Tag Archives: Internal Security

Insurrection Reading List

‘Freeman’s Farm’ by Don Troiani

Insurrection Reading List

The British Army regards the American Revolutionary War with the same zeal as it regards our most recent escapades in southern Iraq; a campaign that is to be acknowledged grudgingly and preferably consigned to the dustbins of history. We are sore losers. That is a shame as there is a great deal to learn from both campaigns; in fact somewhat perversely there are likely to be more lessons to be learnt from those campaigns that veer between an inconclusive result and an outright defeat than there are from our better known victories.  These lessons are also more likely to be at the operational and strategic level, levels at which the current British reputation is somewhat lacklustre.  This is clearly the case for the American Revolutionary War which is highly pertinent to today.

The American Revolutionary War lasted from 1775 until 1783. It grew from a colonial rebellion to a broad conflict encompassing France, Holland and Spain.  Unlike the common misconception of British defeat being due to incompetent British officers leading the thin red line against plucky Americans unsportingly hiding behind trees (British soldiers adapted very quickly to North American requirements, petite guerre was not new, and British light companies were very good) the reality reveals campaign lessons on:

  • Logistics. Inter-Theatre the British were at the end of a 9 week supply chain from the UK to the US ( and in this in the days before refrigeration).  Intra-theatre the communications/transport system network simply was not as developed as it was in Europe and the ground posed significant challenges. This conflict more clearly than many, highlights the impact of logistics on campaigning.
  • Joint Operations.  We think of the American Revolution in terms of British joint operations, but the entry of the French fleet into the fight was a pivotal point in the war, and Franco/American joint operations in the Yorktown campaign were superb. We lose control of the sea at our peril.
  • Mass matters.  The British never had sufficient combat power to secure terrain and take the offensive. Without the ability to secure the population, Loyalists never felt secure enough to commit to the Crown. With the broadening of the conflict to include France, Spain and Holland, British commitments increased (we had to strip manpower from Theatre to meet greater priorities while the Americans received additional combat power.
  • Alliances matter. It is debatable whether the Continental Army was sufficient in itself to defeat us, it is undeniable that the alliance (America, France, Spain and Holland) did.
  • Peer Power Competition. As we move from a super-power world to a multi-power world there are lessons to be learnt for us about strategy in a multi-polar competitive system.
  • It’s all about the economy, stupid.  Wars are expensive, and we in the military tend not to look at the overall impact of their costs, but politicians (rightly) do. At the strategic level the costs of war weigh heavily.

In looking at this campaign at the operational and strategic levels I found the Ucko and  Marks framework for analysing armed threats particularly instructive.

An Integrated Framework for Analysing Armed Threats

Lastly in thinking of this campaign I was minded very much of General Sir Rupert Smith’s comment from the recent RUSI Land Warfare Conference: “You and your opponent share the objective; legitimacy, populations access to basic resources, imposing the rule of law or not. These are competitive relationships, not adversarial. A race, not a boxing match.

For those who do wish to study the campaign some more, here are my top four picks:

  1. The West Point History of the American Revolution. Probably the best single book you can buy on the American Revolution due to its combination of history, analysis, illustrations and maps. Provides an excellent oversight and grounding for further study. Reviewed here.
  2. With Zeal and Bayonets Only.  A more in depth study of British Army tactics, equipment and performance over the course of the war. The author (in his own words) aims to “show in the course of this work, the King’s troops won the vast majority of their battlefield engagements in America because they tailored their conventional tactical methods intelligently to local conditions…” The work is narrowly focused on the operational and tactical levels and is best read after gaining an understanding of the broader contours of the war. Reviewed here.
  3. A Respectable Army.  The first book I was introduced to when looking at the Revolutionary War and rightly so. It is one of the definitive accounts of the war and of the Continental Army. Reviewed here.
  4. The Men Who Lost America.  No one likes a loser, as is clearly shown by how history has treated those in charge of British efforts during the war.  As we consider our recent campaigns and some dubious decisions closer to home (I think of the outsourcing of recruiting and housing in particular) it is worth considering that we rarely select idiots as generals, now or ever (there are a few honourable exceptions). This book provides a good look at British higher command during the Revolutionary War, and should make one consider the linkages between strategy and operations. Reviewed here.
Shortlink http://q.gs/EFool

Operation Temperer and a Campaign Little Known

Operation Temperer

Operation Temperer has returned to barracks for now, but while it was deployed it brought to mind my early days soldiering on Operation Banner in Northern Ireland. The tasks were very much the same – key point defence and overt armed support to the civilian police, and to be frank the equipment did not appear to have changed all that much.

The more recent terrorist attack at London Bridge again brought to mind Operation Banner, but this time in a different guise. There were terrible comparisons to The Troubles made on social media and it highlighted the fact that to my mind Operation Banner remains more misunderstood than known, even by those who served there.

This misunderstanding was most clearly seen early on in the Iraq campaign, in the trite comparisons made between the British Army’s experience in Northern Ireland and its illusory success in Basra, and the then ongoing experiences of the mostly US forces in central Iraq.  The fact is that as a campaign Operation Banner is not well understood, and certainly not by those who would reasonably be expected to know most about it – the British military.

Operation Banner

Few serving soldiers now have any experience of serving on Operation Banner, but even those that do, none will have experience of the 1970s and few will have had experience of the covert struggle. Yet understanding the ebb and flow of the campaign in the 1970s when the hard lessons were learnt, as well as being cognisant of the covert war are essential to understanding the conflict as a whole. Most who are ready with the glib comparisons served in the 1980s onwards when the campaign was relatively mature and growing in sophistication. We remember the Techniques, Tactics and Procedures, but fail to grasp the ‘why’ of the operational approach or even the theatre lay down.

The British Army’s ‘Operation Banner: An Analysis Of Military Operations in Northern Ireland‘ published in 2006 is a remarkable piece of succinctness, capturing almost 37 years in 98 pages. The publication is not designed to be a definitive history of the campaign, not can it be considering its classification that makes it unable to touch on covert operations, and its narrow focus on the military and excluding the role of the police in detail. In fact the definitive history of the campaign has yet to be written.

The British Army’s study is however a good overview of the campaign and has some hidden gems in plain sight (Republican terrorists killed 30% more Republican terrorists than the Army (page 2-12)). This together with the following should be the starting point for those wishing to place the campaign in perspective:

To me it is remarkable how quickly Operation Banner has fallen from view, especially considering the fact the Republican terrorism remains very much active, albeit diminished.  Yesterday’s wars are it seems, largely a matter for the historians, no matter how pertinent they are to the professionals of today.

Shortlink http://q.gs/EwW43

The Future Shape of Security Concerns?

Venezuela street protests, 2017

Internal Security is somewhat of a modern day anathema to the British Army. When we operate under the guise of Military Aid to the Civil Powers it is generally thought of as being primarily with niche capabilities.

Falls Road, Belfast. 4th July 1970.

It has not always been so and popular memories are short. Few remember much about Operation Banner in Northern Ireland, except the glib view that we mostly learnt the wrong lessons and misapplied even these to Iraq and Afghanistan. Stretching further back, prior to the establishment of a professional police force, the military was heavily involved in supporting the Civil Powers in the maintenance of order.

Anti-capitalism protestors in France.

Much comment has been directed recently at the fragmentation of the public sphere. This is a trend which has been ongoing for some time, but which has been thrown into sharp relief by recent political events at home and overseas. One result of the fragmentation of the public sphere is that political polarisation and possibly extremism is not only more possible, but possibly likely, and with this comes the prospect of increasingly large scale public order issues and other threats to the public space. In any large scale breakdown of public order the issue of the appropriate use of military force becomes an issue, as it did in 2011.

Guarding the British way of life?

When I consider both this fragmentation of the public sphere and what could be perceived as the militarisation of the police, in the absence of of British paramilitary police force such as the French Gendarmerie and CRS, I wonder what is the British perspective of the role of the military in Internal Security? What is the British perspective on the role of police in Internal Security? In many parts of the world the primary role of the police forces is internal security, not policing (law enforcement) as we might recognise from a British or other Western model. As the military looks to become more engaged in upstream capacity building and defence engagement, understanding the British perspective and approach towards the military role in internal security, and towards internal security generally, is going to become more important.

Shortlink http://q.gs/EwW41