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Lessons from Helmand, Afghanistan: what now for British counterinsurgency?

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This article analyses the conduct of British operations in Helmand between 2006 and 2010 and discusses the implications for the legacy and future of British counterinsurgency. A number of lessons stand out: first, competence in the field of counterinsurgency is neither natural nor innate through regimental tradition or historical experience. The slow adaptation in Helmand—despite the opportunity to allow the Basra experience to be a leading example of the need for serious changes in training and mindset—is an indication that the expertise British forces developed in past operations is but a distant folktale within the British Armed Forces. Substantially changed training, painful relearning of counterinsurgency principles and changed mindsets are therefore necessary to avoid repeated early failures in the future. Moreover, despite eventually adapting tactically to the situation and task in Helmand, the British Armed Forces proved inadequate in dealing with the task assigned to them for two key reasons. First, the resources of the British military are simply too small for dealing with large-scale complex engagements such as those in Helmand or southern Iraq. Second, the over-arching comprehensive approach, and especially the civilian lines of operations that underpinned Britain's historical successes with counterinsurgency, are today missing.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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