31 December, 2006

A Happy New Year to everybody.

I am off to visit family so Crumbling Spires will be back on the 5th or 6th.

Britannia used to rule the waves: 2

Back in October, Crumbling Spires reported that the Royal Navy was unlikely to be able to play a role in enforcing any sanctions on North Korea because it did not have the ships. After this government has finished with the Royal Navy, Britannia might just about be able to rule a duck pond.

Now, the Times reports that half the Navy's ships are to be mothballed and the final two orders for new Type 45 destroyers have been cancelled. The problems? As the Times says, cost over-runs and Treasury refusal to find the money. To which Crumbling Spires will add Chancellor Gordon Brown's refusal to divert money from social programmes designed to make him popular enough to become Prime Minister.

30 December, 2006

Cash for honours and holidays.

A bit of catching up to do after the Christmas break. The Cash for honours scandal rolls on. According to the Times, next in line to talk to Assistant Commissioner John Yates and his team are some of Tony Blair's Downing Street political staff: Jonathan Powell, John McTernan and and Ruth Turner.

Powell is a superior sort of personal assistant-cum-chief off-the-record spokesman, McTernan is the main Labour Party representative in Downing Street and Turner is some sort of political advisor. Exactly what they find to do all day is anybody's guess, but in the past they seem to have had occasion to receive, or perhaps even send, emails relating to the cash for honours business. It is such emails that AC Yates wants to talk to them about.

The Independent says McTernan was first up.

Meanwhile, the Blair family are on holiday at the Bee Gees' expense and certain MPs are not happy about it. Obviously there is no connection between the free holiday and the award of honours to the Blair's hosts, at least none that AC Yates has publicly expressed an interested in.

Saddam Watch: the execution

CNN has some film of the lead up to the execution; taking it as far as a rope going round his neck. I would think that is all the networks are going to show. Update: According to a news report from the BBC (Watch: Iraq TV images) the video ends with the rope around his neck and the Iraqis have not released the bit with Saddam swinging.

I cannot get the video to play in Firefox without switching to IE.

For the technically minded, TV Predictions says the execution was filmed using a Sony HD camera.

Update 31.12.06

Digg has what looks like a grainy mobile phone film of the execution. Ice Rocket has various links, including Uncomfortably Numb who supplies a translation for the phone film.

Exit stage down: Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein has finally has finally fallen through the trapdoor, at 03.00 GMT. Not that everybody is pleased. According to the Times, the Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, is filled with horror. The BBC reports that Margaret Beckett, UK Foreign secretary, speaking for the UK government, does not approve of executions, even for mass murderers; she is joined by an exotic array: George Galloway, Ming Campbell and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Independent agrees with Human Rights Watch that Saddam's trial was flawed.

Amnesty International must be on holiday. No doubt they will be weighing in later today, as will their friends in the European Union.

Sure enough, Amnesty deplores it all and, Reuters reports, the European Union thinks all barbaric. "You don't fight barbarism with acts that I deem as barbaric. The death penalty is not compatible with democracy," said a spokesman for the Finnish EU presidency. Actually, being NATO free-loaders, the Finns do not fight anybody with anything.

Much more from the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian.

29 December, 2006

The Fat Controller gets preferential NHS treatment.

On Christmas day, John Prescott went to hospital and had a kidney stone removed on the NHS.

Some other NHS patients are not impressed.

They have a point. Never mind Christmas, I know from experience that Friday is not a good day to be admitted to hospital. The people who work the scanners are strictly 9-5, weekdays only, unless you are a cabinet minister.

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NHS secrecy: looking after their own.

North Staffordshire NHS Trust is threatening to sue John Hemming, MP, for the cost of consulting lawyers over the David Southall Special Case files, which they are reluctant to release.

Mr Hemming is quoted in the Birmingham Post as saying:

"I have been writing to the hospital asking them to tell patients when there is a secret medical file. The hospital's response has been to pass the issue to their lawyers.

"Their lawyers have now threatened to sue me for the cost of the legal advice. This is complete nonsense. The hospital should obey the law. If they don't know what the law is then they should not try to get me to pay the legal costs of them finding out."
It is an old trick. Threaten legal action and then refuse to comment other than to say, as North Staffs NHS Trust did, "Our solicitors are dealing with this and it would be quite inappropriate to comment."

So, not content with killing people, the NHS now wants to do it in secret.

More from John Hemming's Weblog.

Update 29.12.06 @ 20:00
For some Friday evening surrealism, see the link to John Hemming's weblog (under 29th December). The Trust now says it is not going to sue the MP but, as far as I can make out, will only talk to him via their lawyers and will charge him for the lawyers' time, so that the money can be spent on officials' expense accounts patient care. Mr Hemming concludes,
So the response from the hospital is that they don't want to talk to me directly, but only through the lawyers and they want to charge me for the time spent by the lawyers on talking to me. I am not quite sure what planet this organisation is on.
Which planet? First identify your galaxy.

British fatality in Iraq: Sergeant Graham Hesketh (Updated)

The Ministry of Defence has announced the death of Sergeant Graham Hesketh in Iraq. The 127th fatality in Iraq occurred on 28th December.

The soldier, from 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, was taking part in a routine patrol in Basra City when the Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle he was travelling in was targeted by a roadside bomb. He was very seriously injured and airlifted to the Field Hospital at Shaibah Logistics Base, but unfortunately died later as a result of his injuries. There were no other casualties.
Obituary from the MoD:
Graham Hesketh was born in Liverpool on 1 December 1971. He grew up in Runcorn in Cheshire, where he went to St Chad’s Roman Catholic School.

Graham joined the British Army at the age of 17 in 1989 and served with the 1st Royal Tank Regiment in Germany for three years. He left the Army in 1992, but rejoined in March 1995 to serve with 1st Battalion The King’s Regiment, and was promoted to Lance Corporal the following year.

He was promoted to Corporal in July 2002 and posted to the Infantry Training Centre Catterick where he was an instructor to infantry recruits. He returned to his Battalion and was promoted to Sergeant in January 2005. The King’s Regiment merged into The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment on 1 July 2006 and he deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Battalion on 11 November 2006, serving as a Platoon Sergeant.

During his time in the Army Sgt Hesketh deployed on exercises to Canada, Jordan, Kenya, and Germany and spent an attachment with 1st Battalion The King’s Own Royal Border Regiment. He had deployed on operational tours to Northern Ireland, the Former Republic of Yugoslavia and Iraq.

Throughout his varied career Sgt Hesketh always embraced, and was enthused by, new challenges - no matter how difficult or diverse. He was an extremely motivated and compassionate soldier who was fiercely determined. He was committed to those under his command, was completely selfless and a very effective leader.

Professionally, Sgt Hesketh was held in high regard by all those who knew and served with him. He was an enthusiastic and highly competent Platoon Sergeant who had a keen sense of humour and was always optimistic no matter what the circumstance. He will be remembered as being a great asset to the Battalion as a whole.

Off-duty he would divide himself between spending time with his close friends and giving avid support to Everton Football Club.

Graham was engaged to a soldier who is also serving in Iraq. He leaves behind two children, a 7 year old girl and a 3 year old boy.

British fatality in Afghanistan: James Dwyer. (updated)

The Ministry of Defence has announced the death of Lance Bombardier James Dwyer in Afghanistan on 27th December, the 44th British fatality of the campaign.

The soldier, from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, was killed during a reconnaissance mission in the desert to the south of Garmsir, in which a vehicle was involved in an explosion resulting in one fatality, one serious injury and two minor injuries. At this stage it is too early to say what caused the explosion but there were no Taliban in the vicinity and there was no follow on contact.
The Ministry of Defence also wrote:
James Dwyer was born and raised in South Africa before joining the Army in July 2003. Having completed his basic and specialist military training, he joined 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery in June 2004.

Upon successful completion of the Commando Course, he was posted to, and subsequently deployed on operations with, 7 (Sphinx) Commando Battery Royal Artillery, based in Arbroath, Scotland.

Lance Bombardier Dwyer, known as ‘Doobs’ to his friends and colleagues, was a professionally outstanding soldier and had already shown the potential for a long and successful career in the Military.

He was enormously proud of being both a Commando and a Junior Non-Commissioned Officer. Respected by his superiors, peers and subordinates alike, he took his responsibilities very seriously and was always quick to mentor those less experienced than him.

James had proven himself a versatile and dedicated soldier whilst deployed on exercises both in the UK and Norway, as well as on operations in Afghanistan.

A bright and intelligent young man with an infectious sense of humour, Lance Bombardier Dwyer could be relied upon to be at the forefront of any activity. He had a passion for worldwide travel and the excitement of visiting new countries. He was also an enthusiastic sportsman; excelling at squash in particular, for which he represented both the Royal Artillery and the Army.

Very much a family man, James spoke often of home and was especially close to his sister, also a serving soldier in the British Army.

22 December, 2006

Crumbling Spires will now be closing down for Christmas. Thanks to all who have visited over the last four months and who have made it all worthwhile. It will be back after the festivities.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

Times interview with the Defence secretary.

Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, is one of the few senior ministers in the present government who gives the impression of not being out of his depth. He has been talking to the Times.

Browne accepts the army is struggling with serious problems of manning and equipment. However, as long as the Treasury refuses the military proper funding, and continues to make social spending a priority, it is hard to see what he can do about it.

It is also encouraging to see him publicly backing General Dannatt.

Update 29.2.06
The Ministry of Defence is whingeing that the Times has misquoted Browne in claiming that he said the army is "too small to cope". If the MoD is correct, then why is the army in Afghanistan and Iraq undermanned?

21 December, 2006

Christmas al Qaeda terror threat.

From the Blotter:

British intelligence and law enforcement officials have passed on a grim assessment to their U.S. counterparts, "It will be a miracle if there isn't a terror attack over the holidays in London," a senior American law enforcement official tells ABCNews.com.

British police have been quietly carrying out a series of key arrests as they continue to track at least six active "plots" tied to what they call "al Qaeda of England."

Officials said they could not cite any specific date or target but said al Qaeda had planned previous operations during the Christmas holidays that had been disrupted.
The Blotter and ABC News have more. It can surprise nobody who has been listening to the authorities over the last three or four months.

Cap doffed to lfg.

Johm Hemming MP on David Southall and the GMC.

In a speech in the House of Commons, John Hemming the MP for Birmingham Yardley, has continued his campaign against the mistreatment of children and their parents by the authorities in child abuse cases. He had much to say of interest regarding David Southall's controversial research into Sudden Infant Death.

In the speech, Mr Hemming raises some disturbing questions about the nature of Southall's research and the way the issue has been handled by the General Medical Council. It does seem remarkable that, for some reason I cannot figure, the GMC have not only adjourned their disciplinary hearing against Southall for 11 months but they have also left him in possession of key documentary evidence. Here is some extracts from Hansard:

Dr. Southall has done much research on sudden infant death—an important area of research, given the numbers of children who have died without a clear diagnosis. Perhaps the biggest project was known as protocol 85.02. Dr. Southall looked at the response of babies to asphyxiation, shortage of oxygen and the presence of carbon dioxide. The experiments were known as sleep studies, and started with about 7,000 babies born in the mid ’80s at Doncaster and Rotherham hospitals.

Phases 1 and 2 of the experiments were quite reasonable. Phase 3, however, involved choking babies for 10 sessions of 10 seconds, depriving them of oxygen by giving them only 15 per cent. oxygen rather than the normal 21 per cent., and then giving them too much carbon dioxide. Parents were not asked for their consent to the experiments; they were merely told, in writing, that they would happen, without any details.

A large number of brain-damaged babies were born in Doncaster in the 1980s. However, the records showing which babies were in the experiments were not in the medical files, because Dr. Southall kept secret files, known as special case files. Although compensation was paid, the causation was not entirely clear. The process expanded with the Office for National Statistics providing details of all deaths from sudden infant death syndrome—about 12,000 cases—so that Dr. Southall could continue his research with the siblings....

...Protocol 85.02 was not the only research project operated by Dr. Southall. He also gave carbon monoxide to babies with breathing problems, caused so much damage to babies in his experiments that they needed resuscitation, and did considerable damage through his experimental continuous negative extrathoracic pressure tanks, which he told others was tried and tested when in fact it was research...

..In essence, what we have is evidence of a doctor managing research likely to lead to brain damage and/or death in infants. There is evidence of a substantial number of babies being brain-damaged at the same hospital. There are also records of babies dying from symptoms that could have been caused by that type of research. However, there is no detailed explanation.

The allegations are very serious, but the system of regulation wants to ignore them. After many years of struggle, the General Medical Council started to hear evidence in November relating indirectly to research. It has, however, now decided to adjourn the hearing for 11 months. What is particularly interesting is the history of the special case files. Those have been stored in all sorts of locations, and they have been involved in criminal prosecutions and in family court actions. At one stage, a parent infiltrated the charity run by Dr. Southall to get access to the files. Court action resulted in their repossession.

In December 2005, it was agreed between the GMC and Dr. Southall that the files should be part of the medical records. However, he has now been allowed 11 months to sanitise them. It is important to remember that there is evidence that the files have already been partially sanitised. Many of the patients are completely unaware that the files exist. I have made numerous requests of the NHS to control the files and legal proceedings are continuing in an attempt to keep them intact. However, the authorities continue to resist this, and to tolerate a major cover-up.
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SANTA TRACKING: for children of all ages.

Not long until Christmas Eve, when once again various organisations world will be following Santa's real-time progress around the world. To help get in the mood, here are some sites to bookmark.

My favourite one is NASA's Santa Tracker. It uses NASA's own J Track satellite tracking model.

Thankfully, NASA's tracking equipment is a little more up to date than their front page. Surely there is a few elves around NASA who can touch it up a bit.

NORAD will be also be watching ready, as ever, to scramble their fighters at the first sign of trouble.

A few other sites also track Santa, though not all links may work.

A veiled criminals and a useful idiot..

Yesterday, it was reported that murder suspect Mustafa Jamal had fled abroad using a veil as a disguise. Today, the government has fairly obviously put up John Denham, MP, the Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee and a former Home Office minister, to deny the story is true and to defend the right of violent Muslim drag artistes to remain in the UK, whatever crimes they commit. According to the BBC:

Mr Denham, a former Home Office minister, said the suggestion that a veil disguise was used, when there was no evidence to support the claim, was potentially damaging because "veils are a very sensitive issue in our society at the moment".
Note the technique. A backbench Labour MP thinks he is very important at being asked to help out by ministers; so important, he might even get offered another government job. He duly follows orders. If the Jama story is indeed false, then there is no harm done; however, if it turns out to be true, Denham is left looking more stupid than usual as Home Office ministers and officials, trying not to smile in public, celebrate being off the hook because they have denied nothing. Some useful idiot did it for them.

NOTE: Due to operator error, yesterday's post on this subject has vanished into hyperspace.

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Baaz Tsuka 6: (updated)

In a press statement on Wednesday, the ISAF announced that Operation Baaz Tsuka had secured the regions of Howz-e Madad and Zangabad", both of which are to the west of Kandahar City in south-eastern Afghanistan.

Multi-map .com: Click on map to enlarge.

CBC News has been in Howze-e Madad and can report that, although Canada deployed tanks for the first time since the Korean War, the town was taken without a single shot being fired.

The Toronto Star carries what I think is a syndicated report from Bill Graveland who has been with the tanks.

Let us hope for another incident free day.


Canada.com can report that it has been a quiet day, so far. Long may it continue so. However,though quiet, as the latest ISAF press release indicates, there is much to keep the troops busy.

23/12/06: Pictures from Baaz Tsuka: militaryphotos.

20 December, 2006

Afghanistan: analysis and suggestions from the Rand Corporation.

In an illuminating interview with Afgha.com, Dr Seth Jones, of the Rand Corporation, examines the position in the southern provinces, analyses Pakistan's role in relation to NATO and the Taliban, and suggests a possible four-stage resolution to Afghanistan's problems.

Operation Baaz Tsuka 5: strategy and tactics (Updated)

My tentative reading of the strategic aim of Operation Baaz Tsuka is that it is an attempt to consolidate NATO's political and military position in Kandahar, the Taliban's major Afghan power base, partly in order to be able to press ahead with the ISAF's development and assistance programme, and partly (mostly?) in preparation for forthcoming political developments. Despite persistent press reports to the contrary, over the summer and autumn, the military position in southern Afghanistan has been relatively stabilised: the British held Helmand; the Canadians held Kandahar, which has obviously been the most difficult of the provinces; and US forces did much to push the Taliban from eastern Afghanistan over the border into Pakistan. It is now a question of holding the Taliban at bay in order to provide a stable environment within which various political processes begin to unfold. Those Earl repolitical processes will almost certainly decide the immediate future of Afghanistan.

In brief, on the political front we can expect a series of jirgas, (meetings of tribal elders) at which agreements for the local administration of areas will be thrashed out between those concerned. The most important of these should be the Grand Jirga, due shortly between the Afghan and Pak governments, if they ever manage to stop exchanging insults for long enough to reach an agreement to meet. The great unknown in the jirgas will be the role of the Taliban. Certainly, the Taliban will be part of the jirgas and much may depend on the relative strength of their negotiating position. If Operation Baaz Tsuka can drive the Taliban into their safe bases across the border in western Pakistan the jirgas might well go better for all concerned than if they were still controlling ares of Kandahar.

Moving away from strategy to tactics, although Baaz Tsuka was announced as a British led operation, the reports of the first few days seem to indicate that it is, in fact, mainly a Canadian show. As with yesterday's reports, tactically the operation seems to be proceeding as a series of discrete actions, taking out whatever targets intelligence or opportunity present. This morning, the ISAF has reported an air strike against a command post and a successful attack on a terrorist leader. Over the coming days, we will probably see a stream of similar, apparently disjointed reports. Only later will overall progress become clear.

Other reports:

CNews: "Cdn troops launch tank, artillery barrage."

Canada.com: "Canadians join NATO offensive against Taliban."

Update @17:15

As many as 50 Taliban have been killed so far in air strikes on Taliban command posts say the Globe and Mail (Canada) and the Irish Examiner. They seem to be drawing on a report from Reuters in which a NATO spokesman is quoted as saying that

"We have cleared one large and two small villages of Taliban. We have killed a reasonable number of Taliban ... it is in the range of about 50,"
Reuters continues with the immortal line, " The Taliban could not be contacted immediately for comment." Oh well, the phones must have been down. They can always use ring-back.

Cash for dishonour.

Not much is happening publicly in the cash for honours match up between Scotland Yard and Downing Street. Last weekend the press made a big thing of saying the inquiry was widening to encompass Blair's inner circle, Although the story made a splash abroad, as far as I can see, it is basically just a reworking of the "police seek e-mails" story which seems to accompany any major investigation these days.

Elsewhere, according to the Independent, some Labour MPs are out to get Assistant Commissioner Yates, the man in charge. The Evening Standard leads with the story but it is probably more accurate to say that they are continuing to go after Yates. As Lord Mackenzie, Labour peer and ex-policeman, pointed out previously, this sort of thing is not unknown amongst the criminal fraternity.

Which brings me seamlessly to Parliament. The major story to emerge is from this scandal is that MPs are using the case as an opportunity to bleed further the taxpayer. The logic,as expressed by leading Liberal leech doctor Alan Beith, seems to be that politics needs cleaning up, so remove the need for dodgy donations by funding the political parties with taxpayers' money. What next, abolish theft by giving everybody mounds of taxpayers' money?

Do not be fooled by the Guardian's headline that, "Time is running out for deal on party funding," or the difficulties identified by the Times, a deal will be eagerly agreed with tear-jerking, oscar-winning public reluctance and then whatever numbers are being mentioned now will pale into insignificant figures when our elected unrepresentatives really get their hands in the till.

19 December, 2006

Operation Baaz Tsuka 4: oust Taliban, deliver assistance.

The Canadian National Post, succinctly sums up the operation's aims as a subtitle to a story headed "Canada's New Afghan Offensive": to oust Taliban, deliver assistance. However,the ISAF is not making predictions about how long the ousting will take. The Edmonton Sun quotes an ISAF spokesman:

[He] would not say when NATO forces will be ready to proceed with the second phase of the operation - asking village elders to nominate trusted civilians to serve in the Afghan National Army and police, to protect their homes and land from the Taliban after NATO has withdrawn troops back to their bases.

"We will be ready when the area is secure to move on to the (recruiting) phase," Marsh said.
As the Sun reports, it has been a remarkably quiet start to the operation, with only sporadic clashes. I presume that is because the Taliban have retreated over the border into western Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the ISAF has issued another terse statement on Operation Baaz Tsuka.
During today’s Operation Baaz Tsuka manoeuvres, Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF forces discovered and destroyed a large enemy weapons cache that included anti-tank mines, 82 mm mortar rounds, rocket propelled grenades and communications equipment.

ISAF and Afghan forces continue to make steady progress as part of the operation. Only sporadic resistance has been encountered so far. The troops will continue manoeuvring through the region in the coming days in order to improve security, which in turn will foster future reconstruction and development efforts.
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Margaret Beckett on the 45 minute lie.

Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, has let slip to the BBC that ministers doubted the government's infamous claim, made in 2002 during the debates over invading Iraq: that Saddam Hussein could land WMDs on London within 45 minutes. In a BBC Radio 4 Today interview, the Daily Mail reports, Beckett said :

“That was a statement that was made once and it was thought to be of such little relevance — and perhaps people began quickly to say, ‘I’m not sure about that’ — that it was never used once in all the debates in the House of Commons.”

Her words imply Mr Blair and ministers quietly dropped the allegation yet failed to withdraw it or correct the record. After speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today show Mrs Beckett was challenged by presenter John Humphrys on why the claim had not been corrected in public.

She retorted: “Oh, come on — nobody thought it was relevant. Nobody thought it was a big sweeping statement.”
Little relevance? Not relevant? Not a big sweeping thing? People were not sure about it? At the time, everybody knew immediately, rather than quickly, that it was a crude lie. The lie, made by Blair at the suggestion of his press officer, Alastair Campbell, ignited the mother of all political rows, which was to leave in its wake one suicide, sundry reputations in tatters and arguably the most dishonest official report in British history: the Hutton Report. Two years later the hapless Lord Hutton is still trying to salvage his reputation.

For the next 7 days you can hear Beckett's interview on the BBC Radio 4 Today website under Listen Again for Tuesday 19th December 2006, towards the end of the 08:10-08:25 segment. The BBC does not do transcripts for the programme. Humphrys approached the claim through the recent Carne Ross story. What the Mail report does not convey is how much Beckett was caught unprepared by that and was obviously trying- and failing - to think on her feet.

Cash for honours: promotion and peace.

John Yates, the intrepid Scotland Yard detective in charge of the cash for honours investigation has been formally promoted from Deputy Assistant Commissioner to Assistant Commissioner. According to the BBC , he is now officially number 3 honcho at the Yard. Given that, these days, the top man, Ian Blair, seems to spend more time spouting sociological drivel than actually policing anything, arguably that makes AC Yates Britain's second most senior operational copper.

I can find no comment from the Prime Minister but the Daily Telegraph points out that Yates' appointment would have required the support of the Home Secretary. Meanwhile, the same link says, in the cash for honours nonsense, a peace of a sorts has come to the Middle East:

Mr Blair yesterday showered praise on Lord Levy, Labour's chief fund-raiser and his Middle East go-between, after a weekend of damaging speculation of a rift over the cash for honours affair.

Mr Blair said Lord Levy, who accompanied him to Ramallah for talks with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian authority, had performed "an excellent job" and been "immensely helpful" in his role as Middle East envoy.

Acknowledging the compliment, Lord Levy nodded in gratitude.

But in a sign that he has become a more controversial figure, he was placed in the second row of the press conference behind other government officials. During a trip to the Middle East in September, he sat prominently next to Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, in the front row.
You're not my friend any more, I don't want to sit with you. God help us. I wonder what the Palestinian terrorists thought of it all.

Chatham House: Foreign Policy Report.

The reaction of the British media to yesterday's release of the interim report from the Conservative Party's Security Policy Group has been relatively muted. Or perhaps, more accurately, disinterested because a similar but better report has appeared.

Poor old Cameron has been spiked somewhat by Chatham House, a UK Think Tank which has just published: British Foreign Policy and Its Possible Successor(s). Click here for the pdf version. It says much the same things as the Conservative document - Blair was wrong to support Bush, invasion of Iraq a mistake, Europeans should not have been isolated, lack of influence, role, etc, etc - but at least has the merit of being coherent and readable.

Asadullah Wafa: the new Governor of Helmand.

So, the Times got it right after all. Mohammad Daud has been sacked as governor of Helmand, the southern Afghanistan province in which the majority of British troops are based, and the scene of some of the fiercest recent battles with the Taliban.

Daud has been replaced by a former governor of Paktia and Kunar provinces, Asadullah Wafa, whose first act has been to announce that he will allow no more deals like that brokered between the British and the Taliban by local elders at Musa Qala. I read the decision as the outcome of an internal Afghan debate over what to do with the Taliban; so, given President Karzai's tenuous authority outside Kabul , Wafa's announcement should probably not be taken as irrevocable.

I think we can leave the involvement of the CIA and a drugs mafia in Daud's sacking to the conspiracy theorists. Not even the Foreign Office is buying that.

British Foreign Office officials said that they did not believe that Mr Daud had been fired due to American pressure.

One official said: "I'm aware of the newspaper reports saying that [President Hamid] Karzai sacked governor Daud due to 'CIA pressure with the Musa Qala arrangement'. It seems unlikely to me. There are certainly differing opinions on the Musa Qala agreement, but I don't think that would be a make or break for a governor, especially considering the deal was done with the full consultation, and approval, of President Karzai."

18 December, 2006

David Cameron: the Conservative Security Policy Group.

On Friday, in a light-hearted post, I wrote,
Meanwhile the serious part of the Conservative Party shakes its collective head and waits for Cameron's next hostage to fortune.
Previously Cameron's stupidities have been harmless fun, at worst electoral disaster. Today he has moved onto a new level of misjudgement, as unacceptable as it is surprising, in a senior politician. Even in my most cynical moments, I never expected Cameron to start playing party politics with UK security policy at a time when British troops are in action and the country is possibly facing an immediate serious threat.

Following the publication of the Conservative Party's "Interim Position Paper of the National and International Security Policy Group", tomorrows headlines will probably be that Cameron blames the invasion of Iraq for the terrorist threat to the UK. The International Herald Tribune and the Guardian have already picked up an AP report of the story. Expect more of the same and inevitably damage to the UK's reputation abroad.

The Interim Paper can be downloaded here in pdf form. Amongst the criticisms of British policy and anti-American sentiments, for me, the following quote (page 5) stands out:
Management of our key relationships however requires attention. We need to recognise that for our longstanding positioning to continue to serve UK interests and for the UK to avoid becoming merely an echo of American policy, allies and partners must share our aspirations for a functioning alliance and for close, cooperative US/European relations. Not all European partners do to the same extent. Nor will they unless we work at it. The paradox is that unless the UK wishes effectively to retire from the world, in which case a context for action does not matter, British freedom of manoeuvre lies in the existence rather than the absence of this framework. The drubbing that key relationships have taken over Iraq has served the interests only of our (collective) enemies. And anti-Americanism, which polls show has risen especially markedly in the UK, is a self inflicted wound. But it is also a reflection of the discomfort felt in this country with recent policy outcomes.
The debate over the UK's policy interests into relation to the US took place immediately after 9/11 and, as I have written before,Tony Blair rightly concluded that UK interests were the exactly same as those of the US, as enunciated by President Bush. It was not, therefore, "an echo of American policy" that led the British into Afghanistan and Iraq with the US but a transatlantic convergence of principles and national interests. Other European countries took a different view but that is a matter for them. From a British point of view, given NATO's performance in Afghanistan it is obvious who are the UK's most reliable allies, and they are not situated in Europe.

I would say that currently western anti-Americanism is not as bad as it was in the years of President Regan and the Cruise Missile debates. Then we had a Conservative leader in Mrs Thatcher who fought such nonsense, not pandered to it, reacting to opinion polls by seeking votes in such meaningless concepts as "frameworks" and "(collective) enemies". What is a "(collective) enemy" anyway - a kulak?

Where is the "drubbing" Cameron? Yes, there is serious problems remaining in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, but as I have demonstrated more than once this week already, progress, however painful and slow, is being made in the right direction. Not that such things seem to interest Cameron. If he lambasted the government for its operational manning and equipment failures, Cameron would have a reasonable point; however, he seems to show little interest in such things, preferring instead to launch a full scale party political attack which can do nothing to help the situation. Now is not the time for a responsible politician to engage in such things.

19.12.06 @7:35 - minor edits applied for clarification.

al Qaeda is coming soon.

The current edition of Newsweek has a story that al Qaeda is using its safe bases in North Waziristan, Pakistan to train a 12-man team of terrorists in preparation for a strike in the West. The putative mass murderers are said to include a couple of Norwegian Muslims, an Aussie and 9 British passport holders.

As Newsweek points out, MI5 is aware of this type of threat but there is so many suspect individuals travelling regularly between Pakistan and the UK that it is almost inevitable that a few will slip under the British and Pakistani security services' radar. It is well worth reading the full article.

It looks like the recent warnings from the Home secretary and the head of MI5 might well be fully justified.

Cap doffed to Hindustan Times.

Newsweek Permalink.

Sergeant Steven Roberts.

The inquest into the death of Sergeant Steven Roberts in Iraq during 2003 has ended with the coroner returning what is called a "narrative verdict". My lay understanding is that it means the coroner produces "...a short, factual statement setting out the circumstances of the death if this more fairly and accurately reflects how the deceased came to his or her death" than the other options available.

Bluntly, the finding is that Sgt. Roberts died because he was amongst the unluckiest of the 2,000 troops who went into Iraq without the best available armoured protection because of shortages of a £167 worth piece of kit. The Times quotes the coroner, Andrew Walker:

"To send soldiers into a combat zone without the appropriate basic equipment is, in my view, unforgivable and inexcusable and represents a breach of trust that the soldiers have in those in Government," he said, recording a narrative verdict in the death of Roberts.

"This Enhanced Combat Body Armour was a basic piece of protective equipment. I have heard justification and excuse and I put these to one side as I remind myself that Sergeant Roberts lost his life because he did not have that basic piece of equipment.

"Sergeant Roberts’s death was as a result of delay and serious failures in the acquisition and support chain that resulted in a significant shortage within his fighting unit of enhanced combat body armour, none being available for him to wear."
Other reports from the BBC and the Daily Telegraph.

I will update this post with the formal inquest verdict if it becomes available.

Opreation Baaz Tsuka: 3: ISAF statement.

The ISAF has issued a statement on the early progress of Operation Baaz Tsuka, the anti-Taliban operation in Kandahar, Afghanistan:

As Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and ISAF continue their movement in and around Zahre, Panjwaii and westerly districts of Kandahar province [the Zahre-Panjawii area is roughly 25-30 miles south west of Kandahar city].

During the operations, ANSF and ISAF have discovered large weapons caches, including mortars, dynamite and anti-personnel mines. These caches will be destroyed.

Local village tribal elders have been receptive to ANSF and ISAF taking up positions in the westerly districts of Kandahar Province and have encountered little to no resistance from insurgents.

Since the start of manoeuvres today in Zahre District, there has been one armored vehicle damaged due to an IED strike resulting in three minor injuries to ISAF troops.

South of Panjwaii, ISAF patrols discovered groups of local Afghans displaced from their homes by the Taliban. They have been given essential aid and identified for further relief.

The armoured vehicle attack was probably this incident, from the Washington Post.

Elsewhere in Kandahar, in what seems to be a separate incident, as the Canadian Globe and Mail reports, there was a clash between coalition forces and Taliban at Sperwan Gar, the scene of a notable engagement last October.

Tony Blair in Iraq

On his historic mission to secure peace in our sometime for the Middle East, the Prime Minister has taken the opportunity to visit British troops in Iraq. According to Downing Street, he is"four-square behind Iraq".
He said that British forces would remain in Iraq "until the job is done" and that the handover of power to Iraqi forces in Basra was "going well."

"Our policy is that as the Iraqi forces are capable of taking over control of the city of Basra so our forces stand back and go to a support role."
Both the BBC and the Independent focus on Blair's remarks to soldiers that the long term ambition to reduce troops numbers should not be read as as a change of policy.:
...the Prime Minister told an audience of about 300 troops from the 19 Light Brigade: "This isn't a change of our policy. Don't be under any doubt at all. British troops will remain until the job is done.

"Our country and countries like it are having to rediscover what it means to fight for what we believe in. This is real conflict, real battle, and it is a different kind of enemy - not fighting a state, but fighting a set of ideas and ideologies, a group of extremists who share the same perspective.
All this seems to be in accord with the Defence secretary's Chatham House speech, in which Des Browne indicated that Basra is the key and that, whatever the Foreign Office might say about a spring withdrawal, British policy is to stand by our allies and the Iraqi people until the task is completed. So despite the major concerns over the armed forces' manning and equipment, for once, at least, Blair deserves some credit for taking the right, as opposed to the easy, option.

Not that Blair is getting much credit from the British press. At the time of posting, except for a brief negative reference in a leader, the Guardian is ignoring Blair in Iraq. In both an article and a leader, the Daily Telegraph puts a negative spin on the story; whilst the Times reports on Blair in Iraq in the context of the headline "Blair snubbed by Bush move to send more troops to Iraq". How they work that out is beyond me. I think the Thunderer must be confusing Blair and the MoD with the appeasers at the Foreign Office.

17 December, 2006

My Lord! John Stevens' reports.

Lord John Stevens used to be a humble policeman, no doubt underpaid and overworked as he plodded the beat. Not any more. By the time he had risen through the ranks to become Metropolitan Police Commissioner, (London's Police Chief), he had arse-licked enough politicians to become a Lord on his retirement (without having to pay cash) in January 2005. Since then he has developed a taste for inquiries that are as pointless as they are expensive.

Last week he published his report which decisively proved that Lady Diana, Princess of Wales was not assassinated by either MI5 or the CIA. If anybody wants to see what the taxpayers got for their £3.69m (about $7M), the full 871 page pdf version can be downloaded from here.

Next up this week is his discount report into allegations of corruption in 39 soccer transfers. It is said to have cost the soccer authorities only about £800,000.

What next? Lord Stevens is a natural choice for inquires into both the Al-Yamamah and Cash for Honours investigations.

UPDATE1: 20.12.06

The BBC has reports and links relating to Steven's soccer inquiry, which has been published. As far as I can see, Stevens' most important claim from the inquiry is his expense forms. And I've just seen this in the Times:

Stevens and his Quest team of investigators would continue to pursue at least 8 uncooperative agents but under a new inquiry with a new frame of reference.
That should keep the wolf from the door until a bigger, badder, better, more profitable inquiry comes along.

UPDATE2: 21.12.06

The latest from Stevens is that he has passed a dossier relating to his inquiry to the Serious Fraud Office. For any soccer fans straying onto here, it might be helpful to observe that the SFO is not part of the police, rather it is a government department, and a completely useless one at that. Think of a civil service version of the Keystone Cops. All those concerned can sleep soundly tonight.

Senator McCain wastes his breath.

John McCain urges NATO allies to send more troops to Afghanistan.

The French reply.

Do not look to the UK, Senator, the British army cannot afford even a jump for the next five or so years.

Blair: Get your panzers off our lawns.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, Muhammed Abdul Bari, the head of the Muslim Council of Britain thinks that the British government should stop causing terrorism by behaving like Nazis towards Muslims. Perhaps they will , as soon as Islamic terrorists stop randomly killing and maiming innocent individuals. Addressing MPs at the All Party Group on Race and Community, Bari could not manage even the remotest trace of condemnation for his co-religionist murderers.

Mr Bari also rejected Tony Blair's call for Muslims to do more to fight terrorism. He put the responsibility squarely at the door of the Government.

He said: "The attempt to place the problem on one doorstep is unfair and counter-productive." He blamed the "relentless barrage" of anti-terrrorism laws, labelling them "hastily formulated responses masquerading as policy".
Blair in jackboots? Strange fantasy.

Baaz Tsuka 2: Afghan army takes on the Taliban in Kandahar.

In one of the earliest dispatches from Operation Baaz Tsuka, the Sunday Telegraph reports on what should be a formidable combination of the Afghan army and the Canucks taking on the Taliban in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

As with my previous link to Bill Roggio in Iraq, it is encouraging to see the local army able to take more responsibility.

al-Yamamah: unhappy days at the SFO .

Yet more on the al-Yamamah scandal. Paranoia in the in the Serious Fraud Squad? Maybe. According to the Independent, SFO officers investigating al-Yamamah fear somebody bugged their offices.

One senior figure who had been helping the SFO said the investigation's security had been repeatedly compromised. "I was told by detectives that the probe was being bugged. They had reached this conclusion because highly confidential information on the inquiry had been reaching outside parties."
So now we know, it was a bug and not either a leak or a corrupt officer selling information. I think I will ask the fairies at the bottom of the garden what they think.

The SFO is still complaining to anybody who will listen. The Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Times each lend a not overly sympathetic ear.

In the Sunday Times, Simon Jenkins has a go at the Attorney Genereal on this and on cash for honours.

Bill Roggio on patrol with the Iraqi army.

Another dispatch from Bill Roggio of The Fourth Rail, this time on patrol with the Iraqi army in Fallujah.

The importance of local knowledge caught my eye.

The Iraqi soldier's ability to develop local intelligence networks, understand the language and culture and know the lay of the land far outweighs any tactical deficiencies they may have. “They can tell who's not from the area – who's from Mosul, or Tikrit or Ramadi – just by their accent, and they can tell when someone's lying,” said [US marine] Cpl Burcell.
I hope I am not misreading Roggio but, once again, but I get the impression from a report by somebody actually on the ground that, however slowly and painfully, Iraq is moving in a positive direction.

Of cash and dishonour amongst friends.

Loyalty can be a wonderful thing but it is rarely as entertaining as disloyalty. The headlines tell the story. The Sunday Telegraph goes with "Blair refuses to back Levy in Labour's cash for honours scandal", whilst the Sunday Mail sticks with "Knives are out for Levy as Blair rift grows." As I said again yesterday, Levy has made clear he is not going to be a fall guy and Blair seems to be getting rattled at the very thought of what Lord Cashpoint might say in court under oath. The Telegraph has a candidate for Lie of the Day,

Mr Blair is reported to have contradicted Lord Levy's written account to police when he was questioned at No 10. The Prime Minister is said to have told detectives he did not have "full knowledge" of the loans or the nominations, while the peer had claimed Mr Blair did know of his dealings with lenders.
The Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party had no knowledge of the loans and associated nominations? I hope Yates of the Yard has not spilt his coffee reading that one.

The intrepid AC Yates is still going. According to the Sunday Times, next up to have his collar felt is Jonathan Powell, the head clerk at Downing Street. It seems the Yard want to discuss a few emails.

Blair has told the police that individuals were nominated for honours for services to Labour. No, say the honoured ingrates, it was for " public service to the nation." The Independent says it has seen copies of secret Downing Street papers which prove the honoured ingrates are correct. I think the Indy's point is that Blair lied to the police. All the story proves is that Blair is an equal opportunities liar and certain rich businessmen have a high opinion of themselves.

Finally, for any fellow sad cases still enjoying the story, the Scotsman has a list of potential second time interviewees and names Detective Chief Inspector Graeme McNulty as the policeman who conducted the historic interview at Downing Street. Congratulations to DCI McNulty.

Sunday morning bonus @ 07:50: Andrew Rawnsley, who appears to have resigned from the Blair Fan Club, gets sanctimonious in the Observer. I just love it when journalists go all hypocritical on us. In the Sunday Times, Simon Jenkins has a go at the Attorney General on this (page 2 of the article) and al Yamamah.

16 December, 2006

al-Yamamah - tantrum time

Now that the government, or at least the Attorney General, has, for once, done something right and halted the al-Yamamah investigation, a lot of toys are being thrown about in various prams.

The head of the Serious Fraud Office is not happy at being warned by the Foreign Office that "...he was pissing off the Saudis big time" (Guardian). Yet, the Times says, the SFO inquiry is continuing as far as it affects countries other than Saudi Arabia. I rather think that unless he wants early retirement, the head of the SFO had also better stop pissing off his boss, the Attorney General, even small time.

From yet another Guardian story, we learn that suspects, some the usual, others rather more exotic, are intent on trying nanny's patience:

The Campaign against the Arms Trade and the Corner House, a social and environmental justice group, believe the grounds for the decision - made after the prime minister warned it was against Britain's security and foreign policy interests - could be subject to judicial review. David Pannick QC has been hired.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development also signalled that it would launch its own investigation. Britain is a signatory to the 30-nation grouping's anti-bribery convention.
The Daily Telegraph also picks up on the OPEC angle. I wish I could be present when OPEC tries to question any Saudi officials. And as long as there is a House of Lords exercising judicial supervision, the day has not yet come when a British government has to worry about more than relatively minor political embarrassment from even an hostile judicial review on a matter involving national security. Mr Blair, please note how useful the Lords can be to you.

Cash for honours: the show goes on.

Gordon Brown has been forced on the defensive over his involvement in what appears to be his very own personalised version of Blair's cash for honours scandal.

The Daily Mail says he is "furious" that some newspapers are after him. I bet.

The Daily Telegraph thinks it might be a "dirty tricks" campaign from anti-Brown comrades in the Labour Party.

The Guardian , treats us to the rare sight of the comrades (one, at least) supporting Blair. A senior Labour backbencher has seen fit to poke his nose into a Police criminal inquiry and tell Scotland Yard to stop trying to enforce the law. How parliamentary of him.

Update @16:05

There is no getting away from it. The Daily Mail says AC Yates of the Yard, and his intrepid team are going to have another go at Lord Levy, Blair's chief fund-raiser. Could be interesting. As noted previously on Crumbling Spires, Levy is at the heart of this business and he has made clear that he is not going to be the fall guy for Blair. Sing, baby, sing!

Gordon Brown - the enemy within.

Yesterday, in a post examining American concerns over NATO in Afghanistan, I asked a question:

The Brits and Canucks are being asked to do too much with too little and, unless NATO governments act to sort out the problems of under-manning and under-equipment, it can only be a matter of time before there is a major Taliban massacre and rout of some coalition troops in Helmand or Kandahar. The British government must be getting similar intelligence so the question is, why are they not acting on it?
In the Daily Telegraph, the ever-sharp Bill Deedes, who has been reporting on foreign affairs since the 1930s, had the answer: the chancellor, Gordon Brown, is refusing to divert money away from social programmes designed to bolster his campaign to succeed Blair as prime minister.

Related links: John Keegan, Brown Treats the Services Shabbily.

Speeches by General Jackson and General Dannett.

15 December, 2006

Operation Baaz Tsuka.1

The ISAF has launched a major operation against the Taliban in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Operation Baaz Tsuka (Falcon's Summit) will attempt to build on the earlier success of Operation Medusa in Panjawii district of Kandahar.

An early report from CBC News says:

The British-led operation, which also includes Canadian, Estonian and Danish troops, is one of the largest operations since Canadian troops led Operation Medusa in September to root out the Taliban in the same district of Kandahar province....

...Maj.-Gen. Ton Van Loon, commander of ISAF in the south, said the operation is a "show of unity and strength" and a demonstration by ISAF of its ability to combat and defeat the Taliban.

The alliance consulted tribal elders and district leaders before embarking the operation, which was planned with the help of Afghan security forces, Van Loon said.

"Operation Baaz Tsuka will send a very strong and direct message to the Taliban that the people of Afghanistan want them to leave," he said in the release. "Those people contemplating joining the Taliban should listen to their tribal elders and choose the way of peace, not destruction."
Other initial reports from Reuters and CTV.

CTV also has a related report on a NATO attack on a Taliban command post in Panjawii late on Wednesday night:
...a Canadian military spokesman said he hopes Canadian troops battling the Taliban will be able to continue to build on the momentum from Operation Medusa, a massive anti-Taliban offensive into the Panjwaii region that ended around the middle of September.

Update 16.12.06

This is an explanatory note, just to inform anybody who has ended up here looking for further details of Operation Baaz Tsuka: it appears to be a primarily British-led operation and the one thing the usually hapless Ministry of Defence is good at is security. If normal operating procedure is followed, there will quite possibly be no statements until the operation is over. Moreover, except for the disgraceful BBC, the UK press is usually highly responsible about such matters. Protecting the lives of British servicemen in combat far outweighs anybody's right to know.

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US officials on looming problems in Afghanistan

The Washington Post has been talking to US Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte. With good reason, Negroponte is concerned that present NATO forces in Afghanistan might not be sufficient to deal with a major Taliban offensive in the spring. His reading of the situation was supported by Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon official who has been briefed in Afghanistan by US diplomats and military commanders.

Judging from the declassified intelligence briefing he received, Cordesman said, the U.S. and NATO forces there are "insufficient" to secure the south and the west He said more special forces are needed in the east where the troops "are spread very thin."
Such is only too clear to anybody who has followed the British army's progress in Helmand. The Brits and Canucks are being asked to do too much with too little and, unless NATO governments act to sort out the problems of under-manning and under-equipment, it can only be a matter of time before there is a major Taliban massacre and rout of some coalition troops in Helmand or Kandahar. The British government must be getting similar intelligence so the question is, why are they not acting on it?

One thing I had not realised is Cordesman's assertion that, during the recent Taliban offensive,
...the U.S. military flew "as many sorties in Afghanistan as in Iraq" during that period.

The WaPo also has a wide-ranging interview on Iraq and Afghanistan, with Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, who is not impressed with the Iraq Study Group's idea of negotiating with Syria and Iran.

Unrequited lust.

After yesterday's intense bout of seriousness, today is turning out to be a frivolous Friday. Apparently, earlier this year, David Cameron, the liberal we have somehow been landed with as leader of the Conservative Party, said that he fancied Cheryl Tweedy from the pop group Girls Aloud (warning - this link makes strange noises). The infatuation with the nubile Miss Tweedy was obviously before Davey Boy developed a taste for the rough trade.

Now Miss Tweedy, as part of an in-depth political interview by Girls Aloud with leading teenage fashion mag, the New Statesman, has told Cameron to "get lost". Before they start crowing, other politicians should note that they do not come out much better.

The BBC, the Daily Mirror, the Guardian and ITV News are amongst those having a great time with the story. Meanwhile the serious part of the Conservative Party shakes its collective head and waits for Cameron's next hostage to fortune. I cannot help wondering if the Emperor Ming's ambition of entering Downing Street will one day be fulfilled. (Apologies to the memory of the great Charles Middleton for that joke).

John Berger is still alive.

After what seems like a long hiatus, John Berger, who some of us thinks of as the archetypical 1970s lefty poseur, has resurfaced in the Guardian's Comment is Free section with a rallying call in support of a cultural boycott of Israel by academics and jugglers. The boycott is meant as a protest against lethal attacks by Israeli women and children on Hamas and Hezbollah. Or should that be the other way round? Whichever, Mr B seems to be a little worried about being branded a racist, so he explains,

Boycott is not a principle. When it becomes one, it itself risks becoming exclusive and racist. No boycott, in our sense of the term, should be directed against an individual, a people, or a nation as such. A boycott is directed against a policy and the institutions which support that policy either actively or tacitly. Its aim is not to reject, but to bring about change.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel is being proposed by various luvvy types, none of whom has registered on my cultural radar.

Now you know. Where is my credit card?

PS: I thought I had better add a biography of the once ultra-fashionable Berger.

Roggio in Fallujah

Another report from Iraq by Bill Roggio of The Fourth Rail: Battling the Insurgency in Fallujah.

A riveting word picture of dealing with roadside bombs and night-time raids that must be being regularly repeated on a broader canvas throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. For most of us, it is impossible to imagine the stress of dealing with such incidents on a routine basis. Such bravery is part of what should guarantee the military a special respect from our comfortable society.

Blair and Saddam's WMD.

The Independent claims that Tony Blair's

...case for going to war in Iraq has been torn apart by the publication of previously suppressed evidence that Tony Blair lied over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

A devastating attack on Mr Blair's justification for military action by Carne Ross, Britain's key negotiator at the UN, has been kept under wraps until now because he was threatened with being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act.
The Independent publishes Mr Ross' formerly secret supplementary evidence to the Butler Inquiry. I can see nothing new in the evidence, just a lot of guff about legality and UN resolutions which is as totally irrelevant in 2006 as it was in 2002 and 2003.

Stifling the yawns, I will repeat what I have written before. There was a good case to be made for invading Iraq: a careful reading of Charles Duelfer's Iraq Survey Group Report reveals clearly that Iraq's WMD development programme was indeed a major threat to regional stability and western strategic interests. Further evidence to that effect is still coming to light. However, Blair chose not to make that particular case. Instead, mainly in order to keep the rabble on the Labour backbenches onside, he invented a story about an immediate (ie, 45 minutes) threat from Saddam's WMD. At the time, nobody with half a functional brain believed the claim but it was enough to stave off a potentially embarrassing left wing revolt in the House of Commons. The real story is what that tells us about the Labour left.

Edit: 19/12/06: In the interests of accuracy, I should add that it is highly likely that Alastair Campbell, Blair's press secretary, actually invented, or at least suggested to Blair, the 45 minute threat. However, Blair alone must take responsibility for what he said.

Military Awards (updated)

In addition to Corporal Budd VC and Corporal Wright GC, the Ministry of Defence has announced another 132 awards, covering operations all round the world by all three services, for the period 1 April to 30 September 2006. Afghanistan and Iraq feature prominently. Some of the highest awards made are detailed here. It makes for humbling reading.

Update: 15.12.06

For the full list of awards, click here.

The Daily Telegraph leads the press coverage.

14 December, 2006

Corporal Mark Wright, GC.

In addition to the award of a Victoria Cross to Corporal Bryan Budd, the Ministry of Defence has announced further medals awarded for gallantry. Along with Budd, VC, Corporal Mark Wright, also from 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment has been awarded the George Cross "after entering a minefield in an extraordinary attempt to save the lives of other critically injured soldiers". The full citation reads:

From July 2006, a fire support group of 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, held a high ridge feature in the northern centre of Helmand Province near the Kajaki Dam. On 6 September the leader of a sniper patrol, tasked with engaging a group of Taliban fighters operating on the principal highway, was heading down the steep slope when he initiated a mine and sustained severe injuries.

"Seeing the mine-strike from the top of the ridge, Corporal Mark Wright gathered a number of men and rushed down the slope to assist. Realising that the casualty was likely to die before a full mine clearance could be effected, Corporal Wright unhesitatingly led his men into the minefield.

"Exercising effective and decisive command, he directed medical orderlies to the injured soldier, ordered all unnecessary personnel to safety, and then began organising the casualty evacuation. He called for a helicopter, and ordered a route to be cleared through the minefield to a landing site. Unfortunately the leader of this task, while moving back across the route he believed he had cleared, stepped on another mine and suffered a traumatic amputation.

"Corporal Wright, again at enormous personal risk, immediately moved to the new casualty and began rendering life-saving assistance until one of the medical orderlies could take over.

"Calmly, Corporal Wright ordered all non-essential personnel to stay out of the minefield and continued to move around and control the incident. He sent accurate situation reports to his headquarters and ensured that additional medical items were obtained. Shortly afterwards a helicopter landed nearby, but as Corporal Wright stood up he initiated a third mine, which seriously injured him and one of the orderlies. The remaining medical orderly began treating Corporal Wright, but was himself wounded by another mine blast which caused further injury to both Corporal Wright and others.

"There were now seven casualties still in the minefield, three of whom had lost limbs.

"Despite this horrific situation and the serious injuries he had himself sustained, Corporal Wright continued to command and control the incident. He remained conscious for the majority of the time, continually shouting encouragement to those around him, maintaining morale and calm amongst the many wounded men. Sadly, Corporal Wright died of his wounds on the rescue helicopter.

"His supreme courage and outstanding leadership were an inspiration to his men. For acts of the greatest gallantry and complete disregard for his own safety in striving to save others, Corporal Wright is awarded the George Cross."
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Corporal Bryan Budd, VC.

The BBC reports that Corporal Bryan Budd, 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment, who was killed in Afghanistan on 20 August 2006, has been today posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. The full citation reads:

"During July and August 2006, A Company, 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment were deployed in the District Centre at Sangin. They were constantly under sustained attack from a combination of Taliban small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar and rocket fire.

"On 27 July, whilst on a routine patrol, Corporal Bryan Budd's section identified and engaged two enemy gunmen on the roof of a building in the centre of Sangin. During the ensuing fierce fire-fight, two of Corporal Budd's section were hit. One was seriously injured and collapsed in the open ground, where he remained exposed to enemy fire, with rounds striking the ground around him. Corporal Budd realised that he needed to regain the initiative and that the enemy needed to be driven back so that the casualty could be evacuated.

"Under fire, he personally led the attack on the building where the enemy fire was heaviest, forcing the remaining fighters to flee across an open field where they were successfully engaged. This courageous and prompt action proved decisive in breaking the enemy and was undertaken at great personal risk. Corporal Budd's decisive leadership and conspicuous gallantry allowed his wounded colleague to be evacuated to safety where he subsequently received life-saving treatment. "A month later, on 20th August, Corporal Budd was leading his section on the right forward flank of a platoon clearance patrol near Sangin District Centre. Another section was advancing with a Land Rover fitted with a .50 calibre heavy machine gun on the patrol's left flank. Pushing through thick vegetation, Corporal Budd identified a number of enemy fighters 30 metres ahead. Undetected, and in an attempt to surprise and destroy the enemy, Corporal Budd, initiated a flanking manoeuvre. However, the enemy spotted the Land Rover on the left flank and the element of surprise was lost for the whole platoon.

"In order to regain the initiative, Corporal Budd decided to assault the enemy and ordered his men to follow him. As they moved forward the section came under a withering fire that incapacitated three of his men. The continued enemy fire and these losses forced the section to take cover. But, Corporal Budd continued the assault on his own, knowing full well the likely consequences of doing so without the close support of his remaining men. He was wounded but continued to move forward, attacking and killing the enemy as he rushed their position.

"Inspired by Corporal Budd's example, the rest of the platoon reorganised and pushed forward their attack, eliminating more of the enemy and eventually forcing their withdrawal. Corporal Budd subsequently died of his wounds, and when his body was later recovered it was found surrounded by three dead Taliban.

"Corporal Budd's conspicuous gallantry during these two engagements saved the lives of many of his colleagues. He acted in the full knowledge that the rest of his men had either been struck down or had been forced to go to ground. His determination to press home a single-handed assault against a superior enemy force despite his wounds stands out as a premeditated act of inspirational leadership and supreme valour. In recognition of this, Corporal Budd is awarded the Victoria Cross."
The Daily Telegraph describes Corporal Budd's selfless heroism:
Sangin town experienced some of the most intense fighting that included the extraordinary act of heroism by Cpl Budd, 29.

On Aug 20 he was part of a 24-man patrol from A Company, 3 Para, which was sent to clear a cornfield to protect Royal Engineers working in the area.

The Paras came under fire with several soldiers suffering gunshot wounds. Cpl Budd charged the enemy position while firing with his SA80 rifle on fully automatic. Soon afterwards the enemy's fire dropped off and the soldier's section was able to break away from the contact.
The Sun also captures Corporal Budd's spirit of self sacrifice:
His citation lists two extraordinary acts of valour while leading a section of seven men from 3 Para in the dangerous outpost of Sangin.

On July 27, he led his men into Taliban fire to save the life of a badly-wounded comrade lying in the open. Their diversion allowed medics to rescue the fallen Para.

Then on August 20, Cpl Budd was among troops sent out to protect Royal Engineers building defences. He spotted approaching Taliban and led his section to attack them. But they came under devastating fire and three of his men were wounded. Budd hurled himself at the enemy and was last seen alive sprinting with his rifle blazing.

The hard-pressed Brits were able to withdraw. Budd’s body was found later alongside two dead Taliban.
The Ministry of Defence has announced formally Corporal Budd's award and other operational honours in Afghanistan.