British Generals Admit Afghan Failure

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

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

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

AFGHANISTAN: TRUTH AND LIES

It is at least six years late, but finally a senior political figure has found the courage to call for an immediate withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan.  Lord Ashdown pulled few punches in his impassioned plea in The Times, criticising Britain’s early military strategy and accusing the government of becoming distracted by adventures in Iraq when it should have been focused on Afghanistan.

All true, but while Ashdown called out the government for its political failings, he neglected to mention the string of lies senior ministers have perpetuated about Afghanistan, or point the finger at senior military figures who’ve been more than willing to support that deceit. How any politician can say with a straight face that we are in Afghanistan to keep the streets of Britain safe is beyond me, when everyone knows our involvement has fuelled the flames of home grown terrorism.  Then there’s the lie of the moment—that Afghan troops can somehow be vetted to stop ‘rogue’ recruits from turning their weapons on their NATO mentors.  As I argued on BBC Radio 5 Live earlier this week, nothing can be done to stop green on blue attacks because an element of the men we’re trying to train up have viewed us as the enemy since we entered Afghanistan back in 2001.

I’ve been screaming it from the rafters since I started this blog and I’ll scream it again.  AFGHANISTAN IS NOT AN INSURGENCY. IT’S A CIVIL WAR AND WE’VE TAKEN ONE SIDE IN IT.  Since 2006 when British troops entered Helmand Province, they’ve been trying to win over the people on the other side of that conflict—a futile, senseless task presided over by sloping shouldered generals and senior military brass who care more about pleasing politicians than they do the lives of their troops.  These senior officers know who they are, and they should hang their heads in shame.  I really don’t know how they or their chums in government can sleep at night knowing how many brave British troops they have and continue to put in harm’s way for no other reason than to justify past mistakes.

Why is it taking our government so long to act in the best interest of our troops when our Canadian, Dutch and French NATO allies have found the political will to bring their forces home? There is no justification for Britain’s continued presence in Afghanistan. None. Continue reading

AFGHANISTAN: AN HONORABLE MP CALLS BRITAIN’S DEFENCE SECRETARY TO ACCOUNT

The government was scrambling to save face this morning after getting blindsided by ISAF’s decision to severely restrict joint operations between NATO forces and Afghan Army and Police.  By the time Defence Secretary Philip Hammond appeared before Parliament to explain himself, he had donned his denial armour, claiming that Britain’s military operations in Afghanistan would be “substantially unchanged” by ISAF’s new policy.  He even went so far as to say he has “every confidence” in Britain’s strategy to train Afghan security forces to take over when Britain ends major combat operations in 2014.

How is that possible when this year alone more than 50 NATO soldiers including 9 Brits have been killed by Afghans they were tasked with training and mentoring? And those are the deaths we’ve heard about.  So called “rogue Afghan” security forces (AKA Taliban infiltrators) are also turning their weapons on well-intentioned Afghan Army and Police recruits as well as private security contractors working for the coalition—deaths that are all swept under the rug.

So why is Hammond refusing to acknowledge reality?  I can only conclude that the Government is placing its ego above the lives of our brave troops serving in Afghanistan.  It’s despicable. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Thankfully, there was an MP in the Commons today who had the guts to call Hammond out.  Labour MP Paul Flynn accused the Defence Secretary of being a liar and blasted the Government for using our soldiers as “human shields” to protect ministers’ reputations.  I couldn’t agree more.

Paul Flynn was expelled for his trouble, but that won’t silence the truth. The Government’s Afghan policy has been thoroughly discredited in the eyes of the public. Few people buy the excuse anymore that we’re there to protect Britain against terrorism or that the mission will produce a more stable country.   Afghanistan was in civil war long before we committed troops to the conflict and it will continue long after we’ve withdrawn them.   There is no justification for forcing our soldiers to pick up the tab for a policy that is doomed to failure.  Bring our troops home now. Ministers’ reputations be damned.

The Infidel Now Available on Kindle & Nook USA!

I’m pleased to announce that The Infidel is now availabe for download on Kindle and Nook USA for the introductory price of only US$2.99  A modern-day Afghan war epic inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale The Man Who Would Be King, The Infidel was influenced by my work as a security advisor to media and diplomats in Kabul, Kunar, and Nuristan Provinces, Afghanisan.  My goal: create a cracking good page turner that would reveal the true nature of one of the deadliest conflicts of our time.

I am able to offer a substantial discount to readers in North America because I have published The Infidel myself in those territories and eliminated the premium associated with going through a traditional publishing house.  You can only take advantage of this special offer if you hold an Amazon or B&N account in North America or change your Kindle country settings to these territories.  Otherwise, you can purchase the ebook through Kindle UK, iBooks UK, and Waterstones UK.   And of course, the paperback is available to order through Amazon.co.uk and other UK and Commonwealth retailers.

Praise for The Infidel…

“The Infidel is an intelligent can’t-put-it-down adventure story written by an author who knows the heart and guts of NATO’s war in Afghanistan. If you want to know what we’re up against, read this book.”  — Karl Marlantes, Author, Matterhorn

“Shepherd’s boots on the ground experience exposes the raw and rugged beauty of Afghanistan and its people. His high intensity narrative is as bone jarring as it is gripping and provides valuable insight in to this complex country.”  — Nic Robertson, Sr. International Correspondent, CNN

“An old Afghan hand, Bob’s fingertips drip with the detail readers devour – from weapons and tactics to people and places. However, his knowledge is bang up to date and his insight into the political and social effects of military campaigns rival any Newsnight commentator.

More than that, Bob’s a great soldier who’s also a great storyteller. His characters are believable, his plot is epic in scale and his style blends muscle with understanding. This book is as comfortable on a shelf beside Kipling, Conan Doyle and Conrad as it is beside McNab, Ryan or Lee Child.”

—Stephen Armstrong, Sunday Times journalist

Afghanistan: 10 Years On For British Forces

In 2004, two years before British troops were deployed to Helmand, I escorted two television journalists from Kabul to Lashkar Gah by road.  Operating outside the security bubble of Kabul and military embeds was a real eye opener.   It was obvious that the locals did not support the coalition. I encountered a group of young Taliban down by the Helmand River who told me that should western troops ever attempt to set up bases in their province, there would be blood; an ominous prediction which indeed proved true.

Over the years, unilateral media excursions in Afghanistan became increasingly risky due to the deteriorating security situation.   The Taliban were regrouping effectively, targeting NATO troops and anyone believed to be associated with the coalition.  The evidence was indisputable. NATO casualties were steadily increasing year after year as were deaths of NGO personnel, the lynchpin of NATO’s hearts and minds strategy. Conditions outside Kabul became so dangerous for aid organizations that many were forced to abandon their projects or contract them out to local third parties whose progress, not to mention use of foreign aid funds, was impossible to monitor.  Sadly though, the British public was largely unaware of what was really happening in Afghanistan because our military and political leaders insisted the campaign was going swimmingly.

One of the greatest misperceptions about the Afghan conflict is that the Taliban is waging an insurgency against NATO.   There is no insurgency in Afghanistan; it’s a civil war in which NATO has taken sides.  The distinction is crucial for understanding the limits of what can be achieved.    The coalition backs the tribes of the former Northern Alliance which has been engaged in a festering 30-year civil war with the Pashtoon tribes of the southern and eastern provinces.   Against this context, it is easy to see why British, American and other NATO forces have and continue to encounter such fierce resistance in Helmand. As far as the local Pashtoon are concerned, NATO has sided with their mortal enemies. Continue reading