We’ve read over the last few years some pretty alarming reports in the press about the state of operations in Afghanistan, now we can read an authoritative report from Parliament which has had access to all the relevant papers and interviewed people involved at the highest level. It is a horrifying report.
The Select Committee writes:
“It is unacceptable that UK Forces were deployed in Helmand for three years from 2006 without the necessary personnel, equipment or intelligence to succeed in their mission, says the Defence Committee in its report on Operations in Afghanistan.”
“The Committee is disturbed by the fact that in 2006 the Secretary of State was being told that commanders on the ground were content with the support they were being given in Helmand when clearly they were not.”
Here are some further points about what the report says, distilled from an article in the Telegraph:
- The key failing was to send too small a force into Helmand.
- The report also criticises senior commanders for sending the task force into Helmand without a strategic reserve force – a move widely regarded as a fundamental and potentially catastrophic military mistake.
- Troop numbers were capped at 3,150. Of those, around 650 combat troops were deployed into an area half the size of the UK; by contrast, in 2001 NATO had 30,000 personnel in Helmand.
- The task force deployed with just five Chinooks (heavy-lift helicopters) and just over half the number of vehicles required. Defence chiefs told ministers they had enough helicopters in Helmand even though field commanders complained of shortages. It was deployed without a single vehicle capable of surviving a strike from a Russian anti-tank mine or larger IEDs.
- The lack of armoured vehicles meant convoys could not safely travel the vast distances over which troops were spread without sustaining heavy casualties, and within weeks of their arrival, British troops were trapped in isolated locations and engaged in daily battles.
- The 75-page report does not name officers but those in positions of authority at the time included Gen Sir Mike Walker, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, Gen Sir Mike Jackson and Gen Sir Richard Dannatt.
My own view is that none of this comes as a surprise. We read all about this as it was happening, but it still comes as a shock to see our worst suspicions confirmed and to see how little the reality on the ground affected those at the Ministry of Defence whose incompetence created the shambles in the first place, and whose only response seems to have been to tell lies and cover it all up. As the Telegraph observes, the report names no names, but the four four-star officers named above presided over a monumental military cock-up that has cost 370 lives and counting, and more than 2000 wounded.
Surely there has to be some accounting for their conduct? Just how incompetent do you have to be to lose out on another promotion? Just how negligent do you have to be to lose out on another appearance in the Honours List? Just how many servicemen do you have to kill before you lose your job?