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on 9 April 2013
This is an excellent publication. Based upon a review of all 13 chapters in the book, as opposed to the single chapter that the previous reviewer thought fit to base his judgement on, it is clear that this book examines (and challenges) in a thoughtful and forensic manner the way in which the British have constructed, over time and on the back of campaigns in Malaya, Kenya, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan et al a particular self-identity with respect to the practice of counterinsurgency, one which has in many ways seriously distorted wider understanding of those campaigns in general, the manner in which they were (or are) conceptualised and fought, and the broader understanding of COIN theory on the part of the British military. All of which ultimately brings us to the search for answers as to how precisely those campaigns played out in truth, as opposed to false and received wisdoms, or why they fell (or are falling) short of expectations. I'm not going to get into a chapter-by-chapter analysis for reasons of space but the book can broadly be understood as rigorous examination of certain aspects of certain campaigns set against certain tenets of British COIN theory (hearts and minds, primacy of political action, understanding of human terrain, acting in accordance with law, learning and adapting etc.) and illustrates how, in both the historical and contemporary context, these principles have often been largely ignored or, in the case of the first and abiding principle, the primacy of political action, almost impossible to apply in diffuse political scenarios. In other words COIN doctrine as the British Army in particular understands it is either a) often entirely misunderstood or b) incapable of being applied correctly due to ambient political circumstances. These are problematic conclusions deserving of greater comment, something that this collection of respected academic commentators seeks to do. And the notion, proposed by the previous reviewer, that one has to be a serving soldier to identify these ambiguities and contradictions is laughable. As too is the notion that civilians have no place commenting on either the theory or practice of COIN. This might have come as a shock to General David Petraeus, who augmented his FM3-24 writing team with a huge number of civilian academics in order to provide intellectual rigour to new US Counterinsurgency doctrine. And it should also be borne in mind that certain of the contributors to this work, notably Huw Bennett and Sherard Cowper-Coles, have great experience of working alongside the military and in particular alongside recent veterans of British COIN campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. And all of the contributors have conducted far greater and more thorough research into the history and theory of British COIN than any military commentator with the potential exception of Colonel (retd) David Benest, who interestingly reaches the same conclusions as those writing in this volume. I would challenge the original reviewer, for example, to best Dr Karl Hack on the subject of the Malayan campaign, or Dr Huw Bennet with respect to Kenya. These are bona fide experts in their fields.
In addition the book is bold, insofar that it is brave enough to allow a feminist critique of British counterinsurgency theory, for example. This reviewer was certainly sceptical at the thought of feminist academics commentating on such a specialised field of warfare. Cleverly however, the authors use gender theory in a clear-sighted manner to account for numerous shortcomings in the practice of COIN by militaries, an analytical path that allows them to reach a series of conclusions that are fundamentally logical and correct. Indeed, they are criticisms that any clear thinking veteran of Afghanistan would acknowledge as absolutely legitimate, and indeed are criticisms that this reviewer has heard echoed by many who have served there. In addition there is space for a diplomatic perspective of COIN in the form of Cowper-Coles' contribution, and an excellent analysis of the shifting sands of Iraqi political institutions by Glen Rangwala which will do more than almost any other book or article written so far to illuminate why the British faltered to the extent that they did in applying what were initially perceived to be a set of tried and tested methods to the COIN campaign there.
I cannot recommend this edited volume enough. The author has done an excellent job in bringing together such a diverse set of thinkers to tackle this fascinating subject. Together with David French's The British Way in Counterinsurgency 1945-67 this is a must read for students of the subject.
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on 9 October 2014
An important contribution to helping people understand counterinsurgency tactics, what they are, how they have been used, and how they have developed over time. It shows the links and overlaps with propaganda.
This book uses excellent references and sources. Should you wish to check the sources yourself or just carry out your own research into this topic, these references are very useful.
A thoughtful and well presented book. Its conclusion is, I think, that counterinsurgency is mostly brutal but then that is to be expected as it is used in a conflict situation. Well worth reading.
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on 14 December 2012
I read Frank Ledwidge's Losing Small Wars . It's not an enjoyable book but does make some very cogent and comprehensive and most importantly blunt assesments on where Britain went wrong in South Iraq and Afghanistan . I thought perhaps this book edited by Paul Dixon would be very similar and bring something new as to where Britain's once much vaunted ability to win unconventional conflicts might be going wrong but the asking price , dare I say ridiculous asking price put me off . I managed to read chapter one online which led to me to thank my lucky stars that I didn't

The first warning signs are the list of contributers . None of them are former career military figures and most of them are academics with politics and international law featuring heavily . There's also a couple of contributors who are happy to let us know they've worked on PhDs involving " adaptive identities " and military masculinities " which gives you a clue where this book might be heading metaphoricaly . If I'd bought it it'd be heading literaly in the bin

Chapter one is written by the book's editor Paul Dixon and is entitled " Hearts And Minds from Malaya To Afghanistan ? " In it Dixon suggests Britain's tradition in " hearts and minds " in winning over indivuals to the government side and employing " minimum force " are myths that have to expelled . Being written in the dry academic style of the Havard method and using qoutes whenever he can means that Dixon excuses himself from having any opinion of his own and having no stated opinion of his own means he can demolish any argument without having to show his own head over the paraphet ie " What would Paul Dixon do ? " Nothing except to point out that hearts and minds and minimum is a myth because people get killed . Yes Paul people die in wars . The fact that innocent people die in them and a political settlement and a stable democratic government afterwards seems to have escaped Dixon's notice

Dixon seems to confuse minimum force meaning no coercion whatsoever . In Malaya " The emphasis in British propaganda was on persuading and coercing reluctant minds rather than winning hearts and minds " In other words we're talking about semantics rather than tactics . In an unconventional low intensity war most people are nuetral and will side with the one

1 ) who is seen to be winning
2 ) have the best offer on the table

You could argue the success in Malaya wasn't hearts and minds but the fact they offered independence to Malaya while killing a lot of communist insurgents who wanted to turn the country in to a Maoist dictatorship . Dixon ignores this and seems more interested in listing " crimes " commited by British forces in 1948-1960 . It's much smaller scale conflict but compare the casualty rates in Malaya to that in French Indo-China round about the same time and the horrific casualty rates from the resulting Vietnam war .

In Northern Ireland Dixon again misses the point totally and is clearly incorrect in many facts " [ On negotiatons with the IRA in 1972 and 1974 ] From the point of view of the military and counter insurgency theory the political elite and resulting in the deaths of British soldiers . The result was serious tension between in civil-military relations until the conflict subsided in the late 1970s and the election of a Conservative government " . This is fundamentally wrong . Roy Mason NI seccretary from Sept 1976 to May 1979 was highly respected amongst military officers in the province . His predecessor Merlyn Rees was less so but it was Rees who brought in the policy of Ulsterisation in NI , a political inititive since all conflicts are political in nature . He also fails to point how sharply the violence fell in the late 1970s when most of the IRA were dead and in prison reflected in the death rate in the troubles 112 in 1977 , 81 in 1978 . As an insurgent force the IRA was spent hence its move in to politics which was the only option left to them which led to the Good Friday Agreement

On Iraq - " [ The Daily Mirror ] photos may or not have been forgeries " No it was proved beyond a doubt they were faked , Piers Morgan lost his job if you remember .

On Afghanistan - " The Taliban did discuss giving over up their guest [ Osama Bin Laden ] but the US invaded before these diplomatic avenues could be fully explored " which is a polite way of saying " Bin Laden was using Afghanistan as a terrorist training camp and had done so for several years . America ordered the Taliban to hand over OBL , the Taliban refused until they saw hard evidence that OBL was behind 9/11 so America invaded . To suggest they were just about to arrest OBL as Dixon suggests is nonsense

The worst part I've read is " " The British Army deployed 3,150 soldiers to Helmand in 2006 out of whom only 700 were fighters and the rest logistical and support troops " I don't know what Dixon is suggesting here but I do hope he's not suggesting the likes of the logistical corps and the Royal Engineers don't do any fighting ? It really is an offensive statement that he credits to The Times but is almost certainly paraphrased . Someone in the " non-fighting " regiments of the British Army do ten weeks basic training which I'm sure is ten weeks more than Dixon and all the contributors of this dreadful overpriced book have done combined
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