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NYT: British Commander Criticizes US Special Forces in Afghanistan

"For the first time, a British commander has openly (if anonymously) criticized the US military approach in Helmand," writes Carl Robichaud in The Century Foundation's Afghanistan Watch blog and quotes a New York Times article:
A senior British commander in southern Afghanistan said in recent weeks that he had asked that American Special Forces leave his area of operations because the high level of civilian casualties they had caused was making it difficult to win over local people.
Why is the Atlantic Review posting this quote? Because it fits to these previous debates on Atlantic Review:
• Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan: Germany's Defense Minister Criticizes US Policy
Are the US Rules of Engagement too "Trigger Happy"?
Conservative Parliamentarian Implies that the US is Exterminating Other Cultures

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Pat Patterson on :

"Openly(if anonymously)"?

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

Point taken. I assume "open" means that the officer spoke to a newspaper rather than a writing yet another memo about it for his superior, which would only get archived. Did that, done that. Germany's defense minister, the NATO Sec Gen and Afghanistan's president have criticized US tactics. Now the Brits do the same. If there had been only criticism from Germany or Afghanistan, the US could have brushed aside this criticism, but now...

Kevin Sampson on :

First, since the Taleban ‘uniform’ appears to be indistinguishable from the normal mode of Afghan dress, I can’t help but wonder how these people can discern between the ‘civilian casualties’ and the dead terrorists. Second, after the Royal Marine fiasco, I take what the British military says with a grain of salt.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

With fiasco you mean what happened at the Iranian/Iraqi borders? And that's why you don't trust what the British commander in Afghanistan, i.e. in another theater and another conflict says? Well, again, it's another sign at the US-UK relationship is not so special anymore. Not much trust is left between the two countries. The British military's criticism of US military approaches goes back quite a bit. Now they express it more openly, but the Americans don't want to hear that. There will come a time, when the Brits refuse to fight with the US because of all that. Britain slowly pursue more independent policies like France and Germany. If the US will attack Iran, I don't think Britain will support that war militarily to the same extent it supported the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Less and less Americans appreciate the Brits. The growing sentiment seems to be: US troops are always right! The US troops have the right to do whatever. US soldiers are patriotic and risk their lives to liberate people from evil doers, that's why they do everything right. Nobody shall criticize them. Not even the Brits. Who cares that the Brits have fought alongside the US for many decades. See also: The Debatable Land: "US to UK: You Think We Care?" [url]http://debatableland.typepad.com/the_debatable_land/2007/07/us-to-uk-you-th.html[/url] "But it's another reminder that American elite journalism's indifference to British politics can be quite striking. It may be that the assumption is that Britain will always be there and, consequently, is a less pressing story than it would otherwise be."

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

Just to avoid a misunderstanding: I am not accusing US special forces of any mistakes. I am sure they follow rules of engagement. These rules, decided by superiors, might not be the best... See the Atlantic Review post on trigger happiness, incl. the extensive debate in the comments section there. My main point was supposed to be: The British military works more closely with the US than any other military. The US and Britain have the closest relationship. Thus, it is worthwhile taking the British criticism seriously.

Don S on :

Joerg, I think you wrote a lot of nonsense here with perhaps some grains of truth. This is not the first time a British officer has 'gone public' with criticism of the Americans. Far from it, so why do you say that is is? British criticism of Americans certainly goes back a long ways. Certainly there was a lot of it in WWII, and I recall it during Gulf War I. Some of it might have been correct, much was not. A common Brit view during WWII was that the Yanks should focus on logistics and leave the fighting to 'real' soldiers (i.e. Brits). Many thought Eisenhower was a loser and thought 'Monty' (Bernard Montgomery) should be in command. So? It's just the same as the criticism of the American generals publicised last fall. Some of it was valid, some of it just sorehead whinging. Brown is playing an interesting game, allowing an impression to build of coolness & then denying it. I think it's a slightly dangerous game personally, because once a politician has acquired a reputation for duplicitousness it can be hard to shake when the political climate changes. Nevertheless the relarionship remains closer than any other, certainly far warmer than the relationship with the Germans and French. It would take a lot more than Brown has dared to do to drive a real wedge between the nations. If he gets in real trouble he can always ask Blair for help. The Brits and the US have shed blood together. The French and Germans? Not.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

"This is not the first time a British officer has 'gone public' with criticism of the Americans. Far from it, so why do you say that is is?" It's the first time such strong criticism has been expressed in regard to Afghanistan, writes Afghanistan Watch. That is significant. "The Brits and the US have shed blood together. The French and Germans? Not." This fact does not make US led wars any more popular in Britain. At some point in the future, British politicians will have to bend to the pressure of their electorate and refuse to support another US war.

Kevin Sampson on :

“With fiasco you mean what happened at the Iranian/Iraqi borders?” Yep, that’s the one. “And that's why you don't trust what the British commander in Afghanistan, i.e. in another theater and another conflict says?” It’s not a matter of trust. I simply consider it to be his opinion, and not necessarily any better than anyone else’s opinion. “Well, again, it's another sign at the US-UK relationship is not so special anymore. Not much trust is left between the two countries.” Let’s be real. The whole idea of the ‘special relationship’ was cooked up by Churchill in 1946 when he was desperately looking for a way to keep the US from withdrawing back into isolationism as it had after the First World War. It was not brought down off Mt. Sinai by Moses. It was a political slogan which, by dint of being in the right place at the right time, came to be viewed as dogma. Those days are gone, time for us all to move on. “The British military's criticism of US military approaches goes back quite a bit. Now they express it more openly, but the Americans don't want to hear that. There will come a time, when the Brits refuse to fight with the US because of all that. Britain slowly pursue more independent policies like France and Germany.” Duh. I have argued the inevitability of that here before. But it won’t be because we shrugged off the opinions of this or that British general, it will be because Europe and the US have different, and diverging, views of the threats and challenges each will face in this century, and commensurately different ideas of how to meet them.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

So the US does not have any allies anymore? Is the US really better of with no allies rather than with imperfect allies? Germany appreciates imperfect allies in the European Union. We know that nobody is perfect, but that we need allies. You think the US has the luxury to fight the next wars without Britain? Back to the British commander's criticism: Sure, it is just an opinion. Other commanders might think differently. I don't want to make a HUGE thing out of it, but I consider it significant (nothing more, nothing less), because now this sort of criticism re US operations in Afghanistan is not anymore coming exclusively from Germany etc.

Kevin Sampson on :

“So the US does not have any allies anymore?” ANZUS mean anything to you? And that doesn’t include Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan. We also have a developing relationship with India. And who knows, I think we might even find common ground with the Chinese on at least some issues. “Is the US really better of with no allies rather than with imperfect allies? Germany appreciates imperfect allies in the European Union. We know that nobody is perfect, but that we need allies.” Maybe you should think about appreciating them outside the European Union. The world is bigger than France, Germany, and Britain, Joerg. You really need to work on this Eurocentrism. “You think the US has the luxury to fight the next wars without Britain?” Oh, for Gods sake, we fought two wars AGAINST Britain, so yes, I think we can manage. However, after watching the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan develop, I have come to the conclusion that it is a mistake to rely too heavily on ones allies. And I don’t mean just Europe, but any ally. Support promised during the planning stages may not materialize on the battlefield, or may be withdrawn with little or no notice. I believe the US should, in contemplating any future wars, plan on carrying out the entire operation using our own forces exclusively. If allied forces can be secured, so much the better. But forgoing them would provide a valuable reality check by forcing us to confront the possibility that, if it’s not worth doing by ourselves, maybe it’s not worth doing at all.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

"ANZUS mean anything to you? And that doesn’t include Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan. We also have a developing relationship with India." Australia has some troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but is any of the other countries supporting US led wars with more than 500 soldiers (not engineers)??? "I believe the US should, in contemplating any future wars, plan on carrying out the entire operation using our own forces exclusively." I guess the US has to do that. So we agree on that. Got a factual question for you: The Pentagon used to have a strategy for fighting two wars simultaneously, but they changed that in the last 12 months. It was not considered feasible anymore. Do you know some details?

Kevin Sampson on :

"Australia has some troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but is any of the other countries supporting US led wars with more than 500 soldiers (not engineers)???" No, but, in the larger sense, both are 'our' wars, so I'm not surprised that other nations don't want to involve themselves. If the DPRK were to invade South Korea, or if Iran were to try to make good it's 'claim' on Bahrain, do you think the same would be true? "Do you know some details?" No. However, I don't think the 'two-war' doctrine was considered 'unfeasible'. More like inefficient and not well suited to the world of asymmetrical warfare we find ourselves in today. At any rate, decide for yourself: http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/jfq_pubs/0524.pdf http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/intro/intro.htm

Pat Patterson on :

As noted this is definitely not the first time anonymous British senior officers have criticized American forces. But it also should be noted that there are many more criticisms of the British forces and their "softly, softly" approach in both Afghanistan and Iraq from returning junior officers and ranks in Great Britain. And many of these complaints are precisely the ones that senior officers and British politicians simply do not want to answer in that why are the British so ill-prepared and ill-equipped? So the official response, or leak, is that the Americans have all this equipment and look how many civilians they kill. This complaint implies the British made a choice not to fight this way rather than simply not having the means to fight this way. The sad truth is that the British cannot use these air intensive tactics, even at the squad or platoon level, because they do not have the air assets to protect these small formations. There are more civilian versions of attack helicopters over the highways of the Thames Valley then there are in Iraq or Afghanistan. If, as Joerg predicts, the British electorate will stop supporting the war then why in the last election did they return to power the party that supported the war then and now? They could have voted for the Liberal Democrats or even Respect but chose not to do so. As an aside the public in the US may indeed not want to hear criticism of the US armed forces but that is not what is happening in the War Colleges and the Academys where criticism is sought out and studied to see if indeed it is valid. Just last spring, in joint manuevers of the US and Romania, the Romanians pointed out that the Americans were not as adept at fire and water discipline as in previous exercises. The Romanian observersalso noted that it appeared that many of the US soldiers had become overly reliant on virtually unlimited supplies of ammo and water and tended to use both indiscriminately. The senior US officers quicly sent out instructions to reemphasize these habits in combat and training. It might seem small but it is completely consistent with the way the US prepares it military.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

"why in the last election did they return to power the party that supported the war then and now? They could have voted for the Liberal Democrats or even Respect but chose not to do so." Because the Tories supported the war as well and the other two parties are not an alternative to most voters. Besides, Iraq is not the number one concern. Foreign policy hardly ever is. As usual domestic issues are more important. The Brits did not re-elect Churchill after he won WWII, did they...? Besides, my "prediction" is more for future wars. There will come a US led war, which Britain will not join. Remember Jack Straw's comments on a war with Iran shortly before he was fired by Blair? He is now in Brown's cabinet again. Brown also gave war power to the parliament.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

@ Pat "the public in the US may indeed not want to hear criticism of the US armed forces" One thing I still don't quite understand is: Why aren't the serviceman and -women getting higher salaries, esp. the lower ranks? Why aren't the veterans getting more benefits? After all, Americans admire/appreciate/value their soldiers so much. And it is customary to pretend "I support the troops," which apparently means moral support in most cases. I guess, in Germany "supporting the troops" means opposition to the deployment of the Bundeswehr to Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur etc. so that the troops don't die. Germans are against most peacekeeping and against nearly all peace-enforcement missions or counter-terrorism operations like Afghanistan. Germans are pessimistic regarding the success or the necessity of such missions. Americans have this can-do-spirit. Now it seems they get frustrated because the stupid Iraqis do not realize this wonderful gift of liberation and fail to make democracy work. It is the fault of the Iraqis, the Europeans and the damn Democrats, if Iraq falls apart.

Pat Patterson on :

Retired servicemen in the US, for one thing, get medical coverage free at any VA hospital or almost completely free from membership in CHAMPUS. CHAMPUS basically pays something like 95% of medical coverage for most of the retirees that were not retired due to medical reasons. I know in my father's case he was retired due to injuries after serving six years and received a check and medical coverage the rest of his life. [url]http://www.seamlesstransition.va.gov/benefits.asp[/url] Starting salary in the US Army is $28,738.00 a year which does not include any charges for housing on base, medical coverage, food and being issued all sorts of high powered and dangerous toys. While after 20 years service a top ranked enlisted soldier will make $82,711.85. Now compared to an investment banker or rap star soldiers don't make much but compared to the average citizen in the US they do just fine. [url]http://usmilitary.about.com/library/milinfo/pay/b106enlsalary.htm[/url] People, the Democrats in the US mainly, are highly critical of the Iraqi government but my own elected representatives still have not passed an immigration reform bill, recapitalized Medicare or Social Security and most importantly figured out how come Hawaii has an interstate highway system. The Iraqis have had a semi-functioning parliament for only a few years compared to how many years before the US or Germany had, for that matter, a realistically coherent form of self-government?

David on :

"People, the Democrats in the US mainly, are highly critical of the Iraqi government." Funny, but I watched the Republican Debate the other evening, and each one of them was highly critical of the Iraqi government (who are all on vacation at the moment). I guess there are a few folks like Pat and President Bush that think Maliki is a strong and effective leader.

Pat Patterson on :

And as usual David has chosen to make his response personal. Where in my comment did I say anything about the competency of the Iraqi government except to compare its performance to my own. And It also should be noted the the US Congress is also "...on vacation at the moment." I'll stand by my remarks concerning the Democrats in that they have gravitated to the no political progress meme when a military solution is starting to seem possible. I can't really speak to PM Maliki's competence except to notice that unlike the other PMs he is still in office. And the fact that Pres. bush got his FISA reauthorization and every appropriation for military spending with no withdrawal or timetables attached might just indicate that the weak and ineffective leaders might just be the Democratic majority.

David on :

I agree that Bush has been effective in thwarting the will of the majority of Americans, who want our troops out of the Iraqi civil war. Maybe that's why you admire him so much, Pat. 25 US troops dead so far in August. 3,683 in total. For what?

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

"Maybe that's why you admire him so much, Pat." Why so personal, David? Why don't you just debate the issues? "25 US troops dead so far in August. 3,683 in total. For what?" How many Americans and how many Iraqis are going to die in the next ten years, if the US withdraws from Iraq ASAP? If I wanted to make this personal as your responses to Pat have been, then I would ask whether you don't care about all the Iraqis who will be slaughtered and ethnically cleansed because of *increased* civil war if the US withdraws ASAP as you would like to see happen. I think it is better to leave those personal attacks about admiring Bush and not caring about Iraqis out of the discussion. They are not helpful at all.

Pat Patterson on :

The "...will of the majority" is claimed to reside in the Senate and the House and yet they promised then cannot deliver perhaps becaue maybe they sense, as Castro noted, the people can change their minds. The US Constitution was expressly set up as a Republic so that the national government acted as a brake on the passions of the moment not to simply fight to get into the front of the mob. A determined Congress, if it truly believed in the rightness of their position, can end the war by simply not appropriating any money, simply introduce no bills that they might have to stick their necks out on. They can stop the war by not doing anything but faced with a determined President and the Democratic leadership trying to protect its freshmen in the 2008 election the "...will of the majority" will continue to be thwarted.

Pat Patterson on :

I forgot to mention that the will of the majority in the US is still in favor of the death penalty, against gay marriage, thinks that Darwin was wrong and want to ban the designated hitter rule . And yet none of those positions were in the Democratic Party plank for 2004. Are the Democrats guilty also of ignoring the will of the people?

joe on :

One can only assume the Brits want to duplicate in Afghanistan their actions in Basra.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

What is the main criticism of British policy in Basra? I only heard something about deals with corrupt local sheiks instead of democratisation. I am not sure that is such a bad thing, if it brings stability. I admit that I have not followed this issue. As you know Britain is under much less scrutiny in the German media than US policies are.

ADMIN on :

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