remains the most demanding and therefore represents the ‘gold standard’.
• At the same time, air manoeuvre, enabled by the addition of AH to existing air assault and rotary wing capabilities will increasingly provide a commander with greater operational flexibility.

In conclusion:

“It is a battle of ideas, and the battleground will be unpredictable. In any event, we need to be prepared for a very wide range of tasks from warfighting contingent operations to low level combat within a complex environment, whilst critically maintaining the support of the population, the consent of the nation and maintaining our own values and reputation.

“The only way that we can prepare for the challenges of the future is to be flexible and agile, and being willing to adapt, while remaining robust in the defence of the standards that set us apart from others.”

UK CT & COIN Features – 13 June 2008

13 June, 2008

A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.


UK CT & COIN Features – 12 June 2008

12 June, 2008

A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.


UK CT & COIN Features – 11 June 2008

11 June, 2008

A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.


Dealing with Bombs in Rural Devon: Global Threat, Local Response

4 June, 2008

This analysis of the recent bomb attack in Exeter was contributed by IRG reader Weichong Ong – a PhD researcher at the Centre for the Study of War State and Society, University of Exeter and a Visiting Research Associate at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore.


The bomb attack on 22 May, 2008 in Exeter city centre sent shockwaves throughout the Southwest of England. The first obvious question that sprang to mind was why Exeter, a sleepy cathedral city of 111,000 set in rural Devon. Exeter is by no means a stranger to bomb attacks. During the Second World War, from 1940 to 1942, Exeter was a frequent target of German bombing raids, including the Baedeker Blitz – a series of air raids on picture-postcard picturesque English cities of limited strategic importance. Although severely stretched, the timely response of RAF Fighter Command meant that heavy lossess were inflicted on German bombers for their incursions into British airspace. Indeed, the heavy aircraft lossess suffered by the Luftwaffe in Baedeker raids on the Southwest of England deprived both the North African and Russian fronts of crucial air assests in the critical year of 1942. The recent bomb attack by Nicky Reilly, a radicalized convert to Islam however is an incursion of a different kind.

Threat in the Global Space

The threat confronting the UK now and then in 1939-1945 has a global face and fills the global space. The similarities however depart from there. The bomb attack on 22 May, 2008 came just three days after Sir Richard Dearlove delivered a lecture at Exeter University on National Security for the 21st Century: New Threats, New Approaches. Sir Richard, former head of MI6, highlighted that the diffusion of power has empowered non-state actors to challenge the authority and power of nation states. Indeed, the end of the Cold War has ushered in an era where wars and conflicts are predominantly non-interstate, transnational or within states. However, this does not necessarily mean that we have seen the end of wars between states structured on the Westphalian model.

In his recent book, Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare, the ever perceptive doyen of strategic thought, Colin S Gray warns that ‘irregular warfare in all its forms remains a notably under-regulated field of strategic behaviour’. Indeed, state-on-state wars and conflicts are fought on very different rules from those with non-state actors. Morever, the highly irregular, ill-defined modus operandi and Area of Operations (AOs) of non-state armed actors do not fit into any convenient paradigm that government intelligence agencies can easily pinpoint.

Channel 4 television reported that MI5 was ‘aware of Reilly but he was not the subject of a live investigation’. Regardless of the veracity of the news report, the readily identifiable air armada of German bombers heading for the Southwest of England stood in marked constrast to a nondescript local lad travelling on a public bus from Plymouth to Exeter. Unlike the German Luftwaffe and present day national armed forces, non-state armed actors do not have a readily identifiable Order of Battle (Orbat) that one can pin-up in the centre of the Operations Planning Room. Instead of sprawling bases bristling with highly visible military hardware, non-state armed actors often operate in small independent units in local AOs without a readily identifiable HQ.

More often than not, that HQ exists not in the corporeal form of a conventional military structure but rather in the domain of cyberspace as well as an ethereal avatar of a visionary idea in the global space. Such a structure allows for the formation of cells and recruitment of members without the costly apparatus of centralised recruitment centres, a high level of tactical and operational flexiblity, and most importantly, the ability to sustain and regenerate itself and morph in accordance with the strategic, operational, and tactical terrain.

Response in the local hills

The bomb attack on Exeter might be viewed as a departure from the more familiar attacks on key British metropolitan areas such as London and Glasgow. That view however ignores the fact that in order to stay ahead of their materially more well-endowed opponents, non-state armed actors have to be, and are often, highly flexible in their modus operandi and range of AOs. The diversified tactics of non-state armed actors must be met with an equally holistic and timely response from the authorities. This means the ability to react quickly on the ground and, more importantly, entrusting the local security apparatus and personnel as well as local communities to do the job.

Throughout the first two days of the incident, police statements providing details of the suspect, his travel pattern on the day of the bombing incident and appeals for further information were made in a timely manner to the public. Explosive and Ordinance Disposal (EOD) capacity came in the form of a Royal Navy EOD team from a local Devon naval base. Local Muslim leaders in Plymouth, including the head of the Islamic Centre where Nicky Reilly used to worship, were quick to express their shock and distress at the incident. They also emphasized the moderate nature of the 3,500 large Muslim community in Plymouth while condemning all forms of religious extremism. In short, the immediate response has largely been a local-led affair.

The primacy of local policing and local leadership in counter-terror operations is however nothing new to the British. During the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), field operations were largely decentralised with local police playing a crucial role in deterring terrorist attacks, gathering human intelligence (Humint) as well as being the initial response to any attacks. As of now, the investigation of the 22 May Exeter bombing is headed by the local Devon and Cornwall Police with the assistance of other government agencies.

Fighting as General Charles Krulak calls it, ‘The Three Block War’, contemporary armed forces will increasingly find themselves in AOs where they have to engage with hostile, friendly and neutral forces within the localised geographical confines of ‘three blocks’. While there is a need for a credible conventional military deterrent and maintenance of competent traditional warfighting capabilities, armed forces must be able to respond to threats of a less conventional nature in the form of military operations other than war (MOOTW).

Local police forces in local AOs are fundamental in counter-terror operations. Local police officers are the ones most familiar with the local neighbourhoods and their communities and a vital tool in the gathering of Humint. Violence motivated by religious radicalism is a global threat that strikes physically in both metropolitan centres of power as well as the periphery. In the event of a terror attack, a timely and adequate immediate response from local ‘boots on the ground’ is crucial to the containment of the situation as well as follow-up investigations.

As well as a whole-of-government approach, a whole-of-society approach is needed to counter the threat of religious violence. Inter-faith dialogue and community integration must reach down to the grass roots and local neighbourhoods rather than remain ensconced in the ivory towers of religious scholars and elites. Military action, policing and other forms of state response can only stem the tide of religious violence, not neutralise it. To truly remove, in the words of Major General Richard Clutterbuck, ‘the man with the knife’ who moves within the village, requires the villagers that constitute the local as well as global village to repudiate the ideology that feeds religious violence. Until such is achieved, we can only hold the tide of religious violence without truly taming it.

Worrying Implications of the Terrorism Act for Insurgency Researchers

24 May, 2008

In a disturbing development of particular relevance to IRG members doing insurgency research in the War Studies Department at King’s – and to anyone working in the field in the UK – a masters student researching terrorist tactics at Nottingham University has been arrested and held for six days under the Terrorism Act after downloading Al-Qaeda related material from the internet.

Despite his Nottingham University supervisors insisting the materials were directly relevant to his research, Rizwaan Sabir, 22, was held for nearly a week under the Terrorism Act, accused of downloading the materials for illegal use. The student had obtained a copy of the al-Qaida training manual from a US government website for his research into terrorist tactics.

The case highlights what lecturers are claiming is a direct assault on academic freedom led by the government which, in its attempt to establish a “prevent agenda” against terrorist activity, is putting pressure on academics to become police informers.

Sabir was arrested on May 14 after the document was found by a university staff member on an administrator’s computer. The administrator, Hisham Yezza, an acquaintance of Sabir, had been asked by the student to print the 1,500-page document because Sabir could not afford the printing fees. The pair were arrested under the Terrorism Act, Sabir’s family home was searched and their computer and mobile phones seized. They were released uncharged six days later but Yezza, who is Algerian, was immediately rearrested on unrelated immigration charges and now faces deportation.


Sabir’s solicitor, Tayab Ali, said: “This could have been dealt with sensibly if the university had discussed the issue with Rizwaan and his tutors. This is the worrying aspect of the extension of detention [under the Terrorism Act]. They can use hugely powerful arrest powers before investigating.”

As well as the obvious implications for those conducting such valuable research, and for academic freedom in general, this incident raises other uncomfortable questions.

Since the passing of the Terrorism Act in 2006 it has been clear that the breadth of its provisions could potentially criminalise many people involved in legitimate research, indeed many people doing work in academia and in the private sector that is absolutely essential if we are to make progress in the ongoing ‘long war’. As such, it has also been clear that the authorities would therefore be relying upon a considerable amount of discretionary judgement when determining whether or not someone should actually be prosecuted under this legislation, which in turn raises questions as to how these discretionary judgements are to be made. Such discretionary judgements are not an ideal basis for any law, let alone one so sensitive, and one has to wonder whether in this case it was the Muslim identity of the individuals in question that prompted the arrests.

In many respects the Terrorism Act represents an important step in recognising and addressing the role played by the internet, and by radicalisation processes in general, in the current campaign being waged by Al-Qaeda and its decentralised affiliates. However, as this incident demonstrates, it is potentially highly problematic, and considerable care is going to be required if its implementation is not itself going to be a cause of further alienation and radicalisation among the UK’s Muslims.

Read the Guardian’s coverage of the arrests here.

Update: David here. I’ve blogged this also over at Kings of War:

Student researching al-Qaida tactics held for six days | higher news |

WTF is going on with the police?

A masters student researching terrorist tactics who was arrested and detained for six days after his university informed police about al-Qaida-related material he downloaded has spoken of the “psychological torture” he endured in custody.

Despite his Nottingham University supervisors insisting the materials were directly relevant to his research, Rizwaan Sabir, 22, was held for nearly a week under the Terrorism Act, accused of downloading the materials for illegal use. The student had obtained a copy of the al-Qaida training manual from a US government website for his research into terrorist tactics.

The case highlights what lecturers are claiming is a direct assault on academic freedom led by the government which, in its attempt to establish a “prevent agenda” against terrorist activity, is putting pressure on academics to become police informers.

I don’t get the reasoning behind this action. How can he be prosecuted for downloading something from a US government website? Why do those responsible not recognize that the AQ manual is required reading for anyone in this field? Get a grip!

Update: The more I think about this case the more puzzled I get. The article is portraying this as a threat to academic freedom and our commenters reckon its an example of profiling in action. Probably true on both counts but possibly defensible also (there really is a terror threat and radicalism is prevalent in universities). That said, the article mentions a ‘1,500 page’ Al Qaeda training manual which I am assuming (because its logical and about the right length) must be the Encyclopedia of Jihad downloaded from a ‘US gov’t website’. But I cannot find the full-length document on any government website. If anybody has a link please send it to me. What’s available are heavily redacted and translated versions. The real thing is available, I am told, in Arabic, on Jihadi websites. So, is the article wrong and he did not get it off a US government website? Or is the article wrong and what he had access to was the redacted version (which would be less worrisome and make the police look even worse)? Or something else? The story as reported just doesn’t add up. In any case, the basic point remains that discouraging precisely those students who possess the language skills and background from doing research on AQ terrorism is self-defeating.

UK CT & COIN Features – 24 May 2008

24 May, 2008

A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.


UK CT & COIN Features – 22 May 2008

22 May, 2008

A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.