Amid all the bad news this week and phone hacking stuff last week the Defence Select Committee Report on Operations in Afghanistan was released to very little attention from the mainstream or even defence media. But despite the apparent lack of attention it is a comprehensive report that is as equally depressing as it is encouraging.
I think the committee have produced an excellent report that the Army, MoD and government will duly file in the round filing cabinet. This is a shame, if anything, it should be the touchstone on which a serious and fundamental review of the way we go about our business should start.
The flaws it so eloquently exposes, without a hint of emotion, should be seared into the minds of every politician, senior officer and senior civil servant, past, present and future.
On the 17th of July I published a holding post, listing the reccomendations of the committee.
The main issues I see from this report are as follows;
- A woeful lack of helicopter support, despite Senior Officers telling anyone who will listen that all is well, nothing to see here, move along. When are we going to wake up and realise support helicopters are more important than fighter bombers and aircraft carriers?
- A hugely strained air bridge held together by good will and harry black. The protracted delays and quite ridiculous restrictions imposed on the capability by the insistence on a PFI, again a poor prioritisation of intellectual and financial capital
- Arrogance, pettiness and keystone cops buffonery at the very highest echelons of the Army and MoD civil service mixed together with a huge dose of financial and political interference created a toxic brew that cost good men and women their lives, limbs and mental health. Who is actually going to take some responsibility?
- Dysfunction and old fashioned fuckwittery in the intelligence services, DFiD and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, they were supposed to support the overall strategy but only served their own agendas. Has the SDSR described national security council and national security strategy solved any of these issues?
- A complete lack of strategy and a general confusion of tactics and strategy leading to a disastrous period that put the overall campaign back by ten years
After tens of thousands, perhaps even millions of words have been written about how to link up ends, ways and means we still got it badly wrong and if the leadership of the Armed Forces and politicians involved do not look at this with open and honest eyes then quite frankly, they need sacking.
Afghanistan, as ever it would seem, is involved in a power struggle between Pakistan, China, Iran and India with an interest from others. The game is still great, the seats have shifted around a bit though.
Where is our role in this, its difficult to see or defend a security angle for our continued involvement but a precipitous withdrawal would harm our interests just as ISAF is on the cusp of achieving, if not a win, but an acceptable score draw. It is impossible to draw any sensible conclusions about who is winning or losing because the nation of Afghanistan and the conflict in the general area is so fiendishly complex. We take a step forward in one area and then two steps back in another, trends are hard to see but there are plenty of signs that just maybe the means of delivering the overall strategy of a graceful exit and acceptable level of stability/security is an industrial demolition of the Taleban is beginning to pay dividends.
Its a subject we have touched on before, getting back to the fundamental truth that the way you win any conflict is by destroying ones enemy, not building women’s peace parks, it’s long overdue.
The fundamental problem we now face is how to sustain this operational tempo against a tide of calls for early withdrawal and an indifferent or hostile public opinion.
This is going to be difficult, we are spending money we can ill afford and neglecting areas of actual defence importance, to say nothing of the likely toll on our brave and stoical service personnel.
A question arises, is it more important to stay with the job to the end and hope we prevail, or cut and run and take the consequences, not an easy decision to make.
What the armed forces need now is a level of stability that gives them clear line of sight to a strategy on Afghanistan, whichever that might be.
However, beyond that, we desperately need a Haldane or Childers figure to cut through the senior leadership of the MoD and Armed Forces with a great big axe because between them, for the last decade, they have failed the nation and failed their subordinates.
No amount of success in the next 5 years will change that basic fact.
The business of defence needs a serious kick up the arse, delivered by an outsider with a pair of balls big enough to not to wilt at the sight of a chest full of bling and miles of shiny gold braid.
Lets also not forget the role of successive politicians in this piss poor display of strategic leadership and competency, we are limited in what sanctions we can apply but history should judge the likes of Tony Blair, Geoff Hoon and Gordon brown very harshly indeed.