Tag Archives: unpalatable truths

#22 Kill #22 Pushups

Everyone is joining in the 22 pushup challenge to raise awareness of PTSD amongst veterans, 22 being the number of American service veterans who commit suicide each day. As with all things viral it has its detractors and there is some scepticism about the accuracy of the statistics involved.

In the United Kingdom the Ministry of Defence maintains that mental health problems amongst its servicemen are in line with the general population – but the MoD does not have a particularly good track record for honesty when it comes to bad news.

Given the extensive and prolonged use of Lariam as the MoD’s anti-malarial of choice, long after the manufacturer identified it may induce potentially serious neuropsychiatric disorders, I’m personally inclined to disbelieve them.

Recent studies in the USA indicate that Lariam amplifies the effects of PTSD and some experts have suggested that the British Army now faces a mental health catastrophe.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of the statistics, servicemen suffering from PTSD deserve our support.

22 pushups is not a lot to ask.

Press up challenge

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

 

 

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Did the UK leave Helmand too soon?

Two years after British Forces pulled out of Camp Bastion, Jonathan Beale, the BBC’s Defence Correspondent asks: Did the UK leave Afghanistan’s Helmand too soon?

The answer is yes and no.

‘No’ in the sense that one definition of madness is to keep on doing the same thing over and over again and expecting something different to happen. US and UK counter-insurgency doctrine is childishly optimistic and doesn’t work. Two failed counter-insurgency interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan are clear evidence of this, but the doctrine still stubbornly persists. Staying in Helmand  on these terms would have done nothing more than prolong the agony.

‘Yes’ in the sense that, with the right doctrine, more could have and should have been done. But it requires a shift in mindset as well as doctrine. Current political and military thinking is based on minimums. The minimum number of troops committed for the minimum amount of time. The best logic for staying in Helmand is to honour the sacrifice of the fallen, so that they did not die in vain. This is not a winning formula.

If we are to return to Helmand it must be with a new counter-insurgency doctrine, a clear understanding of the desired outcome and a realistic time-frame measured in decades rather than years.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Purchase your copy of SPIN ZHIRA

Incompetence and Arrogance at the MOD

The Times, 05 November 2012
Alfie and I make the front page of The Times today. Apparently Alfie’s application for enlistment into the Reserves has been delayed by red tape.

In November 2012, Deborah Haynes, The Times Defence Editor used a photo of Alfie and me to illustrate an article she had written exposing failings in Army Recruiting. Four years later and she is still writing about it.

It is yet another example of the extent of the incompetence and arrogance at the MoD. Despite obvious failings, little has been done to address the issue. As General Melchett once said, ‘If nothing else works a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through’.

The impact is considerable. It creates significant gaps in our defence capability, leaving the army undermanned and the nation vulnerable. The knock-on effect is to increase the demands on our serving soldiers who are required to do more with less to fill these capability gaps which, in turn damages morale and well-being.

But perhaps the most depressing aspect of this astonishing mismanagement and waste is that it appears to have gone unchecked without any apparent accountability or culpability. Even now the MoD seems to be in denial, insisting ‘action has been taken’.

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SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Purchase your copy of SPIN ZHIRA

In a new low for the Afghan conflict, UN figures reveal civilian casualties reach record high.

Linear Regression

In July 2012, using data unwittingly supplied by Regional Command South West (RCSW), I forecast that public perception of the Afghan Government would fall below that of the Taliban. My report was deemed “off-message” and suppressed. General Gurganus, the US Marine Corps General who commanded RCSW insisted ‘We are winning and the Taliban are losing.’

Yesterday’s report from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) sadly confirms my analysis. Not only have civilian casualties reached record levels, not only has the Afghan government largely abandoned the population it is mandated to protect but its own troops are responsible for 23% of those casualties.

UNAMA report 1

“Every single casualty documented in this report, every woman, girl, or boy denied access to education or adequate healthcare and every man or woman deprived of their livelihood, represents a failure of commitment and should be a call to action for parties to the conflict to take meaningful, concrete steps to reduce civilian suffering and increase protection. Platitudes not backed by meaningful action ring hollow over time. History and the long memory of the Afghan people will judge leaders of all parties to this conflict not by their well-meaning words, but by their conduct.” Tadamichi Yamamoto, United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan, Kabul July 2016

Children Bear Brunt of War

Reuters: Civilian Casualties increase as Afghan Troops Battle Taliban.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reports that 1,601 civilians were killed in the first half of the year with a further 3,565 wounded. These figures do not include the more than 80 killed in Saturday’s suicide attack in Kabul.

The report describes the figures as “alarming and shameful” and identifies that 24% of those killed were children.

In March 2015, in an interview with the BBC Tony Blair claimed “It’s important to understand that for all the challenges in Afghanistan there have been huge gains.” I wonder whether he still clings to that fallacy today?

What a Muppet

Animal
Writing in The Telegraph, former SAS officer, Colonel Tim Collins OBE warns that the  Army must reshape after Chilcot.

Colonel Collins is best know to the public for his eve of battle speech to the Royal Irish Regiment prior to the Iraq invasion. For obvious reasons it is perhaps less well known that he is also a former ‘Tier One’ Special Forces soldier and counterinsurgency specialist. As the name suggests, Tier One are Britain’s most elite troops so it’s reasonable to assume that Colonel Collins knows what he’s talking about. And on the face of it he does. The army must reshape after Chilcot. That much is clear.

It is of intense frustration to me and many others that lessons were not learned in Iraq and subsequently applied in Afghanistan, particularly with regard to counterinsurgency doctrine. Despite good intentions, both countries are now significantly worse off following Western military intervention.

Chilcot should now be the catalyst for change, or in Colonel Collins words, ‘we need to know if it was incompetence or obsequiousness that led to these blunders, and move to crush whatever caused them.’ We already knew that Colonel Collins was a straight talker.

I want to agree with Colonel Collins, I really do. After all, he is a former Tier One Special Forces soldier, a steely-eyed flat bellied killer. I’m a former wheezy part-timer. It’s not going to go well for me if we get into a fist fight. But Colonel Collins is a muppet. There I said it.

He identifies ‘intervention operations’ as the most likely future scenario for which our military should train. In other words, precisely the same kind of campaigns conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan which have so humiliated the British military. So far so good. But rather than addressing the issue of our woeful counterinsurgency strategy, the strategy that has radicalized Muslims across the globe and is the direct cause of so much chaos and suffering in the country’s we have now largely abandoned, we are treated to a barely coherent rant.

Allowing women to serve in combat roles is a ‘crazy social experiment’ imposed upon the military by ‘failed male politicians with no military knowledge’. The Armies of our European partners in NATO are  ’18-30, Club Med-style organisations with a vaguely military theme’ and so it goes on.

According to Colonel Collins what Britain needs is more infantry ‘capable of operations that were once the preserve of Special Forces and Commandos’. He recommends looking to former Commonwealth countries to make up the current shortfall in recruiting. But this isn’t arguing for change, this is arguing for more of the same.

The  disastrous campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan were characterised by a dramatic expansion and reliance on special forces. We have learned nothing from these campaigns if we do not learn that the tactics of drone strikes, night raids and kill/capture missions undertaken by special forces only weaken the legitimacy of the counterinsurgent and make more insurgents. Politicians and senior officers may have been seduced by the raw courage, bravery and ruthless efficiency of our Tier One troops in Iraq and Afghanistan but, as history now shows, they do more harm than good.

Tactical victories have resulted in strategic failure, not once but twice. Continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting something different to happen is seldom a recipe for success.

Colonel Collins isn’t advocating for reform at all. He seeks to perpetuate a flawed doctrine in which he claims expertise but which has only succeeded in plunging the countries we sought to stabilise into further chaos and widen the rift between West and East. As every right minded person must agree, this is precisely not what we ought to do and it’s why Colonel Collins is a muppet. Just don’t tell him I said so.

Purchase your copy of SPIN ZHIRA

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World

Farewell Kabul
I’ve just finished reading Christina Lamb’s latest book ‘FAREWELL KABUL. From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World’ and discovered that I unknowingly walked in her footsteps into Zumbalay – with much the same outcome.

The book asks just how the might of NATO, with 48 countries and 140,000 troops on the ground, failed to defeat a group of religious students and farmers? How did it go so wrong?

FAREWELL KABUL tells how the West turned success into defeat in the longest war fought by the United States in its history and by Britain since the Hundred Years War. It is the story of well-intentioned men and women going into a place they did not understand at all. And how, what had once been the right thing to do had become a conflict that everyone wanted to exit.

During my own FFUI (Find, Feel, Understand, Inform) patrols the locals I spoke with would often exasperatedly and painstakingly explain to me that the Taliban were funded by the US via Pakistan. Although this view was widespread and heartfelt I dismissed it as a distortion of the truth. Christina Lamb has forced me to re-appraise this view.

It is less a question of whether or not the US funded the Taliban via Pakistan but whether they did so knowingly, negligently or naively. Christina Lamb’s credentials as a war reporter are impeccable but Farewell Kabul is likely to spawn a number of conspiracy theories and, sadly, some of them will be true.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

 

A touchstone of terrible realisation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The summer holidays are just around the corner and I’m reminded of Harry and Alfie’s 2011 trip to Portugal with their mum:

‘MY RETURN HOME the following evening, after another long sweaty journey in the ageing Wolf, was not a triumphant one. Within hours of stepping across the threshold of our magnificent Edwardian stained glass front door with its enormous hexagonal brass pull and letter plate my spirits were thoroughly deflated.

Harry and Alfie were pleased to see me. Full of questions about my experiences with the real soldiers, wanting to know if they’d given me a shooter, not quite believing me when I told them that I’d slept outside on the ground.

Jane barely acknowledged my presence. After I’d bathed the boys and put them to bed I found myself alone in the front room. I stared at my reflection in the antique gilt‑framed mirror above the mantelpiece and knew I was in the shit. But the silent treatment didn’t last long. The following morning Jane told me she was moving out and taking the boys with her. When she explained that she’d found a cottage for rent close to the city of York, near to her parents and in the catchment area of an excellent primary school, I didn’t object. In truth the news came as a relief. I didn’t know how on earth I was going to continue to pay the mortgage on our trophy property in Dulwich.

Since it turned out that Jane was expecting me to continue to foot the bill for her extravagant lifestyle, perhaps I should not have allowed financial considerations to cloud my judgement. I shall forever regret the fact that I did not properly consider the impact of our separation on our children, Harry and Alfie. I reasoned to myself that, given I was bound for Afghanistan, it actually made sense for them to be closer to their much loved grandparents.

Both boys would later make heartbreaking appeals to me to get back together with Mummy. I would do almost anything for my children, including going to fight a war over 3,500 miles away, but I couldn’t even begin to reconcile my differences with Jane. As Alfie would explain to me, he loved Mummy and he loved Daddy, so why didn’t we love each other?

In the summer of 2011, while I was in Canada training for deployment, Jane and her parents took the boys on holiday to Portugal. In one of their holiday snaps Harry and Alfie are standing together on a golden beach at sunset. Harry has a protective arm draped over his younger brother who is dressed in just vest and underpants. Both boys are waving and smiling directly at the camera.

It’s a perfect picture but also a painful one.

In my imagination the boys are waving goodbye to me. The image became not only a visual metaphor for the possibility that I might not return from Afghanistan, but also a touchstone of terrible realisation of the sense of abandonment that I was imposing on my children, the people I loved most in the world.’

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Defending the indefensible as ‘ancient custom’ is no defence at all.

Victor Barrio
The BBC reports that Matador Victor Barrio has been killed by a bull in Spain.

The bull fighting community is reported to be “distressed and very moved”  by his death and Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy has expressed his condolences.

While his death, any death, is tragic and my heart goes out to his grieving family, I’m personally finding it hard to feel too sorry for Victor Barrio. After all, he died doing something he loved which is better than ending your days eating mashed potato and watching endless repeats of Eastenders. I don’t fear the Reaper and when he calls, as call he must, I hope I am similarly engaged in the pursuit of something I love.

But there’s another reason why I’m finding it hard to feel too sorry for Mr Barrio. Lovers of bullfighting  defend it as an ancient art form deeply rooted in national history in much the same way as the appalling practice of bacha basi is excused as ancient custom in Afghanistan – which is no defence at all.

When the Reaper does call for me I won’t be slaughtering bulls for art or raping little boys for culture.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

Is the era of ‘cautious optimism’ over?

 

On 6 July 2016, Britain learned that it had joined the invasion of  Iraq in 2003 ‘before all peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted’ that it had ‘sent ill-prepared troops into battle’ and had ‘wholly inadequate’ plans for the aftermath.

Of course, we knew these things already.

Despite the long wait (7 years) the huge cost (£10.4m) and incredible detail (2.5 million words) the Iraq enquiry was less revelation and more affirmation of the things we already knew to be true but dare not speak.

Obama

On the same day, a grim-faced President Barack Obama announced that planned US troop withdrawals in Afghanistan have been shelved, further prolonging the United States’ longest war.

The inability to end the war in Afghanistan does not come as a complete surprise either.

Way back in the spring of 2012, Major General CM Gurganus, USMC confidently asserted, ‘we are winning and the Taliban are losing’. No one really believed him. It was patently obvious that we were not fighting a simple binary war with a winner and a loser.

Later that same year Brigadier Douglas Chalmers, the senior British Commander in Helmand was less assertive and spoke of ‘cautious optimism’ for the future.

Of course, both men were talking bollocks. And I suspect they knew it too.

Just as in Iraq, US led, British backed military intervention in Afghanistan has been disastrous. Many of the findings of the Chilcot report, particularly with regard to post-conflict planning and reconstruction, can be equally applied in Afghanistan.

How did we fail to learn these lessons?

I believe it is because we have a culture of shooting the messenger that pervades both the American and British  Armed Forces. We are so focused on success that we cannot countenance failure. To maintain morale and careers it becomes necessary to spin failure into success, telling people what they want to hear rather than what they need to know. This blindness to failure prevents us from learning from failure.

The language of ‘cautious optimism’ has been very costly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Perhaps, after Chilcot, we are now ready to learn this lesson.Spin Zhira header blurb for website v1.3SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.