Future of the British Army

Soldiers standing on parade Defence Images

The institute’s Ben Barry has contributed to a piece published by the BBC today, asking how recently announced defence cuts will shape the British Army of the future. The restructured force will be cut from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2017, while the number of reservists will double to 30,000.

Brigadier Barry, who left the army in October 2010, calls it the ‘most radical reorganisation for 50 years’.

‘The Army 2020 design [as the plan is called] displays many innovative ideas and structures,’ he writes, ‘reflecting many hard lessons of the Iraq and Afghan wars and the likely challenges of future land operations, particularly fighting “hybrid” enemies and the increasing requirement for urban operations.

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Iron Dome: a double-edged shield?

Iron Dome in action in Ashdod: Photo: IDF on Flickr

By Brigadier Ben Barry, Senior Fellow for Land Warfare

‘Missile defence saves lives,’ the Financial Times declared this week, ‘in Israel (and Gaza too).’ Of the many observations being made about the recent exchange of rockets and missiles between Hamas and Israel, and Israel’s decision to step back from the brink of a full-scale invasion of Gaza this week, a recurrent theme has been the success of Israel’s Iron Dome short-range rocket-defence system.

The eight-day conflict was the system’s first operational test, and some have even suggested that by limiting Israeli deaths to five civilians and one soldier it may have helped to avert a ground invasion. Four batteries of system, part-funded by the US, had been fielded outside Gaza by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) during the past two years. A fifth battery that was being used for test purposes was quickly pressed into service to protect Tel Aviv, while Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defence to halt Hamas’s rocket attacks from Gaza.

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Afghanistan – A bloody weekend, but not necessarily a tipping point

A soldier from the Mobility Recce Force of 1 Royal Welsh is pictured on patrol with colleagues from the Afghan National Army (ANA) in Nad-E' Ali, Helmand.

A soldier from the Mobility Recce Force of 1 Royal Welsh is pictured on patrol with colleagues from the Afghan National Army (ANA) in Nad-E’ Ali, Helmand. Photo Credit:UK Ministry of Defence

By Brigadier Ben Barry, Senior Fellow for Land Warfare

It has been a week of bad news from Afghanistan, after further ‘green-on-blue’ attacks, fallout from video protests sweeping the Middle East and NATO announcing a temporary retreat. But in reality, the picture is more nuanced and there are reasons to be optimistic – provided tensions arising from the video can be diffused.

The headlines have suggested setbacks to the joint NATO/Afghan strategy of transition to Afghan leadership of security and withdrawal of NATO combat forces by the end of 2015.  In addition to the violent protests against the provocative ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video, there was a well-planned and determined attack on the UK/US base at Camp Bastion in which six US and UK troops were killed by men in Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) uniform.

NATO’s announcement that ‘in response to elevated threat levels…ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] has taken some prudent, but temporary, measures to reduce our profile and vulnerability to civil disturbances or insider attacks’ has resulted in a reduction of low-level tactical partnering with the Afghan forces below battalion level has caused a predictable flurry of commentary and speculation in Western media.

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Mullah Omar’s Eid message

Muslims from throughout the world gather at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 16, for the start of Eid al-Adha, a religious holiday beginning after Hajj.

Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Eid al-Adha 2010. Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/isafmedia

By Hameed Hakimi, Research Assistant, Armed Conflict Database

A statement released by Taliban leader Mullah Omar to mark the end of Ramadan conveyed a tone of optimism for the Taliban’s tactical achievements, as well as a vision for the future and a statement of commitment to the Afghan people.  In the following weeks, facts on the ground have challenged both Mullah Omar’s assessment of Afghanistan and his claims about the Taliban’s intentions. But these realities should also serve as a reminder that ordinary citizens face conflicting messages and broken promises from both the Taliban insurgency and Afghanistan’s political leadership.

Mullah Omar’s Eid-ul-Fitr message was published on the Taliban’s website on16 August 2012.  In 34 points, it set out his vision for a post-2014 Afghanistan, and reiterated the movement’s criticisms about the presence of Western troops and the government in Kabul.  For those who lived under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, a direct message from the reclusive Mullah Omar is a rarity. During its control of the country until 2001, the Taliban leadership’s communication with ordinary Afghans was restricted to public order commandments and moral judgments on points of Sharia law.

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Army 2020: Fighting for the future

A soldier of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards is pictured between operations at the main operating base at Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan. (Photo by Cpl Paul Morrison RLC © UK MOD/Crown Copyright 2012).

By Brigadier Ben Barry, Senior Fellow for Land Warfare

The most radical army shakeup since the end of national service has the potential to transform our capability

The British army’s restructuring has been preceded by intense speculation about the identity of infantry battalions and cavalry regiments to be disbanded. Although this part of “Army 2020″ has attracted much comment and lobbying in parliament, it is in many ways the least interesting part of an ambitious and surprisingly radical programme of re-organisation re-equipment, restructuring and re-basing. Read the rest of this entry »

Numbers count in counter-insurgency

Ben Barry at CLAWS in India

By Brigadier Ben Barry, Senior Fellow for Land Warfare

How do British and Indian views of counter-insurgency (COIN) differ? How much are they the same? During a recent trip to India, I had the chance to contrast and compare experiences. Joining India’s Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) in a roundtable discussion with the faculty of the Indian Army War College and the students of their Higher Defence Orientation Course, I shared my analysis of the lessons from British stabilisation operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I pointed out that in Northern Ireland, the British had controlled the relevant state levers of power, whilst in Iraq and Afghanistan they were junior partners in US-led coalition and NATO operations. They also had to manage a sometimes difficult relationship with increasingly assertive and less malleable host-nation governments. The environment was extremely complex and subject to great friction and uncertainty. The strategic, operational and tactical levels overlapped with a political dimension. Both wars became increasingly unpopular at home.

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Between the lines of Obama’s Bagram speech

President Barack Obama delivers remarks to U.S. troops at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, May 1, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

By Brigadier Ben Barry, Senior Fellow for Land Warfare

President Barack Obama’s recent live TV address to the American people from Bagram airbase (above) was a superb piece of political theatre. In the run-up to November’s presidential elections, he used the short speech to burnish his credentials as Commander-in-Chief – claiming credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden, recent attrition of al-Qaeda’s leadership and reducing US force levels in Afghanistan. However, for all its drama, Obama’s Bagram speech also clearly sets out US strategy in Afghanistan, especially if read in tandem with the exhaustive Report on Progress to Security and Stability in Afghanistan that the Pentagon released on the eve of the trip.

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Joining the dots in the British military

An Army Air Corps Apache aboard the Royal Navy's HMS Ark Royal. © UK Defence Image Database

By Brigadier Ben Barry, Senior Fellow for Land Warfare

‘The glue that helps bind together’ the UK army, navy and air force; that was how Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach described the new Joint Forces Command (JFC) that formed under his leadership this week. Peach’s new 30,000-strong joint command is designed to better support current operations and help prepare the UK military for future wars through greater levels of integration, including ensuring that lessons learned on operations are applied quickly.

By the end of the Second World War UK forces led the world in joint operations. But afterwards this lead was not sustained. For example, despite the lessons of the 1982 Falklands War, by the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, British standards of air–land integration had fallen behind those of the US. The Iraq and Afghan wars were urgent wake-up calls. During these and NATO operations in Libya, there have been ever-increasing amounts of joint integration and cooperation between all three UK forces.

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No peace to keep in Syria

Press conference Navanethem Pillay. UN Photo

By Brigadier Ben Barry, Senior Fellow for Land Warfare

In her short but outspoken briefing to the UN General Assembly this week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay (pictured) said the Security Council’s failure to ‘agree on firm collective action appears to have emboldened the Syrian Government to launch an all-out assault in an effort to crush dissent with overwhelming force’. She described the suffering and potential humanitarian crisis resulting from escalating regime attacks on Homs. Since the conflict began a year ago, she said, ‘crimes against humanity are likely to have been committed’.

The Arab League has now withdrawn its observer mission to Syria, and at a meeting in Cairo on Sunday passed a resolution asking the Security Council to authorise a joint UN–Arab peacekeeping mission. However, the resolution did not make clear whether that would involve armed troops; it could well be an unarmed observer mission.

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What will Russia say today to Syria?

This seems to be the sound of failed UN diplomacy: the Baba Amr district of the city of Homs under fire days after Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution calling on President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power and allow for free elections. With much criticism of Russia’s veto, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has just arrived in Damascus, in the hope of launching a new Russian diplomatic initiative to stem the violence.

‘After being hammered so much by so many other countries, they [the Russians] need to regain some of their lustre, and … prove they aren’t whitewashing Assad’s crimes and oppression,’ IISS Middle East Senior Fellow Emile Hokayem, tells today’s Wall Street Journal.

However, at a discussion meeting at Arundel House yesterday, our Mideast analyst said that Russia had lost credibility among the Syrian opposition and there were doubts about whether it could broker a deal. He added that there were ‘big questions about what kind of message’ the Russians were going to have for the Syrian government. ‘If you’re very cynical you think that the Russians are going to tell them: “Do it as quickly as you can, use as much firepower as you need, and be done with this.”

‘But I assume even Russian intelligence estimates are that Assad is on very shaky ground. … More probably the Russians will ask Assad to give them something so that they can tell the world that Russia can deliver – it’s not all [about] obstruction at the Security Council, it’s also able to leverage its own influence with Assad to obtain some of those domestic reforms; we’re talking about a few constitutional changes, the promise of elections, new political parties law and so on.’

Meanwhile, Ankara has announced its own diplomatic initiative ‘with those countries who stand by the Syrian people, not the regime’.

‘Whether the Turks are confident with that role, and how overt or covert it is, are key considerations,’ Hokayem said.

Watch the full discussion above, also with IISS’s Dr Dana Allin, Brigadier Ben Barry and Adam Ward.


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