Lessons from Helmand, Afghanistan: what now for British counterinsurgency?

This article analyses the conduct of British operations in Helmand between 2006 and 2010 and discusses the implications for the legacy and future of British counterinsurgency. A number of lessons stand out: first, competence in the field of counterinsurgency is neither natural nor innate through regimental tradition or historical experience. The slow adaptation in Helmand—despite the opportunity to allow the Basra experience to be a leading example of the need for serious changes in training and mindset—is an indication that the expertise British forces developed in past operations is but a distant folktale within the British Armed Forces. Substantially changed training, painful relearning of counterinsurgency principles and changed mindsets are therefore necessary to avoid repeated early failures in the future. Moreover, despite eventually adapting tactically to the situation and task in Helmand, the British Armed Forces proved inadequate in dealing with the task assigned to them for two key reasons. First, the resources of the British military are simply too small for dealing with large-scale complex engagements such as those in Helmand or southern Iraq. Second, the over-arching comprehensive approach, and especially the civilian lines of operations that underpinned Britain’s historical successes with counterinsurgency, are today missing.

Laudable, Ahistorical and Overambitious: Security Sector Reform Meets State Formation Theory

Security sector reform (SSR) is a concept that is highly visible within policy and practice circles and that increasingly shapes international programmes for development assistance, security co-operation and democracy promotion. This paper examines the concept and practice of SSR using theories of the state and state formation within a historical-philosophical perspective. The paper recognises that the processes of SSR are highly laudable and present great steps forward towards more holistic conceptions of security and international development. However, the main argument of the paper is that we should be careful of having too high expectations of the possibility of SSR fulfilling its ambitious goals of creating states that are both stable and democratic and accountable. Instead, we should carefully determine what level of ambition is realistic for each specific project depending on local circumstances. A further argument of this paper is that legitimate order and functioning state structures are prerequisites and preconditions for successful democratisation and accountability reforms within the security sector.