In This Review

The Changing of the Guard: The British Army Since 9/11
The Changing of the Guard: The British Army Since 9/11
By Simon Akam
Scribe, 2021, 704 pp

The British army’s experience of the Iraq war began with dissatisfaction with a role that it did not feel was commensurate with its contribution and ended with humiliation. The army got bogged down fighting a Shiite militia in Basra with which they eventually had to cut a deal. British forces were spared further embarrassment only when they were able to help defeat the militia by participating in a 2008 battle referred to as Operation Charge of the Knights, which was initiated by the Iraqi government and backed by the Americans. Well before that, British senior commanders had tried to retrieve the army’s reputation by taking a major role in Afghanistan, but that did not go much better. Drawing on some 260 interviews (including one with me), Akam, a journalist who himself spent a year serving in the British army, recounts the story of these difficult years with candor, great detail, and occasional indignation, bemoaning the harm done to the institution by class tensions, alcohol, and unaccountable officers who made poor tactical choices in pursuit of often incoherent strategies. Akam makes no claim to be balanced, and this is a dense and at times undisciplined book. But much of what he writes rings true, and all told, it makes for a valuable and salutary read.