Britain in the middle east

Britain in the Middle East: disaster and decline

The past ten years have seen the British armed forces involved in a number of Neo-Colonial adventures that have left their reputation and capability in tatters. From Afghanistan to Iraq and the bombing of Libya they have intervened resulting in political and military disasters. This is not merely an indictment of military adventurism but also evidence of Imperialist hubris and an inability to accept their decline in importance on the world stage. It has become clear that the capacity of the British army to intervene in any new conflicts has been greatly reduced. It has also become evident that despite their much vaunted experience in dealing with insurgency they have failed to learn the lessons of their occupation of the six counties.

The British army in Iraq was given the role of occupying the southern region and specifically controlling the Basra region. They entered the city in 2003 and were largely welcomed by the Shia inhabitants who had been oppressed by the Sunni Baathist regime. However they failed to implement any sort of post-invasion strategy. Instead they relied on co-operation with local militias to stabilise the area. The death squads of Moqtada Al Sadr were armed and equipped by the British army to act as a local police force. They instead began to abduct and torture their opponents. The city rapidly descended into chaos with random killings and crime rampant. The British troops were confined to their base and the military leadership cut a deal with the local militias. The captured militiamen were released under the agreement that attacks on the British troops would cease. Needless to say once free the militiamen had somewhat of a change of heart and attacks escalated dramatically. Despite having 7,000 troops in the city the British commander reported that he had only 200 for foot patrols.

The Americans had little time for the tactics of the British army and were disdainful of their supposed expertise in counter-insurgency. Eventually American brigades were to be dispatched to Basra to rescue the British garrison who by 2009 had become effective prisoners in their base which was mortared regularly. Even the exit of the British from the city was conducted with ignominy when their exit route was chosen and protected by the Jesh Al Mahdi militia. A new history of the campaign Losing small wars by Francis Lewidge analyses the Basra campaign as a total failure of tactics, intelligence and planning for the British military.

As they exited from Iraq the British high command hoped to redeem their embarrassing military failure by fighting a more regular campaign in Afghanistan. Lewidge compares their position at this time to that of the Royal navy pre Falklands war. He states that there was a feeling that they had to deploy successfully or risk losing significant troops numbers in the next round of cuts to expenditure. Therefore their plan in Afghanistan was less about the country itself rather than an outright militarism that was reminiscent of the sabre rattling 19th century colonial occupations of the country. However they were to take control of the Helmand province. A fiercely nationalistic region that had been the site of previous defeats for British forces in the past. The locals had not forgotten their history and were disdainful of the new occupation.

Once again the British forces were tactically inept. They demanded the removal of the local warlord who had managed to bring stability to the region. He obliged the request and sent 3,000 of his men to join the Taliban to return the favour. The British then began a policy of destroying poppy fields. These were the only means of survival for much of the local populace. Resistance attacks began to spike and the British army lost dozens of troops to IED attacks which crippled their ability to patrol an area that is twice the size of Wales. The Taliban controlled the countryside and struck at will whilst the British remained confined to base. The Afghani army was busy attempting to rein in the new police who have abducted hundreds of children from villages and raped and murdered them. Once again these police were armed and supplied by NATO who have been desperate to gain allies.

The British have been unable to gain any control over Helmand province. It remains the epicentre of resistance. A leaked NATO assessment last month concluded that the war was effectively turning in favour of the Taliban. It stated that the Taliban was neither low on morale or supplies. It also concluded that the much vaunted new Afghani army was rampant with corruption and was in many cases actively assisting the resistance.

This is the fourth time in 200 years that a British army has occupied Afghanistan. The lessons have evidently not been learned. The occupation of a sovereign state without the consent of the people will inevitably lead to resistance. The torture of prisoners, the murder of civilians and the destruction of much of the infrastructure of Iraq and Afghanistan has been the legacy of the British army in the past ten years. Yet there was no hesitation within the British government to intervene in the Libyan civil war and to spend 500 million pounds bombing the people of Libya. Whilst Colonel Gadhafi was undoubtedly a cruel dictator under his rule Libyans enjoyed the highest standard of living in Africa. Thanks to British and French intervention the natural resources of Libya have been signed over to foreign companies. The cities of the country are now run by competing militias. Basic supplies of water and electricity remain out of the reach of many. Islamic fundamentalists have held anti-Semitic rallies in Benghazi and hundreds of prisoners have been tortured and murdered. Of course these activities can be brushed over conveniently by the Western media as they focus on the new enemies of Iran and Syria.

Recent media reports have focused on the reduced capabilities of the British army. There has been much speculation as to whether they will be capable of foreign intervention. Yet none of them seem to have grasped that it is the disastrous foreign interventions that have crippled their military physically and morally. They have been given a bloody nose by the resistance forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have been made to pay the price for their actions and have been forced to retreat with their tails between their legs. It is not hard to spot the lesson evident in this for those who seek to end the occupation of the six counties. The British may listen to peaceful means but they leave when they are made to pay the price by the resistance.




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