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107 of 111 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vital critique of British military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan
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...
Published on 1 Aug. 2011 by M. Finn

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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
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. This book makes a compelling - even overwhelming - argument that the last two of these were unmitigated failures, and that the British, for all their vaunted expertise in small wars, had no idea what they were doing. In civilian...
Published 20 months ago by John Fletcher


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107 of 111 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vital critique of British military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, 1 Aug. 2011
By 
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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43 of 45 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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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A signature book, 14 Sept. 2011
By 
G. Mc Keon "Mc Keon" (Ireland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 21 Aug. 2011
By 
Annoyed (Away from UK. Thanks God.) - See all my reviews
Searing insights and a difficult read, as it speaks the unpalatable truth which is too often glibly passed over. Ledwidge chooses his targets with care and creates a measured but compelling argument for what went wrong, and how to avoid these same mistakes happening again. Readable, well researched and gripping, this book should become required reading for anyone interested in the military, what is done in the name of the UK and especially to anyone in a position of authority who may one day have to make the kind of decisions that affect others. I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When you have a hammer, 2 Aug. 2012
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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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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding book - but beware you will probably be shocked and possibly angry, 9 Oct. 2011
I cannot recommend this book too highly. However, this comes with a warning. Like many people, I believe the UK's interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were primarily profound failures of political leadership. But I had, unthinkingly and naively, assumed that our armed forces made the best of a bad job. Frank Ledwidge's book does not let the politicians off the hook but lays out in shocking and referenced detail the truly abject failures of the bloated leadership of the UK's armed forces. And what a bloated leadership! The US Marines - an integrated land, sea and air force, is roughly the same size as the whole of the UK's armed forces. Yet the UK armed forces have 8 (yes that's eight!) times the number of general officers as the Marines. The British Army now has more general officers than tanks. But the performance of this multitude of generals seems to be in inverse relationship to their number. Whilst we cannot forget that the main casualties were/are innocent civilians in Basra and Helmand, plus our own poor bloody infantry, this book is a wake-up call for us all. This institutional ineptitude and incompetence, born of delusion and hubris, is being done in our name. Time for root and branch changes.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Powerful but limited, 18 Aug. 2013
This review is from: Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (Paperback)
Frank Ledwidge was a Royal Naval Reserve officer who became an intelligence specialist, and was deployed to the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. This book makes a compelling - even overwhelming - argument that the last two of these were unmitigated failures, and that the British, for all their vaunted expertise in small wars, had no idea what they were doing. In civilian life Ledwidge is a barrister, and I'd hate to be prosecuted by him: he's fluent and convincing, and the first two thirds of the book read much like the best kind of popular military history. If he'd left it there, he would have written an outstanding book.
But this is where the problems start. Unlike the descriptions of failure in the front line, drawn from personal experience, the diagnosis and the prescriptions lead him rapidly into areas where he has no personal knowledge, and he has to rely on interviews and secondary sources. Whilst some of his points are reasonable, he falls occasionally into tabloid-style rants about numbers of senior officers doing nothing, that suggest he hasn't done the elementary research to find out how military officers are actually employed when not in the front line. And anyone who has done battle with the labyrinthine and dysfunctional US system would be surprised to read about how much better it is than the British one. (I mean, have you ever been inside the Pentagon, Frank?) And several of the American commanders he praises so highly have subsequently proved to have feet of clay.
In essence, the book's weaknesses are also its strengths. This is war from ground level, as seen by a junior officer, impatient as all such officers are with the perceived failures of the desk-bound chaps in the rear. What he misses - because he has no personal experience of it - is the fact that the very real weaknesses he identifies are less the result of stupid Generals (as he concedes, most of them are highly intelligent) but of a declining system whose entire rationale is now about trying to have influence over the US, and to do so with armed forces which are simply much too small, now, to do anything useful. So if you are the US, you can send officers off to do Doctorates (though I'm not sure that's the answer). If you're the UK, then you are so desperately overstretched that you can't
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very good in parts but prone to ranting., 16 Oct. 2011
This book is interesting and no doubt well researched but at the same time there are a number of well spun opinions that almost slip into the manipulation of the facts that the author seems to take such offence at. A number of the other books that are referenced in the book are the work of dis-enfranchised ex-army types who tried to make a quick buck out of the campaign before they left the forces. Largest frustration is the constant selective heralding of the no doubt important achievements of 52 Bde in comparison to their fore runners, without any recognition that they deployed out of the fighting season during a time when due to large scale, albeit tactical successes, the Taliban had an operational pause before adopting more IED based tactics - there is also a largely unsubstantiated celebration of reservists as if they are the panacea to all difficult military scenarios. A good book , and some of it is eye wateringly painful to read, especially the litany of own goals and strategic failures but in my opinion the book falters when the tone of the author becomes somewhat hysterical and repetitive.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tears the veil of spin away from recent British Military performance, 21 Sept. 2011
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This is an excellent book which clearly and concisely tears the veil of spin away from recent British Military performance overseas. Whilst never doubting the extreme professionalism of our well intentioned front line fighting men and women, it exposes a lack of coherent strategy and the absence of learning at the heart of our military culture.

A military composed of separate entities, each more concerned with self promotion (both of unit and self) rather than the contribution to the defence of the realm is not a recipe for success. Whilst the UK has many highly deserved military laurels the time has come to stop resting upon them, this book is a wake up call to those holding this responsibility.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fine study of recent British strategic failures, 2 Feb. 2012
By 
William Podmore (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Frank Ledwidge is a retired military intelligence officer with 15 years' experience in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a scathing account of the failures of Britain's generals, especially of their failure to speak truth to power.

Ledwidge indicts the conformist military culture, which inhibits original and critical thinking about war. The top brass now blame any failure on a junior officer, or deny the failure ever happened, and truth is, as ever, derided as defeatism.

Ledwidge observes that there was no US or British planning for the post-combat phase of intervention in Iraq, and no effort to set up a legal system. British forces ceded the city of Basra to religious terrorists, failing to provide any safety for the people of the city. In March 2008, the Iraqi army did what the British had failed to do - swept the militia out. Iraq cost the British army 179 dead, and a large part of its reputation for competence.

Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan was, Ledwidge wrote, "what I believed to be a just and winnable war." He notes that it costs us £400,000 to keep one British soldier in Afghanistan for a year and that the war costs us £6 billion every year. The `Afghan Development Zone' was entirely illusory and the "dysfunctional local government we were there to support was totally corrupt and distrusted."

The UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee reported early in 2011, "in reality, there is a strong argument to make that Afghanistan, and the Taliban insurgency, does not currently, in itself represent an immediate security threat to the UK." Not one al-Qaeda activist has been captured in Helmand and the CIA estimates that there are at most 50 to 100 al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan. In contrast, Britain hosts the largest al-Qaeda presence in the Western world.

One needs 20 troops per 1,000 civilians to ensure a stable peacekeeping environment. That would have meant 20,000 troops for Basra city, which is the size of Manchester, and 50,000 for Helmand. Actually there were 8,000 for the entire Basra region and 3,500 for Helmand.

As Ledwidge points out, not one soldier has been disciplined, never mind prosecuted, for any of the hundreds of civilian deaths inflicted by British forces. Killing locals multiplies insurgents.

British intervention "played a role (at the very least) in starting one civil war in Iraq and in exacerbating another in Afghanistan." As Ledwidge justly observes, "very many soldiers like me ... joined to defend our country, not to invade others ..."

Foreign troops are the problem. "So perverse is mankind that every nation prefers to be misgoverned by its own people than to be well ruled by another", as General Charles James Napier noted in the 19th century.

The House of Commons Public Administration Committee called the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan `strategic failures'. Ledwidge agrees, calling them `these last two disastrous wars'. He concludes, "these are not struggles we should become involved in at all."
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