British army defeated in Sanguin

Posted in Afghanistan, British army by Deputy city editor on July 7, 2010

The disastrous deployment of the British army in Sanguin is ending in an entirely predictable defeat. The incompetence and futility of these operations has been remarked here for the past three years. This has been an engagement of ignominy in which lives on all sides have been wasted for absolutely nothing. It will end with the British army retreating under a covering fire of spin.

Britain’s hopeless, careerist generals and dim officer corps are to blame as much as the politicians who dispatched them.  The Americans will now take over and they will probably do better, since unlike the British, they learn from their mistakes. But it is now too late. The battle in Sanguin, like the wider war, is entirely unwinninable, as not even the criterion for victory seems available.

The Defence of the Realm blog has as good an analysis as any.

Panorama in Afghanistan: the BBC’s abject surrender to the censor

Posted in Afghanistan, BBC, British army, Delusional journalism, journalism, Media, Panorama, War by Deputy city editor on November 6, 2007

The BBC in Hellmand province: inadequate journalism

I am not among those who believe the BBC has recently degraded since degradation has been its default state for some time. Those who are conscientious objectors to the licence fee are nonetheless invited to review last night’s episode of the flagship BBC current affairs programme, Panorama, restored to prime time, which was last night devoted to the Great Game in Afghanistan.

You can read the Dangerous Book for Boys story on the BBC website here. The story is remote from the actuality, which Panorama censored. This censored story is of unseeable Afghan civilians whose home is bombed then invaded by the British Army, alongside doped-up allies, and subsequently further trashed, in the cause of a ridiculous and ultimately failed military operation, which far from reflecting positively on the British effort in Afghanistan, reveals it to be deeply flawed and actually insane.

This was an example of a program given over lock, stock and smoking barrel to the MoD press office. Amidst all the bang bang, most of it consisting of massive consumption of ammunition directed in no particular direction, it was a classic example of what John Birt used to call the bias against understanding. Not even a perfunctory space is given to those who might suggest that what we were seeing was something completely different to what the script was proposing. The website version attempts a tiny bit more distance. But watch the TV show for yourself. It’s on this link .

It was a filmic narrative constructed from tropes ordered by the MoD, and with inconvenient truths not even filmed, on orders of the MoD. This is why the BBC is a state broadcaster and not a public broadcaster.

The film shows a patrol of British soldiers and their dope-smoking allies from the Afghan National Army sallying forth in Hellmand province to confront the “Taliban.” The Taliban is anyone who defends themselves from this rag-tag band, it seems.

The patrol advanced in glorious formation across the Afghan Plain in a shot borrowed from David Lean. Then they get down into the more verdant area by the river where many of the compounds have been deserted by inhabitants who seem unconvinced that the British are welcome visitors.

Eventually the soldiers make contact with “Taliban” over on the edge of the settlement and call in a few bombs. Enormous explosion follows. Filmed beautifully. Not close enough. Another one. Pictures even better. The soldiers have no idea who or what they are ordering bombed. To say this is a shambles is not, however, on the Panorama agenda.

Advancing up and attacking a new compound they find Afghan women and children, hiding in the remains. The young men are obviously out in the fields, shooting at the British.

We do not see the Afghan civilians whose house has been bombed by the British because the MoD “minder” forbids the BBC crew from filming this. Nor do we ever see the minder. Nor do we see any of the considerable number of British casualties, who are suffering not from gunshots, but from heat exposure. So this is a war with unseen British casualties and unseen Afghan victims. Convenient, isn’t it? Lots of bang bang – but we miss the essential consequences of this operation. And the real director, the man from the ministry, is completely unseen. Excluding the diaster this has been for the civilians, for the British it is at best costly and pointless. More bluntly, it is utterly counter-productive. Fathers and brothers have been killed or maimed on the other side, it seems. For what? British soldiers may with consummate professionalism and bravery embark on these operations but it’s sound and fury, signifying nothing. One cannot avoid the impression that the entire operation existed only to provide pictures for Panorama.

Other bits – the staged visit of the provincial reconstruction team led by its unctuous civil servant, for example; the long scripted bits with the British officers explaining all the good they are doing; the complete cop-out on the question of poppy – were just further garbage. Panorama is no longer any kind of showcase for BBC journalism, except for its worst.

The BBC of course knows no shame in shilling for the MoD and has done so for years. The truth of the military operation on which they were embedded was that the British army were calling in air strikes on civilians and then occupied their house as a base for a prolonged military operation that ultimately was completely futile. We do not know what happened to the civilians. Although if dead, they are counted as Taliban. Faced with the demand of the British military censor not to film the victims, the BBC chose access over the truth. No matter how brave the cameraman this was nauseating but sadly typical of the BBC.

Meanwhile, what is actually happening in Afghanistan…

The Defence of the Realm Blog is also good on this.

Afghanistan ‘is lost’

Posted in Afghanistan, Britain, British army, Canada, War by Deputy city editor on October 25, 2007

While the MoD continues plans to prepare to deploy the entire Parachute regiment in Hellmand province next year with Eurofighter jets (!) and even the new Merlin helicopter, cooler heads are noting an inconvenient truth. We have already lost. Let us review the evidence:

Karzai’s government is corrupt, inept, and controls only Kabul, on a good day, with the help of foreign soldiers.

Pakistan is a bigger mess than ever.

Poppy production is setting records.

The fighting this year produced terrible casualties amongst the fighters of both sides, for no apparent lasting military gain. The best idea the generals have is to do it all over again, in 2008.

There are also terrible civilian casualties. But we hardly know because it is not safe for journalists to operate in the combat zone.

There is essentially no civil reconstruction work because it is too dangerous.

The coalition of the willing has evaporated and nobody but the Americans, British (and maybe for not much longer) the Canadians are willing to engage in much actual fighting.

All this adds up to either, boldly (a) we have already lost or, more cautiously but not really so different (b) we have not won and are not winning.

Paddy Ashdown, who has been a soldier, politician and nation builder (in Kosovo) may very well reflect feeling inside Gordon Brown’s government, as it faces up to the realities of Blair’s war in Afghanistan.

He says in today’s Telegraph: “We have lost, I think, and success is now unlikely.”

This is an extremely welcome note of seriousness and realism amodst the prevailing groupthink of one more heave.

A sad and confused leading article in the Telegraph is deaf to Lord Ashdown. It accuses him of traducing our brave soldiers (he never did). And then reverts to the trope that it is all the fault of our NATO so-called allies. The reason why our allies are not shoulder to shoulder with us is because they know Lord Ashdown is right and the current strategy is a failure.

Briefings that we could be in Afghanistan “for decades” suggest that some of the poppy is making its way to opium dens in Whitehall.

Summary of October Chatham House report on Afghanistan. Full report is available here.

  • Western forces’ success in fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and in achieving a satisfactory level of security throughout Afghanistan remains limited. The lack of success results from the coalition’s failure to develop and implement jointly a coherent strategy for Afghanistan that integrates counter-insurgency, counterterrorism and stability and reconstruction operations.
  • The coalition’s internal cohesion regarding the development of the Afghanistan operation is becoming increasingly fragile. The willingness to share risks has become a key issue. National caveats are increasingly disputed. Not all NATO member states are prepared to send their forces into combat. This puts the fundamental principle of alliance solidarity on the line.
  • The coalition forces’ comprehensive approach towards stability and reconstruction operations remains an elusive concept on the ground in Afghanistan. The consensus is that civil-military cooperation has to become an instrumental part of the Afghan operation, but it remains an unresolved issue how this could be translated into operational practice.
  • The conflict has increasingly become a regional one. Taliban bases in Pakistan cannot be targeted by coalition forces; however, logistical and armament supplies out of Pakistan are significant, and Pakistan is used as a recruitment base. As long as parts of Pakistan serve as a safe haven for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, coalition forces will not be able to control Afghanistan.

Biggles to America: Victory in Babylonia

Posted in Babylon, British army, Iran, Iraq by Deputy city editor on October 11, 2007

Babylonia today after successful British military occupation

An hilarious interview appears in today’s Washington Post in which the chief of the defence staff Sir Jock Stirrup claims that the British have succeeded in the south of Iraq and that those who believe otherwise have had false expectations.

I wonder where these came from?

Stirrup said that British leaders (we are not told which) may have created the impression that troops were going to leave Iraq “with a burgeoning economy, with prosperity spreading throughout the country, with everyone living quietly and tending their gardens and enjoying the cool of the evening after a good day’s work.”

Instead, obviously, the country is smashed to bits, controlled by various flavours of religious mafias some of them heavily influenced by Iran, the infrastrucure is as bad or worse than ever, women are oppressed, there are dozens of sectarian and criminal killings every day, most of those who can have left, and millions are being made through the theft and diversion of the nation’s natural resources.

Sir Jock of course is only following orders. He is not the one who decides the line to take. It is Gordon Brown who has decided that he has to have this Big Lie to conceal his actual policy of cut & run and perhaps we should not begrudge or question the Rosy Scenario which is necessary in the circumstances.

Stirrup as Pangloss serves a reasonable purpose if the aim is to get out of Iraq. Which it ought to be. Hence, we have a lie in the service of a greater good. Who can argue? Necessary hypocrisy is at the basis of British polity and always has been. This is why the Brits are, as seen from Washington, such “duplicitous bastards” (pace Alexander Haig, observing the eternal character of our Island Race).

“What’s important” is a “greater” truth which is that the British exit, with a lie as its bodyguard, does prove that the foreign soliders have for a long time been part of the problem and that withdrawing them has been on balance rather positive. This is a lesson Americans might care to note. If the consequence of cut & run is that we must do so while pretending victory, so be it. This is if you agree with me that cut & run is the preferred, indeed the only sensible, policy option.

So maybe rather than scoffing at Sir Jock we should celebrate him. Other British air force officers have undertaken heroic missions on behalf of their country, flying their Spitfires towards the oncoming Hun, etc. Sir Jock is out there fighting the 21st century information war with just as much courageous indifference to his personal safety.

Sir Jock does not heed that his story of a British success is ridiculous and that the Americans know it perfectly well. (Bush is supposed to be furious with Brown.) But he keeps on saying it. Shall we join in and pretend he is right? Can we make the same case for Afghanistan and leave there, too?

Gordon’s Great Game

Posted in Afghanistan, British army, defence, delusional defence ministers, War by Deputy city editor on October 7, 2007

Punch, April 1885. Brittania takes on Afghanistan

The blood runs cold at the report in Saturday’s Guardian that Britain is to launch a major escalation of its losing war in Afghanistan. After the collapse of the British military occupation of southern Iraq, now controlled by a variety of religio-criminal mafias, it might have been imagined that the government would have learned some humility. Not a bit of it.

As our so-called Nato allies sit for the most part on their hands, refusing to involve themselves with what is plainly an impossible mission, Whitehall has come up with a plan that suggests that much of the poppy being grown in Hellmand is being smoked in some opium den in a corner of the MoD.

The Big Idea is to involve the entirety of the parachute regiment, and even Eurofighter aircraft and Merlin helicopters, to overwhelm an “insurgency” that draws its fighters from a tribal group with a population estimated at 40 million. But of course it is not really an insurgency because the corrupt, incompetent, puppet Afghan government in Kabul enjoys not a shred of legitimacy in the south of the country.

Gordon Brown, whose claim to prudence becomes thinner by the hour, might have balked at this insane adventure. But not a bit of it. He and his part-time defense secretary, the robotic Des Browne, seem clinically psychotic, suffering from the delusion that their war on the Pashtun in Hellmand province, an utter failure so far, can somehow be brought to a successful military conclusion by the not so enormous might of the exhausted, under-resourced British armed forces.

The lies and fantasies of our Labour government on this subject are voluminous, starting with the claim to Parliament by former defense secretary John Reid that British troops could prevail in this mission without firing a shot. Two million rounds of ammunition later, with 82 British soldiers dead and hundreds maimed, not to forget thousands of Afghans killed and mutilated, the hare brained warriors of Whitehall are about to raise their bet on a losing hand.

Prepare for the British media to perform at their very worst. As this operation gets underway, we are going to be told of the bold, brave advances made by our boys and of thousands of Taliban killed. (Any Pashtun killed is automatically “Taliban”.) And then what? Does anyone seriously believe that the Pastun tribal areas will suddenly come to order?

What is the objective of this insane military adventure? What is the exit strategy? How long are we supposed to attempt to pacify Afghanistan? Ten years? Twenty years? The very last thing we should expect is an honest answer to these questions.