11 August, 2007

Back shortly

I'm free of infections at last, the worst of which was actually acquired courtesy of the NHS, so hopefully normal service will be resumed in about a week to ten days, following a family bereavement. It never rains but....

10 May, 2007

Pakistan: An ally in crisis.

Family Security Matters, an American website "created to give Americans like us the tools to become involved citizens and powerful defenders of our homes, our families, and our communities", has been running an interesting three-part series entitled "Pakistan: An Ally in Crisis". The series examines the possible consequences of the increasing influence of radical Islam in Pakistan.

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

A good introduction to the complexities of Pakistani politics in relation to the War on Terror, although perhaps a caveat should be entered that the reality of the relationships between the various parties is often much more complex than it seems at first sight.

Taliban Spring Offensive IV.

Afgha.com continues Chronicling the Spring Offensive, with Part IV covering April 19 - May 8. Once again the, by now, familiar pattern emerges of isolated suicide bombings which, although potentially deadly, are much less dangerous than the frontal attacks of last year.

A significant strand to emerge from the chronicle is the Taliban's targeting of Afghani policemen. Otherwise, it seems pretty much a continuation of previous activity.

Afgha.com also highlights the use of mentally and physically handicapped individuals as suicide bombers.

Here we go again.

Blogging will fully resume next week hopefully. 16 days ago the first morning news story I read in the DT print edition was about hospital death rates. Out of interest, I googled Chesterfield Royal Hospital, our local hospital, and found this old BBC report. Oh dear, tempting fate. By 2pm I was in there with a lulu of a COPD exacerbation, under the care of Hadfield, the consultant quoted by the BBC. I got out this morning.

From what I have seen over the last sixteen days, I can offer the practical observation that patients tend to die in hospitals because they are terminally ill and not because of any willingness on their part to meet fatal criteria set out by civil servants. But then I think most people already know that.

19 April, 2007

Iranian arms for the Taliban.

US government officials have finally gone public with one of the least surprising revelations of the week: that Iran is supplying arms to its former enemies in the Taliban. I call it the "least surprising" because it is such an obvious way to attack the west in general and the US and the UK in particular. Iran may have little reason to fear any responses. US policy seems to be increasingly hamstrung by Congress and the UK looks disturbingly irrelevant after the Royal Navy's recent humiliation. Moreover, Iran's recent triumphs through Hizballah in Lebanon will have probably have impressed the Tehran terrorists with the potential benefits of fighting wars by proxy.

The International Herald Tribune reports on the revelatory remarks of Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Baltimore Sun also weighs in. Sadly, the British press does not seem to be very interested in a development which could pose a major danger to British troops. I can find coverage only in the Guardian.

18 April, 2007

Problems looming for Iraq from North Waziristan

Last week, following a "turf war" in South Waziristan in which the Taliban killed some 300 al-Qaeda Uzbeks, many Uzbeks were reported to be fleeing to North Waziristan. Now it seems the circumspect amongst the Uzbeks are beginning to leave North Waziristan. The Pakistani Daily Times reports that:

“Around 50 families of foreigners have departed for their respective countries in the last month,” the spokesman, Gohar Ayub, told NNI from North Waziristan. He said he was speaking on behalf of local Taliban spokesmen Abdullah Farhad and Tariq Jamil. President Gen Pervez Musharraf informed army generals from 22 countries on Friday that tribesmen had killed 300 foreigners in South Waziristan and that he expected similar action in North Waziristan. ““The foreigners decided to leave North Waziristan after the tribal operation against the Uzbeks in South Waziristan. The foreigners said they did not want their women and children to become targets,” the Taliban spokesman said. He said that around 50 families, including Chechens, Turks, Tajiks and Arabs, had returned to their countries.

Ayub said that most of the families were returning to their homelands through Afghanistan and Iran. He said the Arabs were planning on returning to Iraq. It is difficult to verify the claim independently, reports NNI. Ayub said it was possible that they were relocating to Afghanistan for “jihad” but he added that this was their decision and had nothing to do with the tribal leaders in North Waziristan.

The spokesman said the foreigners were leaving the area through their own decision because of the fights between tribesmen and foreigners in South Waziristan. He said the tribal elders had not advised them on this matter. He said the foreigners had told their local supporters that they would make future strategy after leaving their women and children behind in their home countries.

Ayub said that the local Taliban were strictly following the September 5 peace agreement with the government. He said that as long as the government didn’t violate it, the local Taliban wouldn’t either. He said that no one entered Afghanistan through North Waziristan and combatants were coming from different parts of Afghanistan.
It could be bad news for coalition forces in Iraq.

Liam Byrne on immigration

It is getting damn crowded on the erstwhile roomy far shores of the right. Where once Ultras could roam in peace, we are now being crowded out by government ministers. The latest arrival is Liam Byrne, the UK immigration minister. The Daily Telegraph and the Times both report that he (and no doubt others in the Labour government) has apparently suddenly realised that large scale, unlimited immigration is damaging to British society. Some of us have been telling the left that for decades, so is this new found concern for the cohesion of society a genuine conversion to sensible thinking or is there some other motive, perhaps an electoral calculation from the the fag end of a wretched government already aware impending electoral disaster?

I think the Daily Mail has got it right in highlighting that:

Mr Byrne acknowledged that mounting public concern over immigration could not be blamed on media scaremongering, and highlighted the "political risks" facing governments which fail to tackle such concerns, citing governments in Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands which "lost power in elections where immigration was a serious issue."
Byrne reveals his new thinking in "Rethinking Immigration and Integration", an article contributing to a study of such issues by the Policy Network think tank, from where it can be downloaded as a pdf file.

Chronicling the Taliban spring offensive 3.

Part Three of Afgha.com's chronicle of the Taliban's spring offensive, covering the period between 28 March and 18 April, is now available. Links to Parts One and Two can be found here.

From the Taliban, it is the largely, by now, familiar pattern of isolated, nonetheless lethal, small scale attacks. The ISAF seems to have continued its precision attacks on Taliban leadership and to have launched its own spring offensive, with a major assaults around Sangin (see, 6-7 and 15-16 April) and Garmsir (13-14 April). It looks like the pattern may be set for the immediate future, possibly for at least as long as the Taliban forces in western Pakistan are tied up consolidating their position there by hammering al-Qaeda's Uzbeks.

Over the coming months, the key places in Helmand to watch will probably continue to be: Sangin, where the prize is control of the economically vital Kajaki hydro-electric Dam; Garmsir, which is the "Taliban gateway to Helmand" from the Taliban's strongholds to the east in Pakistan; and Musa Qala, the importance of which, after last year's controversial British-Taliban truce, is probably as much symbolic as strategic.

17 April, 2007

Cricket in Iraq and Afghanistan

More news that you are unlikely to come across in the msm. In Basra, the British Army has been introducing Iraqi children to the noble game through Kwik Cricket, a flexible form of the sport developed by the England and Wales Cricket Board in consultation with educationalists mainly for use by children from the age of 5 in primary schools. Both the Ministry of Defence and the ECB have reports.

The splendid Major Andrew Banks, who never deploys without his cricket bat, also ran a similar scheme in Afghanistan last year. He told the ECB that the Iraqi children had little concept of bat and ball games and they "... never quite understood the lbw law but they enjoyed themselves and that was what mattered." No problem. I have known umpires who never understood the lbw law either.

Last year the Afghan national team played its first match against the MCC, as result of which two Afghans were invited to join the MCC Young Cricketers and later in 2006 the Afghans toured England, playing at quite a good standard against county 2nd XIs.

British forces at war: as witnessed by an American.

Michael Yon blogs from Basra, Iraq, where he is with 5 Platoon, 2nd Battalion, "The Rifles" Battle Group. It is an article full of insights about the dangers being faced daily by our troops.

One thing that struck me was Yon's observations that the soldiers' missions were being made more dangerous, and their lives threatened, by a lack of helicopter support:

...The ensuing firefights were vigorous. As more enemy joined and the battle progressed, British elements maneuvered and fired, making adjustments to the plan to mold the fight. With no helicopters above to help develop ground awareness or to help shape the combat by engaging targets, British commanders directed their elements by map and ground-feel. Having no helicopters also left rooftops open to the enemy, adding another dimension to the combat.
It seems a depressingly similar story to the long running, scandalous helicopter shortage in Afghanistan.


A pointer to an informative blog on Afghanistan I came across recently. Safrang is well worth bookmarking. The About section says,

Safrang recognizes that there is a dearth of serious English language blogs on Afghanistan reflecting the national perspective and aims to play its small part in filling this void.
That has a familiar ring. A major reason for my starting this blog was the dearth of any serious press coverage in the UK, a void which needed filling. Safrang though, unlike CS, is actually written by an Afghan so it contains a lot of insights not actually available to the outsider. I report the news as best I can, Safrang gets inside it.

Operation Achilles in Helmand.

Operation Achilles, the ISAF's major anti-Taliban offensive in Helmand, Afghanistan has been continuing this week with series of joint Afghan-British strikes targeted against terrorist leaders in the north of the province. According to an ISAF press statement:
... in joint operations with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), ISAF launched a series of attacks and precision strikes against Taliban extremist in the Northern Helmand this week resulting in the elimination of several key extremist leaders from the ongoing insurgency.

“Striking at the heart of the problem and removing these key leaders has paid off,” stated Major General Ton van Loon, Commander of Regional Command South. “We fully realize the influence these Taliban extremist leaders have on the population of Southern Afghanistan who have clearly told us they felt like they where hostages in their own communities. Removing these extremist leaders from the equation allows freedom of choice to young men who are otherwise intimidated and coerced to join the Taliban extremists in the South,” he added.
Afgha.com summarises the latest state of play in the province with useful links to contextual material. Basically, a mixed picture emerges with ISAF success in retaking control of Sanguin being offset by continuing Taliban dominance of the Musa Qala, Now (New) Zad and Bagrhan districts. Afgha.com concludes that,
The recent offensive launched by NATO against the Taliban militants holed up in Helmand [Operation Achilles] is likely the beginning of a summer long campaign aimed at securing the Kajaki dam complex in northern Helmand and securing the ring highway (highway 1) that cuts through Afghanistan’s southern underbelly, stretching from Herat to Kabul.
The BBC has a few earlier pictures from Operation Achilles.

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16 April, 2007

Hilary Benn in New York

Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary, is taking his campaign to be deputy leader of the Labour Party to New York, where he will address the lefty think tank, the Centre for International Co-operation. According to the Daily Telegraph, Benn will say that the British government will no longer use the term "war on terror" because it helps to reinforce extremist groups. Benn's logic seems to be that the term "War on Terror" benefits terrorists, whereas the UK government's craven surrender to the Iranian government terrorists does not. The Guardian also has a report.

No doubt a bit of good ol' fashioned Bush-bashing will play well with the Labour left, even more so if it is actually done in America. What a way to run a government. Whatever it is called, the fight against terror has nothing to do with Benn's department, whose policy remit is to abolish poverty by dispensing aid to the Third World, so that dictators can continue to enjoy a life of luxury. Dealing with foreign countries is traditionally the sphere of the Foreign Office. However, as this government descends further and further into chaos, ministers increasingly trample over each other's policy areas in pursuit of the deputy leadership.

Anyway, I have never thought much of the term, "war on terror". As Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, pointed out last October, the war against Islamic terrorists is in fact a war to defend western values against Islam. So let us do away with mealy-mouthed euphemisms such "war on terror" and call the defence of Christendom against the infidels what it really is: a Crusade.

Ranting Stan has a very good piece on the affair, asking if politicians ever listen to themselves. I am not sure but they do not seem to listen to anybody else.

Private Chris Gray. (Updated)

The Ministry of Defence has announced the 53rd British fatality in Afghanistan: Private Chris Gray, 19, of the Royal Anglian Regiment, has been killed in a Taliban ambush at Now Zad, Helmand, Afghanistan.

Private Gray's routine patrol,

...was attacked by the Taliban; employing small arms, heavy machine guns, rocket propelled grenades, mortars and rockets.

As lead elements of the patrol were pinned down by enemy fire, Private Gray’s Platoon manoeuvred to support their comrades and out-flank the enemy. Private Gray was the point man in his Platoon – selected for this position as a result of his outstanding soldiering skills.

As they manoeuvred, Private Gray’s section observed a group of armed Taliban fighters at close range, whom they immediately engaged. A fierce firefight ensued at a range of just 15 metres, during which a small number of Taliban were killed.

Tragically, during the battle Private Gray was shot and despite the best efforts of his colleagues and medical staff was pronounced dead on arrival at the British Hospital at Camp Bastion.
The MOD obituary says that,
...Private Gray joined the British Army in March 2006 and, having completed training as an infantry soldier at the Infantry Training Centre Catterick, he joined the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment in September 2006.

He was born in Leicester and attended the Holmfirth School in Huddersfield. Among his many interests he had a love of outdoor life and was a keen snowboarder.

Private Gray has two younger brothers and a younger sister. He was a former pupil of Ratby Primary and Brookvale High Schools, and later attended Groby Community College, Leicestershire.
More from the BBC and the local press in Huddersfield and in Leicester.

Update: Life and Death on the M*A*S*H Shift: the Guardian has a moving account from Helmand of Private Gray's death in the context of the army medics who treated him.

A Tale of the Raj from Waziristan

The Hindustan Times has an entertaining, story from an Indian British Army officer. Little seems to have changed since the days of the Raj, when Waziristan was part of India and of the British Empire. I wonder if the women behave the same.

13 April, 2007

Pakistani army in South Waziristan.

The western mainstream media are beginning to pick up on the recent battles between the Taliban and al-Qaeda in South Waziristan.

In the UK, the Daily Telegraph focuses on Pakistani army's "marriage of convenience" with the Taliban.

Over the pond, the LA Times joins the DT in highlighting President Musharraf's acknowledgement for the first time that the Pak army is supporting the Taliban against the Uzbeks.

The BBC has a video news report from the area.

Uzbek casualties are currently being reported as 300 dead.

12 April, 2007

British army in Basra fightback:

Last week Iranian-sponsored Shia terrorists killed six British troops in Basra:Kingsman Danny Wilson, Rifleman Aaron Lincoln and in the most notorious incident, Second Lieutenant Joanna Yorke Dyer, Corporal Kris O’Neill, Private Eleanor Dlugosz and Kingsman Adam James Smith.

On Tuesday, the British army struck back:

An armoured force of 400 troops from the 2Bn The Rifles and 2Bn The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, both of which suffered fatalities last week, entered the Shia Flats area on the western outskirts of Basra to search for hidden weapons.The district is notorious as one of the most dangerous in southern Iraq.

"We wanted to make quite clear there's nowhere in Basra we cannot go," a British commander told The Daily Telegraph yesterday. "We are prepared to be there in daylight and take whatever comes our way. We are not being bombed out or intimidated."
At the time of posting, as far as I can see, the only broadsheet to carry the story is only the Daily Telegraph.

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11 April, 2007

No Sarah's Law for the UK.

Last Sunday, the News of the World ran a story proclaiming that, as a result of the paper's campaigning for a Sarah's Law, the Home Office was to pilot a scheme allowing parents to know if paedophiles were living in their area. Now it turns out that a rag hardly famed for the accuracy of its reporting has been fed a load of rubbish by Home secretary John Reid.

In typical Noo Labour style, the trumpeted pilot is little more than a headline grabbing propaganda exercise. Nothing will change. The Daily Telegraph has rumbled Reid's game.

Both the Times and the Independent run stories that parents are in fact to be denied the right to know of any dangerous sex offenders living locally. The Home Office is not saying anything.

10 April, 2007

Terrorist fall out.

Reports are emerging of clashes between Afghan Taliban and Uzbek al-Qaeda forces in South Waziristan. Global Terrorism Analysis carries an article entitled The Turf War in South Waziristan which says that current conflicts between the two parties, as reported in Dawn, " ...is a turf war that began to brew soon after the Taliban's victory over government troops in neighboring North Waziristan."

Global Terrorism references reports in Dawn on 5 April and on 6 April (filed on the 6th but in the 7 April edition). Other recent, related articles from Dawn are Dozens Killed As Tribesmen Attack Foreign Militants and , Tribesmen Seek Air Support Against Uzbeks.

The Daily Times also picks up the story, saying that the defeated Uzbeks are probably heading to North Waziristan.

Although al-Qaeda being on the receiving end of a good hiding is nothing to worry about, there must be some concern that, in consolidating their hold in western Pakistan, the Taliban is thereby posing an ever greater threat to ISAF forces in Afghanistan.

The Foreign Office on Iran.

Despite the humiliation of the United Kingdom by Iran, the chaps at the Foreign Office are feeling jolly pleased with themselves. So pleased that, in order to demonstrate how clever they are, they have complied a list of FO statements issued throughout the affair. Moreover, a smug Lord Triesman, (formerly a trade union thicko but now transformed into a sophisticated FO departmental minister) went on the BBC at the weekend and crowed about how wonderfully the Foreign Office dealt with the crisis.

Road race in Kandahar.

Here is a story the main stream media seems not to have picked up on: a 10km road race has been held through the northern part of Kandahar City, previously the scene of fighting between NATO forces and Taliban. The event attracted 500 runners and no exploding roadside devices or terrorist ambushes.

Despite the obvious continuing, serious problems from isolated suicide bombers, the Canadians' ISAF Provincial Reconstruction Team is making a difference in the province. Somebody tell the msm.

Blogger's code of conduct.

Somebody called Tim O'Reilly is leading an attempt to impose a "Blogger's Code of Conduct" [sic] on the web. Apparently O'Reilly wants bloggers to be polite and civilised. Sufficiently civilised blogs will get a badge of approval. In the British press, both the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph have picked up the story.

What a jolly good idea. Henceforth Crumbling Spires shall be civilised. So let me politely say to Mr O'Reilly, will you please be so good as to put your possessive apostrophe in the proper place you illiterate techie moron and then, if it is not too much trouble, do you think you could possibly fuck off. Thank you.

Be careful who you hug.

One of most curious aspects of Islam is the ease with which almost anybody can set themselves up as a religious leader, establish a Sharia court and issue fatwas against whomsoever they disagree with. Often, a fatwa serves as an open invitation to any homicidal maniacs to kill somebody. The fatwa against Salman Rushdie is a famous example.

According to Forbes, the most recent high profile subject of a fatwa is Nilofer Bakhtiar, Pakistani Tourism minister. Her crime was to hug her male instructors after surviving a charity parachute jump in France.

The Times of India has no doubts what is happening:

The fatwa, combined with threats by the mosque’s leader to unleash a wave of suicide bombers if the government tries to shut down the court, have fuelled concern over the creeping "Talibanisation" of Pakistan.
In the Pak Tribune, however, the mosque authorities are retreating at full speed. Could this possibly have anything to do with electioneering. If he lives that long, Musharraf's term of office expires in October.

Noblesse Oblige has a more detailed account of events.

08 April, 2007

Afghanistan: the Taliban Spring Offensive.

Afgha.com has started a chronicle of the Taliban's spring offensive in Afghanistan, which makes a useful reference:

Chronicling the "Spring Offensive".

Chronicling the Spring Offensive II: March 13-25.

Click to enlarge.

Afgha.com also has a detailed account, with links, of the deteriorating situation in the previously relatively peaceful Farah province.

I must admit that, having relied on the British printed media for the past few months, I had no idea the position was now potentially so bad in western Afghanistan, in the province next door to the British forces in Helmand. Recently, a number of serious incidents have occurred in Farah, including the murder by the Taliban of seven Afghans working for a US company, 22 arrests, including six teenagers, for bomb-making at a madrassah and a devastating roadside bomb attack which killed ten Afghan policemen.

Iran's Great Victory.

Here we go again. For the not so grand reopening, I was going to begin with a few remarks on Iran's great victory over the United Kingdom but, in the Chicago Sun Times, Mark Steyn does it better than I ever could, analysing the issues with his customary style and prescience: Iran's Bluff Humbles Britain.

Of the reams of UK press coverage, the Sunday Times leads the way, with the Sunday Telegraph some distance behind.

The Guardian unleashes Will Hutton, who seems to think the affair was a victory for the UK and a defeat for Iran.

Beyond the imagery and the jingoism lies, at least in relation to Iran, an unappreciated success that points the way to more. After all, the sailors are home and there has been no deal. Better still, the Iranian government, obviously looking for a propaganda coup, has revealed itself as a government prepared to flout international law and mistreat prisoners in its quest for an accommodation. Britain has clawed back a little of its shattered reputation and kept its head. Indeed, by arguing, talking and repudiating sabre-rattling, we have, paradoxically, weakened Iran's argument that it is an injured innocent and strengthened our own that the international community should be watchful of this power and its nuclear ambitions. Soft power works.
You could not make it up.

Over at the Independent, I expected Robert Fisk to be having a field day but there was no sign of him. Instead, the liberal self-haters tie the "hostages" story in with a doom and gloom account of looming disaster in Iraq.

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03 March, 2007

Another enforced break.

Another enforced break, this time chest infection plus wonky white blood cells requiring three days of hospital food, which was, surprisingly, much better than during my last visit.

How is it that nurses can stick needles and drip feeds in quite easily and painlessly but doctors do not seem to be able to find a vein?

Crumbling Spires will resume later in the month.

19 February, 2007

British troops again in action at Garmser.

On Sunday, in Operation Glacier, Afghan artillery was used for the first time in an ISAF operation, as coalition forces attacked a Taliban stronghold near Garmser (Garmisir), Helmand, the scene of fierce fighting in the autumn. After consulting the local elders, over 150 British troops attacked and destroyed three terrorist compounds and a series of linking tunnels. No British or Afghan casualties were reported. No enemy casualty figures were given.

Lieutenant Colonel Rory Bruce, spokesman for the UKTF, said: “Op GLACIER marks the continuation of our recent operations in and around Garmsir to strike at Taliban extremist targets and command centres.

“With the first use of Afghan artillery, it also marks a significant step towards enabling full combat capability for the ANA and, ultimately, to Afghans being able to provide security for themselves,” he said.
Source: ISAF News Release

As far as I can discover, so far only the Bulgarian Focus News thinks the incident worth reporting. A damning indictment on the British mainstream media.

Cameron and drugs, again.

Today's Times picks up a story from yesterday's Independent which links Conservative leader David Cameron with cocaine. For good measure, the Times throws in a reference to a similar, but very old, story on reprinted by the Mail/Standard stable.

Make of it what you will. I suppose innuendo and speculation sells newspapers. However, until Cameron flatly denies snorting coke his enemies in the press will carry on. If he does deny it, they will only find another stick to beat him with.

Previously on Crumbling Spires: Cameron the dope.

Sir Ian Blair: foot in mouth, again.

The Daily Mail accuses Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Ian Blair, of pre-empting the cash for honours investigation by telling ministers that his namesake, Prime Minister Tony Blair, is in the clear over the matter and that the investigation will be over within weeks.

Unlike his predecessor at the Met, John Stevens, who for all his faults was an old fashioned copper, Ian Blair is a New Labour apparatchik. Wikipedia has a convenient set of links of some of the nonsense Ian Blair has been involved in during only two years in the job. Blair's sociological ramblings (for example, see here and here) give some insight as to why this PC PC was given his present job by none other than Tony Blair.

18 February, 2007

Des Smith talks to the News of the World.

Des Smith, of cash for honours fame, has been telling the News of the World (text and video) that he contemplated suicide after being "hung out to dry" by Tony Blair during the cash for honours investigation.

Smith created the scandal by getting pissed and bragging to a potential donor about being able to fix him up with an honour in return for a donation to the city academies programme. The donor was, in fact, an undercover Sunday Times reporter. Oops! What did he expect Blair to do?

L'affaire Goldsmith.

How do you get to be a QC? Shagging the Attorney General must be a help. The Mail on Sunday claims an exclusive on Goldsmith's adultery.

The obvious questions are: when did Tony Blair know of the affair; and did he use that knowledge to exert pressure on Goldsmith over either his controversial about face on the "legality" of invading Iraq, or over the al Yamamah investigation? Moreover, would Blair have used the affair to exert pressure over decisions on any cash for honours charges? The Sunday Telegraph alludes to these questions online but asked them explicitly in an article in today's print edition.

Some may say it is private matter for Goldsmith and his family. Let us have no sympathy for the individual directly responsible for the Mendonca show trail. Enjoy the poetic justice.

Olympic terror.

According to the Sunday Telegraph plans by the Tablighi Jamaat Islamic group,to build a London "super mosque" in connection with the Olympic Games, will be vetoed by the government. Understandable.

As the Telegraph report says, the French security services suspect Tablighi Jammat is a terrorist group. The FBI and MI5 also have an interest in them. Quite rightly: as the Guardian has summarised, they have connections to the 7 July London bombers, the transatlantic aeroplane plot and Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. The clear implication of these connections is that Tablighi Jamaat has close, even systemic, links with the Taliban - al Qaeda axis in western Pakistan.

Still they are allowed to operate in the United Kingdom.

17 February, 2007

Blair in the frame for cash for honours.

According to the Daily Mail, the Scotland Yard team led by the intrepid Assistant Commissioner Yates is nearly ready to submit a file on the cash for honours case to the Crown Prosecution Service. "Insiders" have told the Mail that Tony Blair, Jonathan Powell (Blair's chief press officer), Lord Levy and Ruth Turner (Blair's advisor on something or other) are the four people the Yard will recommend bringing charges against.

The police are being optimistic. The final decision will rest with the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, who received both his job and his peerage from Tony Blair. I fancy Blair will be calling in a marker or two.

Meanwhile, the world's few surviving socialists are enjoying the case and even the Iranian press is taking an interest.

First Sea Lord fires broadside at government.

Admiral Sir Jonathan Band, the First Sea Lord (head of the navy) has said that the Royal Navy needs £1 billion to sustain naval capabilities; otherwise Britain would be at risk of "turning into Belgium". The BBC and the Times have more.

Sir Jonathan's remarks follow criticisms of UK defence policy by senior army figures. As a reader comments on the Times site,

Will the Chief of the Air Staff now speak up, and have the government slammed by all 3 services?
In what is becoming one of the UK's major military traditions, having attacked the government, a senior military commander then goes on the MoD site to deny everything and does it without denying anything. Sir Jonathan played the game brilliantly. "Today’s Royal Navy is funded to do what is asked of it." In plain English that means: ministers ask if it can be done, their Lordships say no, so ministers do not ask the navy to do it.


Both the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail say that Admiral Band said he would resign if excessive cuts were forced upon the Royal Navy. Neither the BBC nor the Times reported such a threat in the Admiral's remarks, made at a lunch with defence journalists, so perhaps the DT and Mail were reporting off-the-record remarks.

Previously on Crumbling Spires:

Britannia used to rule the waves.

Britannia used to rule the waves 2.

Royal Navy scuttled.

Human rights for terrorists.

Earlier this week the Lord Chancellor, Charles Falconer, delivered a major policy speech on human rights and terrorism in which he said that the fight against terrorism must be policy led, not dominated by human rights lawyers.

The judiciary was not listening.

Link: European Convention on Human rights.

16 February, 2007

Lance Corporal Matty Hull video.

The Lance Corporal Matty Hull inquest has descended in a legalistic farce. The BBC reports that the coroner has agreed not to show the friendly fire video as part of the official inquest proceedings.

Addressing a pre-inquest hearing on Friday, he said: "I can say quite categorically that if it were not for the potential delay and distress this would cause the family, I would not be willing to be bound by an agreement with the US as to use of evidence that I consider crucial to this inquest.

"I would be wrong to accept that the US are correct in seeking to bind the hands of the coroner's court in this way but in these circumstances I feel that in order to make progress and provide the family with closure, it seems to me that I must act in this way as far as the copy of that video is concerned."
Meanwhile, the rest of the world can watch the full video on the Sun's website and shorter versions on YouTube and various other places including, hopefully, Crumbling Spires.

YouTube Video via BestOfYT.com

Budd VC killed by friendly fire?

The Sun says it has been told by military sources that Corporal Bryan Budd, VC was "probably" killed by friendly fire.

An examination of his bullet-ridden body revealed that the ammunition used was of the calibre employed by British forces.

Pathologists who conducted a forensic examination of his wounds also concluded that they were inflicted by British bullets.

The only explanation other than friendly fire was that Taliban forces stole British weapons or bought Nato kit on the black market.

The 3 Para source added: “Although we’ve been told about the other possibilities, these seem highly unlikely. The fact the family have been told there is a possibility of a ‘blue on blue’ means that this is the conclusion to which the investigation is leading.”
The MoD have said the investigation will not affect the award.

The Daily Telegraph also picks up the story,

Nothing is yet proven either way, but it looks as though tragedy has been piled on tragedy in the confusion of battle. It does not detract from Corporal Budd's selfless actions.

Robert Cottage trial 2.

The trial of former BNP activist Robert Cottage on offences under the Explosives Acts has been continuing at Manchester Crown Court. Lawyers and experts have been arguing over whether Cottage had the correct ingredients to make a worthwhile bomb or if he only had sufficient household materials to scare intruders away with thunderflashes. The Lancashire Telegraph reports that Cottage's defence lawyer, Andrew Nuttall, told the court that

...key ingredients for making explosives were not found at Cottage's house, including charcoal to make gunpowder and sulphuric acid.

The solicitor said: "If someone had it in their mind to make an explosive they would order sulphuric acid - that is one of the key ones they would really go for."

Some forensic expert countered that it was possible to make weaker bombs using other acids.

Talk about counting angels on pinheads.

"Muslim Fanatic Works on Trains"

Omar Khayam, a Muslim fanatic, who demonstrated against the Danish cartoons dressed as a suicide bomber, works as an unsupervised train cleaner. According to the Sun, some train drivers are not happy about it. I suspect many passengers will be less than enthusiastic.

Good News from Iraq and Afghanistan 5: Rebuilding Basra.

Continuing the occasional series of stories unlikely to be found the mainstream media.

In Iraq, the Yorkshire Regiment is in Shit Street, literally. Az Aubayr is the second largest town in Basra province and it has a sewage problem. On one particular road patrolled by the regiment, the tarmac is hidden under a layer of the brown stuff. What else would the army call it?

The regiment is in Az Aubayr, the second largest town in the province, as part of Operation Sinbad, helping the Iraqi people to rebuild society. Essentially, that means rebuilding the infrastructure through projects ranging from reconstructing the sewage and water systems to installing generators to provide hospitals with electricity. The MoD has much more on the story.

[It should never be forgotten that, at the same time as they are helping to rebuild Iraqi society, the troops are dealing with the security situation, sometimes with tragically fatal consequences. Only six days ago the Yorkshire Regiment lost Private Luke Simpson, who was killed returning from a routine patrol.]

That dam Taliban.

In Helmand, Afghanistan, NATO is continuing Operation Kryptonite, its attempt to clear the Taliban from around the Kajaki dam.

The New Zealand Herald, carries a Reuters, India report that the Taliban have been using children as human shields to escape NATO forces.

The Independent has an on-the-spot report on the fighting.

The Daily Telegraph publishes an account of an earlier action at Kajaki by a film maker spending a year with the Royal Marines.

15 February, 2007

July 7th Truth Campaign.

As conspiracy theories go, this is a belter.

According to the 7th July Truth Campaign, the London bombings were not a terrorist act. That theory was cooked up by the authorities to cover the truth: a rehearsal for an anti-terrorist operation went wrong and a bus was accidentally blown up, and there was deadly power surge on the underground. At least I think that is what these prize loonies are saying but I may have misunderstood since I glazed over after the first three or four pages.

The campaign wants a public inquiry. Sounds like a job for inquisitor supreme, Lord John Stevens. For under £5m he will lunch well for a year, conclude there was a series of explosions and offer to run a further inquiry into the matter.

I came across the campaign through finding Islamic Networking, thanks to lgf.

On one point they are correct. Nobody has ever been convicted of the attacks, but then we do not put corpses on trial in the UK, whether dismembered or not.

President Bush on Afghanistan.

President George Bush has been addressing the American Enterprise Institute on the Global War on Terror. Click here for the full text of his remarks. The President referred to Iraq but the bulk of his remarks concerned Afghanistan, on which he outlined a five point strategy for NATO forces. The strategy is summarised here as:

  • increase the size and capabilities of the Afghan security forces;
  • strengthen NATO forces in Afghanistan;
  • improve provincial governance and help develop Afghanistan's rural economy;
  • reverse the increase in poppy cultivation that is aiding the Taliban;
  • fight corruption, especially in the judicial system.
With regard to NATO the president called on member states to provide more troops and to allow their troops to be deployed whenever and wherever, required by commanders on the ground.
For NATO to succeed, member nations must provide commanders on the ground with the troops and the equipment they need to do their jobs...

... when there is a need, when our commanders on the ground say to our respective countries, we need additional help, our NATO countries must provide it in order to be successful in this mission.

As well, allies must lift restrictions on the forces they do provide so NATO commanders have the flexibility they need to defeat the enemy wherever the enemy may make a stand. The alliance was founded on this principle: An attack on one is an attack on all. That principle holds true whether the attack is on the home soil of a NATO nation, or on allied forces deployed on a NATO mission abroad. By standing together in Afghanistan, NATO forces protect our own people, and they must have the flexibility and rules of engagement to be able to do their job.
I doubt he will meet with an enthusiastic response from our so-called allies in NATO.

Mrs Thatcher

Buried away in the Daily Mail, an article that deserves a wider readership: Margaret Thatcher's Life in the Shadows, a moving account of the great lady's declining years. How we need somebody like her now.

As a bonus, here is the Margaret Thatcher Foundation website which contains her speeches and extensive documentation.

Coaltion security operations underway in Iraq.

The Ministry of Defence has announced that 2,000 Iraqi troops, supported by 1,200 British troops from 19 Light Brigade, have launched a major security operation in and around Basra (or Al Basrah), in south eastern Iraq. Over the next 72 hours, Operation Troy will attempt to counter criminal and militia gangs through a series of intelligence-driven operations. Basra city has been surrounded and all traffic into and out of the city will be stopped and searched at checkpoints. Royal Marine boat patrols will search traffic on the Shatt al Arab and other waterways. The nearby border with Iran has been closed. The MoD link, above, has a map showing the disposition of forces.

The BBC and has an early report.

Map from CIA World Factbook.

On a wider front, Iraq's border with Syria has also been closed as the US army clamps down on the security position in Baghdad, Reuters reports.

More from the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian.

Oil for Food.

The Serious Fraud Office is turning its attention to the Iraq Oil for Food scandal. The Guardian says the SFO will base its investigation into the alleged involvement of British firms on the Volcker Report, that is, the UN Oil-for-food Report. At the bottom of the page the Guardian has a link to a pdf download of the report.

According to the the Evening Standard, Scotland Yard has George Galloway in its sights, even though the SFO has dropped that aspect of its oil for food inquiry.

Dam Taliban strike back.

The Taliban have struck back at the Kajaki Dam project, in Helmand, Afghanistan. The Royal marines had retaken and secured the area around the dam, so that the contractors could resume work. However, work on the project has now been halted, again. The terrorists fired 14 "cheap rockets" in the general direction of the dam; consequently, the US contractors were pulled out by their company, USAid, leaving behind some not very impressed Royal Marines and Afghan civilian workers.

Anthony Loyd, the Times' man at Kajaki has the story.

14 February, 2007

Lord Falconer on human rights and terrorism.

Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, has been addressing the Royal United Services Institute on the subject of human rights and terrorism. Here is the full speech.

The speech itself is mostly waffle about the value of this government's human rights legislation and similar worthy sentiments. Falconer's main arguments appears to be three points about the fight against terrorism: it must must be policy led, not dominated by human rights lawyers; it is a struggle for values, so it must involve a hearts and minds campaign; and the Human Rights Act is an essential part of "identifying, defining and protecting" those values.

There is no detailed proposals in the speech, only what the BBC refers to as hints but the press has obviously been briefed. According to the Daily Telegraph report of the speech, the government will attempt to increase the permitted detention period for terrorist suspects from the present 28 days to 56 days; and the police will no longer be prevented from questioning suspects who have already been charged. However, the DT points to Whitehall speculation that nothing will actually be done until Blair has left office.

Colonel Mendonca not guilty.

Colonel Jorge Mendonca, DSO,who hold the dubious distinction of being the most senior British officer ever to face a court martial, has been cleared of all the charges instigated by the anti-army human rights lobby. Four other soldiers have been cleared of similar allegations, amounting to less than gentle treatment of captured terrorists, brought under the International Criminal Court Act, 2001. The show trial of two other soldiers continues.

That this case was ever brought is a damning indictment of the left's anti-military mind set and, equally, of society's disregard for the armed forces. I fear there is little hope for a country that sends its finest young men into combat, daily risking death and serious injury, only to unleash the profiteering human rights lawyers on them at the slightest chance. Here is the roll of shame.

Colonel Mendonca is one of our most distinguished solders, As an holder of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), he was a prize scalp for the left. Well, they have not got him.

The Daily Telegraph has the best report and links. The Times and the BBC also weigh in.

Update 15/2/07:

The Daily Mail sums up how many people will feel about this politically motivated nonsense. What can you expect from a government whose ministers' have spent years involved with CND and various "troops out" movements. Ranting Stan has addressed the government's lack of a military voice.

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CIA rendition: the European Parliament report.

The rag tag and bobtail of socialists, eco-nutters and various other surrender monkeys in the European Parliament have approved a report condemning some European countries for allowing the CIA to transport Islamic terrorists through their air space, to destinations where they might be tortured. Click here for an html version, and Word/OO and pdf downloads of "Temporary Committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transport and illegal detention of prisoners."* Not so much a report, as a long winded motion.

The Parliament has been busy condemning this and deploring that but they have conspicuously failed to answer allegations that their report is largely based on hearsay and rumour, and there is a distinct lack of evidence for the torture allegations. The Parliament is also somewhat miffed that some countries - notably, Austria, Italy, Poland, Portugal and the UK, - did not exactly fall over themselves to assist in the preparation of the report.

The BBC, the Guardian and the Times have early reports. So far the reporting is reasonably factual, but it is a bit early for the real US-bashing. Most senior journos will still be drowning their lunch. No doubt the sanctimonious onslaught will begin in tomorrow's editions.

And the sum total of all this earnest activity of reporting, press conferences and comment: nothing. The European Parliament can stamp its feet till the cows come home, it is not going to affect the policy of the EU member states.

Last November, the Times gave the EU parliament's roll of honour for countries allowing CIA flights stop-over facilities:
  • Germany 336
  • Britain 170
  • Ireland 147
  • Portugal 91
  • Spain 68
  • Greece 64
  • Cyprus 57
  • Italy 46
  • Romania 21
  • Poland 11
The shame of being beaten by Germany.

* It is a typical EU document with many cross-references ( without hyper-links) to other documents, which have to be read to gain a full picture.

Suspected British al Qaeda links in Somalia.

The strange tale of the suspected four British jihadis in Somalia is beginning to unravel.

As recounted in yesterday's Times, four Britons, suspected of fighting in Somalia for the al-Qaeda linked Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), were amongst 10 foreigners deported from Kenya, to whence they had fled after the UIC got a hammering from Somali government forces. The Kenyan authorities sent the quartet sent back to Somalia and, from there, they have been deported to the UK. The four were: Shahajan Janjua, Reza Afsharzadagen, Mohammed Ezzoueck and Hamza Chentouf.

Once back in the UK, the four suspected jihadis were arrested by police under the Terrorism Act, 2000 but, the BBC reports, they have now been released without charge. Not surprisingly, reveals the Daily Telegraph, the terrorist suspects' families have been declaring the men's innocence with, by now, familiar refrains: "My son is innocent. He is not an extremist", said Ezzouecks's mother; and, "'He is not a terrorist. He went there for a friend's wedding", said Janjua's brother.

When attending his friends wedding, Janjua obviously fell into bad company, including two American al Qadea sympathisers, one of whom has been charged with terrorist-related offences by the US authorities. Details from Little Green Footballs.

The latest from Kajaki: Operation Kryptonite.

The ISAF has released a statement on how the Taliban were removed from some areas around Kajaki in Operation Kryptonite. It is good to see the British army retaining a sense of humour in such circumstances.

A small part of the operation is described in the Times, which had a correspondent with the Royal Marines in the Kajaki dam area.

The ISAF has also released a brief statement telling how a rocket attack at Kajaki was dealt with.

Previously on Crumbling Spires: Taliban build-up in Helmand.

13 February, 2007

The Taliban in Pakistan.

With the Taliban about to launch, or perhaps having already launched, its spring offensive in Afghanistan, here are a few timely articles on the problems being caused for both the Coalition and Pakistan by the Taliban safe areas in the Afghan-Pak border regions. Reading these articles is more instructive than following the ritual insults in the latest round of (un)diplomatic exchanges between the neighbours.

Middle East Report Online has an interesting article on The Pakistan Taliban.

Newsline examines Pakistan's Long Night of Terror resulting from the Taliban presence in the tribal belt.

Last month, in Harboring Terrorists, the Center for American Progress painted a gloomy picture of the consequences for US policy of the Taliban safe bases in Pakistan.

Forest Gate inquiry reports.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has finished inquiring into the police anti-terrorist raids on two houses in Forest Gate, East London in which a man was shot by police. The IPPC press release has links to the reports' findings and recommendations. In fact there were three inquiries and two reports: the earlier Forest Gate 1 related to the shooting; and Forest Gate 2 and 3, which is one report on two investigations into the house raids. Here is a direct link to the pdf file of the reports on the house raids.

In summary, the IPCC finds that the police did nothing wrong but they acted on inaccurate intelligence and they should have apologised more profusely to the offended innocent parties so as not to upset community relations.

According to the BBC, the man shot in the raid, Mohammed Abdulkahar, is said to be suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. A profitable law suit against the police will no doubt provide effective therapy.

Through their lawyers, families involved in the raid have issued a statement; the Guardian gives it in full.

The Times headlines the fact that only 2 out of 153 complaints were upheld by the IPCC, and these were minor matters of failing to supply sufficient painkillers or food to suspects in custody.

Ex-BNP activist on trial.

Robert Cottage, a former BNP activist, has gone on trial charged with offences under the Explosives Acts. Manchester Crown Court was told that Watkinson kept a stockpile of explosives, in case of a civil war, which came to light thanks to his wife. According to the Guardian:

Mrs Cottage, who suffered mental health problems, had told a social worker her husband possessed several crossbows and had chemicals stored at his home... This sparked a police raid which uncovered 21 types of chemicals which, when mixed together, could form explosives. Officers also found a 300-page computer document, the Anarchy Cookbook, detailing how to make different types of bombs, the jury was told.
Mrs Cottage also said that her husband wanted to shoot Tony Blair and the liberal peer, Lord Greaves.

The BBC also has a report.

Lord Greaves is perhaps better known as Tony Greaves, of the Association of Liberal Councillors based at Hebden Bridge, in Yorkshire. During his time there, the ALC, led by Greaves and his partner in crime, Andrew Ellis (widely known as Smelly Elly and the Hebden Bridge mafia) pioneered the Liberals' distinctive style of election campaigning, achieving notoriety for being a wretched a set of unprincipled political muck-rakers.

Criminals have human rights .

The Lord Chancellor dissembles about human rights legislation but the truth is out there, again and again and again.

The scandalous benefits to criminals of the Human Rights Act is one area where so far David Cameron has talked sense.

The Royal Marines battle for Kajaki Dam.

The battle for the Kajaki dam has kicked off, again. The Daily Telegraph quotes official reports that Royal Marines, supported by artillery and Afghan forces, fought a 12 hour battle. No NATO casualties are reported, but a "several" terrorists are said to have been killed. According to the Times, the Taliban have been routed.


Reuters, India says that 300 ISAF troops were involved in the operation , which involved clearing 60 compounds from an area used recently to launch regular mortar attacks.

12 February, 2007

Speak English or lose benefits.

The BBC reports that:

Unemployed people who cannot speak English will have to show they are learning the language or face losing benefits, the government has announced.
Quite right. There is increased danger to minorities of isolation, discrimination and victimisation, if they cannot communicate with the majority. It is long past the time when Scousers should be integrated into the rest of society.

Now that I have tested for the existence of the legendary Scouse sense of humour, here is the serious part of the BBC's story. At the same time as the government is shifting resources into language teaching for the unemployed, it is shifting resources out of language teaching elsewhere.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Philip Hammond said making working migrants pay for classes may end up trapping them in low-skilled jobs, because they cannot afford more tuition.

"We need to help them as well to acquire the language skills that will unlock the other skills they may have and allow them to move on," he said.
That is far too sensible a point for this government to grasp.

Steven Lanham - the first British casualty in the War on Terror?

Last Saturday, the Evening Standard ran the curious story of Steven Lanham:

Steven Lanham, it can be revealed, was a hero - the first British agent to give his life in the global war against terror.

Disguised as a dispatch rider, the 39-year-old former soldier was on "close target reconnaissance" when he was killed in mysterious circumstances.
The Standard's stable mate, the Mail on Sunday ran the same story but the rest of the British press seems to have ignored it. Make of it what you will.

11 February, 2007

Taliban build-up in Helmand.

The BBC reports that that it has been told by Haji Asadullah Wafa, the new governor of Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, that 700 insurgents (ie Taliban terrorists) have entered Helmand with the aim of attacking British troops protecting a major dam project.

The BBC does not name the dam but presumably it is Kajaki hydro-electric dam, from which the Royal Marines ejected the terrorists in early January. It is also the area where Corporal Mark Wright of the Paras was awarded the George Cross last July.

The International Herald Tribune carries a numerically similar Associated Press report that 700 "foreign fighters" (the Taliban's foreign legion to the rest of us) from Chechnya, Uzbekistan and Pakistan are in the area around Musa Qala where negotiations to peacefully remove the Taliban are apparently still underway.

Little is to be gained from a detailed analysis of the numbers of terrorists in parts of Helmand given by these press reports. They may be correct , they may not. We can only trust that NATO has its own accurate intelligence, which is not for public consumption. The key point is that the Taliban seems to be moving its forces into Helmand in preparation for the expected spring offensive which may kick off any time now.