Monday, 19 June 2006

Gesture Strategy: the price was paid in soldiers' lives

On 21 September 2010, Max Hastings quoted A 'field grade' US Marine Corps officer in a Daily Mailarticle.

Speaking of British forces in Helmland, the officer said:

“They were here for four years. WHAT DID THEY DO?”
Hastings quoted a second officer thus:

“It is THEIR SENIOR LEADERSHIP, THEIR OFFICER CORPS and counterinsurgency doctrine that is causing the problems.”
Hastings added:

“FEW PEOPLE ANY LONGER BELIEVE WE CAN ACHIEVE ANYTHING THAT MIGHT BE CALLED VICTORY. Our troops remain in Afghanistan chiefly to support the Americans… MOST AMERICANS THINK LITTLE OF OUR PERFORMANCE…

In 2006, the then chief of defence staff General Sir Michael Walker, a soldier, and the head of the Army, General Sir Mike Jackson, rashly agreed to TONY BLAIR'S DEMAND THAT THEY SHOULD COMMIT A FORCE TO AFGHANISTAN, even though we were so heavily engaged in Iraq that we could deploy only a weak brigade with negligible helicopter support.

This initial MISTAKE was compounded by accepting responsibility for Helmand province, a vast area, and dispersing small garrisons in local bases like Sangin, AROUND WHICH TALIBAN FIGHTERS SWARMED LIKE WASPS ATTACKING JAM JARS.

OUR GOVERNMENT WAS TO BLAME for what I called at the time 'gesture strategy'…. THE PRICE WAS PAID IN BRITISH SOLDIERS' LIVES.

Matters got worse. Jackson's successor as head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, believed that if we could only extricate ourselves from Basra, where we were seen to be failing, and throw everything into Afghanistan, we could win there.

By 2008, there were 8,500 British troops in Helmand. But this was still nowhere near enough. Fighting continued, AS WELL AS A STEADY DRAIN OF LOSSES. THE ARMY WAS SO UNDER-RESOURCED THAT IT OFTEN STRUGGLED TO FIND HELICOPTERS TO EVACUATE WOUNDED MEN…

In 2009, the Army strained its resources to the limits to raise the stakes, putting 10,500 men including special forces into Afghanistan. Commanders and politicians alike gave interviews in which THEY SPOKE OPTIMISTICALLY ABOUT 'STEADY PROGRESS... IMPROVING SECURITY'.

NOBODY, LEAST OF ALL OUR SOLDIERS, BELIEVED A WORD OF THIS… Units conducted endless sweeps, allegedly clearing areas of Taliban. But AS SOON AS THE BRITISH WENT, THE ENEMY CAME BACK - AS THEY STILL COME BACK…When the Americans began to reinforce Afghanistan last year, they offered to take over Helmand lock, stock and barrel, enabling the British to concentrate in a smaller area around Kandahar. Our generals wanted to do this, but NEITHER THE LAST LABOUR GOVERNMENT NOR INCOMING DEFENCE SECRETARY LIAM FOX WOULD HEAR OF IT.

THEY THOUGHT THE POLITICAL PRICE TOO HIGH, OF ABANDONING POSITIONS SO MANY BRITISH SOLDIERS HAD DIED DEFENDING. They were appalled by the financial cost of quitting our base at Camp Bastion, where many hundreds of millions have been spent on infrastructure…

Everybody jostles to claim credit for wars won, but nobody wants to accept blame for defeat. NATO FORCES ARE DOOMED TO LOSE IN AFGHANISTAN, chiefly because THEY ARE BACKING A REGIME MOST AFGHAN PEOPLE REJECT…

The British withdrawal from Sangin reflects a failure for which GENERALS MUST SHARE BLAME WITH POLITICIANS. ONLY OUR SOLDIERS EMERGE WITH UNVARNISHED CREDIT.

When the history of the Helmand campaign is written, it will make painful reading, because MOST OF IT HAS BEEN A SHOCKING MESS…

Too many of the 337 BRITISH DEAD IN AFGHANISTAN have perished because, as Tennyson wrote of that earlier affair, 'SOMEONE HAD BLUNDERED'."
No, Mr Hastings.

Tony Blair, New Labour and your Tory pals did not blunder. They betrayed us. With malice aforethought. They played the traitor. Their treachery aided and abetted the forces that saw 337 of our finest killed and many, many more wounded. The same treachery also aided and abetted the killings of many tens of thousands of innocent Afghans.

The British people voted for this, just as they always have. They, too, are guilty of aiding and abetting the treachery of the politicians.

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