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Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan [Paperback]

Frank Ledwidge
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
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Book Description

18 May 2012
Partly on the strength of their apparent success in insurgencies such as Malaya and Northern Ireland, the British armed forces have long been perceived as world class, if not world-beating. However, their recent performance in Iraq and Afghanistan is widely seen as - at best - disappointing; under British control, Basra degenerated into a lawless city riven with internecine violence, while tactical mistakes and strategic incompetence in Helmand province resulted in heavy civilian and military casualties and a climate of violence and insecurity. In both cases the British were eventually and humiliatingly bailed out by the US army. In this thoughtful and compellingly readable book, Frank Ledwidge examines the British involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking how and why it went so wrong. With the aid of copious research, interviews with senior officers and his own personal experiences, he looks in detail at the failures of strategic thinking and culture that led to defeat in Britain's latest 'small wars'. This is an eye-opening analysis of the causes of military failure, and its enormous costs.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (18 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300182740
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300182743
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 14 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 51,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


".... a devastating, highly readable critique of why Britain's armed forces have fared so badly in two of the country's most recent and controversial conflicts: Iraq and Afghanistan." (Sean Rayment, The Daily Telegraph) ".... the author deserves applause for bluntly expressing the truths about our recent military failures that too many of those involved find it convenient to obscure." (Max Hastings, The Sunday Times) "... Losing Small Wars is a savage indictment of the military leadership that got British soldiers into one impossible situation after another in Iraq and Afghanistan." (Rodric Braithwaite, Financial Times) "Lieutenant Commander Frank Ledwidge, RNR (retired), has written one of the most upsetting books I have read about Britain's part in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Anyone who wants to understand what happened should read it." (Sherard Cowper-Coles, New Statesman)"

About the Author

Frank Ledwidge served in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq as a military intelligence officer and in Afghanistan as a civilian justice advisor. He is currently a lecturer for Kings College, London at the RAF College, Cranwell.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
97 of 99 people found the following review helpful
By M. Finn
Frank Ledwidge's timely new book excavates the intellectual hinterland of Britain's campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan to devastating effect. Ledwidge writes from a unique perspective; as a military intelligence officer he deployed operationally to Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq and served in Afghanistan in a civilian capacity. He has seen both the military and civil reconstruction efforts in these conflicts first-hand, and is well-placed to offer a critical judgement on the failures of counterinsurgency as implemented by the British in theatre. It is a book about the perils of self-delusion; about the intellectual culture of the British Armed Forces, and about the place of military intervention in the British national psyche. Most damning is Ledwidge's criticism of senior officers and the 'crack on' attitude within senior levels of the military - few senior officers were prepared to speak truth to power in the planning stages of these conflicts, despite whatever reservations they may have held about the potential success of new military ventures with unceratin objectives. Ledwidge's book is, to some degree, a plea for the common soldier whose bravery is never in doubt. Losing Small Wars is a book about a failure of leadership, on the part of both senior officers and politicians, which was pregnant with consequences both for military personnel and civilians in theatre. It is powerful, tightly-argued, and is essential reading for policymakers and public alike.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading 30 Aug 2011
It might be appear, at first glance, that this is a book for military historians, academics and armchair generals. It is, however, essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest in current and recent world affairs. It is an incisive and compelling account of the arrogance and complacency at the heart of the military establishment, resulting in ramshackle decision-making and ill-conceived orders, at enormous and unnecessary cost in blood and revenue.

Ledwidge clearly knows his subject - having served as a military intelligence officer in Iraq in the fruitless search for WMDs and as Justice Advisor in Helmand. This book is a brilliantly written, often shocking, exposé of British involvement in those countries, reflecting his own experiences in theatre and in the context of other British military interventions (and, as such, is extremely well-researched). Ledwidge's style is fluid and highly readable, opening up the arcane world of the military, even for someone without a knowledge of army acronyms and practices.

The narrative at often humorous - one is reminded, at times, of M*A*S*H or Catch 22 - as it details the absurdity of many decisions and events. It is also reflective of the sang froid of the troops on the ground - whose bravery Ledwidge salutes throughout. An important book - we can only hope that it is read and reflected upon by those in the position to act upon it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When you have a hammer 2 Aug 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a very good book, but ... Ledwidge makes a very strong and well argued case that the British experience in Iraq and Afghanistan was characterised by strategic failure and that attempting to lay the blame for this at the feet of politicians is lazy and dishonest. Much of the responsibility, writes Ledwidge, goes to senior officers of all 3 armed services.

He paints numerous vivid pictures to illustrate this failure and none make for comfortable reading. Among the most compelling of them is the assertion that senior Army officers were determined to deploy to Afghanistan in order to ensure the continued life of, what they viewed, as crucial military capability (or, less charitably) the retention of particular infantry battalions. This behaviour has echoes in the frantic deployment of Typhoon aircraft for operations in Libya. This 'use it or loose it' mentality is illustrated by a quote to the effect that 'if you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail'.

Having expertly described this trap, Ledwidge falls straight into it.. His 'hammer' is the argument of strategic failure due to poor generalship and he uses it with enthusiasm and determination to hit every example he can find; many of them are not really suited and the result is that this otherwise excellent books tends towards hectoring in its third quarter.

Nonetheless, this is well worth a read, perhaps the first seriously critical work on the issue and a welcome counterbalance to the war stories and self-serving political memoir genres.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A signature book 14 Sep 2011
I read this book and think that this is a statement of Generals lack of concern for the modern soldier under their command. It suggests that in essence that the Generals are primarily only interested in their own careers and that each mission is their "ticket" to further promotion by way of enacting or conducting a signature event. This book will question where modern militaries are marching to in the next phase of military development.
It certainly begs many questions of politicians and on what were they thinking when they dispatched their military into the theatres mentioned, by not having any credible policy thus denying the Military the posibility of making a strategy to conduct the effort. Generals will have to question their masters more and simply can not rely on "crack on " as a strategy.
For any serious military commander, this is essential reading in order to ensure that the same dreadfull mistakes are not repeated and that there should be serious lessons learnt from the actions of the "crack on" brigade. As the finincial situation places ever more strains of the budgets of militaries, concepts etc will have to reflect this new reality, however in context Generals will also have to reconsider their methods and the new capacities/capabilities they command. Perhaps the "comprehensive approach" will in fact have to be just that, a comprehensive approach to the new threats that will present themselves as we head towards what might losely be termed 5th generation warfare.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Litany of the Failings of a Deeply-Flawed Institution
This is a very challenging book, full of uncomfortable points and questions directed towards Britain's military leaders. Read more
Published 3 months ago by JWH
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful discussion
The author provides a highly.critical.account of Britain's recent wars and compares it against that of our allies. Read more
Published 6 months ago by A. Callow
5.0 out of 5 stars informed
a well informed researched book presenting an over view of the british army and its role and goals in recent wars. Read more
Published 6 months ago by m. dosa
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth a read
A critical view from someone on the inside less the propaganda. Well worth reading if you want look over the last 10 years of conflict and want to know what is going on and why... Read more
Published 7 months ago by TheCritic
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice Surprise..........
As I received a brand new hard back copy not 2nd hand as described.
Prompt delivery - look forward to reading it.
Published 8 months ago by Dobby
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent and Shocking Read
I read this book a few months ago. I think every Officer in the British Armed forces should read it as part of their training. Read more
Published 8 months ago by AndyE
5.0 out of 5 stars Cracking read
Brilliant, now I know why I wasted 5 tours of Iraq! Lions led by donkeys yet again! And opened my eyes into how we're slipping down as supposedly one of the worlds big players
Published 9 months ago by John Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking
Ledwidge has a clear analytical mind & writes elegantly and well, unsurprising for a barrister. Having served in most of the recent conflicts he focuses on, one can identify with... Read more
Published 9 months ago by slowlearner
4.0 out of 5 stars It makes you sit down and think
Danish soldiers were and are part of those conflicts.
You cannot help following his arguments. He is quite convincing. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Knud Ernsted
3.0 out of 5 stars Powerful but limited
Frank Ledwidge was a Royal Naval Reserve officer who became an intelligence specialist, and was deployed to the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. Read more
Published 10 months ago by John Fletcher
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