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Lessons Not Learned

I think it was Second World War German general Erwin Rommel who said that the main difference between the British and American armies in North Africa was that the Americans were prepared to learn from their mistakes and learn their lessons quickly.  A new book of essays written by retired senior officers about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suggests nothing has changed. The book had originally included essays by some still-serving officers but these were suppressed on the orders of the Ministry of Defence. Based on an article about the book, I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy, it would seem that valuable lessons that should have been learned in Iraq about preparedness and equipment were ignored in Afghanistan. Instead the British leadership insisted to its American allies that it had nothing to learn from them about counter-insurgency. This was despite the Americans finally getting their act together in Iraq while the British leadership were still making fools of themselves, and Britain, in Basra. The lessons of Northern Ireland, particularly when it comes to what are now known as Forward Operating Bases, do not appear to have been learned either. It would appear that in the higher echelons of the British Army attempts to discuss or debate “lessons learned” or even “lessons that should be learned” are not encouraged. It does not do to the rock the boat. Two of Britain’s top generals in the Second World War, Bernard Montgomery and William Slim, were both a little unorthodox. They were only given their heads because Britain was in real trouble. Sadly, most British generals were more in the mould of the Second World War’s Harold Alexander, or Oliver Leese; who was sent out to Burma to be Slim's boss despite his own less than impressive performance in Italy. Today’s British generals have more in common with Alexander and Leese than Montgomery and Slim. What is it going to take before British soldiers get the leadership they deserve?

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