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26 Aug 09. British troops need clearer direction in Afghanistan and Iraq, says academic study. A Kingston University study highlighting a crisis in UK-US military relations says that the current British “hearts and minds” approach to war has little meaning anymore and may have become largely a public relations stunt. Tensions between the British and American forces due to their different approaches to war are leading to confusion for troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new report. Hearts and Minds? British Counterinsurgency from Malaya to Iraq, which introduces a special issue of the Journal of Strategic Studies, states that in Iraq while the US followed a more aggressive conventional military approach, the British sought to win over the “hearts and minds” of the populations with minimum force – but that it is far from clear what this concept means as one soldier’s interpretation of “minimum force” may be very different to another’s. The situation on the ground is “highly ambiguous”, according to the report.
The editor and lead author, Paul Dixon, a Reader in Politics and International Studies at Kingston University, suggests that military leaders on both sides of the Atlantic should stop viewing military operations as simply “hearts-and-minds” versus conventional warfare, and called for a full and frank debate on exactly what military actions are justifiable and in what circumstances. “This should also include discussion on the accountability of soldiers as well as their rights,” Dr Dixon said. “The future may be to more carefully and practically specify in what contexts and circumstances the deployment of force is legitimate.”
The concept of ‘hearts and minds’ was first used by Sir Gerald Templar when discussing Britain’s counter-insurgency in Malaya (1948-60) but the report argues that the term did not accurately reflect the level of force used in the Malaya campaign and the resulting human rights abuses. The report questions whether the concept of “hearts and minds” is currently of any practical use in operations, as it can be interpreted so widely. “To what extent is it a realistic guide to operations? Is it just a public relations device to cover the realities of war and win domestic and international support?” Dr Dixon asked. “It becomes a means of justifying current operations to a variety of audiences rather than a guide to their conduct. Domestic political and public opinion is protected from the brutal realities of counter-insurgency in order to sustain support.”