Losing Small Wars

British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan

Frank Ledwidge

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October 4, 2011
304 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
ISBN: 9780300166712
Cloth

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Partly on the strength of their apparent success in insurgencies such as Malaya and Northern Ireland, the British armed forces have long been perceived as world class, if not world beating. However, their recent performance in Iraq and Afghanistan is widely seen as—at best—disappointing; under British control Basra degenerated into a lawless city riven with internecine violence, while tactical mistakes and strategic incompetence in Helmand Province resulted in heavy civilian and military casualties and a climate of violence and insecurity. In both cases the British were eventually and humiliatingly bailed out by the US army.

In this thoughtful and compellingly readable book, Frank Ledwidge examines the British involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking how and why it went so wrong. With the aid of copious research, interviews with senior officers, and his own personal experiences, he looks in detail at the failures of strategic thinking and culture that led to defeat in Britain's latest "small wars." This is an eye-opening analysis of the causes of military failure, and its enormous costs.

Frank Ledwidge is a former barrister and military intelligence officer. He has served in many conflict zones including Iraq, Helmand, and Libya.

“…..a devastating, highly readable critique of why Britain’s armed forces have fared so badly in two of the country’s most recent and controversial conflicts: Iraq and Afghanistan…..I support the author’s notion that it is a national scandal that despite the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, no senior officer has yet been held to account.”—Sean Rayment, The Daily Telegraph

“……the author deserves applause for bluntly expressing the truths about our recent military failures that too many of those involved find it convenient to obscure… [He] concludes: “We do not currently have armed forces that are equipped for conflicts… where brutally put they are actually invaders in lands far away and of which they know really very little.” I agree. A radical shake-up of the army is needed. It is only because its prestige is so low after defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan – as Ledwidge justly characterises these experiences – that the government can get away with savaging its strength in defence cuts. If much is wrong with today’s British Army, by the time the Cameroon’s have finished there will be precious little of it left.”—Max Hastings, The Sunday Times

“…Losing Small Wars, is a savage indictment of the military leadership that got British soldiers into one impossible situation after another in Iraq and Afghanistan.”—Rodric Braithwaite, Financial Times

“In many ways this is the sort of book I'd like to have written. Controversial, iconoclastic even, written by an insider, it casts a knowledgeable and critical eye over recent British military operations and doesn't shy away from exposing incompetency and naming the guilty.”—Stuart Crawford, The Scotsman

“Lieutenant Commander Frank Ledwidge, RNR (retired), has written one of the most upsetting books I have read about Britain’s part in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Anyone who wants to understand what happened should read it.”—Sherard Cowper-Coles, New Statesman

“Losing Small Wars is not a prescription, but a diagnosis. It is a survey of recent history and a powerful assault on a destructively self-satisfied culture. We will need to open networks and think more broadly as new types of conflict emerge and our armed forces are reduced in number. As a first draft of the history of these campaigns, this is a very good start…..I unhesitatingly recommend it.”—David Benest, British Army Review

“[A] superb ground-breaking book… Mr Ledwidge is judicious, sceptical, intelligent and highly informed.”—Patrick Cockburn, The Independent on Sunday

“…..a frank critique of where we went wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan…..this important book examines failure and its very real consequences.”—The Good Book Guide

“….intelligent, well-informed and thought-provoking…..A very important book.”—Adrian Weale, Literary Review

“It pays moving tribute to the courage and dedication of the junior ranks, but may be the rudest work on the British generals since Alan Clark’s The Donkeys…..Ledwidge should be read by everyone with an interest in the British armed forces and their future.”—Anatol Lieven, The Times (Military Books Of The Year)

“…a ‘must-read’ book on the subject…excellently written…a nicely presented book…Ledwidge’s book is a first-class contribution.”—Robert Dover (Loughborough University), International Affairs March 2012

"This brave critique by a former naval intelligence officer dares to lay blame on the top brass. Once more, donkeys in gold braid have wasted the blood of lions under their command - and the civilians in their care."—Boyd Tonkin, Independent i

"Ledwidge probs the possibilities and articulates the problems with all the frankness of a soldier."—Good Book Guide

"A brave and important book; essential reading for anyone wanting insights into the dysfunction within the British military today, and the consequences this has on the lives of innocent civilians caught up in war."—Harry Johnstone, Times Literary Supplement

“A passionate, tendentious book. . . . The insider perspective is fascinating. Its enthusiasm is compelling. . . . Likely to be useful in the classroom and for the interested layperson.”—Jacqueline Hazelton, H-Net Reviews
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