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Operation 'TELIC'

Phil Perry

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Operation TELIC – Why the British were defeated in Southern Iraq 2003 – 2011







This may be a difficult read for some people who come across the post and perhaps for those personnel who may have served in Iraq during the various iterations of Operation TELIC. I make no apologies for this. I firmly believe that the only way we can avoid making mistakes in the future, both political and military, is by genuinely understanding and learning the lessons of the past. For all you men, women and the various other categories this inclusive government wishes to label, at GCHQ who are no doubt reading this, I have checked that all the information is open source on the internet, which of course is where it came from.


I am using AP3000 (Third edition), to guide me through the principles of war and how the British effort in Iraq fell well short of these guiding doctrines. They may be in a different order to those laid down in the AP, but that is to match the historical narrative rather than the doctrinal. In addition, some of the principles have been grouped to illustrate common points. My apologies to the JSCSC. AP 3000 is a thumping good read and I commend it to all. I think our senior military officers and politicians should get within at least a nodding acquaintance of it. It is as relevant to project management in the private sector as it is to operational planning. To those of you who have lost friends and loved ones in Iraq, I am truly sorry. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think of those young Toms lined up with their APCs, waiting to go out and I still sometimes awake in the small hours, sweating and breathless with the night terrors.


On a night in March 2006 along with just over eighty assorted men and women of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces with assorted civilian contractors, I walked from a badly air-conditioned Rubb Hangar, into a hot, balmy night towards a C130J. The aircraft’s engines were running as we filed towards the rear ramp and the smell of Avtur was hot and heady. The flames from the Gas and Oil Separation Plants (GOSPs) out in the desert were reflected on the base of the low clouds and a gibbous moon appeared to be scudding among them.


I was mentally exhausted after a tour in Iraq of several months. All I had was a daysack with my travel documents, spare t-shirt, socks and spare trousers DPM (Desert), wash kit, lightweight sleeping bag and bottles of water, I hoped my bergen, holdall and my rifle (there were many others like it, but that one was mine) were already on board the Hercules. We were bound for Qatar and would hopefully connect with a civilian charter aircraft that would fly us to Brize Norton, via Hanover for the Army contingent among us. It was too dangerous for charter aircraft, which lacked defensive countermeasures (DAS) to fly into or out of Basra. Up the ramp inside the aircraft we struggled into the canvas seats and nets, fumbling with the harnesses. Four rows of us facing in and out. The ramp whined up and the aircraft taxied for what seemed like forever. It stopped, the engines ran up to full power and we all got close and personal with the person sitting next to us. As soon as it was airborne, the Hercules climbed and banked sharply, flares from the DAS reflecting on the RAF Loadmaster’s worried face as he peered out of the bubble blister on the rear para door. I was going home.


Selection and Maintenance of the Aim


In the conduct of war and all military operations, it is essential to select and define the aim with absolute clarity.


Why did Britain invade Iraq?


Operation TELIC was the United Kingdom's contribution to the Coalition effort in the spring of 2003 to create the conditions in which Iraq would disarm in accordance with its obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolutions and remain so disarmed in the long term. Within this overall objective, two key tasks were to remove Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime and to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and their associated programmes and means of delivery. We found that Operation TELIC was a significant military success, particularly in the deployment and combat phases, and the Ministry of Defence (the Department) has identified lessons that could reduce the risks associated with future operations. (REPORT BY THE COMPTROLLER AND AUDITOR GENERAL HC 60 Session 2003-2004: 11 December 2003).


But no weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq. While the intelligence services of many other nations also thought that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, in the end it was the United States and Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom that put their credibility on the line, making this one of the most public and most damaging intelligence failures in recent history. Taken together, these shortcomings reflect the Intelligence Community’s struggle to confront an environment that has changed radically over the past decade. For almost 50 years after the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, the Intelligence Community’s resources were overwhelmingly trained on a single threat—the Soviet Union. The CIA remains fixated with Russia today. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Anthony Blair hitched his wagon to this extremely feeble and creaky star. So the first tenant of the aim of Op TELIC was fundamentally flawed; there were no weapons of mass destruction and there were no means of delivery for these non-existent weapons.


The second stated objective was the removal of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime. Now this sounds plausible at face value, but what does regime change actually mean? A regime is more than a figurehead, some assorted generals who like dressing up and a secret police force. A regime is the civil servants, police and military as well as doctors and nurses, teachers and rubbish collectors. The only way of getting on in pre-2003 Iraq was by being a member of the Ba’ath Party and if you take the concept of regime change to its logical conclusion, it would be like a resurgent Conservative Party dismissing every Labour voter from the public sector. A good idea some might argue, but not really practical.


There were a lot of very pissed off ex-Army officers who had amassed a great deal of skill over the years. They had fought the Iranian’s in the 1980s, a long internal insurgency against the Kurds and Marsh Arabs and the Coalition/Iraq war of 1990/91. They may have lacked the polish and sophistication of the Western forces, but they were still pretty good at blowing things up. Guess where they disappeared to in their droves? The insurgency against the Americans and the British.


Another crucial factor was the decision taken for the British to take control and responsibility of Helmand Province in April 2006, an area of Afghanistan notorious as a Taliban stronghold and one of the most prolific producers of opium in the world. It was as though senior Army figures were delighted to be given the opportunity to start another operation they thought they could win, because by then it was obvious that Iraq was a lost cause. The then Defence Secretary actually said of the deployment: …was that troops were there to help the Afghan reconstruction effort, and "would be perfectly happy" to leave without firing a shot.”Some chance. It also meant that scarce air transport and medical assets now had to support two medium scale warfighting operations.


Security and Intelligence


All platforms and systems are capable of gathering information, which must be processed into intelligence. A degree of security by physical protection and information denial is essential to all military operations.


Because the British shared information with the Americans, our intelligence on the Iraqi Army and Air Force was first rate. We knew the capability of their anti-aircraft assets and we knew where they were hidden, we knew where their Army formations were fielded and we even knew in which HASs their aircraft were stored. It’s a pity we were so ignorant of the country we were invading, its people, ethnic and religious tensions and the macro environment.


intelligence on the Iraqi Army and Air Force was first rate. We knew the capability of their anti-aircraft assets and we knew where they were hidden, we knew where their Army formations were fielded and we even knew in which HASs their aircraft were stored. It’s a pity we were so ignorant of the country we were invading, its people, ethnic and religious tensions and the macro environment


Make no bones about it, we were occupying Iraq and the population is an ethnic and religious mix of three versions of Islam. The majority in the South are Shia Arabs who are the remnants of the Old Persian Empire. The central area consists mainly of Sunni Arabs, who held all of the positions of power under Saddam Hussain’s regime and the Sunni Kurds to the north. The Kurds live in an area that spans Iraq, Turkey and Iran and their goal is a separate and independent homeland. Both the Kurds and Shias were brutally repressed under the old regime. Clearly there were plenty of old scores to be settled, when Saddam Hussain was toppled from power by the Americans and British forces and we failed to comprehend the dynamics and levels of hatred within the country. There was a complete failure to understand the unintended consequences of invasion and the sweeping away of the checks and balances of the old regime.


We also failed to take into account the Sunni/Shia dynamic within the region and how destabilising Iraq would allow Iran to become the dominant power in the region. By invading the country we allowed a mortal enemy of the West with a nuclear programme, to become the most powerful state in the region. What in God’s name was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office thinking about? What happened to all of the collective knowledge and wisdom, gleaned over the years? It wasn’t as though we hadn’t been there before. A short time after the initial warfighting phase of Op TELIC, I was having a drink with my father, an RAF veteran who had served in Iraq from 1937 until 1941. We comment on how quickly the warfighting phase had been completed and how successful it had been. Then he fixed me with his rheumy eyes that blazed with a sudden intensity and he said:


“Blown, my boy, you can’t even begin to understand the storm you’ve unleashed. That old bastard Hussain was keeping the lid on Pandora’s Box and our stupid politicians and their American friends have thrown it open.”




Surprise action can achieve results out of all proportion to the effort expended.


My son was fifteen and my daughter was eight in 2002 and they asked me when I would have to go to Iraq. The febrile political atmosphere in the country and abroad and the begrudging way Bush and Blair had to wait for Hans Blixs to complete his thankless and pointless task must have given the Iraqi regime some form of heads-up.. The warmongers aided and abetted by a supine Civil Service, a neutered Intelligence Service, and a kitchen Cabinet cowed by the darling of the BBC an evil, alcoholic, Joseph Goebbels acolyte, had made up their minds.


Here’s what Hans Blixs himself had to say about it on the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq:


…the U.S. government has "the same mind frame as the witch hunters of the past" — looking for evidence to support a foregone conclusion. "There were about 700 inspections, and in no case did we find weapons of mass destruction,"


The British press, or at least the parts of it not obsessed with Britney Spears’ perineum after an unfortunate getting out of a car incident, were full of the need to place urgent operational requirements, because of the perilous state of the Armed Forces’ equipment. The British and American forces had undertaken two previous rehearsals for desert operations: Exercise BRIGHT STAR held in Egypt in 1999 and Exercise SAIF SAREEA held in Oman in 2001. This is what a report by the National Audit Office had to say on the latter exercise:


“Exercise Saif Sareea II was a major success for the United Kingdom in demonstrating the Armed Forces’ ability to conduct operations over long distances and in supporting important foreign-policy objectives.


“However, the Exercise highlighted a number of problems that need to be addressed. In particular, the Joint Rapid Reaction Forces must be properly equipped to undertake expeditionary operations around the world; and the planning of such exercises needs to be reviewed if maximum value for money is to be achieved in future.”


Phew, what a relief that the Iraqis had no idea what we were up to.


Concentration of Force and Economy of Effort


To achieve success in war it is essential to concentrate superior force against the enemy at the decisive time and place. The corollary of concentration of force is economy of effort. It is impossible to be strong everywhere.


Despite a number of mishaps in the early hours of Op TELIC One, the British force of just over 46,000 troops made a significant contribution to the coalition’s overall battle plan. The Amphibious Battle Group secured the Al Faw Peninsular with its port facilities, Iraq’s second largest city of Basra was taken and Iraqi forces ejected and the RAF made over 91,000 sorties and launched over 8,000 precision guided weapons.


The British-led Multinational Division Southeast was responsible for an area of Iraq the size of the Southeast of England, London, the Midlands, East Anglia, Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire combined. Also in the Division’s area were the major cities of Basra, population of 311,000 and Al Amarah, population of 65,000. The area contained oil fields, Gas and oil separation plants and huge amounts of pipelines. All of which needed to be guarded and patrolled. To say that British and Coalition forces were spread thinly, is a bit of an understatement.


Essential to the planning assumptions of Op TELIC was the involvement of the Non-governmental Agencies such as DFID, Merlin and MSF. The Coalition had trashed Iraq’s already crumbling infrastructure and we had fired all of the Iraqis who could have fixed it. Don’t worry, the NGOs will be pouring into the country to add their expertise, the politicians told us. But they never showed up, just the oil engineers and the unsavoury private armies to protect them. It didn’t take long for the goodwill of the Iraqis to evaporate and resentment boil over into frustration and violence. The Insurgency had begun and the suspicion was that it was being fanned and supported by Iran.


Offensive Action and Flexibility


Offensive action is the chief means open to a commander to influence the outcome of an operation. A commander must be required to adapt their plans in the event of a changing situation.


During the warfighting phase of Op TELIC, the British military forces showed commendable offensive action in securing their objectives and flexibility, amending plans to go straight into Basra when they knew the way was open. Once the Insurgency came down on us, offensive action and flexibility became a forgotten aspect of subsequent military operations in Iraq. We patrolled by day going out in Snatch Land Rovers, which had already proved totally unsuitable in Northern Ireland. The roadside bombs and especially those using explosively formed projectiles, went through the soft skin vehicles like a thermal lance through a Reliant Robin. Twenty-three Service personnel were killed in Snatch Land Rovers, but their use was continued because there was nothing else available.


At night we hunkered down in places such as Basra Palace, Old State Building and Basra Air Station, while the insurgents had free reign in the city. At night these bases would become mortar, rocket and RPG magnets. Rockets were fired off pieces of corrugated iron set up in the cuds and the firers would be gone before the projectiles even landed. Night patrols were too small and the ground to be covered was too large to make any real effect on the insurgency. In the end, British Forces abandoned the Iraqi population to their fate with the gangs and insurgents, retreating to the last redoubt of Basra Air Station. It was a shameful episode of British military history.


Maintenance of Morale and Sustainability


Success in all forms of warfare depends more on morale than material considerations. Sustainability encompasses all aspects of physical, moral and spiritual maintenance of a force.


Service personnel seldom have the luxury of questioning whether the operation or action in which they are involved is a good or just war. That is part of the military covenant in so much as:


The first duty of Government is the defence of the realm. Our Armed Forces fulfil that responsibility on behalf of the Government, sacrificing some civilian freedoms, facing danger and, sometimes, suffering serious injury or death as a result of their duty. Families also play a vital role in supporting the operational effectiveness of our Armed Forces. In return, the whole nation has a moral obligation to the members of the Naval Service, the Army and the Royal Air Force, together with their families. They deserve our respect and support, and fair treatment.


Taken from the Gov website The Armed Forces Covenant. Note that the first duty of government is not the protection of its citizens. Glad to have cleared that up.


The military should be a cross-section of the society it protects and should therefore be drawn from that society. As a result, members of the Armed Forces are in theory a fairly disparate group that are united by a common set of values. Aptitude testing, recruit training and peer pressure tend to weed out the mad, bad and crazy, but some, a very few, hide it well. As Kipling wrote:


We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,


But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;


An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,


Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;


While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an` Tommy, fall be'ind,"


But it's " Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind


There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,


O it's " Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind.


No Serviceman or woman should be above the law, but whose law are we using as a benchmark? British civil law or the law of armed conflict? The Iraq Historical Allegations Team (IHAT) was set up in 2010 to ensure that credible allegations are properly investigated and the facts established. However, on the Government’s IHAT website it is admitted that, IHAT has no control over the type and number of allegations it receives - this is primarily driven by legal firms representing alleged victims, some of whose actions have recently been called into question. Indeed, a key role of IHAT is not only to ensure serious and credible allegations are thoroughly investigated, but that false allegations are identified and dismissed, thus reducing the impact on Service personnel.


How would you feel if your son or daughter and their family was hounded by a civilian ex-policeman who had never done a day’s military Service in his life, for an act carried out in the middle of a firefight that took place years before and thousands of miles away? That they were being prosecuted at the behest of a shyster firm of left-wing lawyers using your taxes. It turns all natural justice on its head. Could you imagine that happening in France, or the US? How do you think it affects the Armed Forces’ moral component and future recruiting? So what is the future for armed intervention is support of British foreign policy? Will we eulogise our fallen as brave and committed men and women, or will they be thought of as thick mugs that couldn’t get a proper job? After all, nobody made them join up. Somebody once said that to me. Personally I can’t see there being many corners of a foreign field that are forever England in the future.


What is the legacy? Are the Iraqis any better off than they were under Saddam Hussain? Some undoubtedly are, but I believe the majority are worse off. Is the world a safer place? No it isn’t, but that’s mainly because we have chosen as a country and society to import millions of largely unproductive immigrants, a significant proportion of which are, violent, misogynistic and hold views that are incompatible with a free, open and democratic society. Do you have any regrets? I regret that some of my comrades never made it home, and I was sometimes involved when their catastrophe unfolded. Would you want your children to do it? No, I wouldn’t. Would you do it again? Of course I would. I’d drunk of the Queen’s Shilling and after all, there’s always the Armed Forces Covenant to see my family was all right…


( Editors Note I could not post these pictures in the sequence they were intended to be. . . Sorry - I have posted them at the end of the article. )












Article credit - Blown Periphery - ( BP ) ( Other articles and stories from BP, some of which you have already seen here, and on Recreational Flying, are available on the Going-Postal.net archives and are free to read )


Blog credit - <going-postal.net>








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I got fed up reading all the above so skipped some of it.


My take is that G W Bush wa going to war whatever. The US intelligence services provided what he wanted. they knew it was incorrect.Blair and our own little Johnny Howard were so keen to get in bed with bush that it was a foregone conclusion that we would be there. There was absolutely no planning about what would happen after the invasion. The one man who could have brought some sense to the whole fiasco was Colin Powell, who was an outstanding US general, but he just rolled over and agreed with Bush.


Now we have another US president of the same mold as G W Bush and still have our own brown nosing PM. I wonder where it is leading this time.



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@Phil Perry - a real compelling read and insightful take on what happened and why.


Can't agree more - the basis for which going into Iraq the second time was less than tenuous and I don't think there were too many ordinary members of society who believed or felt justification of the whole saga. And, like your learned father, there were many commentators and ordinary citizens who knew, albeit probably intuitively rather than on the basis of any fact or experience, that the problems it would unleash were going to reverberate throughout the globe.


But a couple of things I would like to ask... why brand some of the lawyers who brought frivolous claims as left-wing? I think those that brough frivolous (or immaterial) claims were just sheysters - some would have been left an some would have been right. Any decent lawyer, regardless of their disposition, would progress only credible cases - unless they were sheysters. Obviously a lawyer challenging a law on their beliefs that the law is unjust is one thing, but bringing clearly frivolous cases is nothing to do with left, right, centre or LGBT leaning.... By the way, while the BBC and other "left" leaning media were criticising the "sexed-up" (aka falsified - why they never just called it that I will never know) - dossier, LBC (an example of right leaning media) were defending the virtues this and berating France for not wanting to take part. I guess I am tired of people taking a blaming abuses of the system, etc on left-leaning people in the absence of evidence thereof.


Secondly, just because Aus or the US don't have specific tribunals set up to deal with effectively war crimes doesn't mean it's not right to do so. As I understand, the US did set up an investigation to look into the Guantanamo abuse issues, for example. Like you say, there are systems and procedures in place to ensure the military weed out the nutters, but they do slip through. While I have never served, I have had a some time working with both the ADF and MOD about operational matters and believe that most I have come across accept they may have to perform tasks most of us would find difficult to do in the defence of the realm, but do not want to have to do it and almost see it as a last resort. However, there are a few that seemed to be otching to spray anything in sight with whatever munitions they may have (but thankfully didn't) have at their disposal. This is in no way different to normal society by the way.


Would I have an issue with an investigation into an incident in which, under some sort of siege or in the active theatre, personnel went overboard in ensuring their safety and achieving their goals? No. When your life and those of your comrades are under threat and you are acting under what is effectively governmental orders, only the more heinous acts should come under the microscope and probably through the military courts. But should some of the nutters that slipped through commit, say, serious crimes against unarmed civilians such as serious battery, murder, rape, arson, etc, then yes - I would support that being investigated regardless of the fact the perpetrators are currently posted thousands of miles away. I appreciate the pressure the armed forces are under even when the theatre is tempo dormant, but our armed forces and society should also be held vicariously liable for not providing the facilities and tools in place to help the front line deal with the pressure in anything other than destructive ways.


And while I am at it, there was so much wrong, as @Yenn pointed out, I still can't understand why messrs Blair, Bush, Howard and many other leaders who joined in haven't been in some way indicted. Just goes to show there is a law for some and a different law for others (why was Saddam not taken to the Hague to be tried and punished for his alleged war crimes?)


It is a dark moment in Western civilisation's history.



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Hi Jerry, I have no idea why the author used the term 'Left Wing Lawyers' either. Reflecting his own political bias ? . .it is fairly evident that he was either actually involved in the conflict, or is closely related to someone who was.


His stories about the Afghanistan conflict are so intensely detailed that he could well have been there too, even though these were presented as 'stories' rather than some sort of actual narrative of events as he saw them. Having said this, he is an excellent storyteller though, edge of the seat stuff in his earlier multi-part articles.


I'd also like to know why Colonel Muammar Ghadaffi was not taken to the Hague for his 'Crimes' also . . .he was certainly guilty of being a typical Arab strongman leader, as was Saddam, in keeping together a disparate collection of tribal peoples for so long. . .


I strongly echo your sentiments with regard to the 'One Law for Them - One for us' philosophy.



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