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.

al Yamamah: the end.

Sense at last. The BBC can report that Lord Goldsmith has finally buried the al-Yamamah investigation. The Serious Fraud Office, which has wasted million of pounds of taxpayers' money on this nonsense, has issued a terse statement.

Serious Fraud Office.


14 December 2006

The Director of the Serious Fraud Office has decided to discontinue the investigation into the affairs of BAE SYSTEMS Plc as far as they relate to the Al Yamamah defence contract with the government of Saudi Arabia.

This decision has been taken following representations that have been made both to the Attorney General and the Director of the SFO concerning the need to safeguard national and international security.

It has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest.

No weight has been given to commercial interests or to the national economic interest.

End of statement
I suspect that commercial and economic interests weighed heavily, but not as heavily as the inevitable job losses in Labour constituencies.

Update 15.12.2006

Let us leave what should be last the last word on this sorry saga to the politicians. From the BBC.

The smells of corruption.

Tony Blair has finally been questioned by Scotland yard detectives investigating the cash for honours scandal. On radio and television, the news has been virtually eclipsed by rows over the inquiry into the death of the ex-Princess of Wales. As the Daily Mail reports, the Downing Street lie-machine has been in full operation.

Mr Blair's spokesman flatly denied that the interview had been deliberately timed to coincide with the publication of the Stevens report into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

"Categorically, that was not the case at all. Categorically, there was no linkage with other events." he said.
Blair seems to have had special treatment since the interview did not take place under caution or with lawyers present and the BBC says the interview was not done by the officer of charge of the case, Assistant Commissioner Yates.

I am no lawyer or expert on police investigations but I can tell a rotten political deal when I smell one.

Speaking of smells, the odious Gordon Brown is just beginning to reek over allegations, most fully reported in the Times, that he used the Treasury to force through a knighthood for one of Labour's major donors.
Sir Ronald Cohen, 60, who has given £1.3 million to Labour and is expected to become Mr Brown’s chief fundraiser, was knighted in 2000 for “services to the venture capital industry”.

But a senior Whitehall insider told Channel 4 News that officials had recommended that Sir Ronald receive a lesser honour, such as a CBE, MBE or OBE, but that was vetoed by the Treasury.

Neither the Cabinet Office, which oversees the honours process, nor the Treasury denied the claim last night.

A late bonus. Within the last few minutes, the Daily Telegraph has updated its time-line of the cash for honours scandal.

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Saudi warning over US withdrawal from Iraq.

The BBC, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph pick up on a story coming out of Washington in the wake of Vice President Dick Cheney's recent visit to Saudi Arabia. There is an obvious danger that a precipitate US withdrawal from Iraq could lead to a bloodbath between minority Sunni and majority Shia Islamic factions. If that were to happen, King Abdullah is reported to have told Cheney, Saudi Arabia, which worried about Iran's expanding hegemony in the Middle East, would not stand idly by and watch the Iranian-backed Shia militias attack the Saudi's fellow Sunnis. Instead the Saudis would arm the Sunni militias.

From the US, amongst others, CNN and the International Herald Times carry the story.

The White House has issued what amounts to a non-denial denial, saying the reports do not represent official Saudi policy. True for today, but King Abdullah's warning was really that future policy might change, if the circumstances warrant it, as this report makes clear.

According to the Pakistani Daily Times, the source of the story is Nawaf Obaid, an adviser to Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to Washington; King Abdullah is said to be so incensed by Obaid's leak, in an article on 29 November, in the Washington Post, that he has sacked al-Faisal. The sacking seems to be the reason for the story featuring in today's news.

13 December, 2006

Bill Roggio still in Iraq.

Bill Roggio of The Fourth Rail is still reporting from Iraq. The previous link can be found here.

In the light of yesterday's Crumbling Spires post about the International Crisis Group I was interested to note this from Mr Roggio:

I'm happy to see the New York Times and the International Crisis Group have finally come around on Pakistan. I've been discussing the fall of western Pakistan in detail since January of 2006, and wrote almost 60 articles on this subject. It would have been nice to have received some credit for this, particularly from the International Crisis Group, which virtually pirated my work for segments of the report (start at page 22 on).
I think he is referring to the sections on Taliban-style rule and the spread of Talibanisation. Actually, Roggio probably sells himself short, having written far more than 60 articles which cover the subject in its widest context, going back at least to The Waziristan Problem in January 2006. Required reading for anyone wanting to understand the issues.

The Rashid Rauf Mystery.

The Washington Post reports that terrorism charges against Rashid Rauf, a Pakistani suspected of being a major figure in the transatlantic aircraft plot last August, have been dropped by a Rawalpindi terrorist court, although Rauf remains in custody charged with lesser offences.

Even though the Wikipedia article cited above is disputed, it can readily be seen from the above links that case has been controversial from the time of the first arrests, with charge and counter-charge being exchanged across the Atlantic about the timing of Rauf's arrest. Rauf's aquittal on the most serious charges merely adds more layers to the mystery.

Last month, Atlantic Free Press revisited the case.

For more on Rauf, see also:

the Guardian, "Pakistan says 'ringleader' admits link with al Qaida", 14 August, 2006;

The Next Hurrah on "How was Rashid Rauf arrested?";

and from South Asia Analysis Group, "The Curious Case of Rashid Rauf - International Terrorism Monitor Paper 161."

These sources will not clear up the mystery but they do amplify the many unanswered questions.

Royal Marine Richard Watson

The Royal Marine killed yesterday in Afghanistan has been named as Marine Richard J Watson of 42 Commando, Royal Marines. The Ministry of Defence obituary paints a vivid picture of Marine Watson in life:

Royal Marine Richard Watson, from Caterham, Surrey, joined the Royal Marines on 13 June 2005. Richard, 23, was known by his friends as 'Richie' and joined 4 Troop K Company directly from training in April 2006. Following a period of intense training he deployed with the rest of the unit to Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

The aura surrounding Marine Watson was 'once touched, never forgotten'. He radiated an infectious sense of humour that established him as a widely held friend to all in Kilo Company. Never without a smile, even in the harsh conditions presented on operations, he strove to encourage all with his enthusiasm for a job he openly loved. It was this infectious fervour by which he led his Fire Team. His decision-making displayed a calm, level-headedness much beyond his years, which quickly identified him early as a candidate for promotion. He radiated confidence to those in his charge thus ensuring any task given to his Fire Team was diligently completed, with a reliability all came to trust.

Marine Watson was a passionate man who loved life. He strove to excel and see a task through, be it his doggedness in the field on operations, or physical training with his Troop. There was a natural edge to his character that underlined a competitive streak. He was always the front man on a run and the first to lead his Fire Team into the assault, his character inspiring those around him.

His passion for life was much in evidence to all that knew him. Marine Watson often talked frankly and honestly about his love for his family and girlfriend, and was an avid letter writer.

Marine Watson loved to play the joker, which made him popular with all his colleagues. He was always quick to play a prank on others but always first to laugh at a joke at his own expense. To lose a colleague like Richie is a heavy blow to all. He will be missed for his friendly approachable manner, his selfless diligent work ethic and above all his irrepressible sense of good fun.
The BBC, along with Metro and Marine Watson's local paper, icSurrey lead the tributes.

Defence secretary caught out

The Daily Telegraph says it has seen a leaked Ministry of Defence documents, click here and also here, which proves that Defence secretary, Des Browne, misled (in plain language, lied to) Parliament when he told them that changes to payments to armed forces personnel would "not take one penny away from anybody". In fact, the changes took lots of pennies away from servicemen in combat zones. Now having been found out, Browne has apologised to the House of Commons. Time was when even unwittingly misleading the House was a resigning offence. Not any more. That lack of accountability is the major reason why ministers can, and do, lie regularly and with impunity.

Edited @ 15:49 to mend broken Daily Telegraph link.

House of Commons Defence Committee Report: Defence procurement:

The House of Common Defence Committee, which has been examining the Ministry of Defence's performance, has published its report, Defence Procurement 2006, HC 56, which can be downloaded from here (pdf). The Daily Telegraph and the BBC have coverage.

It dose not make encouraging reading, unless you are from the Taliban or al Qaeda. Simply put, when its Labour members can spare time from going on about ethnic and gender quotas, the committee is concerned that British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are under-equipped and understaffed and is worried that in future the UK will be unable to meet its defence commitments. Moreover it is time that NATO allies started pulling their weight. Paragraphs 67-68:

67. Whether UK Armed Forces are stretched or overstretched is a matter for continued debate. What is certain is that they are operating in challenging conditions in insufficient numbers and without all the equipment they need. With problems of undermanning continuing, there is a clear danger that the Armed Forces will not be capable of maintaining current commitments over the medium-term.

68. To some extent this strain on our Armed Forces reflects the inability of some NATO allies to generate forces. This is regrettable and raises a question over whether this new direction for NATO is sustainable. Minister should make strong representations to those allies to ensure they understand the implications of failure of the Alliance.
In the Conclusions and Recommendations, the shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan does not go unnoticed.
4. We remain concerned at the availability of serviceable battlefield helicopters, especially support helicopters, in Iraq and Afghanistan. We welcome the MoD’s response that the potential use of private lease helicopters would remain under consideration. In Afghanistan the MoD should first press NATO partners to provide additional helicopter support.
If you turn to the oral evidence (24 October) of a Mr Bill Jeffrey, Permanent Secretary at the MoD you can read a senior civil servant squirming and obfuscating, but technically falling just short of lying, over questions about the helicopter shortages in Afghanistan (Q10-20).

Mohammad Daud.

On 9 December, I ran an item in which carried a Times report that President Karzai had sacked Mohammad Daud as Governor of Helmand. Afgha.com now carries a story in which Daud denies has been sacked and says he was misquoted by the Sunday Times. Government officials in Kabul are saying nothing.

Two possibilities come to mind. Either the Times got it wrong or the British had a quiet, but firm, word in Karzai's ear, possibly suggesting a connection between his continuing authority in Helmand and the British army's presence there.

According to today's Times report on an attempted assassination of Daud, he has been sacked, but is still in office and preparing to leave.

The IHT lists recent assassination attempts in Afghanistan.

British fatality in Afghanistan (corrected)

The Ministry of Defence has announced the 43rd British fatality in Afghanistan (not Iraq, as I initially stupidly and inexplicably put in the title of this post, for which abject apologies).

...elements from the UK Task Force were patrolling to the north of Now Zad, a district in the North of Helmand, when they came under attack from Taliban forces.

During the contact the Marine was hit by small arms fire and fatally wounded. An emergency quick reaction helicopter along with a full medical team was immediately dispatched to Now Zad. The marine was then evacuated to the UK hospital at Camp Bastion, where he was sadly pronounced dead. Next of kin have now been informed.

No other servicemen were injured.
The Marine will be named after a period of grace for the family.

The BBC has an early report.

12 December, 2006

The human cost of Tony Blair's unfulfilled promises.

More evidence of inadequately equipped British servicemen being deployed on combat zones has emerged. The BBC reports that Sergeant Major Jeffrey Elson, of 2 Royal Tank Regiment has been telling an inquest, into the death of Sergeant Steven Roberts in Iraq, that Sgt Roberts may have survived if he had had the correct kit. However, three days before the incident Sergeant Roberts had to give up his enhanced body armour because of shortages. According to the Daily Telegraph,

Yesterday's inquest heard that the sergeant and other soldiers in his tank group had accepted the body armour order because they had been told "guys on the ground needed it more than us".
It gets worse. The BBC:
[Sergeant Major] Elson criticised the MoD's "just enough just in time" policy on kit distribution for servicemen going to war.

"The policy that the government has got is beyond what the soldiers can comprehend sometimes.

"During the Cold War, stores (of kit) were prepared just in case the Russians came screaming across the border. But that was changed.

"You do not get the kit on time to do your job. And troops do not have enough time to familiarise themselves with the pieces of kit before they get into theatre and have to use them for real."

During the Iraq war in 2003 he said troops in his squadron were forced to use masking tape to hold their body armour on.

Those not forced to hand back their armour altogether had to slot potentially life-saving protective plates into their pockets as they did not have vests needed to hold them in place.

He said most men had some items of protective kit but not all the necessary components.
How many times has Tony Blair told the lie that the troops have all the equipment they need, and, three years later, still the British army in Iraq and in Afghanistan is undermanned and under-equipped.

In Wednesday's Daily Telegraph, Con Coughlin lays into the MoD.
Another day, and yet another shameful example emerges of the Government's almost criminal incompetence in protecting the lives of soldiers fighting on the front line of Tony Blair's wars.

Pakistan - appeasing the militants?

The International Crisis Group, an independent think tank, has issued a report: Pakistan's Tribal Areas: Appeasing the Militants. According to the Daily Telegraph:

The ICG report said that the militants "now hold sway in South and North Waziristan agencies" and had begun to expand their influence. It added that the state's "failure to extend its control over and provide good governance to its citizens in federally administered tribal areas is equally responsible for empowering the radicals".

A spokesman for Pakistan's foreign ministry declined to comment on the report.
However, as the International Herald Tribune the governor of North West Frontier Province has gone on the defensive.

The ICG report's executive summary and recommendations can be found here along with downloads of the full report in both pdf and MSWord formats.

Update 13.12.06
Having now read the ICG report, I can recommend it as a first rate general introduction to the history, politics and governance of the Pakistani areas bordering on Afghanistan. The report's proposals,however,seem to me to amount to a wish list for the imposition of western liberal norms and concepts of human rights-based legal systems to replace the current neo-feudal administrations in the borderlands. Irrespective of its merits or otherwise, such would require a major cultural and political revolution which is unlikely to happen as a "big bang".

Afghan Reconciliation Action Plan.

To mark Human Rights Day, President Karzai of Afghanistan, in conjunction with the UN envoy has launched a Reconciliation Action Plan. As Reuters puts it, the plan is "an effort to bring justice to tens of thousands of victims of decades of civil war and internal strife in post-Taliban Afghanistan."

The plan's five key elements are:
  • acknowledgment of the suffering of the Afghan people;
  • strengthening state institutions;
  • finding out the truth about the country's bloody past;
  • promoting reconciliation;
  • and establishing a proper accountability mechanism.
Not surprisingly with so much peace and reconciliation in the air, the Human Rights industry sees great opportunities. Soon, hordes of the not so great and the no good will be spreading throughout Afghanistan in their four wheel drives, bringing the UN's traditional gifts of inaction disguised as observation.

Of course the obvious problem is that any reconciliation plan requires an end to hostilities with the Taliban, a development which seems some way off. There is no evidence that the Taliban are interested in reconciliation, at least while they feel secure in their safe bases in Pakistan. Moreover, as Crumbling Spires has noted previously, talk from Kabul of "strengthening state institutions" is unlikely to go down well with the village elders, who are the real locus of power in the majority of Afghanistan outside Kabul.

In the long term, the best hope for Afghanistan is probably to forget any ideas of settling old scores, even if dressed up as an accountability mechanism, and instead focus on constructing a workable deal at the forth coming Grand Jirga.

11 December, 2006

Don't mention the War (on Terror).

The Foreign Office, fulfilling its mission to work for the benefit of foreigners,has decided that ministers should stop using the term "war on terror" because it upsets the terrorists and their supporters. From the Observer:

A Foreign Office spokesman said the government wanted to 'avoid reinforcing and giving succour to the terrorists' narrative by using language that, taken out of context, could be counter-productive'. The same message has been sent to British diplomats and official spokespeople around the world.

'We tend to emphasise upholding shared values as a means to counter terrorists,' he added.
Here are some shared values to uphold. Hot Air points to some more.

I suspect it is the FO's Arab Legion once again trying to undermine President Bush.

10 December, 2006

General Augusto Pinochet, 1915-2006. (updated)

Former President of Chile, General Augusto Pinochet has died in a Santiago hospital, aged 91.

In 1973 Pinochet saved Chile from the Marxist depredations of President Salvador Allende and facilitated a period of unprecedented economic growth and prosperity for the Chilean people.

In 1982 Pinochet's government gave vital assistance to the British task force retaking the Falkland Islands, providing intelligence which saved the lives of many British servicemen.

In later years, the General was the target of an international leftist hate campaign but now he is beyond their reach and at rest. The West has lost a venerable Cold War warrior and the UK has lost a good friend and ally.


Daily Telegraph; the Guardian; and the BBC.

Update 13.12.06
General Pinochet has been buried. The Daily Telegraph has pictures of the funeral and a report; also, Robin Harris examines the UK's debt to the General for his assistance in the Falklands War.

The Chileans allowed disassembled aircraft to be shipped in for British use. But by far the most important assistance was intelligence. A long-range military radar was installed opposite Argentina's Comodoro Rivadavia air base. With this equipment, the Chileans provided the Task Force with minute-to-minute information on Argentine aircraft movements, so the Task Force commander could prepare his ships' defences and scramble fighters to intercept. On June 8, however, the long-range radar had to be switched off for overdue maintenance. Argentine aircraft were thus able to launch a surprise attack, sinking the troopships Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram, with terrible casualties. Whether Britain could have won the Falklands War without Chile's help is debatable. Whether it could have done so without far greater loss of lives is simply not. Pinochet, who took every key decision, fully deserved Mrs Thatcher's gratitude.
And the gratitude of us all.


Reid's terror Christmas terror warning.

John Reid, the Home Secretary, has been telling GMTV that a terrorist attack over the Christmas period is "highly likely".

Not content with such a serious warning, the oafish Reid, whom Boris Johnson has got taped, then went on to play puerile politics with the issue, denying terrorism was an Islamic challenge to the West and linking Islamic terrorism with Israel. Olmert has many faults, but threatening to blow up London is not one of them.

No war in Iraq or Afghanistan, just crime.

So says the government. First a note of explanation: in the UK there exists a Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme which exists to make payments to the victims of crime.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that the government has decided that the British armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are not currently at war. Consequently, any casualties are victims of crime rather than of war and so will qualify for payments from the Armed Forces' Criminal Injury Compensation (overseas) scheme, the Ministry of Defence's version of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

Payments will be made on a "sliding scale" of about £1,000, for a small facial scar, up to a maximum of £500,000, for the loss of a limb. The ruling was agreed, it is understood, after Government lawyers raised fears that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) could be subject to a legal challenge by troops claiming they were victims of crime because they were wounded in Iraq after the end of "at war" hostilities in May 2003.
Potentially good news for those affected, but there is a caveat or two which will keep the lawyers busy:
It is thought the only circumstances where troops injured in Iraq and Afghanistan would not be eligible for criminal compensation is when they were involved in pre-arranged, offensive operations directly targeting insurgents....

...Defences sources have admitted that the awarding of compensation will be "complex and difficult", with evidence being presented to the panel by the serviceman's commanding officer.Under the revised MoD compensation scheme, all wounded troops will be given legal advice from government lawyers as to whether their injury was as a result of a crime or of war. Those deemed to have been injured through "criminal acts" will be able to lodge compensation claims that will be assessed by a panel comprising a senior military officer, civil servants and a civilian.

Why the army needs helicopters in Afghanistan

Over three months after the shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan was first highlighted by Max Hastings in the Spectator, and after a seemingly endless debate within the Ministry of Defence, the army in Afghanistan is still short of helicopters.

From Camp Bastion in Helmand, Afghanistan, the Times' Peter Almond explains why helicopters are so vital in that theatre.

Why the Generals have to speak out.

Recently two former Chiefs of the General Staff, General Mike Jackson, General Richard Dannatt, have, in defiance of convention, spoken out against various aspects of defence policy. According to Colonel Tim Collins, writing the Sunday Telegraph the Generals took this unusual step out of frustration that the politicians are ignoring the view of the military when formulating policy.

Our military commanders historically have stayed in the background, but their advice was heeded by the politicians. If the politicians have stopped listening, the commanders themselves have no alternative but to start acting more like politicians. Is this really what the Government, or the country, wants?

The battle cry of the American revolutionaries was "no taxation without representation"; after the comments of Gens Jackson and Dannatt, the cry of the single Service chiefs must now be "no liability for blunders without control and influence".


New anti-war front on Iraq

Militarily, the war in Iraq is actually going reasonably well so, in the wake of the Iraq Study Group's report, the US media is turning its attention away from military issues and opening up a new line of attack on President Bush: the Iraqi economy.

Baker and Hamilton, the well known comedy duo who chair the ISG, have been giving us the benefits of their thoughts on economic reconstruction in the Houston Chronicle.

For the LA Times, Iraq is all about oil, a focus shared by the Washington Post.

Expect more of the same during the next week.