Decision Making in Defence & General Richards’ Court Marshall

by Anthony C Heaford - Work-in-Progress

In 2014 parliament was so confused about who was commanding British military operations in Helmand, they needed an inquiry to find out. It was part of the Decision Making in Defence inquiry which in 2015 concluded:

“ More generally, there seems to have been no clarity over who was in charge.” 

They were referring to the British army’s decision in May 2006 to abandon the planned strategy of establishing security and redevelopment in Helmand province’s district centers Lashkar Gah and Gereshk. Despite very limited resources it was decided to extending our presence to north Helmand - setting up ‘Platoon Houses’ (bases) in Sangin and Musa Qala’s district centres. Parliament’s inquiry stated:

“ Both Secretaries of State for Defence* in post during that period, denied having made the decision to deploy to Northern Helmand - or even being aware that a decision had been made.”

* John Reid 06 May 2005 to 05 May 2006 & Des Browne 05 May 2006 to 03 October 2008

John Reid had publicly stated Britain’s mission in Helmand at a press conference in Kabul in April 2006: 

“ We're in the south to help and protect the Afghan people to reconstruct their economy and democracy. We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years time without firing one shot."

 Quite how brutal and desperate Britain’s new 'Platoon House' strategy became is best presented in this documentary, as told by veterans of the battle in Musa Qala and then reported by Channel 4:

The parliamentary inquiry summarised events in north Hemland that summer thus:

“ Very rapidly, however, the British troops found themselves under heavy attack. In early July, the Taliban surrounded the position of Sangin, killing eleven British soldiers, and requiring an airlift of 200 paratroopers, supported by the United States and Canadian forces to relieve the position. In early August, Musa Qala was surrounded and came under intensive fire at close range, and again needed to be relieved with heavy forces. By mid-October, according to Brigadier Ed Butler, Musa Qala was 36-hours from being abandoned."

Brigadier Ed Butler was commander of Task Force Helmand - comprising all NATO elements in the province - from April to October 2006. There were sixteen Task Force Helmand commanders in all, each serving just six months of the eight year mission, so it should not have been a strategic decision making role because those commanders would not be around long enough to see the outcome. But Brigadier Butler did make a strategic decision - to abandon the mission envisioned by Secretary of State for Defence John Reid in April 2006 and instead divide our already limited forces and resources into remote Platoon Houses in late May. In effect under equipped, ill supported soldiers were sent to remote static targets, difficult to support but ideal for the insurgents to attack. And it was an insurgency we’d provoked by sacking Helmand’s governor in October 2005 and then stationing corrupt Afghan police from northern Afghanistan (think Dari speaking Northern Alliance militia with pictures of Rashid Dostum in their pick-up windows) to the district centres in Pashtun speaking Helmand.

British General David Richards - now a Baron in the House of Lords, and commander of all NATO forces in Afghanistan from 04 May 2006 to 04 February 2007 - wrote this: 

"I used to say to everyone - and it became a bit of a joke but I meant it -
‘Don’t ask, don’t tell, just do it.’ "

Truly, for some of us nothing is written, unless we write it 
© Anthony C Heaford - The Quiet Mancunian