British Generals Admit Afghan Failure

Pashtun in Helmand

Pashtun in Helmand

This important news story was number 10 on the BBC UK’s website earlier today; 7 stories below the death of Alvin Stardust.

Years after these “Generals” (of course there is no such thing as ex-Generals) made some extremely bad calls for the sake of British foreign policy in Afghanistan, they have come forward and admitted their failings on a BBC programme. Brigadier Ed Butler back in 2006 was put in a no win situation along with his officers and men who fought courageously down in Helmand Province, not gaining meaningful ground but just surviving. Like always, the Parachute Regiment and associated units showed the world what British troops can do under very extreme pressure. However, it is well documented in the press that a UK SF report suggested that British troops should not be deployed to Helmand Province for various very sensible reasons.

Back in 2004, when I took a road trip from Kabul to Helmand with a small media team, I could see that it would be madness to deploy NATO troops to a majority Pashtun, Taliban supported area, no matter what the scale of deployment. On my return, and on various occasions afterwards, I voiced my opinion to military people back in Kabul. How dare I, as I’m no longer in the Forces, therefore what the hell do I know?

I’ve spoken and blogged many times over the years about how we took one side of a simmering civil war back in 2001; the side of the non Pashtun northern tribes. The politicians and Generals expected British troops to deploy to Helmand, and win the hearts and minds of the people on the other side of the civil war…just plain crazy!

The MOD has since argued that they left Helmand in a better situation than when they found it. I would argue against that, as I could “sensibly” wander around Helmand back in 2004, visit farmers, small towns and markets, but today I wouldn’t dare step into the Province. Almost every year since 2006, I would go there in a military embed and watch the situation get harder and harder for troops to operate–while senior officers and media relations officers spun the situation to the British public. Millions of Pounds of tax payers money has been wasted on military and DIFID projects, as the farmers are all back to growing the poppy, and the men of Helmand are putting the women and girls “back in their place”. Men and women have fought bravely. Many died or suffered wounds (both physical and mental); their friends and family all impacted one way or another, whilst the MOD still spews its filthy spin.

It angers me to see these Generals continue to be awarded medals and titles, write their memoirs and make out to their readership that they were right and courageous to make the decisions that they did.

These people dropped their pants for our politicians and US foreign policy. They did not lead from the front.

I’ve been banging on for a while now about accountability from our top brass and political leaders. A wee while ago, a British officer was rightly stripped of his gallantry award for lying about his leadership under contact. How about stripping these Generals of their medals and titles–for playing political spin for years over the Helmand deployment, and letting down both the British public and the brave soldiers who were under their command

A Pilgrimage to Rogers Island

The Monument to Robert Rogers

The Monument to Robert Rogers

Whilst visiting up State New York for an Autumn break, I managed to fulfill a lifetime ambition. To go on a pilgrimage and pay homage to the great Robert Rogers.

When I was a young SAS student back in the mid 1970s in Hereford, those of us that passed the first phase of selection were handed out a copy of Rogers Rangers Rules. These rules were written in the late 1750s by the commander of the Rangers, Major Robert Rogers. The rules have been taken on by almost every Western Special Forces unit since.

Rogers was born in New Hampshire. His family were Scots/Irish. He had the skills of a woodsman and got on well with the native Indians. He fought in the French Indian War for the British, and he achieved some amazing operations out in the Wilderness. He and his Rangers dressed mainly in a mix of green or dark clothing, Indian attire, an array of British and Indian weaponry, and some wore blue Scots bonnets. The British red tunic wasn’t for them. They operated mainly ahead of the British troops and with minimal kit-much like today’s Long Range Patrol Groups and Special Forces.

In his ranks he had a mix of Native Americans, free slaves, Scots and Irish and local settlers. The great thing about this period is that he gave everyone an equal chance of promotion, and to lead operations. in other words, a man not in the least racist. What’s happened to America since?

Operating in the Rangers was tough. Going out into the wilderness in all seasons, fighting and surviving. There are stories recorded of Rangers turning into cannibals as a last resort whilst in survival mode.

Travelling through the Hudson Valley and up along Lake George to Ticonderoga, and further on to Lake Champlain to Crown Point, gave me an idea of what they must have gone through (even though I benefited from all the comforts of modern travel). The highlight for me though was setting foot on Rogers Island which sits across the bank from the small, sleepy community of Fort Edward.  This modest scrap of land is where Robert Rogers trained, lived, fought alongside his men and penned the enduring “Rogers Rules”. Walking through the grass I came upon a clearing where the monument to him stands.  It was simply breathtaking.

I’ve spent years reading up on Robert Rogers and his Rangers. For those of you who are interested, the best book by far is Journals of Robert Rogers by Timothy J Todish, with some fabulous illustrations by Gary S Zaboly. It’s a very well written account of Rogers’ life and absolutely pulls no punches.

My Answer to “Child Soldiers” in the British Military

Why Under 18s Should Continue To Serve In Britain’s Military

Outside my basha Bradbury Lines, Hereford, UK, mid 1970s A very happy, very proud graduated "child soldier"

Outside my basha
Bradbury Lines, Hereford, UK, mid 1970s
A very happy, very proud graduated “child soldier”

Well meaning Human Rights groups are trying to change the British military structure that has gone on successfully for decades. Here is what they don’t understand.

I was born in Lochee, a very deprived area of the city of Dundee, Scotland in the mid 1950s. I was brought up in a Victorian tenement building sharing an outside lavvy with four other families. My father drank heavily and constantly threw my mother around the tenement like a rag doll. When I was around 7 or 8, I would step in to help my mother and get battered myself. At the age of fourteen, having spent more time looking after my mother than going to school, I chose to run away.

After chasing a dream of becoming a professional footballer but not making the grade, I joined the military. I entered the RAF Regiment just after my 17th birthday, did my basic parachute jumps and was sent off to a small simmering war in Oman. I was given special dispensation to go as a minor as my unit was undermanned.

I was chuffed to bits.

At the age of 20 I passed SAS selection (naivety got me through, lol) and I never looked back!

Joining as a youngster was good for me and it probably saved my life. It certainly kept me out of jail, off the streets and off drugs. It didn’t eliminate my voice, creativity or character, as those of you who know me or have read my blog know, ha.

The military gave me a set of front teeth as I’d had mine smashed out in a gymnastics accident at the age of 16. It showed me how to do laundry, stay tidy and keep my bedspace, shower and toilet immaculate…with the use of a toothbrush. It showed me the importance of being a team player, how to listen to your elders and how to never prejudge others. It gave me a family environment, something that I never had before, but would cherish for the rest of my life.

Joining the military as an under 18 year-old (child soldier) is the best thing that happened to me- and thousands of lads and lassies before, during and after me I’m sure. I really hope that never changes.

 

Why are British Generals good at talking sense only after they leave the military?

British foot patrol south of Basra. 03General David Julian Richards, Baron of Herstmonceux GCB,CBE,DSO,DL,ADC Gen….I think that’s about it, spoke to the BBC the other day about the fact that the British Army should be much larger than it is, in order to meet today’s requirements!

Really? I left the military after 23yrs with the great title of Bob Shepherd, and I and all my ex military buddies knew that was the case years ago. Yet I’ve heard him and other “Generals” over the years in press conferences explaining why, due to the current climate, the military should be cut down and/or replaced by part timers.

Today’s Army is the smallest in it’s history. It’s due to people like him signing off and agreeing with politicians instead of standing up for his men and women in uniform and resigning, thereby keeping his integrity and his military in one piece.

But here we are today, British soldiers yet again proving time after time that they are the best in the world, simply by showing how well they can operate in survival mode in places like Basra, Iraq and in Helmand, Afghanistan. No other military could have operated so well. I know that as I’ve spent years in military embeds whilst working with the media studying other NATO units versus the Brits.

I am so proud of our soldiers in uniform, regulars and TA, but I am not proud of the serving and ex Generals who have failed them.

If you’re a General and you’re wearing the hat…make sure it’s the military hat and not the political one, even though the latter will guarantee you a place in the House of Lords. The former will guarantee you a place at the bar with my ex military mates and myself!

I took this photo the day before Basra fell to the British Army.
Basra Bridge, Iraq. 2003

The Farce of Training Afghan Troops (and a cautionary example for Syria)

Afghan National Army training.

Kabul, Mar 09 05 008

 

Recruits being trained by US military mentors/trainers. 200 men to 1 instructor! On the US M16 assault rifle and not the AK47.
Mindblowing, watching the instructor in front of 200 men explain stripping and assembling to mainly illiterate soldiers, some of whom don’t even speak the language of the interpreter.
KMTC (Kabul Military Training Centre), Afghanistan. 2009

Britain’s “Guantanamo” Problem and the Legacy of Poor Policies

What legacy will they inherit?

What legacy will they inherit?

As the draw down of British forces from Afghanistan nears, the scandals seem to intensify.  The latest involves the prolonged detention of up to 90 suspected Afghan “insurgents” in Camp Bastion, Britain’s main military base in Afghanistan.  Defence Secretary Philip Hammond defended the policy, claiming the alternatives—turning the detainees back onto the battlefield to attack British forces, or handing them over to Afghan judicial authorities to face possible torture—were worse.

I am wholeheartedly in favour of protecting our brave soldiers and I support them unconditionally.  I further believe that releasing our enemies into an abusive situation could compromise our national security by feeding home grown terrorism.  But the real issue here is not the merits of this single policy, but the slew of bad policies which landed us between a rock and a hard place. Continue reading ‘Britain’s “Guantanamo” Problem and the Legacy of Poor Policies’

My Friend Fred Marafono, Fijian Warrior

Fred Marafono 13th December 1940 - 27th March 2013

Kauata Vamarasi Marafono M.B.E.

13th December 1940 – 27th March 2013

In the mid-1970s, I passed SAS selection as a young 20-year old from the RAF Regiment.  Only six candidates passed that winter course; five men and one very good young Rupert (officer).  I had superior fitness but not much else going for me at the time. The SAS must have seen me as a blank canvas they could turn into one of their own.

The day I was badged, I was sent to Boat Troop, B Squadron.  There was no Troop Rupert in charge, just a Troop Sergeant who introduced himself simply as “Fred”.  Fred was a giant in every respect; a physically massive individual with a presence to match. When he shook my hand, mine was lost in his.  I’d never seen a Fijian before, and in my ignorance, I thought he was a giant Gurkha.

Last weekend, Fred’s funeral was held at Hereford Cathedral.  I figured it would be standing room only. Still, I was awed by the sheer number of Regiment lads who had travelled far and wide to pay homage to him. Continue reading ‘My Friend Fred Marafono, Fijian Warrior’



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