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97 of 99 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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5 of 5 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 12 months ago by John Fletcher


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97 of 99 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
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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
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This review is from: Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (Kindle Edition)
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Powerful but limited, 18 Aug 2013
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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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A signature book, 14 Sep 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 30 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
This review is from: Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (Kindle Edition)
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Litany of the Failings of a Deeply-Flawed Institution, 31 Mar 2014
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JWH (East Midlands, England) - See all my reviews
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This is a very challenging book, full of uncomfortable points and questions directed towards Britain's military leaders. The author very explicitly does not address the rights and wrongs of the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and nor does he focus very heavily upon the tactics employed by the British Army in those countries - although these do come under more scrutiny in regard to their relation to the strategies pursued by the military leadership.

The author first looks at the chronology of the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the intervention in Helmand and examines in detail the key elements which led to simple defeat in the first instance and bloody failure in the second. He is particularly impatient of what he sees as attempts by the British military establishment to 'write a victory' out of defeat in Basra, scornful of later attempts to write it all up as part of a master plan to force the Iraqi national government into action. He is absolutely scathing of the constant British invocation of expertise in Northern Ireland and Malaya as relevant to its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, pointing out that the dissimilarities were so vast as to make comparisons at best irrelevant and at worst actively counter-productive. He also has limited patience with the 'under-resourcing' refrain, pointing out that in neither Iraq nor Afghanistan did this, in itself, change the result, but also pointing out that at no point did the British military say that it couldn't carry out its missions as a result of its equipment holdings or personnel numbers, despite it being the duty of its generals
to say exactly this, if true. I summarize, he deals with the issue at much greater length in the book.

The author then looks at what he identifies as the systemic problems in the British forces - particularly in its Army - which led to these defeats. He primarily blames its wider culture, in particular its preference for 'kinetic' (i.e. violent) solutions; its reliance on heavy weapons rather than numbers; its grossly top-heavy and inward looking senior management; its paternalistic (in the worst sense) and condescending attitude towards the populace of occupied countries; its reluctance to work with expert civilian organizations on their own terms; and its failure to develop real experts in the language and culture of occupied cultures and in the provisioning and running of vital services, these been seen very distinctly as secondary or tertiary activities for Armed Forces. In all these areas he contrasts British failure and complacency with what he perceives as a great American willingness to confront initial mistakes and rectify them with new ideas. He finds the overall intellectual culture of British Army officers as generally inadequate, the result of a very narrow focus and a culture which gives neither time nor tacit approval to the self-questioning the author regards as of paramount importance when looking for new ways to conduct operations. Interestingly, much of this is mentioned by Jim Storr writing from an entirely different point of view about British generalship in The Human Face of War .

The book is lively and engaging, and although there is a little repetition, it doesn't ever outstay its welcome. The author, a veteran practitioner in many of the areas he writes about and a close observer of all the others, is clearly knowledgeable and passionate anduses a wide variey of relevant sources, both military and civilian to illustrate his points. I would recommend it to
anyone interested in counter-insurgency, the Britsh armed forces or the interventions in Iraq or Afghanistan in general.
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13 of 14 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
This review is from: Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (Kindle Edition)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stark and Hard-Hitting, 26 July 2013
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The author has first-hand knowledge of the background to and involvement in the British Army's operations in Basra and Helmand Province. The failures of the British Government to provide a clear policy in either of these areas led to a lack of strategic direction compounded by inadequate forces to do the job - whatever that was! In both regions the Americans had to bale us out with a vastly greater numbers of troops, the numbers necessary, in fact, to achieve the level of security promised. The second part of the book is a more philosophical look at the training of senior officers in the armed forces. Accepting that our soldiers, sailors and airmen are perhaps the best trained and motivated in the world, Ledwidge compares the continuing academic education of our senior officers (or, rather, lack of it) unfavourably with that of the Americans', casts doubt on the training given at the Services Staff College at Shrivenham and makes some interesting and controversial recommendations for the future. Overall, a fascinating read for anyone who has viewed our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan with unease and wants to know what really happened (and is happening) and why we were not as successful as the Government would have us believe.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tears the veil of spin away from recent British Military performance, 21 Sep 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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