Plausible Deniability in Afghanistan

Two stories from two different sources show how the war in Afghanistan is now being fought on a Plausible Deniability basis .

First we have from EUReferendum more on a  story which I highlighted last month about dodgy firms being contracted indirectly by the MOD. This allows the the UK government to  plausibly deny as the AP report states

Intermediaries such as Toronto-based Skylink Aviation often handle the actual subleasing for NATO forces, giving governments an element of “plausible deniability,” these experts say. The Fluor Corporation, a Texas-based company providing logistical back-up to U.S. military operations, said Skylink provided the Vertikal-T helicopter that most recently crashed in Afghanistan. The helicopter was transporting contractors on behalf of Fluor. Vertikal-T’s reputation is as the “hot zone provider of choice,” said Mark Galeotti, a military and organized crime expert at New York University. “If you want a pretty professional but slightly cowboyish outfit that doesn’t mind flying into war zones, doesn’t mind taking off from unsurfaced runways, then Vertikal-T now seems to be the front runner,” he said.

The second story is from Subrosa who highlights another story of Plausible Deniability. As Subrosa says

Did you know we supply the Taliban with free bomb making materials? The fertiliser for agricultural projects is brought from Pakistan and we probably pay a ‘tax’ to the Taliban to ensure its safe arrival. Then we give it to the Taliban.I’m also very reliably informed that to get supplies to British troops from across the Pakistan border, the transport contractors have to pay the Taliban a ‘tax’ for safe passage. This is built into the price we pay the contractor. My source states: We do not pay direct… in order to maintain “plausible deniability“.

So a war which we are supposedly fighting on High Moral issues is continuing to be fought on the basis of Plausible Deniability. Surely this is not right.

ER-MCV: Update – Ainsworth admits it was carrying our Supplies

Mi-26T, registration ER-MCV
Mi-26T, registration ER-MCV

Finally true to his name “Slow Bob” Ainswoth admits that ER-MCV the MI-26T helicopter that went down on 14th July was carrying supplies for the British Forces.

Ann Winterton (Congleton, Conservative)

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what supplies were lost when the Mi-26T helicopter carrying supplies to a British base in Afghanistan crashed on 14 July 2009; and of what nationality the crew members of that helicopter were.

Bob Ainsworth (Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence; Coventry North East, Labour)

The Mi-26T helicopter was carrying non-sensitive cargo, including food and fuel, when it crashed. The crew members were Ukrainian.

Perhaps the next questions should be has it or any of its sister craft been tasked with carrying troops and at what cost were the Ukranians bribed into operating this helicopter in such a dangerous area.

Will we also be paying compensation to the families of the Ukrainian crew and how can we ensure that the next time this occurs no civilian lives are lost by operating helicopters in this manner?

Also as a parting shot, why are we employing directly or indirectly dodgy companies that have been implicated in many scams over the past 10 years in many of the worlds trouble spots and whose safety record is not exactly up to scratch thus endangering both service personnel and Afghan civilians.

Afghanistan: Peacekeeping Operations: 20 Jul 2009: Written answers and statements (

ER-MCV: Daily Mail begin to Cotton on

Begging a lift: A borrowed Mi-8 in Afghanistan
Begging a lift: A borrowed Mi-8 in Afghanistan

A Borrowed or actually technically a leased Mi-8 helicopter tales off from Lashkar Gar. This is the Picture at the top of a Daily Mail article that tells us the public that we are borrowing Russian Helicopters. Amazingly Associated Newspapers have been on this blog a number of times in the past week so they should have a good idea of the story.  I would assume they have in particular have been crawling all over the Defence of the Realm and EUReferendum blogs as they have been investigating and highlighting this issue for months.

They seemed to have missed out saying that one of the big brothers of the Mi-8, the Mi-26 crashed last Tuesday just after taking off from the British base at Sangin, presumably after delivering supplies, killing the six Ukranian crew and one Afghan civilian. No mention either on how dodgy the company is that leases these helicopters.

It just points out how bad our procurement of supplies for the Armed Forces is, how truly wasteful and how it is causing the deaths of Armed Forces personnel in Afghanistan as they wait to get the proper equipment.

If you want a good explanation of this have a look here at the Defence of the Realm blog and see how we are paying way over the odds for our helicopters and are taking truly awful decisions.

Now we are borrowing Russian helicopters to fight the Taliban | Mail Online.

Attention MOD: MI-26 – Russian helicopters for sale

MI-26 for Sale

Just in case the MOD is in need of a replacement MI-26, you can buy one here.

Actually you can buy 3-4 with  no problem at all with delivery in 3-6 months. More details below:

Helicopter Mi-26: BUYING NEW

First of all, we need you to prepare and send to us a Letter of

Intent to buy new Mi-26 helicopters.

It should contain (on your company letterhead) stamped the following.

– Brief description of your company /  purchaser

– Confirmation of interest in purchase

– Quantity and modification of helicopters requested

– Time frame for delivery

– Payment condition

– Delivery condition ( by air/by sea )

– Warranty needed

– Any other requirement

You can send by PDF file.

Production cycle usually takes three to six months for three or four Mi-26 helicopters although this may be dependant on production scheduleat the moment. External sling loads, any other units needed for quick changing between Passengers and Cargo can of course be included and customized to meet with your requirements.

Advance payment can only be agreed in Moscow during negotiation with the manufacturer.

Russian helicopters for sale.

Sir Jock Stirrup Says Helicopter Shortage Causing Casualties

‘Lack Of Choppers Hurting’

The head of the UK’s Armed Forces has admitted to Sky News that a shortage of helicopters is causing casualties on the ground in southern Afghanistan. Sir Jock Stirrup had just delivered a ‘shopping list’ of British troop requirements to Downing Street.

It will be hurting even more after the loss of ER-MCV the more than slightly dodgy Skylink Aviation MI-26 helicopter leased to the MOD. As Sir Jock says operating helicopters in Afghanistan can be a tricky business, especially if they are unarmed and unescorted in an Active area. More on ER-MCV here and here.

Sir Jock Stirrup Chief Of Defence Staff Says Helicopter Shortage Causing Casualties In Afghanistan – Sky News Video Player.

ER-MCV: EU Referendum: Brown envelopes galore

ER-MCV at Lashkar Gar
ER-MCV at Lashkar Gar

This post by EU Referendum says what I have been thinking and looking at over the past few days. The operation creep is  worrying, had it started to become about moving troops as well? Did that happen, was it about to happen, will we ever know? Secrecy abounds.

The worry about attacks on Chinooks will be an ever present, what  it show is that the Taliban are looking for a big bit of Propaganda.

If you want to read about the dodginess of SkyLink try this article from Fox News

When it was raised in Parliament yesterday by the redoubtable Ann Winterton – the ONLY MPs who raised the embarrassing report of a British-chartered helicopter ferrying military supplies to a British base getting shot down by the Taliban, Miliband and Ainsworth did NOT want to talk about it. The full exchange is here.

Of course, there is every reason why they should not want to be up front. Not only was the prime contractor Skylink subcontracting the work to dodgy Moldovan gun-runners – in breach of the contract requirements – the Moldovans were subcontracting the operating of the aircraft to an equally dodgy Ukrainian outfit, which explains why six of their number were killed.

Moreover, as more details come in, it is now very clear that this was a deliberate Taleban ambush, mounted directly under the noses of the British, aimed at bringing down a Chinook – one of the main strategic aims of the Taleban. The unfortunate Mi-26 happened to wander along, in company with an Mi-8 MTV. Both took fire and the Mi-26 bought it. Bad luck on the Ukranian crew and bad luck for the Taleban. They wanted an RAF Chinook, and will keep trying until they get one.

As for Skylink, this is an aviation company that has no aircraft. It specialises in supplying aircraft in war zones for the UN and other tranzies like the EU, for NGOs and any shady outfit that happens to be passing with a dodgy cargo it wants moved in a hurry. It buys contracts top dollar, with brown envelopes passing freely. It is so corrupt that even the UN blew it out, until it bought its way back into favour by greasing the right palms.

The company then subs out the work down the chain to dodgy Moldavians, Ukrainians and the rest, mostly operating clapped-out ex-Soviet hardware with safety certificates that owe more to photoshop than they do any certifying authority, their aircraft banned from any and all Western airspace. These outfits work as a group, sharing and swapping assets when they get outed, forming and reforming companies, appearing and disappearing, and cropping up with new names and the same aircraft just as frequently.

These are the people that are working for the MoD, the contract carefully laundered through Nato to give plausible deniability, thus avoiding a Tory and media uproar when it was learned that the MoD was hiring dodgy ex-Soviet choppers to make up for capacity shortfalls.

The trouble was that the original arrangement was that the aircraft should serve the transport hub between Kandahar and Bastion. They were not permitted to fly into FOBs – that is military airspace, from which they were to be excluded.

However, once there, the mission creep set in and, with the desperate shortage of lift, the brief was extended to the aircraft uplifting into the FOBs like Sangin. The Ukrainians, desperate for cash, were squared off with generous bonuses and thus agreed to fly into hot war zones, where even RAF Chinooks will only fly with Apache escorts.

The MoD was happy, being able to release Chinooks and Apaches for operations, Skylink was happy with the extra hours and the bonuses, and the Ukrainians at the sharp end needed the money anyway. And hey! They are expendable.

As long as the contract was piggy-backed off Nato, and thus totally deniable, no one had to be told and everyone kept schtum … including the Tories. And now, no one wants to talk about it. Says Ainsworth: “I do not want to trespass on to operational details.” You bet he doesn’t.

As for the Tories, having decided to make “helicopters” their cause celebre, the last thing they want to know is that the Taleban are parking outside the gates of British bases, waiting for an opportunity to down a Chinook. Rather shoots the Fox – to coin a phrase – about more helicopters saving lives.

So goes the conspiracy of silence. The British media … forget it. E-mails from special advisors? MPs’ expenses? Dead safe … nay problem. If you look too deep here, you don’t live.

Thanks  Richard saved me a nights work!

EU Referendum: Brown envelopes galore.

ER-MCV: Update on Status – Why all the Secrecy

ER-MCV at Lashkar Gar
ER-MCV at Lashkar Gar

A big problem I have with the crash of Helicopter ER-MCV and the loss of six Ukranian Crew and one Afghan civilian is why is there such secrecy about the deployment of this helicopter in Afghanistan?

The helicopter and its two stablemates have been operating for our Armed Forces in Afghanistan for some time and in addition Canada has on lease some six helicopters from the same company which they advertise quite openly. So why are we shrouding it all in secrecy?

Yesterday in Parliament Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): asked

Will the Secretary of State confirm whether the helicopter that is believed to have been shot down earlier this week, with the loss of eight lives, was a NATO helicopter, or was directly leased, if that is the right word, by the United Kingdom? I understand that it was a supply helicopter, and the insurgents may well have believed that it was a Chinook.

David Miliband: replied

I think that the hon. Lady is referring to the six Ukrainians who lost their lives when their helicopter was shot down earlier this week. I do not want to trespass on to operational details. I think that it would be better if we considered what we are able to say publicly about that incident, and then referred to the matter at the end of the debate. There is some information, but it does not quite tally with what she suggested. I suggest that we seriously take on board her inquiry, but right hon. and hon. Members will know that there are good reasons why we do not go into details here.

So why all the secrecy?

Onto the end of the debate.  Ann Winterton: asked

Is the right hon. Gentleman able to answer the question that I posed to the Foreign Secretary at the outset of this debate about the helicopter that had been contracted to the British?

Mr. Ainsworth: replied

We suffered the loss of a contract helicopter in the north of Helmand province and there were deaths as a result of that. I will write to the hon. Lady and give her more detail on it if she wants. I know that she often raises the issue of vehicles and that she has had a long-standing interest in the subject. People continue to say that there is a huge problem with vehicles. We have a suite of vehicles now, including Mastiff, Ridgback and Jackal. We also have the new tactical support vehicles—Wolfhound, Husky and Coyote—coming into province. It is cruel to pretend to those who have lost their lives that we will be able to stop our people dying by providing more helicopters or a suite of vehicles. Many Members have said that this afternoon, however. Even if we can get to the point where every single vehicle is available in every single location the length and breadth of the Helmand province for every operation, from time to time people will have to get out of those vehicles. They have to make contact with the people; they have to walk among them and win them over. That is dangerous work and it is cruel to pretend that we can remove the danger from the job that we ask our people to do.

So again why all the secrecy? What are we hiding?

Maybe the key to answer is in what was said in the article linked to above about the six helicopters leased by the Canadians from SkyLink Aviation. In the article it says that according to Colonel Christopher Coates, Joint Task Force – Afghanistan Air Wing Commander,  the addition of this new capability will

“get Canadians off the roads here in Afghanistan where they are exposed to all the dangers of this country – ambushes and IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and the other things that all Canadians are aware of.”

Maybe this why there is all the secrecy, perhaps it is the embarrassment at having to admit that with extra capability we can reduce the danger to our Armed Forces in Afghanistan.

Then again maybe there’s even more to it than that. Time will maybe tell.

House of Commons Hansard Debates for 16 July 2009 (pt 0011).

Search for Skylink (


Results 1-5 of 5 for skylink

Written Answers — Defence: Military Aircraft (20 Apr 2009)
John Hutton: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave on 25 March 2009, Official Report, column 424W. The UK currently supplements the NATO ISAF Contracted Air Transport with a national contract through SkyLink Aviation.

Written Answers — Defence: Afghanistan: Peacekeeping Operations (25 Mar 2009)
John Hutton: The Ministry of Defence uses helicopters provided by SkyLink Aviation through the NATO ISAF Contracted Air Transport (ICAT) contract to move freight. During periods of peak activity the UK supplements the NATO ICAT with a national contract providing medium and heavy helicopter lift.

Written Answers — Defence: Afghanistan: Peacekeeping Operations (17 Jun 2008)
Liam Fox: …operations, for what reasons his Department changed supplier for civilian air transport for the International Security Assistance Force in southern Afghanistan from the Mesopotamia Group to Skylink.

Written Answers — Defence: Afghanistan: Peacekeeping Operations (2 Jun 2008)
Des Browne: The company providing the new contract is Skylink. UK troops have never flown in the aircraft provided. The contract continues to be funded from NATO common funding and the UK continues to contribute a 12 per cent. share to that funding. Currently all assets used by the contractor have been rotary wing.

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport: Nottingham City (24 May 2005)
Graham Allen: …as possible to see the large increase in the numbers of people using public transport in our city. I should be pleased to meet him at the Nottingham East Midlands airport, where he could use the Skylink bus service, part of our integrated transport system, which has had a threefold increase in usage. When he does that, will he also consider whether the kick-start bus support grant could be…

Search for skylink (

Wired.Com: Chopper Shoot-Down Reveals Deeper Flaws in Afghanistan Ops

Story is now beginning to get out onto the more mainstream media.

A heavy-lift helicopter, contracted by NATO, was shot down by the Taliban on Tuesday near the town of Sangin, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Reports indicate a rocket-propelled grenade brought down the 30-ton, Moldovan Mi-26 chopper (pictured, above), the biggest operational model in the world. All six Ukrainian crew died — and an Afghan child was crushed to death by the falling debris.

The incident would be tragic, all on its own. But details that have surfaced, in the shoot-down’s wake, add political controversy to the human tragedy.

Civilian choppers don’t have all of the sophisticated self-defense equipment that helps protect military aircraft — nor do their crews always use the right defensive tactics. But NATO has no choice to but to rely on the unprotected aircraft. [And in this particular case, it’s possible no amount of protective gear would’ve helped. Helos don’t have much defense against RPGs — ed.] A chronic shortage of suitable NATO choppers means the alliance contracts a large proportion of its front-line air logistics to civilian firms. When I was at the Dutch base in Uruzgan in 2007, a civilian Mi-26 was a regular visitor, alongside U.S. C-130s and Dutch CH-47 Chinooks.

The chopper shortage breeds desperation. NATO has been known to do business with less-than-seemly companies, many of them based in Eastern Europe. British journalist Richard North points out that the destroyed chopper’s operator, Pecotox Air, has been banned from European airspace, due to safety violations — and has also been implicated in a weapons smuggling probe. The shot-down Mi-26 was reportedly hovering over Sangin to deliver “humanitarian aid,” despite major fighting in the area for three weeks now. North believes the humanitarian claim is a front — that the Mi-26 was actually delivering supplies to a British base when it was hit, but the British government wants to distance itself from Pecotox, and from the broader lack of helicopters.

The chopper shoot-down is the latest blow to the U.S. and NATO’s ongoing effort to supply the swelling ranks of foreign troops in mountainous, land-locked Afghanistan. Taliban fighters routinely torch truck convoys entering the country from Pakistan, and Kyrgyzstan successfully demanded more money and more restrictions for allowing the U.S. to keep using a major air hub at Manas air base.

With potentially tens of thousands of new troops headed to Afghanistan in coming months, the coalition’s logistical needs will only grow. For that reason, both the British and Canadian governments are buying new and upgraded helicopters. And U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has injected hundreds of millions of dollars into the Army, to boost the numbers of chopper crews for Afghanistan.

Chopper Shoot-Down Reveals Deeper Flaws in Afghanistan Ops | Danger Room |

EU Referendum: Was it British?


EU Referendum has picked up on my earlier post and goes a bit further.

It is also possible that another company is doing the same sort of lease to the MOD, more details (possibly) later. EU’s post in full follows:

From here, speculation that ER-MCV was under contract to the MoD as an asset not declared to Nato. It may, therefore, have been working solely for the British.

The contract, according to this source, was for logistical resupply only. UK and Nato troops were not authorised to fly on the aircraft without ballistic protection and self protection suites. This asset strictly moved cargo, supplied largely by British Forces.

The asset and contract is said to have been managed in theatre by SkyLink Aviation. According to this presentation, the MoD has a charter arrangement for two Mi-8 MTVs and one Mi-26.

The caveat that troops were not authorised to fly on the helicopter(s) without protection suggests that troops may have been lifted on occasions and, therefore, this time it could have been a matter of luck that none were on board.

If this is true, the notoriously secretive MoD has struck again. When the Canadians decided to hire Mi-8 MTVs, they were completely open about the intent, thus answering critics about the shortfall of lift capacity.

Given the pressure Brown has been under – and still is – one further wonders why he did not declare the use of these machines which, cumulatively, add 28 tons to capacity, nearly equivalent to three Chinooks.

Of course, by Wednesday’s PMQs, he would have known the fate of ER-MCV and the speculation that it had been shot down, plus the history of the machine and its primary operator, could have proved a tad embarrassing had the Tories raised it – given that they knew.

There is such a thing, however, as a “Privy Councillor’s” briefing, where senior opposition members are briefed in confidence and given secret material, on the condition that it is not disclosed. Cameron could have known the background, therefore – although we should not bank on it – in which case he would have been constrained from raising it.

On the other hand, it is known (don’t ask) that the Tories have been opposed to leasing civilian capacity in theatre, and it is quite possible that the MoD has been withholding information on this charter deal simply to avoid political controversy, not least fallout when (as now appears to have happened) a machine crashed. The Tory view is that all effort should be provided by the RAF with MoD-owned assets.

Either way, the information emerging seems to point to this being a British supply helicopter (in the sense that it was working for the British), which was shot down on its approach to a British base, possibly in circumstances that the Taleban were trying for an RAF Chinook.

That the Taleban presence was such that they were able to mount (an apparently successful) attack on a helicopter under the noses of the British suggests a degree of strength, one the one hand, and a degree of vulnerability on the other, that should inform the current debate

But the questions also remain as to why the British were relying on an aircraft operated by a company which had been banned from flying in EU member state airspace on safety grounds, and which has been associated with arms trafficking. on helicopter usage in Afghanistan.

EU Referendum: Was it British?.