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Sherard v The Generals

14 January 2011

2:03 PM

14 January 2011

2:03 PM

As wars begin to end, arguments about their conduct begin. Such is the case with the
British campaign in Helmand. In a submission to the Foreign Affairs Committee, the former British ambassador in Kabul – and one of the best diplomats of his generation – Sir Sherard
Cowper-Coles blasted the Army:

"Almost by definition, good soldiers are irrepressibly enthusiastic, unquenchably optimistic, fiercely loyal to their service and to their own units within that service, and not
especially imaginative."

But his strongest criticism was reserved for the Army’s strategy of seeing Helmand through the prism of the SDSR – looking to save brigades from being cut, not looking primarily to
win the war.


Understandably, the military reaction has been swift and furious. The ex-diplomat has been called "maverick," and General Richard Dannat even said Sir Sherard was "out of his
lane."

But while Sir Sherard is, at times, unorthodox and can be forthright – the idea that he is a "maverick" whose views should be disregarded is absurd. If he was a "maverick"
then why did the FCO leadership appoint him to nearly all the top posts in the department – in Israel, Saudi Arabia and then Afghanistan? I’m afraid this criticism won’t wash.

The notion that there are things "outside his lane" is also absurd. Sir Sherard was the UK ambassador in Kabul and then the Special Representative for Afghanistan. To claim that the
military effort was somehow outside of his purview is an affront to civilian control of the military and the cross-departmental cooperation that civil-military campaigns, such as that in Helmand,
require.

This scrap is a harbinger of things to come: when more and more people, from all political parties, including those with on-the-ground experience in Basra and Helmand, begin to question the leeway
given to the military chiefs in the past. A good thing too. 


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