I don’t know about you but whenever I look at at a picture of “Slow Bob” Ainsworth our Defence Minister I come over all depressed, gloomy and worried. I’m not sure if it is just his hang-dog looks or the fact that our worst ever Prime Minister has picked such a waste of space to be in charge of our Armed Forces.
Anyway according to “Slow Bob” there was “gloom and worry” about the British death toll in Afghanistan as the seventh UK fatality in a week was announced.
But he insisted troops on the ground have a sense of momentum and rejected comparisons with the Vietnam conflict.
Mr Ainsworth said:
“There is, of course, gloom and worry back here in London with the numbers of people that we’ve lost. If people weren’t (worrying), there would be something seriously wrong with them. But when you go out to Afghanistan, as I did last weekend, there is a very real sense of momentum.”
“Slow Bob” then insisted the troops were clear about their mission and were making progress.
“There is no doubt in their minds a) that they are achieving something, and b) that they are there for a purpose and that purpose is – boil it down – to help the Afghans and to protect national security,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“There is no misunderstanding on their part that they are making progress, that they are there for a good cause. No doubt whatsoever.”
He said the Taliban’s abilities had been significantly “degraded” while the Afghan government was better able to “reach its own people“.
When it was put to him that the conflict was becoming “another Vietnam“, Mr Ainsworth said: “I don’t accept that. We have made considerable progress.”
Perhaps “Slow Bob” should have a look at some of the evidence presented to Parliament’s Defence Select Committee chaired by James Arbuthnott as recently as June 30th when Journalist and author Stephen Grey who has spent much time in both Iraq and Afghanistan and has just written the book “Operation Snakebite:The Explosive True Story of an Afghan Desert Siege“. The evidence obviously struck hard at the committee because the final summing up by the Chairman is as follows:
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Mr Grey, you said you were not as depressed as we were, but the reason we are depressed is what you have told us. The most discouraging thing we heard was from you, and the most encouraging thing we heard was also from you. Thank you all very much indeed for your evidence. It has been a extremely helpful. It is a bit like a dash of cold water on some of the evidence that we have heard in previous evidence sessions, so we are most grateful.
In the evidence Stephen Grey speaks about the Strategies and way we are going about fighting and bringing “peace” to both Afghanistan and Iraq. Some interesting quotes worth repeating are as follows:
On the general situation in Afghanistan:
Mr Grey: I have to say, I think we owe it to all those that are sacrificing themselves in Helmand, to be brutally frank about what is going on there and what is going wrong, because it is only with that frankness that I think certain things can be put right. From the perspective of those on the ground, I think the Comprehensive Approach has largely been a parody of reality.
On the Long term vs the Short Term
In some ways the problem about Iraq is that some of the lessons were learnt right at the end, but we were deployed into Helmand before, if you like, the lessons learned kicked in, and what you saw in Iraq was an enormous total lack of long-term planning where we made short-term deals with militias essentially to hand over great responsibility for the power structure to them. The fundamental lesson there was: do not put all the bad guys in power if you expect to win over the population, and, unfortunately, we repeated that mistake in Helmand, where we arrived to ally ourselves with a great deal of people who brought only disrespect to us from the population…
…. I think one of the key problems with the British approach has been these very short-term deployments and appointments which allow no continuity and joined-up effort over a long period of time. We have had commander after commander, very bright, but unable to get to grips with the problems before moving on, and Iraq was the epitome of that problem, where we had commanders of British forces in Basra some of whom were only there three months. It reflected a total apparent lack of interest in developing a long-term strategy.
On how soldiers are briefed to speak to VIP’s:
I remember in Iraq, when I was there last, which is 2006, I believe, the lines-to-take book had got up to 130 pages. I remember hearing soldiers being briefed for the visit of the Prime Minister, and they were choosing junior officers, certainly young soldiers, who would be in line to talk to the Prime Minister and what they should tell him. The whole thing seemed completely circular – basically politicians going out to be told what they wanted to hear.
Q213 Chairman: I am sorry, were you there for that briefing, or were you told about the briefing afterwards?
Mr Grey: I was there when I overheard discussions by staff in headquarters about how they planned to organise this Prime Minister’s visit.
Q213 Chairman: What you are telling us is that when the Prime Minister goes there he gets no ground truth; he gets some pre-organised line-to-take cooked up in advance by the Ministry of Defence?
Mr Grey: That is the objective of certain officials. Of course, I just add that there are soldiers who speak their mind regardless of any briefing they receive, but there is a tendency in that system certainly and people there who do try to cook up that sort of viewpoint.
A question from Madeleine Moon, Labour MP for Bridgend, who normally asks questions in Parliament about Furniture, Departmental Furniture, Biodiversity, Biological Diversity, Birds and Conservation:
Q213 Mrs Moon: Can I ask a very simple question. I just want a yes or no answer from you. We were told that UNSCR 1325 was part of the Comprehensive Approach that was being pushed forward throughout Afghanistan. Would you agree?
Mr Grey: I am afraid I am ignorant of what 1325 is.
Q214 Mrs Moon: It is about the closer involvement of women in political decision-making, peace-building and capacity-building.
Mr Grey: I think, at the sharp end, in the most insecure areas it is the last thing on most decision-makers’ minds.
What the point of this question is whilst members of the Armed Forces are losing their lives, I have no idea but it does go on a bit further in the transcript.
On using Intelligence and the Russians:
Mr Grey: I think the foundation of this is good intelligence, and finding out who you are dealing with is all very well, but if you have not got any intelligence, if you walk into a village with a suitcase of cash, you probably hand the money to the drug lord. I would say the biggest source of finance for the insurgency is actually NATO and its contacts, not any money coming from Al Qaeda or the Gulf or something like that, because we often deal with people who are corrupt. It does not mean there are not good people out there. The Russians had a very good idea. They educated thousands of people and brought them back. We do not seem to be doing that.
On overall scoring of the progress being made with the “Comprehensive Approach”:
Q213 Mrs Moon: The one thing we have not had from each of you gentlemen is where you see the Comprehensive Approach being now on that scale of one to ten. It would be helpful if you could give us your scale, but also where do we go from here? Can it be improved and, if so, how?
Q214 …Mrs Moon: Mr Grey?
Mr Grey: The score that Brigadier Butler gave was one, was it not?
Q215 Chairman: It was different. He said it was one and a half for NATO, but he was talking about NATO.
Mr Grey: If we said at the beginning it was one and a half on the Comprehensive Approach, I would say it is three now, so doubly as good but a long way off, or three as of last year, last spring, when I was probably best informed.
Q216 Mrs Moon: Are you talking about on the ground?
Mr Grey: Yes.
Q217 Mrs Moon: Others have told us six on the ground, but you put it at three.
On the Prime Ministers role in all this:
Mr Grey: I disagree, yes. As to the solutions, obviously there are many, but the only thing I would highlight is that at the moment the strategic commander of all UK agencies is the Prime Minister, and there is no other place where it comes together. I think that came out from your briefing from the permanent secretaries. So there was no-one in charge apart from the Prime Minister. I think the Prime Minister of Britain has got other things on his mind, and that is the real problem. So I think there needs to be someone, not quite a General Templer of Malaya who had full civilian powers dealing with a sovereign country, but there are so many agencies involved, so many countries involved here that Britain’s interests need to be combined into one role, an ambassador that combines the role of both military commander and civil commander.
So we have a generally depressing view on the Afghan situation but the telling point is there at the end when Stephen Grey says
I think the Prime Minister of Britain has got other things on his mind, and that is the real problem.
That is a theme I will likely develop over the next few days.
Matthew Parris has an article in the Times from Afghanistan on the sheer futility of it all. As he so rightly says:
In the fog, remember: victory is impossible in Afghanistan it’s easy to be blinded by the valiant effort, as well as the acronyms and euphemisms. But the harsh truth does not change
In it he looks at the language of our aims with the NGO-speak like
“Across the piece”, “agent for change”, “alternative livelihoods”, “asymmetric means of operation”, “capability milestones”, “civilian surge”, “conditionality”, “demand- reduction”, “drivers of radicalisation”, “fixed-wing assets”, “fledgeling capabilities”, “injectors of risk”, “kinetic situation”, “licit livelihoods”, “light footprint”, “lily pads”, “messaging campaign”, “partnering- and-mentoring”, “capacity-building”, “strategic review”, “reconciliation and reintegration”, “rolling out a top-down approach”, “shake — clear — hold — build”, “upskilling”.
These are as he says all just noise, the fog of the politicians war, it covers up the fact that people, our people, are dying for little or no reason.
Matthew Parris finishes with the following:
So take a look at the whole damn thing; see that occupying Afghanistan was a mistake; then close your mind to further argument or entreaty; because of argument and entreaty there will be no lack, but it will never be conclusive; and in the end we will have to decide. We must harden our hearts against this beautiful country and these handsome, noble, crazy people; and all the rest is noise.
I have just read this damning article in the Times and it just makes me so mad that we are, after 8 years in Afghanistan and with over 170 deaths of members of the Armed Forces, still stuck not knowing what we are really trying to do and how we are going achieve that aim.
The article is by a friend of Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe who was today returned to the UK for his funeral after being killed last week alongside one of his soldiers Trooper Joshua Hammond.
In the article Richard Holmes, who is Emeritus Professor of Military and Security Studies at Cranfield University and the author of Marlborough, Britain’s Greatest General and a friend of Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe explians why Rupert should not have died in Afghanistan, in short he says
If we can’t develop a coherent Afghanistan strategy, we should not be risking our soldiers’ lives
As he says
David Miliband recently affirmed: “What we are doing in Afghanistan is incredibly important. For the next three to five years it will dominate our foreign policy. It will be the defining issue for the next government.” Yet seldom has something so important actually been so poorly explained. Do we simply seek to keep the Taleban out, or to change the way that Afghanistan is ruled and to improve the lot of its people? Where do we stand over the poppy crop, women’s rights and governmental corruption? And are our aims achievable?
Please read the rest of the article to get a flavour of how bad our strategy is for Afghanistan.
Richard ends the article with the following poignant note:
Farewell, Rupert. May the dust lie light upon you, and may we use your example to apply ourselves better. And if we cannot, then we should not risk the lives of more brave men like you.
This week has been a sad week for the Armed Forces with the loss of six personnel either on active service or training.
Two RAF personnel were killed on training in Scotland. The two RAF air crew died after their low-flying jet crashed and exploded into flames during a training mission at a remote Scottish beauty spot. They were named as Flight Lieutenant Kenneth Thompson and Flight Lieutenant Nigel Morton, of 43 Squadron at RAF Leuchars, Fife Flt Lt Thompson, 27, was from the Glasgow area, and Flt Lt Morton, 43, was from Fife.
The aircraft was one of two RAF Leuchars-based Tornado F3s on a routine flight through Glen Kinglas, Argyll, when it disappeared at 11.45am yesterday. Witnesses said the planes appeared to have been flying much lower than usual before the jet plunged into the Rest and Be Thankful hill face, near the village of Arrochar, which was masked by thick cloud at the time. A stalker on the hills said visibility was poor due to heavy rain and mist.
Wing Commander David Hazell, the squadron’s commanding officer, said:
“Their deaths are a huge loss to the squadron and the Tornado F3 Force as a whole. However, it is nothing compared to that suffered by their families. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this dreadful time.”
Yesterday Flt Lt Thompson’s family said in a statement:
“Kenneth is from a military family background. He was passionate about his career in the RAF, his flying, and he loved life. We, the family, have lost our son and brother but take some comfort from the fact that he died doing what he loved – flying.”
The family of Flt Lt Morton, the weapons systems officer, said:
“Beloved father and husband, son, brother and son-in-law, respected by all who worked with him.”
Meanwhile in Afghanistan it has been a very sad week as fighting became very intensive with the continuation of allied operations. The third phase of operation Pan-chai Palang – Panther’s Claw – brought another 750 British and Afghan troops, including the Light Dragoons and the 2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment, into the fray. “There is a lot of close-quarters fighting at times,” said the MoD spokesman. “The insurgents are just metres away. Our boys are using their full array of weaponry, at times hurling hand-grenades into positions to flush out the enemy.
Two members of the Armed Forces were killed on Wednesday when their their Viking personnel carrier was blown apart by a roadside bomb.
Col Thorneloe, who was commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, and Trooper Hammond, from the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, died near Lashkar Gah when an improvised explosive device was detonated under their Viking armoured vehicle. They had been part of a resupply convoy heading towards troops engaged in hostile territory. According to the Times
In the baking heat and dust of Afghanistan last week Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe was heading into hostile territory to check on his men engaged in a big operation against the Taliban. He was riding in the front passenger seat of a Viking BVS10, a tracked vehicle with two cabins, originally designed for Arctic combat. The air-conditioning is poor and the armour not much better. Vikings are protected on the upper side but vulnerable to bombs exploding below.In other circumstances, Thorneloe, a senior officer with 1,000 men under his command, would have travelled by helicopter; but it appears none was available (though yesterday the Ministry of Defence declined to confirm or deny this).
“He wanted to get up among his boys at the first possible opportunity,” said an MoD spokesman. “A resupply convoy was going up there and he hitched a lift on that.” The commander, he said, wanted to “get the lie of the land” in the offensive against insurgents.
As the Viking approached a canal crossing, it passed over a hidden IED – improvised explosive device – which destroyed the front cab. Thorneloe and the driver, Trooper Joshua Hammond, died instantly. Back at base, Major Martyn Miles, one of Thorneloe’s senior officers, heard the news over the radio.
“Details began to come over the network and many couldn’t believe it at first,” said Miles, 49, from Boston, Lincolnshire. Thorneloe, 39, was a well-respected officer who led from the front. But the headquarters and especially the men on the ground dealt with the situation with the utmost professionalism,” said Miles. “Our first thoughts were to do as much as we could for everyone who was in the vehicle when it struck the IED.”
Six other soldiers in the Viking were wounded by the explosion, two seriously.
In the Telegraph there is an article worth reading about why these two men and their six comrades should not have been killed or injured. In it Christopher Booker hasthis to say:
Of course, the deaths in Afghanistan of Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe and his driver Trooper Joshua Hammond are heart-rending. But what makes them even more shocking, along with the serious injuries inflicted on six others when their Viking personnel carrier was blown apart by a roadside bomb, is that this tragedy could have been averted and should never have happened.
Once again it exposes the series of truly scandalous decisions by the Ministry of Defence that British soldiers should continue to travel around a highly dangerous country in vehicles not designed to give protection against roadside bombs.
And finally, at the end of a sad week, we have the news of the deaths of two further men in Afghanistan. According to the Times
In the latest incident, a soldier from The Light Dragoons was killed by an explosion while he was on foot, and in a separate incident, a soldier from the 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment died when he was hit during a rocket-propelled grenade attack against his armoured reconnaissance vehicle. Vikings were not involved in either of these incidents.
The Light Dragoon battle group which is now based at Camp Bastion in central Helmand, after being withdrawn from Garmsir in the south, is engaged in a “clearing” operation against the Taleban in the volatile town of Babaji which is five miles north of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, and south of Gereshk.
Soldiers from 2 Mercian are serving in the battle group. The Light Dragoons moved up to Camp Bastion, the main British base in Helmand, when 4,000 US Marines took over their previous operating area in Garmsir.
The deaths of the two soldiers brought the total number of British fatalities in Afghanistan to 173.
This year has also seen one of the highest number of deaths recorded in the first six months since the operation in Helmand began in 2006. Thirty-six soldiers and Royal Marines have been killed so far this year.
Lieutenant-Colonel Nick Richardson, spokesman for the British Task Force in Helmand, said: “The loss of these soldiers and colleagues has come as a huge blow to us all.” Next of kin have been informed.
Very sad news and it further highlights how the fighting in Afghanistan is escalating. My thoughts are with all the families and friends of those killed and injured in the past week and hoping that all those fighting and training to keep us safe are themselves safe in the coming weeks.
The third phase of operation Pan-chai Palang – Panther’s Claw – brought another 750 British and Afghan troops, including the Light Dragoons and the 2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment, into the fray. “There is a lot of close-quarters fighting at times,” said the MoD spokesman. “The insurgents are just metres away. Our boys are using their full array of weaponry, at times hurling hand-grenades into positions to flush out the enemy.
Please listen to this update on the terrible Afghanistan situation and the depths the Defence budget is sinking to at the moment. Paddy says the situation in Afghanistan is extremely bad and getting worse. He details the fact that this year we lost 12 members of our Armed Forces in May versus 3 in 2008. The USA lost 70 personnel in the same time. Also the fact the we have divisions in the alliance about how we are tackling the problem. If it was not for MP’s expenses this would and should be Front Page news every day.
According to Paddy we may shortly have one option and that is containment. Our Defence budget is apparently so bad, according to Paddy, that both Labour and Conservatives will not talk about it for fear of exposing how much it is overspent. Paddy says it is about 9 billion pounds per year on a budget of 36 billion. If this is true it means that we now have a Defence Ministry in Crisis and we have the lickspittle “slow Bob” Ainsworth supposedly in charge, this is the stuff of nightmares.
We must do more for our Armed Forces and in particular we must make sure their sacrifices in Afghanistan are not in vain. Containment is not what we should be seeking, we must do better and come up with a joint strategy that deals with the Afghanistan position, we cannot just hope to sweep this story under the carpet and leave it to fester, we must attack it head on and ensure that our Armed Forces are supported and funded properly and that we and our allies have a path forward that ensures a successful outcome in Afghanistan.
Here are some extracts from the Interview.
Lord Ashdown said that the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating and had become “extremely bad” both in terms of the military and political position.
“I’ve been watching the situation very, very closely. I think it’s now extremely bad, I think the dynamic is now accelerating against us,’ he said.
He warned that there were divisions within the alliance at the strategy of forces there had become a “laughing stock” on the ground.
“The policy of take and hold and build is basically a laughing stock because we’re not taking anything really except a few kilometres from our bases,” he said.
“The soldiers are as always doing a magnificent job, but there are divisions in the alliance,” he added warning of “serious concerns, even criticism, in Washington about the lack of offensive spirit of British forces”.
Lord Ashdown also said that the military strategy needed to be backed up with a political strategy in Afghanistan, warning that an increase in troop numbers would accomplish little on its own.
He warned that the country was facing a ‘political crisis’ as the Taliban were gaining from the unpopularity of President Hamid Karzai, who he claimed had “hoodwinked” his western backers by seeking re-election,.
“I don’t think he has the support among his own people,” he said. “They will turn more likely to the Taliban for the support if he does get re-elected”.
Four families of servicemen killed in Snatch Land Rovers in Iraq and Afghanistan are to sue the Ministry of Defence, the BBC has learned.
They claim the vehicles are too lightly armoured to cope with the weapons used against them and that the MoD was negligent in allowing their use.
However, the MoD maintains the vehicles are vital equipment and suitable for the jobs they must perform.
Since 2003, some 37 UK personnel have been killed while using the vehicles.
It has been obvious for some time that many of the vehicles that have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan were not “fit for purpose”. Why, as the MOD says they are “suitable”, are there still members of our Armed Forces being killed in them. If they were “suitable” there would have been few, if any, deaths.
Last year, the then Defence Secretary, John Hutton, ruled out a public inquiry into their use and announced plans to spend £700m on new, upgraded vehicles. Let us see if his “unfit for pupose” replacement “slow bob” Ainsworth has any better ideas. We may be waiting some time.