Iraq and Afghanistan: old and new British misjudgments

It’s been the turn of Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, former chief of the defence staff, at the Iraq Inquiry today – and it’s striking how closely what he told Sir John Chilcot mirrors what we reported in the Telegraph, using leaked papers, before the inquiry even started. Notice any similarities between this story – “Hoon stopped me buying essential kit for troops, says Forces chief” – and this one – “Troops rushed into battle without armour or training“? You read it here first.

On the war that’s still going on, in Afghanistan, I was depressed to read the silly bravado this week of Britain’s General Sir Graeme Lamb, adviser to the US commander General Stanley McChrystal, promising to “strike the Taliban… till their eyeballs bleed.” With all of 500 more British troops? With both sides of the Atlantic briefing about withdrawal in 2011? We need to, if not prevail, then at least avoid humiliation in Afghanistan. Gen McChrystal’s strategy offers a chance of doing that – because it is, quite rightly, more about reinforcing key cities than about the kind of completely futile taking-the-fight-to-the-Taliban stuff in the countryside that has got so many of our men killed over the last three years.

Despite being deified as “Lambo” by various hacks, Gen Lamb has form for this kind of misjudgment. As British commander in Iraq immediately after the major combat operations phase, he opined that reconstruction “really wasn’t that difficult and didn’t require that many experts… Once you knew what you needed to do, you then dispatched the nearest captain with the ‘find me a hundred trucks’  order and it all worked. It didn’t need a suit with a 2.2 in civilian affairs.”

Let’s hope General McChrystal takes as much notice of “Lambo” now as his American counterparts in Iraq did of their British allies.

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