Thursday, 16 December 2010

A Harrier replacement

Much weeping and gnashing of teeth attends the premature retirement of the Harrier force. Those of us with longer memories, though, will recall that the original justification for the aircraft (in the ground attack role) was that its V/STOL capability allowed it to be deployed closer to the FEBA (Forward Edge of the Battle Area). The high sortie rate - attendant on the short transit time - thus compensated for the poor load-carrying capability and the limited range.

Latterly, the aircraft has been used to salve wounded pride in Afghanistan, where the vast preponderance of close air support has been provided by the Americans. Based at Kandahar, where facilities were fairly primitive, the Harrier was able to operate from the air base, in the space left by the Americans, when our heavier aircraft (such as the Tornado) could not, without considerable expenditure on infrastructure.

Nothing of this, however, makes up for the fact that the Harrier retains its limited load-carrying capability, and limited range. This, plus the fact that it is inordinately expensive to operate and highly manpower intensive, makes it a far from ideal aircraft.

On the other hand, the A-6 /Tucano B-2 option offers a better load/range/endurance combination than the Harrier. These aircraft are vastly cheaper to operate and, although not capable of vertical landing, they do have a significant short-field capability and can operate from unprepared strips. In many respects, therefore, this aircraft type could be a useful Harrier replacement.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

March of the euroslime

What is incredible is how blatant it all is, and how easily they lie through their teeth as they "insist" that this will not give the European Union a role in Britain's defence policy. Despite their denials, the great greasy-pole merchant Liam Fox - so ambitious he would sell his mother for a farthing if it bought preferment - has sold us out to the forces of European integration, cosying up to his euroslime master Cameron in the process.

A treaty creating a new joint Anglo-French rapid reaction force would serve both countries’ interests in a world "where resources are tight", he says, as his traitorous master is set to announce the creation of a new Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) of around 6,500 troops from the two countries under a 50-year deal for closer military "co-operation".

It is expected to include units from the Parachute Regiment, the Royal Marines and Special Forces including the SAS, as well as their French counterparts. The CJEF, they say, is the centrepiece of a new Anglo-French military co-operation treaty being unveiled by Camerslime and TLOTK Sarkozy at a summit in London today.

Needless to say, this "new" Combined Joint Expeditionary Force is not new. It is simply a battle group, along the lines agreed in 2004 as the core part of the European Rapid Reaction Force. Under the guise of "economy", euroslime Cameron is selling out to the euroweenies, doing more for European integration in his first year of office than Blair did in thirteen.

Of course, the lame and the stupid are wittering on about this being "a bilateral, not a supranational endeavour," which is complete and total cant – a staggering insult to our intelligence.

But for all those dim little Tories, all this does is go to prove is that the only thing more stupid than a Tory politician is a supporter of the Tory party. As they trill away about this not being a repeat of Tony Blair's St Malo summit – which is exactly what it is – all you can hear is the sound of their brains gushing out of their backsides.

This is a continuation of the Maastricht Treaty agenda, as this briefing note makes clear. Agreed by the Tories under John Major, this set up the parameters for the development of a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). The process continued with the Franco-British meeting in Saint-Malo (France) in December 1998. That was when London and Paris agreed to jointly and actively work to make the European Union "able to carry out some security tasks on its own".

During the period 1999-2003, the EU set up relevant political-military structures to assess, decide, plan and execute military operations and now it is "moving ahead" to embark on a "second round". And that is what this is, the "second round" - building the ESDP, planning and organising new military "cooperation" and integration among EU member states. This is the Trojan Horse or, as the "colleagues" say, the catalyst.

With it, our military heritage is being sold down the river by the euroslime. These are black days. We have traitors in our midst, surrounded by fools who've woken up too late.


Friday, 29 October 2010

Sold out!

In The Daily Telegraph we now read that French Rafales may be using the Royal Navy carriers. You did, of course, read it here first and then here.  Amazingly, after the debacle of the "carriers with no planes", we are now told that, trying to bridge the “capability gap”, ministers have said the new carriers will be redesigned to have catapults to launch aircraft. That "will allow them to carry planes like the French Rafale".  Oh, what a surprise.

The beans have been spilled by French defence minister Morin, who has told a "Euronaval conference" that: "I've asked our military command to consider the feasibility of stationing British aircraft on our aircraft carrier and vice versa." He added: "The idea is an exchange of capacity and an interdependence. It's a new approach."

Is it bollocks a new approach.  That has been the plan all along ... do they think we are that stupid?

Anyhow, us poor little dimwits are told: "The British have decided to equip their aircraft carriers with catapults - we can have joint exercises, but also arrange to have a Rafale squadron make use of the British platform." The plan would give France "a permanent presence at sea" even when its single aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, is in dock for maintenance and cannot sail, Morin says.

And so we march on to the Euro-navy.  Dave the slime presides over the work of his predecessors, Blair, Major and Heath. The Royal Navy is being sold out on the altar of European political integration.  A more potent symbol of integration could hardly exist, and its all but in the bag.


Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Well, what a surprise

The Daily Telegraph print edition runs a front-page story headed, "Armed Forces will have to seek French help to fight a war". The on-line version does not share the headline, but the key part of the content remains the same.

"At an Anglo-French summit next month," we are told, "Mr Cameron will discuss with President Nicolas Sarkozy a range of options for greater partnership, including the creation of 'high readiness joint formations' composed of British and French personnel." Mr Cameron, we further learn, "told MPs the summit would produce 'some very exciting steps forward'".

There is the real agenda. This a direct continuation of the post-Maastricht defence policy espoused by Major, and supported by Portillo in 1996, and continued by Bair in St. Malo and beyond. The 1996 agreement was even reported by The Independent at the time.

"Anglo-French military co-operation is thriving in a number of areas, despite the anti-European rhetoric of the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Portillo," the paper said. "An Anglo- French nuclear committee is said to meet regularly and to have made considerable progress since President Chirac came to power last May, although both sides are secretive about the committee's agenda."

You can bet both sides are "secretive", and they still are. But this is not helped by the current newspapers failing to make the links between then and now. Reporters have no memory of previous events and the media has no institutional memory, and thus every event is reported in isolation, without reference to the previous, linked developments.

Thus, Cameron is able to talk about "a range of options", as he was in charge, and had thought about the possibilities himself, rather than having had the Foreign Officer deliver them to him as part of the ongoing plan. And that is how we are being sold out – small step, by small step, so slowly that the media doesn't notice and can't join up the dots.

The name of the game is "interdependence", with each member state of the EU being robbed of the capability for independent action, thus being forced to worth with and rely on other member states. Through such a mechanism is the process of political integration driven.

The real irony, though, is that if we were to dispense with the annual payments to the EU - £18 billion and rising, we would not have needed to curtail spending on the Navy in the first place. But, of course, these things must not be mentioned in polite company, where European integration is simply a figment of the imagination of those horrid, uncouth eurosceptics.

So, gradually, we move into the end game. The sell-out will soon be complete, happening under our very noses while the clever-dicks sleep on, leaving Mr Cameron and his euroweenies to succeed where Hitler and the Axis powers never could - the destruction of the Royal Navy as an independent force.


Heath in our time

Well, not only is HMS Ark Royal to be scrapped but the Fleet Air Arm as well. In the meantime, the BBC has learned that "at least one" of the new carriers will be redesigned so that it can deploy normal fighter aircraft that do not need a Harrier-style vertical lift capability.

Dr Fox says that there would be "interoperability" so strike fighter aircraft from allies such as France could land on UK aircraft carriers, and vice versa.

So what have we here? No British aircraft, an Anglo-French agreement on joint carrier operation and now a carrier design change that allows for the operation of French aircraft on the British carrier. Where did you read this first?

And as more and more details leak out, you can see the game – the Armed Forces are being stripped of capability to the point that they can no longer operate independently, even within the context of an alliance. We will have to look to "allies" for operational components just so that we can field our forces.

Well, the US Armed Forces don't work that way, so we will have to look elsewhere. Where do we think Cammy and his euroweenie chums are looking? Why does the phrase "sold out" come to mind? But then, this has been on the cards for a long time, and we said this was going to happen in January 2006.

That it should happen now, under a (partially) Tory government is not a surprise. Historically, the Tories have always been keenest on European military "co-operation" and the die was cast when Portillo signed the co-operation deal in 1996. Euro-Navy here we come, with the European Carrier Group as the flagship operation.

We are now simply seeing the end came of a process that has been under development for decades, and which started with Heath and his merry men.  Forget Thatcher (Blair and all the rest). Cameron is the true heir to Edward Heath. In the manner of Chamberlain and Munich, we now have "Heath in our time".


An evening with defence

So it came to pass that the North went south to attend the great debate. There was a smaller than usual attendance for a Spectator debate, which is interesting in itself, given the high profile of the defence at the moment.

The motion, I think, was part of the problem ... that the armed forces should be scrapped and replaced with the Royal Marines. It was roundly defeated, and deservedly so, and I say that even though I was speaking for the motion.

I tried to turn the debate by arguing that the motion was a proxy for arguing for institutional change, and that the real need was to break away from thinking about our three services and introduce an Armed Forces ethos, task orientated rather that focused on what the services wanted.

The trouble is with these things though, is that the spectator does see more of the game. You sit there, blinded by the lights, in your little bubble of nerves, trying to marshal your thoughts and hoping you do not fluff you lines.

One point, I made was that the officer corps in the WWII Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe trained together and that the officers only specialised after being commissioned. But it was also the case that Albert Kesselring, in command of Luftflotte 2 during the Battle of Britain then went on to command OB South and mastermind the fighting withdrawal of the German land forces in Italy.

I am not sure the idea went down all that well, but I also went on to point out that the strategic bombing campaign conducted by the allies was fought by RAF bomber command on the one hand and the US Army Air Force on the other. And, of the two, arguably the USAAF was more innovative and effective.

The point from all that, and some other more recent examples, is that performance does not depend on the nature of the institution. But another from the war made that point. In Germany, anti-aircraft defences were part of the Luftwaffe. In Britain, they were part of the Army, but under the overall control of Fighter Command. In Germany, Paratroops were again part of the Luftwaffe. In Britain, they were part of the Army.

There are loads of other examples which, I think, demonstrate that it really does not matter which service you are in, as long as the function is well defined, and the people in it are properly trained and equipped. The job isn’t done better because it is done by any specific service. In the Korean War, the British air component was provided exclusively by the Fleet Air Arm, and so on.

Anyhow, it was entertaining enough, and the dinner afterwards more so. But it was Chatham House rules, so I cannot repeat what any one person said. Nevertheless, the discussion confirms my many impressions of certain high personages. Surprising accord on Afghanistan. There has been something of a learning curve and the original paradigms have been thrown out of the window. We are simply looking for a credible – or any – exit plan.

One really interesting point though was that there was lots of bitching about the cost of the csrriers and complaints about them being bought. I made my speech about the European Carrier Group, St Malo and the ERRF ... it was like I'd made a bad smell in the room. They couldn't change the subject fast enough.

I am never sure, therefore, whether these events are worth the time and nervous energy they take, but it does help to climb out of the ivory tower occasionally, and see how the other half live. It is not a pretty sight really, but the beef was actually rather good.


Sunday, 10 October 2010

Savagely vindicated ... again

I first wrote about it on 28 July 2004, marking it down as "another blunder of Eurofighter proportions".

This is the £16 billion FRES programme, which I have consistently opposed, writing over 100 pieces about it. Yet I was almost a lone voice, stacked up against an indifferent and ignorant media, with only Booker for support in the media, and the tenacious Ann Winterton in Parliament.

On the other side of the divide, its greatest supporter has been General Sir Richard Dannatt, with the wholehearted approval of the Defence Committee and the Tory defence team.

But now we learn that FRES is dead in the water. "It's a dead duck. It is the definition of everything that is wrong with the MoD's procurement process," says a senior Ministry of Defence source. Actually, this isn't a procurement issue - it is a definition problem - the Army simple couldn't get its act together and make a coherent case for its future needs.

Fortunately, the project has not gone so far down the acquisition path that it is incapable of being cancelled. And, although I say it myself – because no one else will – that is in no small measure due to the opposition of this blog. Such was its reach and its sister blog DOTR, that we had the then procurement minister coming onto our forum to plead the case, after I had written this.

This I remarked at the time was when the blogosphere came of age, when a blog was setting the agenda and forcing ministers to respond. We in turn responded with this - a case which was never satisfactorily countered.   Few people know the effect that piece had on the defence establishment, and why. I do.

You can read much of the background in Ministry of Defeat, still the only book that gets near telling the story. It has a recent review here.

Yet it is the Gen Dannatt who is lauded as the great expert, doyen of The Daily Telegraph - the man who "knows". This is the man who would have lumbered us with that useless pile of junk called FRES, and its lifetime costs in excess of £60 billion. By contrast, this blog won't even get a look in, shunned by the great and the good for telling the inconvenient truths.

Even then, the media doesn't get it. That idiot political editor Patrick Hennessy, who writes the piece about FRES being ditched, states: "The decision will mean that the Army will be forced to fight in Afghanistan and in future conflicts with its existing fleet of ageing vehicles, some of which first entered service in the 1960s."

In his little Westminster bubble, the world passes him by. Has he not heard of the Mastiff, Ridgeback, Wolfhound, Ocelot? How you can be that ignorant and still be a journalist is one of those modern miracles. No wonder they think Dannatt is an expert.


Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Snatch to be replaced

The BBC is trilling its little head off about the announcement that the decision to award the contract for the LPPV has gone to Force Protection Europe and Ricado, with their Ocelot. That is probably the right choice and it means that the last of the Snatch Land Rovers can now be replaced. However, while one can say it is exactly what the Army needed – that was back in 2003. It is now probably too little, too late.

Nevertheless. it will be heaps better than the Jackal and maybe some soldiers who would otherwise have left their legs and possibly their brains spattered over the Afghan countryside might survive intact. However, in the case of some officers, it would be hard to tell the difference if the latter event occurred, and for some generals it would be an improvement.

Of course, it would have been nice if we had had mine protected vehicles back in 2003, when we really did need them, instead of the Snatch Land Rover ... er ... except that we did (pic below). But the Army didn't want them and flogged them off at knock-down prices. It then did its level best to ensure that no more were bought - with the full support of the BBC - until the hapless Des Browne forced the issue and soldiers started finding out how nice it was to have two legs after all.

Now, of course, the Army has seen the light, seven years after it could have acted – which is about the sort of speed the Army is capable of working (in fact, slightly faster than average). But the Taliban now have seven years practice in blowing up British Army vehicles and will soon get the measure of this one. What we really need is more Buffaloes and some Huskies, which even the French are buying, and some concerted effort in using intelligence-based systems coupled with 24/7 UAV surveillance on target routes.

The trouble is that the idea of using detection systems, as well as detection vehicles in concert (much less designing and buying a Pookie replacement with GPR and environmental mapping software) is probably so far above the competence level of the typical brown job that we'll have to wait for the invasion of the Euro Army (where in some countries they still have an education system) to up the brain-cell count before we get any movement in that direction.

Instead, we'll have to make do with the Media's currently favourite talking head, Col Tootal, to tell us what for. He know's everything 'cos he's been there and ritten a book. So that's alright. Job sorted.


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Sodden and limp

In the aftermath of the British withdrawal from Sangin, we have considerable media comment, and a huge contrast of styles. Up front is the ponderous – some might say pompous - Max Hasting, in The Daily Mail. He says: "Blame the generals and politicians for this mess. But our soldiers can hold their heads up high."

Then we have the gung-ho Sun which blares: "Sangin: Our Boy's blood, their efforts, their victory." And just to make sure we get the message, it has that great strategist Andy McNab, who is now the "Sun Security Adviser". Continuing the joke, he tells us:
I AM fed up with armchair generals who say the handover of Sangin to US Forces is a British retreat. That is 100 per cent crap. We have moved out because at long last the 20,000 US 'boots on the ground' finally arrived.
The Scotsman has Clive Fairweather telling us that the handover is a sensible redeployment of our troops ... not a retreat. He then retreats behind a "premium" paywall, so we never get to see what he really thinks. And we care less.

In The Daily Telegraph we get some sensible pieces from Thomas Harding, but it is more reportage than analysis. And that is what is missing – decent analysis.

You couldn't call Hasting's piece "decent" analysis. His is lightweight extruded verbal material. You unroll it, tear it off by the yard and paste it in to fill the space. I'm getting rather bored with his pontificating.

I was mightily cheered, however, by an extract from Michael Foot's biography of Aneurin Bevan, who commented on the wartime coverage of military affairs – the Second World War, that is. "Immediately on the outbreak of war," he wrote, "England was given over to the mental level of the Boys' Own Paper and the Magnet". He continues:
The Childrens Hour has been extended to cover the whole of British broadcasting, and the editors of the national dailies use treacle instead of ink. If one can speak of a general mind in Britain at all just now, it is sodden and limp with the ceaseless drip of adolescent propaganda.
At least we can take some comfort in having been there before. I devoted a considerable amount of effort into evaluating the situation at Sangin in Defence of the Realm and was particularly proud of this and this.

But with a nation given over to a second childhood, still "sodden and limp with the ceaseless drip of adolescent propaganda," such grown-up analysis is a complete waste of time and energy. How much easier it is to cheer "Our Boys" to the rafters, and celebrate yet another victory.


Monday, 20 September 2010

Fluffheads Mk II

The Taliban have taken out a Jackal, killing two soldiers. Far from being critical, however, The Sun acts as a free propaganda sheet for the MoD, calling in aid Major Chris Hunter, ex Army bomb disposal "expert".

The Jackal is so much better than its predecessor, the Snatch Land Rover, says Major Hunter, immediately demonstrating that, while he may be a bomb disposal expert, he certainly ain't a vehicle expert. The predecessor to the Jackal was the WIMIK Land Rover. The Snatch was supposed to be replaced by the Vector – another brilliant choice from those Army geniuses.

But hey, this is The Sun after all, so we get Hunter giving us a Janet and John lecture, telling us that, with combat vehicles there is always a trade-off:
You have to balance firepower, mobility and protection and the result is a compromise. When you increase the vehicle's capability in one area, you have to surrender it in another. More armour means less speed and less manoeuvrability.
As you can see, 50 years and more of expertise on vehicle mine protection, the theory and practice, is ignored. But what do you expect of a British Army Major?

Anyhow, this is a good opportunity to remind ourselves that very little you read in the newspapers can be trusted. Feast your eyes on the above, as the Guardian Air Correspondent tells us that the "new" Heinkel 113 is inferior to the Spitfire and Hurricane.

And indeed it is, for one very simple reason – it does not exist. It is a spoof, a propaganda stunt pulled by the Germans. Soon enough though, we had RAF pilots swearing that they had shot down He 113s, with "kills" studiously recorded by intelligence officers and entered in the official record.

Now, in the great tradition of the wartime Guardian, we have David Willetts, Defence Correspondent of The Sun, fronting a piece telling us what a brilliant truck the Jackal is. You can always rely on The Sun - they will tell you how it really is.


Another great victory

Most of the papers carry the "news " today, that British forces have scored yet another great victory in the global war on terrorism, handing over the now pacified town of Sangin to the grateful forces of his excellency president Karzai, who will now extend his kindly rule over the friendly and prosperous inhabitants of this bustling market town.

This victory follows in the great tradition of recent campaigning in Afghanistan, where British forces can now add Sangin to the growing list of towns and settlements pacified, which include Now Zad, Musa Qala and Kajaki, and where the US forces can only stand back and admire the sheer skill, dedication and fortitude of the UK military and its leaders.

The template for this success, however, was undoubtedly forged in recent times by the experience in Iraq, where the British military brought us the stunning success of the al Amarah campaign, followed by its storming success in Basra, which has earned the undying gratitude of the Iraqi people – those that survived the experience.

But for those who think such successes are recent, we need to look back 70 years where, this weekend we were able to celebrate another great victory where the RAF so successfully beat off the German air force that the citizens of London and elsewhere in the UK only had to endure another eight months of bombing and a few tens of thousands dead and injured – plus hundreds of thousands of homes and properties destroyed - as the Luftwaffe roamed almost without challenge in the barely-defended night-time skies.

And so the lessons of the past transfer to the future. Says Sir Stephen Dalton, the current Chief of Air Staff, "winning the Battle of Britain was vital to the overall outcome of the war ... Unless we had control of the skies over Britain we could not build up the forces ready to liberate Europe later on."

"That is entirely relevant today," he adds. "Without the freedom of the skies in Afghanistan there would need to be 10 times the number of soldiers and marines on the ground to achieve the same effect." And as with the Luftwaffe of the past, we only have to count the wrecks of the Taliban air force to know how true this is.

We are so lucky that we have such wise and foresighted leaders who will guide us on the path to yet more and better glorious victories in the mould of Sangin. And the Afghanis simply don't realise how lucky they are that we happened along at just the right time to save them and their beautiful country.


Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Didn't we do well!

The Heritage Industry is in full spate today, celebrating "Battle of Britain day", and in particular the 70th anniversary of the battle.

As always – seen from the picture above – the politicians are getting in on the act (give them an "act" and they'll climb into it, with not a scintilla of shame), but in so doing they perpetrate a pernicious myth that hands credit for what actually amounts to a famous victory to a self-serving élite, and completely distorts an important part of our history.

At the core of all this, of course is the myth of the "Battle of Britain", with the "battle" capitalised. At the time, it did not exist, was not recognised as such and only came formally into being in April 1941 when the Air Ministry published a pamphlet with that title. Even then, the start point was 8 August and it was not until later that it was revised to the arbitrary date of 10 July.

The "self-serving élite" at the time was, of course, RAF Fighter Command – not "the few", who were just the expendable pilots, the cannon fodder, but the institution. At that time it was locked in mortal combat with the real enemy, Bomber Command. It was threatening to achieve what the Luftwaffe had failed to do, the abolition of Fighter Command.

It was the "invention" of the Battle of Britain which made this a political impossibility, and that involved branding a very limited part of the overall battle, and vesting the ownership with Fighter Command. Thus pilots who flew with Bomber or Coastal Commands during the period chosen do not qualify for membership of the "few" because the "brand" is exclusive to Fighter Command.

The more important issue, though, is that the real Battle of Britain lasted much longer than the very short period claimed by Fighter Command. Furthermore, it actually comprised three phases. The first started on the first day of the war – the "blockade" phase - which continued through until 1942 when we finally achieved a victory.

The second phase, running contiguously, is the classic "air superiority" phase, but it actually lasts from about 8 August until 6 September 1940, the next day being the day the Luftwaffe bombs the Port of London and the start of phase 3. In the general hagiographies of the battle, bombing London is seen as the great mistake by Hitler, and the one that saved the RAF and therefore Britain. Without German air superiority, the threatened invasion could not go ahead.

But actually, the mistake was going for the RAF in the first place. This perhaps reflected the hubris of the moment and the half-formed but totally unrealistic plan for an invasion of Britain, which was never a practical proposition. Thus, while the battle for air superiority raged, wiser heads prevailed, affirming that the invasion was a non-starter. A more certain way of taking Britain out of the war - it was thought - was to attack the people in the cities.

At this time, the prevailing theory of air warfare was that nations could be brought down by strategic bombing, the main effect being to erode public morale to such a great extent that that functioning of the cities would collapse and the governments would be forced to sue for peace.

Hitler and those around him reasoned that Britain – and the British Empire – was a corrupt, decadent, class-ridden society on the verge of collapse. It only needed a small push (in the form of the Blitz) to make that happen.  In fact, he was wrong – but not far wrong. British society was torn by huge stresses and, under the weight of the bombing and the blockade, it very nearly did collapse. It was a very close-run thing, far closer than people want to admit.

The reason Britain did not collapse was, in small part due to the PR genius of Winston Churchill. But in the main part it was due to the perseverance and endurance of all those organisations which kept the fabric of society functioning, from the civil service, local authorities, the fire services, civil defence, hospitals, the nursing service, the Womens' Volunteer Service, and many, many more – plus, of course, the people themselves.

What is so often called the Blitz was the main part of the Battle of Britain - it was phase 3. It was the battle for the hearts and minds of the British nation, fought by the entire British nation, which endured until May 1941. It was then that Hitler turned his attention eastwards and withdrew the bulk of his forces in preparation for the invasion of Russia.  The phase two of the battle was an irrelevance, a strategic impasse. The "few" and their counterparts in the Luftwaffe were fighting a meaningless battle.

Seen in this context, the Great Churchillian Soundbite – "never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few" is exactly the opposite of reality. Given that those most at risk were the privileged élites, it would be far more accurate to say that never had so few owed so much to so many – a debt they were never to repay.

That is not in any way to disparage the actions of the fighter pilots, or to take anything from their raw courage and heroism. It is simply to put their endeavour in perspective. The battle as a whole, the real battle of Britain, was a battle fought and won by the people – the many. In truth, it was won more in spite of, rather than because of the actions of the government.

It was our battle, our victory. And didn't we do well!

COMMENT: Battle of Britain thread

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The story so far

With the new parliament now in place, I am no longer earning most of my living as a parliamentary researcher and must find new sources of income. But I have been fortunate in gaining a commission from my publisher to write a new history of the Battle of Britain, and am planning other ventures based on this project ... hence the focus also on The Tales of Glory blog and the fall-off in writing on this blog.

The fall-off will only be temporary. It is "silly season" and there is a certain ennui in the air, so I am taking the opportunity to get ahead of the game in what will be a long and difficult project. At this point, I must repeat my appreciation for all those who have commented on the forum – everything is read and stored, and there is some incredibly useful stuff there.

Crucially, at the moment, I am working on the air-sea rescue issue, and have made significant advances. And one of the sources to which I was directed to on the forum was this:
One problem area which did arise was the Air Ministry's fault, and a lot of people got killed as a result. I refer to the non-existent air-sea rescue service; the system should have had one but it didn't. ... [A] lot of pilots were killed, either through shock or burns or just being dragged away by their parachutes and drowned, never to be seen again through lack of co-ordination.

Later in the war, in 1941, we formed the Air Sea Rescue (ASR) Service, and if anybody came down there was somebody on the spot almost before they had landed in the sea. But this didn't happen in 1940, and this is a black mark which the system had to endure right the way through the battle.
These are the thoughts of Derek Wood (or some of them), co-author of the seminal text on the Battle of Britain, The Narrow Margin, articulated at a symposium in Bracknall in 1990, sponsored jointly by the RAF Historical Society and the RAF Staff College Bracknall.

What I now have to do is set out the case for why the failure to provide an adequate (or any) ASR Service is still relevant 70 years later. And the most obvious point is that similar failures are happening in the here and now in Afghanistan, were happening five years earlier in Iraq and most certainly have been happening earlier elsewhere.

My feeling is that, had even the background of what I already know about the 1940s failures been part of the public domain when I started arguing in 2006 for the replacement of Snatch Land Rovers, it would have been much easier to get the message across that the military was, through neglect and other diverse reasons, allowing their troops to be killed.

What makes the Battle of Britain experience so valuable are the many different facets which put the current experience in context. Firstly, we see established a failure of the "system" to take measures to safeguard the safety and lives of military personnel, and not just any personnel – those who were the key to the whole battle and from which shortage the battle could have been lost.

This demonstrates that, even when the whole campaign and even – as is asserted to be the case here – the whole nation depends on preserving the lives of a few men, the "system" failed to step up to the plate. And if it could do it then, it most certainly could do it in the context of operations where the survival of the nation was not at stake.

Secondly, we see that it is a "system", not a political failure. Although the problems were known at high level within the RAF – and therefore within the Air Ministry – not one of the critics even begins to suggest that prime minister Winston Churchill might have been responsible, or bore any responsibility at all for the resultant deaths. I am still doing the arithmetic but, over the whole period the system failed, we are talking thousands rather than hundreds of deaths.

The point here, of course, is the contrast with modern times, where the prime minister Gordon Brown has been blamed for equipment failures and the military high command effectively absolved from any responsibility – by the popular press, at least.

Thirdly, we see the effect of censorship, secrecy and lack of scrutiny. The combination ensured that, even when the problems were known, very little timely action was taken other than, to ensure the guilty persons were not censured, an extensive, multi-layered cover-up was embarked upon, which survives to this day.

So pervasive is this that Wood believes that Dowding managed to "pinch" twelve Lysanders and base them around the coast so that they could drop dinghies to anybody they could find. But, while this is supposed to have happened in the July 1940, it seems more likely that the aircraft were available from late September only, and in smaller numbers.

But, what is also fascinating is that the use of amphibious aircraft in the form of the Walrus (pictured above) was proven on a small scale during the months of July and August 1940, the lessons were not applied until late 1941 and amphibians were not fully integrated into the system until 1942 – when the Germans had been using dedicated seaplanes for ASR since 1935.

The story is far too long to tell in the framework of one post, and although I have already told some of it, there still much more to research. But I will build the story gradually on the other blog and keep you appraised of developments as they materialise.

Perversely - but rather predictably - some of the most useful starting points for learning about the inadequacies of the system come not British sources, but from New Zealand and the United States. This report here, for instance, gives a good overview. Originally "confidential", it has now been declassified, and even the fairly anodyne language makes it clear how hugely inadequate the system was.

What is so important though is that the British military establishment went to quite considerable pains to conceal its neglect and paint an entirely false picture of what was actually provided and its effectiveness. It really does tell us something about an establishment which is keen to applaud the exploits of "the few" for its own purposes, while allowing airmen to die needlessly in their hundreds and thousands.

Anyhow, I'll get back to near normal on this blog shortly, and thanks for bearing with me.

Comment: Battle of Britain thread

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Cannon fodder

Another two Brits have been killed in Helmand. One was a Royal Marine and the other was a trooper from the Royal Dragoon Guards.

The Marine was on foot patrol in the Sangin district, while the Trooper was a member of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force, part of a dismounted patrol that was providing security to enable new roads and security bases to be constructed to the north-east of Gereshk. Both succumbed to IEDs.

This brings total British military deaths in Afghanistan to 320, less than a month after the three-century milestone had been reached. That puts the current annual death rate at close to 280 and makes it highly probable that the figure of 400 will be reached before the end of the year – unless there in a dramatic change in operational tempo.

In due course, there will be another street exhibition in Wooton Basset, and we are not alone in wondering whether the displays here are getting out of hand. What happened, for instance, to quiet dignity and the famous British "stiff upper lip"?

Moreover, while it is always tragic to see lives cut short, the campaign in Afghanistan has been going on long enough for soldiers to know what they are letting themselves in for. They either joined the armed forces in that knowledge or have not sought to remove themselves from harm's way.

Either way, the Army and the top brass do not seem to be mightily concerned about the losses, otherwise they might be doing something to prevent them, instead of indulging in back-covering propaganda. One does wish, therefore, that the Army spokesman would learn some new lines to go on the press releases when fatalities are announced.

Of the latest casualty, "... tragically he was struck by an explosion," says Lt-Col James Carr-Smith. "His courage, sacrifice and selfless commitment will never be forgotten." But of course it will. If he has any next of kin in Army quarters, the papers for eviction are already being prepared. The pay termination notice applied before even the body was cool.

We need to be a little bit more honest here, and call these men what they are – cannon fodder. Whatever their own personal delusions, they are only dying to cover the backs of Mr Cameron and Mr Fox, while they work out a suitable face-saving formula to cover their political embarrassment at announcing a defeat. That honesty might focus a few minds and get us out a little faster.

The pic shows soldiers en route to Afghanistan on the last roulement, in the belly of a C-17. More than three times the number visible will have returned in coffins by the end of the year. At least they get a little more space on the way back, and a car to meet them at the airport.


Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Beyond demonstrable failure

"Renegade Afghan soldier kills three British troops." That's the headline in The Guardian with similar replicated elsewhere and more detail here.

Two (or four, according to some reports) more were injured during what is termed a "joint patrol" with local forces in southern Helmand, part of the mentoring process which is supposed to be improving the capabilities of the Afghan National Army (ANA) so that it can take over duties from ISAF.

This is not the first time we have seen such an incident. In November last, a rogue Afghan policeman killed five British troops. In December, an Afghan soldier also shot dead one US soldier and wounded two Italian troops at a base in Badghis.

Sadly, over the weekend I was discussing the process with a very senior member of the previous administration, observing in my own inimitable style that: "The mentoring scheme is crap, always was crap, always will be crap ... a very expensive and stupid waste of money ... and by now a demonstrable failure."

"Consistently," I wrote, "we turn our faces away from experience, from tried and tested systems that have a track record of working, to embrace something with a poor record of success. We then pursue it well beyond the point where it has become a demonstrable failure ... and express surprise that it does not work."

This was written before the piece in the Independent on Sunday by Jonathan Owen and Brian Brady. This revealed that the strategic plan of creating an Afghan security force to replace US and British troops is in serious disarray with local forces a fraction of their reported size, infiltrated by the Taliban at senior levels, and plagued by corruption and drug addiction.

Rather than be negative (which I am not when talking to people who are prepared to listen), I had observed that, in nuts and bolts terms, the interesting thing is that to pacify the plains tribes, you often had to use hill tribesmen. This was in the days of the Raj. Conversely, it was almost impossible to get plains tribesmen to go up into the hills and fight effectively.

The trouble is, I then noted, that we have cut ourselves off from the hill tribes. They are now in Pakistan ... except that they come of the hills raiding and looking for work. But it is rather remarkable that we are prepared to hire Nepalese and use them but not raise native regiments, drawing them down from the hills with bribes and offers of work.

In fact, one of my many earlier suggestions had been precisely that we should raise native regiments, officered by the British, but as part of the British Army, not the ANA, equipped by us, with British NCOs, and paid by us. Once knocked into shape, we could then hand them over to the Afghan government.

The native levy system was one which helped us conquer the Empire, the regiments so formed then going on to form the core of the post-colonial forces. And the best examples currently are the Pakistani and Indian Armies, living testament to our past military skills.

But the point has been made. Consistently, we turn our faces away from experience, from tried and tested systems that have a track record of working, to embrace something with a poor record of success. We then pursue it well beyond the point where it has become a demonstrable failure ... and express surprise that it does not work.

The only thing we seem to be able to excel in these days is consistency.


Saturday, 10 July 2010

Even stupid people deserve better

"We have this old adage," says Captain Anthony Harris of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (pictured): "70% skills and drills, 20% equipment, 10% luck". He goes on to say, "Unfortunately that's quite a large percentage for luck. You can overplay blame. We just happened to take the patrol on that path on that day."

This is after the man has been blown up in Helmand while riding in the commander's seat in a Jackal – as recorded by The Guardian. But the point is that it isn't an "old adage" – it is the sort of crap they are taught in soldier school by people who should know better.

What is more, some officers seem to believe what they are told, without complaint – this one still believing it after the trauma of amputation. That's why they get blown up in the first place, and keep getting blown up - yet they keep repeating the mantras ... skills 'n' drills, skills 'n' drills, skills 'n' drills ... BAMMMMMMMMM!

Compare and contrast with this - Lt-Col Roly Walker's experience of getting blown up. He is riding in a Mastiff and survives uninjured. "I always thought it was a case of 'when' not 'if' we drove over an IED," he says afterwards.

No doubt, Col Walker has his own "old adage": "100% equipment", as long as it's called a Mastiff. If you want to live, fly Mastiff. The problem is that, after the event, even after they have been blown up, some of our less intellectual people are still not putting two and two together: "I am sat over the wheel," Harris says. "The blast goes off underneath the wheel, the shockwave goes through the metal ...". Doh!

You do wonder what it takes to get the message through when, as here in September 2007, we have the Jackal being paraded, alongside Gen Dannatt telling us: "the mounting death toll in the country should not overshadow the success forces were having on the ground." The troops, he then said, "are winning the tactical battle".

Well, three years later, they're still winning the tactical battle, the ones that are still alive and in one piece - and Dannatt is collecting his pension. But his troops, after winning that tactical battle (again and again and again ...), are also pulling out of Sangin with more than 100 dead, mostly to IEDs, with three times that number very badly injured.

And that's why the MoD under the new Cleggeron adminstration are spending £45 million on another 140 Jackals. That's so we can have another batch of young men (and the occasional women) to sit over the wheels of these insane vehicles - and they too can lose their legs, or even their lives. But hey! Skills 'n' drills, skills 'n' drills ... keep taking the mantras. These prosthetics are really good when you get used to them.

But you do also wonder why newspapers, instead of doing soft-focus, human interest stories, don't point out that so many of these deaths and injuries are entirely unnecessary, brought about by enhanced stupidity, bolstered by bad tactics, misleading training, blind faith - and duff equipment.

Even stupid people and Army officers (where there is a difference) deserve better than that.


Thursday, 8 July 2010

You can't say it's a victory

The British withdrawal from Sangin was formally announced yesterday by defence secretary Liam Fox to parliament. The date set for their departure is October. In the meantime, the theatre reserve battalion from Cyprus is to be deployed in the district, responsibility for which is to be handed to US forces.

This is the first major contribution by the Cleggeron administration to the conflict in Afghanistan, and one which is being interpreted as a major turning point which Kim Sengupta, writing in The Indpendent thinks makes it now America's war.

In some quarters, this move is being regarded as a defeat. The view of Col Richard Kemp, writing for Channel 4 News is that the Taliban would certainly attempt to present it as a defeat. Parallels are being drawn with our humiliating withdrawal from Basra, although the Americans reject the comparison.

Perhaps it has more in common with the retreat from al Aamarah, where an ill-equipped Army abandoned a city torn by tribal strife, not fully understanding the dynamics in which they had become involved. Certainly, Richard Norton-Taylor, in The Guardian, remarks that British intelligence had been unable to get a grip on the tribal structure in the area, making it hard to cut deals with the key players and therefore protect UK forces.

This is unsurprising as the tribal mix is unusually complex even for Afghanistan, and further complicated by the presence of the Alakozai tribe and the long-standing feud with Ishaqzai, plus the ever-present Kuchi, who remain a poorly recognised but important component of the insurgency.

Predictably, Richard Dannatt, in his new role as all-purpose media renta-mouth, is also on the case. And it says something of the media that they should continue to lionise a retired commander who has probably contributed more to our tactical if not strategic defeat in Afghanistan than any other man.

By his wilful failure to recognise and deal with the IED threat in a timely fashion, by his sloth in ensuring that sufficient of the right type of UAVs and other surveillance assets were made available in theatre - to say nothing of the helicopters - and particularly by his early misreading of the tactical situation and his espousal of FRES as a suitable weapons system, he ensured that our troops were ill-prepared to counter the threats to which they were exposed.

Nevertheless, the former CGS argues in The Daily Telegraph that since the USMC, now in considerable strength, has assumed operational responsibility for northern Helmand, it makes no sense to have a lone British battlegroup in the middle of the US area. Redeployment is an entirely logical move.

Despite this, he says, some will present the change as the Americans bailing out the Brits and some will choose to see it as the start of a wider British withdrawal.

He too sees the Taliban attempting to claim the move as a tactical victory. And, rather forgetting that he is no longer in the Army, where he can order people around, he states: "Those views cannot be suppressed in a liberal democracy such as ours, but they should not be allowed to gain credibility or traction. It is more important that the move be seen for the sensible development of the campaign that it is."

Whatever Dannatt might declare, there is a sense of defeat. With a multi-national force where contingents from different countries are used to operating side-by-side, there is no overwhelming reason why the British Army cannot work within a US zone. But it has clearly reached a limit to how many men it can feed into the mincer of Sangin, which it has long failed to understand and has had no idea how to deal with it.

Of course, there are those in addition to Dannatt who will seek to defend British performance, especially those who have had the dubious benefit of "being there". But – as we have pointed out here, such campaigns are not won or lost on the ground, but in the offices and minds of strategic commanders and their advisors. And it has long been evident that they have lost the plot.

Patrick Cockburn, in The Independent, argues that British troops were never geared up to make a lasting difference. There were never quite enough British troops to gain permanent control of Sangin, and the Taliban obviously sensed the vulnerability of British troops spread too thinly. Roadside bombs, he writes, could inflict a toll which was difficult to justify in terms of bringing an end to the war.

He is not the only one to argue that we never had enough troops, but we disagree. In just one one example (and there were many more), we showed that the lack of imagination and ponderous tactics led to excessive demands for manpower. Much could have been done, more effectively, with far less.

And nor can anyone assert that we are being wise after the event. We have been nothing if not consistent in our criticism of the lacklustre tactics, the inadequate equipment and the limited strategic vision. You cannot defeat an insurgency in a land of a thousand walls.

Nevertheless, this is not a strategic defeat in the mould of Iraq, where British forces scuttled out of the field of fire, leaving unprepared and ill-equipped indigenous security forces to face the insurgency. This time, the US forces have learnt their lesson.

While even now the British are still talking up their expertise in counterinsurgency, based on their Northern Ireland experience, they are regarded as unreliable, their experience irrelevant (not that they are actually implementing the lessons). They have thus insisted on an orderly hand-over rather than allow a moonlight flit and are now - as always - to do the heavy lifting.

Nor is the military getting any support from the population. Ben Farmer in The Daily Telegraph interviews Haji Akhatar Mohammad, from Bostan Zoi village near Sangin.

He says: "The British had been there for a long time. They were not helpful and there was no good result from them. They didn't understand the people and there was too much fighting." Now, adds the 45-year-old elder, "People are happy the British are moving."

Neither does The Guardian offer any comfort. Sangin's residents, it says, have criticised the planned withdrawal, complaining that four years of fighting have failed to bring peace or development. "The British have failed," says Haji Fazlul Haq, a former town governor. "They could not bring security to the town and that is why they are handing it to the Americans."

This " blunt assessment" says the paper, was shared by other residents who expressed greater confidence in US forces due to take control in November. "The Americans fight harder. I think the Taliban will be afraid of this change of command," said Haji Abdul Wahab, acting director of the peace commission of Helmand, a government body that promotes reconciliation.

Despite this, our military have learned something from Iraq: minor embarrassments like failure can easily be dealt with by removing the word "defeat" from the military vocabulary. They simply substitute words like "redeployment", "reorganisation", "force realignment" or "a sensible redistribution of manpower". This latter phrasing was how 13th Century Fox justified it, having learnt well the art of spin from the Labour government that previously he was so quick to deride

The establishment line, being touted by the BBC is that "the changes being unveiled will improve the effectiveness of the overall military effort." They won't, of course – not without a significant change in strategy and tactics. The US tactics are probably marginally better, but still not good enough and their strategic appreciation is probably as lamentable as that of their British counterparts.

The only significant difference, therefore, is that the US forces are better able to weather the running attrition. With more men in theatre, the number of body bags is not (yet) quite so critical.

That aside, however much British politicians and the military care to dress it up, even Con Coughlin admits it still doesn't look good. The mockery has already started and, if they do manage to avoid the taint of defeat, the military sure as hell cannot claim that this has been a victory.


Monday, 28 June 2010

A modern-day barbarity

A bomb disposal expert was killed in a gunfight with insurgents yesterday, The Guardian tells us, using the MoD as it source.

The solider from 101 Engineer Regiment (EOD), was attached to the joint force explosive ordnance disposal group, part of the counter improvised explosive device (IED) task force. He was "... part of an EOD team that was extracting from an incident when he was killed by small arms fire," said Lieutenant Colonel James Carr-Smith, a spokesman for Task Force Helmand.

"He died seeking to rid Helmand of IEDs such that local Afghans could move freely throughout the province. He will be greatly missed and his actions will not be forgotten. We will remember him," adds Carr-Smith.

But fine words butter no parsnips, as the saying goes. There are occasions when EODs must work out in the open, and this does put them at risk. However, as long as there is vehicle access to the site of a suspected IED, then there is no need whatsoever for a soldier to expose himself to fire.

In the first instance, there is the Husky set, for detecting IEDs and for detonating pressure-pad initiated devices. Mine rollers and armoured bulldozers also have their place. Then there is the Buffalo armoured vehicle, which can be used to investigate suspect devices. There are also tracked robots which can be used for further investigation – these can be controlled from the safety of a Mastiff protected vehicle.

However, in this man's Army, great value is placed on the ability of the EOD to neutralise and then dismantle IEDs, for the forensic evidence that it yields and thus the assistance it gives in tracking and arresting bomb-makers. For that reason, it is held, EOD must expose themselves to danger – for the greater good.

That argument would stand up if the policy led to a reduction in the number of bomb-makers and the number of IEDs placed. In fact, despite four or maybe five EODs being killed (perhaps more), plus an unknown number of soldiers killed while using hand-held metal detectors, IED incidents are at a record level.

Further, there are different and better ways of gaining intelligence to thwart the bomb makers, such as automatic change detection, or even direct UAV observation, tracing bomb-layers back to their bases – plus more subtle techniques.

Two years ago, we were asking how many more times must men be pitted against bombs, when there are machines which can be used in place of flesh and blood. In fact, we have been pointing this out ever since 2005.

Sending men against bombs is the equivalent of the First World War practice of having men in orderly lines walk into the muzzles of machine guns, instead of using tanks. In this modern age, we find it appalling that the military could even consider such barbarity – so why is it acceptable for the modern-day military to do what amounts to the same thing?

We need to forget the fine words – and bring these people back home alive.


They do not compute

If one had to rank British media coverage of the Afghan conflict, my winner would almost certainly be The Independent - not that I agree with much of it, but at least they seem to be trying to offer a coherent picture (in so far as that is possible).

A significant contribution to that picture is a report today which tells us that Gen McChrystal had issued a "devastatingly critical assessment" of the war against a "resilient and growing insurgency" just days before being forced out.

I can't quite go with the paper's interpretation of this – it seems to believe that this assessment contributed to Obama's determination to fire the General, hence the strap-line attached to the piece by Jonathan Owen and Brian Brady, which declares: "President Obama lost patience with Runaway General's failed strategy".

Anyhow, the thrust of the story is of some significance, however you decide to interpret it. Using confidential military documents, we are told, McChrystal had briefed NATO defence ministers earlier this month and warned them not to expect any progress in the next six months. He raised "serious concerns" over levels of security, violence and corruption within the Afghan administration.

His "campaign overview" warned that only a fraction of the areas key to long-term success were "secure", governed with "full authority", or enjoying "sustainable growth". And there was a critical shortage of "essential" military trainers needed to build up Afghan forces – of which only a fraction were classed as "effective".

McChrystal had pointed to an "ineffective or discredited" Afghan government and a failure by Pakistan "to curb insurgent support" as "critical risks" to success. "Waning" political support and a "divergence of coalition expectations and campaign timelines" were among the key challenges faced. Only five areas out of 116 assessed were classed as "secure" – the rest suffering various degrees of insecurity and more than 40 described as "dangerous" or "unsecure".

Just five areas out of 122 were classed as being under the "full authority" of the government – with governance rated as non-existent, dysfunctional or unproductive in 89 of the areas. Seven areas out of 120 rated for development were showing sustainable growth. In 48 areas, growth was either stalled or the population was at risk. Less than a third of the military and only 12 percent of police forces were rated as "effective".

Afghan people "believe that development is too slow" and many "still generally mistrust Afghan police forces". Security was "unsatisfactory" and efforts to build up the Afghan security forces were "at risk", with "capability hampered by shortages in NCOs and officers, corruption and low literacy levels".

The problem with the briefing, apparently, was its candour. The general was judged to be "off message", creating an "uncompromising obstacle" to an "early, face-saving exit" and Obama's plan "to bring troops home in time to give him a shot at a second term."

A senior Whitehall official thus says that McChrystal's departure is a sign of politicians "taking charge of this war", from which we might adduce that there is to be a structured attempt to deceive the public into believing that a victory is being secured in Afghanistan and that we will shortly be able to withdraw troops from the theatre, with honour.

The problem I have with this analysis is that in the recent past – i.e., in Iraq – the military had been only to keen to representing defeat as victory. The indications are that they would do it again with Afghanistan. In that light, what is being said does not make obvious sense. The politicians should not need to worry. When told to depart, the military will pack up its tent, declare victory and go home with the bands playing.

Perversely, though, it seems that McChrystal – he who had been so confident of military victory - had been urging Washington to "start the political track as soon as possible", a process which would require the politicians to take the lead (and the responsibility) in talking to the Taliban and other parties.

In other words, McChrystal could have come to terms with the probability – if not certainty – that we are losing, and wanted to dump the problem on the politicians, which is exactly the reason why I thought he had engineered his own dismissal.

Petraeus, on the other hand, is supposed to be arguing "that we need to get the upper hand militarily and regain the military initiative, and then negotiate from a position of strength". Sources are saying that it would take time to recover from McChrystal's loss, "particularly if Petraeus just ploughs on with trying to get the upper hand militarily".

This could be reflecting another, as yet unexplored possibility that there is a schism within the military, with genuine differences of opinion as to whether the conflict is winnable – and over what timescale.

Such complexities get even murkier – or even more complex, if you prefer – when you read Patrick Cockburn. A seasoned, if not veteran war reporter, Cockburn got it completely wrong in southern Iraq during the British occupation – he was too focused on the US occupation. But he was worth listening to on American actions (although he wasn't exactly an objective observer).

Cockburn would have it that Petraeus is taking command in Afghanistan "to stage-manage a war that the US has decided it cannot win militarily, but from which it cannot withdraw without damaging loss of face."

Now, human nature being what it is, there is never judged so fine and perceptive a commentator as the one who articulates exactly what you personally believe to be the case. And that is so close to my "take" that it is all I can do not to remark on what a fine, perceptive fellow Cockburn has become.

But, if that is what Petraeus is in position to do, what was the real problem with McChrystal? Did he, unlike Petraeus, see that the public was not going to believe the victory bullshit a second time round and thus decide that, if someone was going to get blamed, it wasn't going to be the military? And if McChrystal had decided he couldn't pull it off, what makes Petraeus think he can?

One way or another, it seems, we are no way near getting to the bottom of this affair, even less so with Call me Dave twittering away about having "achieved results", when McChrystal is saying that things are going down the pan.

Then we have Gen Richards saying (apparently spontaneously – and you can believe that if you like) that we should be talking to the Taliban – one of the things, supposedly, for which McChrystal got dumped, with the Pakistanis also getting in on the act (of which more later).

There are things going on here which do not compute – they really do not compute.

Comment: Afghanistan thread

Saturday, 26 June 2010

The wages of stupid?

In the continuing drama of the Afghan military adventure, Guy Adams of The Independent argues that McChrystal's minders blundered by underestimating a title with a history of heavyweight journalism. And that, he says, is how Rolling Stone was able to bring down a general.

It takes little textual analysis, however, to work out that Adams is guessing. "It's impossible to know what exactly persuaded McCrystal's press staff to invite Hastings (the author of the Rolling Stone piece) into their inner sanctum," he writes, "where he would be privy to a frat-boy atmosphere and culture of contempt for the White House which would ultimately this week force the General to resign from his job as commander of US forces in Afghanistan."

The thesis here, that McChrystal (and through him his staff) have made a massive blunder, is intriguing, but it would seem to fly in the face of the perceived wisdom. The general and his team have a reputation for intellectual depth, and for a comprehensive grasp of their subject and allied matters.

If they really did not know how the Rolling Stone piece would be seen inside the Beltway, and thus be treated by Obama, then we are looking at a staggering level of incompetence, and an alarming degree of naïvety. Even here, where we have been quick to argue that stupidity is a driving force in the military high command, this takes some believing.

However, not only is it very hard to believe that McChrystal could be that stupid, it is equally hard to believe that his boss David Petraeus knew nothing of what was going on and, if he did, that he chose not to intervene - unless he approved it, even if tacitly.

As an alternative, we could go with Con Coughlin who is asking whether McChrystal is the fall guy for the president's failure. The general lost his job as a result of Obama's lack of input into the Afghan war, he argues.

I think even Adams's thesis is preferable to that, but if this was a blunder by McChrystal, we are faced with a terrifying prospect. In a key military adventure, we have a US system that can appoint an idiot for its theatre commander. We also have a situation where the entire military and political establishments on both sides of the Atlantic can roll over and revere an idiot.

Readers here will know that we were not particularly impressed with McChrystal's military (or political) appreciation of the Afghan situation, and we always thought his "surge" ill-founded. But, since all the big-wigs, not least Liam Fox seemed to think the general was the "dog's bollocks" (the correct military term, I believe), who am I to argue?

Actually, this self-deprecation does not become this site. We do argue – this is what we do. The McChrystal "surge" always was, is and always will be dangerously flawed and ineffective – and we have said so. It is a waste of time, money and lives. And the fact that Fox and his mates seem to think differently says more about them than us.

Interestingly, The Times is telling its readers that a newly-elected Tory MP has declared the "war" to be "mission impossible" – and such is the weight of this pronouncement that it puts three of its journalists' names on the story by-line. There's glory for you.

The MP in question is Rory Stewart, "former soldier and diplomat" and prime candidate for replacing Patrick Mercer as favoured media "rent-a-mouth". And out Rory believes that a "radical rethink" is the only option if the Nato-led surge of 40,000 extra troops fails to achieve results by next July. Jeeze! There's real intellectual analysis for you.

And it gets better. Rory believes that only a few thousand troops — perhaps 1,000 of them British — should remain in Afghanistan after next summer. "You would have a few planes (he means aircaft, not a carpenter's tool) around but you would no longer do counter-insurgency. You would no longer be in the game of trying to hold huge swathes of rural Afghanistan."

One way or another, though, it looks as if we are on our way out. Call me Dave has gone public to say that the "very exciting prospect for bringing our troops home" was within sight as Afghans began to take control of security, but that the coming months would be critical. Then asked if troops would be home before the next election, he said: "Make no mistake about it, we cannot be there for another five years having been there for effectively nine years already."

The idea that the Afghans are beginning to take control of security is just bollocks, without even the dog attached – and that is by no means a military term. Neither is the evidence hard to find. Just last week, local UN officials in Kabul were reporting that insurgent violence had risen sharply over the last three months, with roadside bombings, complex suicide attacks and assassinations soaring over last year's levels.

But if talking bollocks is what Call me Dave thinks is necessary to get the troops home, then perhaps it is a small price to pay. In between then – whenever "then" is – and now, Dave will have to go through the charade of fighting a war, and being terribly sorry when the latest squaddie has his brains spread over the terrain. And he is admitting that it's going to be tough going.

At least, though, it looks as if the Buffaloes have turned up in theatre – eighteen months after they were ordered (picture above). They are far too late and too few in number to make a strategic difference but they will reduce the number of times Dave will have to read out the names of the dead from the despatch box. For that small mercy, at least, we can be thankful.

Comment: Afghanistan thread