The Afghan Papers: Committing Britain to War in Helmand, 2005-06 (WHP 77)
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The Afghan Papers: Committing Britain to War in Helmand, 2005-06 (WHP 77)

Whitehall Paper, 8 Dec 2011 By, Professor Michael Clarke, Valentina Soria

In 2006, British forces entered the Helmand Province of Afghanistan in what would become one of the defining military campaigns of the decade. At great cost in blood and treasure, the UK waged a protracted counter-insurgency against a resurgent Taliban.

But how was the decision taken to commit Britain to such a difficult and drawn-out campaign? This question looms large as government and military heed the call for a more coherent, strategic approach to British defence policy. The Afghan Papers assesses the key dynamics that shaped the campaign from 2005: the initial grand strategic and subsequent operational decisions; the NATO and alliance context, in particular Canada and its Kandahar deployment; the civil-military plan and the 'comprehensive approach'; as well as the workings of the Whitehall machinery and the drivers of national strategy, viewed from the inside.

The Afghan Papers is the result of private interviews with and frank analysis by some of the most important actors in the fateful decision. Scholars, policymakers from government and military officers contribute to an original RUSI analysis that provides a first, trenchant insight into the decision to commit the UK to a war that may define British policy for a generation.

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Michael Clarke

The Helmand Decision
Michael Clarke

A Tale of Flawed 'Comprehensiveness': The Joint Plan for Helmand
Valentina Soria

Canada in Regional Command South: Alliance Dynamics and National Imperatives
Matthew Willis

UK National Strategy and Helmand
Robert Fry and Desmond Bowen

Afghanistan and the Context of Iraq
Nick Beadle

Michael Clarke

About the Authors

Nick Beadle is a former Private Secretary to successive Secretaries of State for Defence and a cross-Whitehall senior adviser on policy for operations. He led the Cabinet Office Afghanistan/Pakistan Strategy and Communications teams, 2008-10, and served in Baghdad, 2004-05, as the coalition’s Senior Adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence. He has also worked in No. 10 and the Foreign Office, and on NATO, European Union and UN policy. Most recently he was attached to the National Security Secretariat on the British government’s response to the Libya uprising.

Desmond Bowen is a retired senior civil servant, working over the last decade variously in NATO HQ, the Cabinet Office and Ministry of Defence. He retired as the ministry’s director general for security policy in 2008. He is now a member of the UN secretary General’s Advisory Board on disarmament matters, a visiting professor at Reading University and the Staff Counsellor for the security and intelligence services.

Professor Michael Clarke is currently the Director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies. Until July 2007, he was the Deputy Vice-Principal and Director of Research Development at King’s College London, where he remains a Visiting Professor of Defence Studies. He was the founding Director of the International Policy Institute at King’s College London from 2001-05 and Head of the School of Social Science and Public Policy at the university in 2004-05. He was, from 1990 to 2001, the founding Director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s. He was appointed as Professor of Defence Studies in 1995. He has been Senior Specialist Adviser to the House of Commons Defence Committee since 1997, having served previously with the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, 1995-97. In 2009 he was appointed to the Prime Minister’s National Security Forum in pursuit of the new National Security Strategy, and in 2009 was also appointed to the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Strategic Advisory Pane.

Sir Robert Fry is chairman of McKinney Rogers, a global business execution consultancy. He is also an adviser to a number of other companies in the banking and security sectors. He is a visiting professor at Reading University, a visiting fellow at Oxford and occasional columnist for the business press. He is a trustee of Help for Heroes and of RUSI. Before business, his military career included posts such as the Commandant General of the Royal Marines, Director of Operations in the MoD and deputy commanding general of coalition forces in Iraq.

Valentina Soria is a research analyst at RUSI, where she works in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Programme. She analyses and assesses the terrorist threat to the UK and its potential implications for national security. Her other research work also includes military affairs and defence policy issues. She is a PhD candidate at Reading University; her research focuses on the transformation of Italian and UK defence posture after the end of the Cold War, and looks to explore the importance of differing conceptions of role in shaping national defence policies.

Matthew Willis is a Research Associate in the International Security Studies Department at RUSI. NATO’s campaign in southern Afghanistan, and in particular the interplay between Alliance and national policies, has been among his longstanding research interests. He is also RUSI’s lead researcher on historical, political and commercial trends in the Arctic, with a particular interest in the policies of the coastal states. Matthew completed his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Toronto, where his dissertation examined Canadian Arctic foreign policy in a historical perspective. He also studied at the Sorbonne and completed his Master’s at the London School of Economics.

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