On the PM programme yesterday, BBC Radio 4, Eddie Mair interviewed Colonel Richard Williams who commanded the SAS in Afghanistan. It is worth a listen all 8 minutes of it starting at 22:20 (iPlayer). Colonel Williams is very calm and precise, and as a commander of the SAS he was clearly very experienced about the deployment in Afghanistan.
The main message of the interview was that the problems the army suffered in Afghanistan between 2001 to 2007 were because of poor military design and not from a lack of resources. He said that it was: "not a political issue, that is a military issue".
Mair asked Williams about the result of "the poor judgement" and Williams said there were two: the loss of life and the loss of Britain's reputation as the "primary, most effective, world-class counter insurgency force". Williams added that "Since 2007 I think a lot of work has happened to recover that reputation, but there are still deficiencies".
These are serious admissions, but who is to blame for the problems? Colonel Williams said that "there were a series of arguments which were presented to the commanders on the ground which forced them (in their own words) to the nine outposts of which Sangin was one" and that with six helicopters they "could only really support perhaps three operating bases". The "arguments" were being presented from the high command in the military and imposed on the commanders on the ground, imposed on the people who knew that they only had the resources to operate three bases.
When Mair asked who was responsible for those poor decisions between 2001 and 2007, Colonel Williams said "They rest with the military. In all of the discussions that I was privy to, but not necessarily part of, the military requested a series of resources relative to the tasks outlined. They were given those resources and in both cases be it Souther Iraq or Afghanistan they didn't deploy those resources as effectively as they should do."
Mair reiterated: "you're saying, in essence, that they [the military] did have what they wanted but they made a mess of deploying it?" Colonel Williams agreed. He said "it is slightly unfair of the military to blame the politicians for a lack of resources when actually it was a bad military design." He said that one of his favourite guidelines was "Bad strategy is that which you cannot afford" and explained, "if you have only six helicopters then [you] design an operation that six helicopters can support." He went on to explain that the military in Afghanistan designed operations that they did not have the resources to implement and that when he was asked for his opinion about the challenges in Helmand, he specifically told his superiors the dangers of over stretching the deployment, but his warnings were ignored.
This backs up Brown's constant assertion that he met all requests for resources, which the Conservatives constantly attacked. But rather interestingly, he puts the blame for the problems squarely on the military leadership.