Fake News and Real News

We have heard and read a great deal recently about “fake news” and, as we ought not disappoint our readers, we have decided to report on last month’s press conference in  which a president announced his intention this year to use his most powerful missile to put a man on the sun.  This news was received in silence, a respectful silence, broken eventually by a foreign journalist brave enough to ask the question in everyone’s mind: “But Mr President, isn’t the sun too hot for that?”  To this, at the end of a long silence in which everyone’s blood froze, the president acknowledged the difficulty, but explained, “We shall land at night.”

And now for another piece of “fake news” that was not fake at all.  The British Ministry of Defence, asked to arrange the equivalent of a pizza in a pizzeria (or something as simple as that), the ceremonial unveiling of a memorial to those who died in the recent wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, deemed most of the families of those killed unqualified to attend and allocated only 250 tickets for the few chosen.  The excuse given for this blatant disregard for the courtesies owed to bereaved parents, children and siblings, was that the Ministry had left the distribution to organisations that knew the bereaved families.  Why this was done, and who was responsible for this gross dereliction of duty, will remain a mystery.

Who in the Ministry exercised control?  Who in the Ministry considered the effect of such uncaring behaviour on the morale of the diminishing numbers of serving soldiers?

So what really happened?  “Oy, you lot, we’ve got 2,500 tickets for this event, and here’s a list of MoD staff who want to come, so just fill up the empty seats.”???  Pretty much how we were sent into Helmand, isn’t it?  Chaotic, unrelated to reality, and no controls.

A Draft for the PM’s Tuesday Speech

The draft of a speech seemingly prepared for the Prime Minister at her direction has been leaked (although not necessarily at her direction) to the editor.  It forces a completely new assessment of what she wishes to achieve, and a new admiration for her vision and courage, two virtues far exceeding those of her opponents in this country and in Brussels.  Her insistence on rejecting the parochial politics of Brexit for the global politics in which the restructuring of the European Union is only one part — alongside fifty million refugees and Africa’s legitimate ambitions — will place her opponents at serious disadvantage.

DRAFT Speech

The eager anticipation expressed by so many wishing to learn the details of our strategic approach to Brexit is, really, most encouraging, reflecting, as it surely does, widespread enthusiasm for the new opportunities it brings us both for expanded trade globally and, no less important, the necessary improvements in national security.  I intend today to set these opportunities out very briefly and in context.

Context is important and, I fear, the true Brexit context is easily overlooked by too many.  Brexit may appear important to Europeans, but this does not mean it will be considered so in isolation from the World.  Matters of a global importance will affect us all, eventually, much more than will Brexit.

Of these the most serious by far is the unsolved problem of the fifty or sixty million people displaced from their homes and having too many children for the resources available.  Many countries make small contributions to the alleviation of their misery, but who is producing the solution to it?  If we project the World refugee population forward for only a few years we can quickly see it to be a catastrophic trend, catastrophic for the refugees and catastrophic, too, for the remainder of the World’s steadily expanding population as it is crushed in the rush for resources.

Allied with this problem and part of it is the African continent, and this, too, is a European matter.  Millions there will join the flow, already well established, northward towards Europe.  They are coming for our technology, to learn our skills, and to return home to use them. Regrettably, once here they often prefer to stay, and their home countries stay poor.  Their passage may be blocked temporarily in Libya, if the EU pays Libya appropriately, but we have seen already how these migrants spread out around the Mediterranean to find alternative entry points, and Libya is now encumbered by a civil war between rival governments supported intermittently by rival groups of militias and criminal gangs.

No Brexit plans will make any sense at all unless the reconstruction they require of the EU recognises these two neglected problems, Asian refugees and African migrants, and caters for them while attending to the dangers of Libya following the path of Syria.  I shall return to this.

Our United Kingdom

But first What, in the context of what I have just described, is the British attitude to Brexit?  It can be summarised easily.  The United Kingdom wishes to retain its access to the Single Market, to recover control of its frontiers, and to repatriate its lawmaking, all while remaining the EU’s most loyal ally and firmest friend.

I shall repeat that.  We seek to remain the EU’s most loyal ally and firmest friend.

To demonstrate what I mean by loyal alliance and firm friendship we shall give to the EU a major asset for which its leaders yearn but cannot find a means to acquire, and as a new Global Britain we shall lead a world-wide, tariff-free trade expansion.

And for the removal of any doubt I shall answer this question.  What is this United Kingdom of which I am spokesman and which has these aims?  It is a Union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and within its boundaries there are Highlanders and Lowlanders, Yorkists and Lancastrians, Ulstermen and Cornishmen, Anglians and Brummies, Scouses and Geordies, all of whom are British and, with all their countrymen, disinclined to suffer frustration when they have decided what they want.

Any who believe the Brexit vote can be frustrated by separatist movements should examine the damage done to Scotland by extremist sentiment.  I am frequently told that Scotland voted to remain in the EU, but Scotland did not vote.  Scotland had no vote.   Scotland as a country is a physical reality, and as ancestral history it is a spiritual reality, but extended into some anthropomorphic fantasy it does not acquire the franchise.   The reality is that a majority of those Scottish residents listed on the electoral roll who went to the polls and voted did indeed express their wish to remain in the EU, but that offers no guide to the future.  The economic situation in Scotland is now in flux, and any future independence poll that I might authorise will respect the powerful sentiment of Scottish ancestry, and be extended to include, in addition to all UK residents, all who justifiably boast of pride in their Scottish traditions and their British history wherever in the World they reside.

Europe’s Mediterranean Sea

The freedom Brexit brings to the United Kingdom will open our horizons to immense opportunities and to new ways to work with the other European states for the benefit of all.  We believe in free trade, and as a leader in its promotion I foresee us working very closely with the EU on the development of the European economy.  But this is only the obvious Brexit benefit everyone can see.

The less obvious is the route to a new rationalisation of European Defence in the light of the more recent analyses of the threats and the existing dangers.  NATO will remain the principal safeguard with respect to territorial ambitions arising in the east, because it provides the structure to keep the United States as close as possible, and it ties the United Kingdom into a European alliance, but as it is unreasonable to expect the United States to fund the protection of Europe’s Mediterranean flank against migrants in the numbers currently expected, and against the millions of refugees forecast for the future, the United Kingdom will lead the new Mediterranean-based European Alliance.

The Mediterranean is a European Sea, historically controlled by the Royal Navy with the support of France and Italy, and its future control, so important in the face of the future threats we all recognise, will be based primarily on a new carrier fleet operating around the British aircraft carriers.  However, the provision of an active defence is insufficient.  The fundamental nature of the two threats we face, large numbers of impoverished and malnourished humans with small numbers among them whose intentions may deserve less sympathy, requires proactive measures.

Libya, the country through which a substantial proportion of the current flows seek to pass, is the fourth largest in Africa and has a population of less than seven million.  Its fertile littoral can be expanded southward with the nourishing waters already tapped from beneath the desert sands and available in great lakes feeding the pipes Gadaffi had the foresight to lay for his “Great Man-Made River”.   Unfortunately, the system has suffered serious damage during the Libyan conflicts, but this can be repaired and must be repaired, for here is a destination, starting with 5,000 square miles leased by the UN or the EU from a newly pacified and united Libyan government, for the many millions who could be shipped in during the coming decades.  As a secular protectorate under the care of the European Alliance, financed by oil, gas and international investment, with a credible guarantee of security, it could prosper as did Carthage, and as did the early Arab conquest when Islam spread westwards.

Libya is currently in serious trouble, and nothing is to be gained by pretending otherwise.  It threatens to follow the path blazed by Syria, yet need not do so if the UN, NATO, EU and, as the leader of the European Alliance, the UK, are willing, jointly, to impose peace with the aid of investment finance and, where necessary, maximum force.

The Libyan Protectorate

The migration northward of ambitious Africans could be controlled once this magnet was in place and functioning as a serious industrial centre, and as this would facilitate cooperation with those governments which had encouraged the emigration in search of the expertise needed at home, there would then be opportunities for an intellectual recolonisation of Africa with European direction of the investment necessary to unlock the continent’s underground riches.

The great nineteenth century expansion of British industry was based on the opportunities offered by an empire of trade and underground wealth.  This will now be repeated for the alliance of the EU, UK and the cooperating European states directing the investment flows into the Libyan Protectorate and the sub-Saharan states.  All cooperating governments will gain from this partnership.

But what I propose is, I must emphasise, based on peace and security.  In the Mediterranean this means a strong naval presence, and although some EU members can offer a few ships for specific operations, the EU itself has no naval assets and no naval command experience to impress African governments and Chinese investors.  I propose that the United Kingdom will provide these.

The two aircraft carriers being built for the Royal Navy were designed for wars quite different from those that might possibly be fought today, and are far too vulnerable to modern ballistic missiles to be risked in a serious conflict with another major power.  Moreover, the strike aircraft intended for use with them are far too short in range for use in a major war.  (Their acquisition has been, and doubtless would continue to be, more controversial than any in our history, but we need not be drawn into arguments about their capabilities other than to note that their range, about which there is no argument, is too short to be of practical use for the Royal Navy.)  Accordingly, I am instructing the Ministry of Defence to cancel these strike aircraft and to supply costings for the conversion of these two warships into Disaster-Relief Ships, assets the World has needed for many decades.  The necessary finance will be supplied from our International Aid budget.

As Disaster-Relief Ships they will carry Chinook helicopters, Osprey VTOL transport aircraft, and small Dolphin utility/liaison aircraft.  Their galleys will be capable of producing many thousands of meals per day, and a water purification plant will cater for the most common shortage in disaster scenarios.  There will be an extensive medical/surgical department with high-tech operating theatres and hundreds of beds.  One of the two ships will always be on duty in the Mediterranean, acting as the Command Centre of the screen protecting Libya, and combatting illegal immigration and piracy, while the other, when not in refit, will cruise in the tropics’ earthquake belt.

The two ships will be supplied to the EU for use by the European Alliance, with positioning crews found by the Royal Navy, on what is effectively a renewable twelve-year wet-lease.  (They will fly the EU standard at the bow and the White Ensign at the stern.)  When needed, the operational crews, whose members will be drawn from many different European countries, will be flown in from all directions to a disaster area’s nearest airports, and then will transfer to the ships by Ospreys or Chinooks.

I said that we would remain the EU’s most loyal ally and firmest friend, and that we would seek to share the opportunities our freedom would create.  These opportunities will be in Africa, which we shall help with the technology its peoples come to Europe to find, our friendship with the EU will be symbolised by the EU disaster-relief ships, and in the European Alliance partnership the UK, the EU and the independent European countries will expand tariff-free trade with the British Commonwealth countries, the North American countries, and all others seeking to advance peace and prosperity.

Editor’s comment:  

We shall not know until Tuesday whether the PM will use this draft, or whether she will use any part of it, but we hope she will at least insist that the UK will remain undivided and intent on continuing as the EU’s most loyal ally and firmest friend.  An aircraft carrier has not been a useful war weapon for many years now; the weapon is the carrier fleet, and even the US is beginning to have doubts about the viability of theirs.  The UK cannot afford to put to sea a complete and fully manned, fully armed carrier fleet, and will not in 2020 be able to protect its carriers against the known 2020 missile and submarine threats.

The draft’s comments on the Joint Strike Fighter version the UK is buying, the F-35B, are a very modest criticism.  In this blog it has been categorised as a golden turkey which cannot climb, cannot turn, cannot fight, cannot run, and cannot be afforded.  However, while all this will be denied, the PM has used only the killer argument:  the F-35B has no legs.  There can be no denial for this.  The sales brochure range figure bears no relationship to the actual performance figures the planners and pilots must use on operations at sea in adverse weather conditions and with no air-refuelling capability.        

With the wet-lease cost paid from the International Aid budget, there will be a useful contribution to the Defence budget each year, a Defence budget already boosted significantly by the cancellation of the redundant F-35B, and these supplements will help pay for the aircraft the RAF really needs. and for the personnel the Royal Navy must have to compensate for those so foolishly discarded during the recent ill-planned redundancy programmes. 

Malevolence and Negligence

Despite the understandable hopes of his family and legion of supporters, observers more removed from the Sergeant Blackman tragedy did not expect a favourable decision from yesterday’s bail application.  The arguments presented in court were sound in law, indeed many would judge them unanswerable, but the Blackman case has been driven to its present stage not by law but by administrative mandate, and it is shaped by a bureaucratic malevolence against which no one can fight.  Any who doubt this malevolence should read the analysis of the JAG’s Sentencing Remarks in Chapter Three of The Betrayal of Sergeant Blackman (available inexpensively from Amazon).

One of the principal arguments advanced by his supporters is that the cumulative stress imposed by the repetitive patrols in which he and his men acted as Taliban-bait led to a temporary mental breakdown.  In presenting the terrible reality of this, a situation to whose truth Sergeant Blackman’s commanding officer was prevented from testifying at his Court Martial, the absence of air cover was a crucial consideration, and that avoidable absence was owed to MoD negligence, a conscious and deliberate negligence. The cause of this negligence was explained by emailed letter from one of our colleagues to Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, dated 7th December, but it has received no answer, not even an acknowledgement of its receipt, perhaps because it was blocked in his back office.  Accordingly, the full text of that letter is reproduced here.

Dear Secretary of State,

Your announcement (as reported by the Daily Mail) that injured troops will no longer have to sue for more compensation will be widely welcomed, and you deserve the profound thanks of many who have sought over the years to have these men and women treated fairly, but were you advised by the MoD clerks that this concession will substantially reduce the possibilities of the MoD being sued for negligence?  Doubtless it may do so in those cases in which victims, persuaded of the value of a half-loaf, fear that an adverse decision in court might be used to cast doubts on the validity of what has already been agreed, but where the negligence is clear, where it is inexcusable negligence in the somnolent surroundings of Whitehall, and not an error in the heat of far-flung battle, the MoD must be seen to remain fully accountable.

The newspaper predicted that on that day (1st December) you would “announce a 12-week consultation” on the new proposals.  One must hope that the terms of reference will have sufficient width to include the probable consequences of victims of IED-ambushes suing the MoD on the grounds of Whitehall’s criminal negligence, for among these may be a flood of claims based on the absence of close air cover (“Buddy Cover”) for foot patrols sent out through the wire as Taliban-bait.  It may be that only fear of the hostile publicity triggered by those claims, and the large awards the courts are certain to make, will force the MoD to recognise the immense damage inflicted on the Armed Forces by bureaucratic whims, and then to ensure that for COIN foot patrols there will be no repetition of the careless waste of lives and limbs suffered in Basra and Helmand.  COIN conflict has not ended for the British Army with the retreat from Helmand and the downsizing of the infantry, for IEDs may yet become common in Western Europe and even within the British Isles.  Mumbai has shown us the future and the MoD, as you must know, is unprepared for it. 

My letter of 20th July drew your attention to the three principal deficiencies, fundamental weaknesses, underlying our failures in Basra and Helmand – competence, morale and honesty – and shortcomings in two of these, competence and honesty, have contributed to the negligence responsible for the loss of scores of lives and limbs.  The paper attached to that letter described how for the early stages of the Helmand campaign the MoD’s direction was in the hands of three hopelessly unqualified bureaucrats, a financial director with no financial qualifications, a policy director responsible for Afghanistan who had never served in the Armed Forces, and a PUS similarly innocent of any military history and whose background was principally in welfare and pensions (although she was very successful, one must admit, in the expensive promotion of equality and diversity during a period when equipment budgets were so heavily squeezed that troops in the frontline were short of essential equipment).

Obviously, this triumvirate, for whom the Senior Civil Service had sanctified supreme power, had no idea how, for example, Helmand should be treated either at the strategic or operational level, but in respect of the negligence directly responsible for the deaths and mutilations delivered in the IED-ambushes, their ignorance of basic tactical experience was material.  The warrior’s triad of Sword, Shield, Support’ was dismissed.  The ‘Sword’ was thought good enough and, although not the best, to fight the Taliban it usually was sufficient; the ‘Support’ was usually inadequate, and reports of this from the frontline were treated with morale-sapping carelessness; but, alas, the ‘Shield’ …  Where was the Air? Where was the ‘Buddy Cover’?  Where were the Austers’ successors?  Why were there so few Chinooks?

As you may know, and certainly as you ought to have been briefed, an inexpensive Small Military Aircraft (SMA) was available for ‘Buddy Cover’ in two versions, the simpler ‘Tribal’ version for issue to the Northern Tribes, and the rather more complex ‘Patrol’ version (optionally equipped with an array of sensors and bespoke gadgets) for use by the British forces.  

Of the first, the MoD’s own test pilots at AAEE Boscombe Down had completed its splendid evaluation report with a General Summary in which its key findings were re-emphasised in this final paragraph (in which the red italicised emphasis here is the editor’s):

“The type demonstrated convincingly that in its current form it would be capable of conducting a wide variety of missions at a fraction of the cost associated with other air vehicles in the spectrum from parachutes through helicopters to remotely piloted vehicles.  At the heart of these capabilities was its outstanding aptitude as a detailed reconnaissance platform both by day and by night, its near immediate availability and its complete autonomy once provided with fuel.  Furthermore, the type promises considerable potential at an unmatched degree of economy for improvement in the future where the constraints imposed by Civil Regulations could be relaxed for military, operational purposes.” 

That paragraph alone is sufficient to alert any intelligent clerk to the potential of this aircraft, the Dragoon, as a life-saver when escorting a foot patrol or road convoy in hostile territory, detecting body heat among the crops, noting unusual behaviour, and recognising the significance of disturbed earth on a track.  Applying the data from the AAEE tests to the Helmand casualty figures gives a probable saving of 100-plus lives and a larger number of limbs if, following the correspondence with the CGS’s staff (forwarded to DECISTAR) in 2007, the Dragoons had been deployed in 2008 as recommended.  (Later tests in Australia and the US gave results that justify much higher savings being calculated.)

It is unnecessary here to quote from NATO conferences at Ramstein and Chièvres, London presentations at RUSI and the RAeS, and long days of discussions at Warminster, Wilton and Shrivenham, or to quote from very senior officers, British and American, who include Field Marshal Lord Harding (MiD in Waziristan, and Governor of Cyprus during the EOKA insurgency) and ex-CDS Lord Richards, who saw active service recently in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, but the weight of documentation will sink any defence the guilty PUS, Dame Ursula Brennan, might offer on behalf of the MoD.  The reputation and authority of AAEE and ARAG alone will do that, and General Richards formed his judgement, shaped by personal experience in Helmand, after flying the aircraft, whereas the PUS vetoed the proposed use of Dragoons not only with no understanding of their use (or of COIN), but without seeing one fly, without even seeing one on the ground, and without meeting its designer or even talking with him by telephone.

If this seems harsh, then reflect on what such newspapers as the Daily Mail will make of a clerk who had in her personal consultancy fund sufficient money to start saving lives with an initial SMA deployment, who pleaded a lack of money but was found later to have several million pounds unspent, and who confessed to the Select Defence Committee that she did not know what a precision aerial delivery system was, a precision aerial delivery system being one of the benefits supplied by SMAs, and rejected by her, whose absence forced the use of vulnerable surface transport.  (You will recall that Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe wrote many memoranda explaining the need for more air assets before he was killed by an IED while travelling in a road convoy that could have been unnecessary if an aerial delivery system had been available.)

While calculating the numbers of lives and limbs lost by this negligence aggravating the ignorance of the “Sword, Shield, Support” mantra, it is necessary also to account for the damage to senses and to mental health.  Then there is the wider problem of the effect on morale, on the Army’s fighting spirit, and thus on the Army’s fighting ability.  And then there is Sergeant Alexander Blackman, RM.  When men are sent out through the wire day after day, week after week, without air escort, without the ‘Buddy Cover’ that would watch their flanks, scan ahead for evidence of ambushes, warn of disturbed ground on their track, and relay messages every time their unreliable radios fail, which is too often, the stress builds, and then that stress is sometimes sufficient to crack eventually even the toughest [bold red emphasis added here is by the editor].  

The italicised text on pages 18-20 of The Betrayal of Sergeant Blackman [attached to the letter ~ Editor], attempts to describe this experience (and justifies immediate release for this victim of the MoD’s contemptible virtue signalling).

Another very helpful book, Bullingdon Defences, is available inexpensively from Amazon.  You will find pages 70-96 useful for they provide the substance of the prosecution’s case against the MoD’s direction during the years of the Helmand campaign.  They clearly and irrefutably demonstrate also that the figures for avoidable deaths and mutilation in Helmand (plus the consequences of the absence of SMAs in Basra where, for example, an Auster successor would have relayed the murdered MPs’ call for help) have not been exaggerated.  The prevention of repetitions of such negligence is, my colleagues and I believe, a ministerial responsibility, for all our experience persuades us that the cure to this bureaucratic malaise will not be generated within Main Building.

You may decide the “12-week consultation” ought to have a full briefing on the Dragoon Concept and the ‘Buddy Cover’ its exploitation provides for COIN operations.  I should welcome an invitation to visit London to give one.

 

Perhaps someone will draw the attention of the Defence Secretary to this letter.  Perhaps we shall be invited to brief him.

The law courts will reach their decisions according to their practice, but the court of public opinion, when its members have full access to all the relevant facts, will reach another. Accordingly, it is our duty to ensure these facts are given the widest possible circulation.  The Court Martial has been reported as having “reached” the verdict of its members, seven officers claimed by the JAG to be Sergeant Blackman’s peers (although manifestly not his peers), but the Court Martial did not “reach” a verdict: it merely confirmed by five votes to two (a member reported to Frederick Forsyth) the verdict reached inside the Great Wen, the MoD, and handed down as guidance as to what was expected.  It was, as stated in Parliament and often repeated in this blog, a “stitch-up” from its ignoble start.

 

 

 

 

Some Comments

London’s new runway

There are again indications that we are close to being informed of the final decision on the new runway for one of London’s airports, Heathrow or Gatwick, both of which choices have nothing to commend them.  This Blog’s belief that the only practical solution to the congestion problem is to be found in the combination of “Boris Island” in the Thames Estuary and Manston a few miles to the south-east is unchanged, but Whitehall’s OODA principle (Obscurantism-Obfuscation-Delusion-Apathy) ensures that it will not even be considered.

Perhaps there is among our readers one who can help the Prime Minister, who may just possibly be still ruling the country in 2026, find an answer to this question:

What do we do, ten years from now, when we have to begin planning for an extra runway, “London’s fifth”?

Heathrow then will be impossible to enlarge, Gatwick will remain extremely inconvenient for road and rail access (M25 and M23 then being as clogged as carparks, and the rail service still stuck in the 20th century), the airspace above both still dangerously crowded, and the Boris-Manston integrated Freeport operation the only practical alternative.

As that is the solution for the future, why cannot it be adopted now?

Think about how much money would be saved, how much investment the London Freeport would attract, how much quieter West London would be, how much faster access to and departure from this Hub would be, and how much safer our crowded skies would be.

Think freely, not on tramlines.

How did we vote?

Many of our voters assumed we favoured Brexit.  Certainly FLIP, whose members are among those the Blog represents, did lean that way, but the ARAG members, influenced more by Defence considerations, held to the view that while Brexit would certainly be better for the UK, Remain would be better for the EU and thus, arguably, for Europe.

The preparation for the vote, especially the campaigns, was saddening, removing any residual faith in the honesty and intellectual maturity of our governors.  David Cameron and George Osborne had long been dismissed as lightweights, but nevertheless their Project Fear was astounding, as also was Alan Johnson’s accusation that the Brexit voters were “walking away from Europe!” — a geographical, historical, economic and religious impossibility.

The choice has been made; the die is cast.  The Prime Minister’s task now is to ensure that the EU understands the UK’s friendship is steadfast, that the UK will remain an economic helpmeet even as it secures what is best for the UK’s future, and that in the resistance to Islamist invasion we recognise Western Europe is indivisible.

The Golden Turkey

The MoD’s persistent attempts to persuade the taxpayers of the value the purchase of F-35B ‘Strike Aircraft’ will bring to the defence of British interests bring regular questions about what we might do to educate the public about the project’s futility.  We did cover the subject fairly in the White Elephants and Golden Turkeys article a few months ago, but our correspondents are correct: we ought to repeat the basic content with greater detail added.

In his interview today on the Andrew Marr show (BBC One), the Defence Secretary spoke of the increase in his budget, his success in meeting the NATO minimum of 2.0 per cent of GDP (no, he did not explain that this was achieved by redefining what was included), and that it was his responsibility to spend the budget wisely.  The F-35B decisions are now his.

In the absence of an update on the F-35B problems from America, here is a dispatch from our correspondent in 15th century Samarkand that may help understanding of the origins of the F-35 designers’ insoluble torment.

Nasruddin and the Samarkand JSF

Alacrity was not a quality readily associated with Nasruddin, the famous Philosopher-Fool, who liked to think long about the answers demanded of him, praying always that his interrogators while waiting would forget their questions, so when the Grand Vizier summoned him to Samarkand he moved slowly, taking a week.  

It was cool in the council chamber.  “We are advised,” the Grand Vizier began with a nod to the smirking youth beside him, “that instead of our warriors using Arabian camels for speed and Bactrian camels for support, it would be less expensive and more cost-effective to have a new camel with the speed of the Arabian and the strength of the Bactrian.  You are to arrange this.  You are to breed a Special Fighter, an SF.  This is Ahmed’s recommendation, and he promises me there will be a large market for our SF.”  He nodded towards his companion.  “You are a holy man, Mullah, and this simple task will be easy for a Sufi of your accomplishments.”  

“But I know nothing of war, Excellency,” began a horrified Nasruddin, who knows well the fate of those who fail to fulfil the Grand Vizier’s dreams.

“Such knowledge is unnecessary.  This is a project under your command, and all you need to know is how to manage it.  Management is the task of the commanders.  War is for the warriors. Managerial skills are yours, so Command is for you.  Details are for them.  A bag of gold awaits you at the stables.”

“But, Excellency, why not Ahmed?” asked Nazruddin.  “If it is his idea, surely he will be best suited to command the project.  He is obviously a very experienced warrior to be able to decide exactly what is wanted.”

The Grand Vizier waved his hand.  The audience was ended.  Ahmed left the chamber with him, still smirking, obviously the current favourite and thus invulnerable.

As Nasruddin made his way slowly to the stables of the Grand Vizier’s Guard, he wondered why the Grand Vizier had not chosen the obvious and far cheaper solution of combining speed with utility by buying a regiment of golden horses from Ashgabat, already proven in war to be supreme, both fast and versatile.  It must be the deplored influence of Ahmed, he thought, preying on a weak man’s thirst for glory.  So he asked for a stallion and a mare from both the Arabian and the Bactrian yards, and ordered that the appropriate couplings be arranged when the mares were next ready to be covered.  There was no hurry, he said, for the mares would not be in season until the sun headed north.  Then, as he collected the gold and turned to leave, he found the degenerate Ahmed grinning at him like a deranged hyena.

“There’s been a change,” Ahmed said, “a minor modification, but it must be incorporated without extra cost.  We have decided that the new SF will have more than teeth and hooves: they must have an extra weapon, a long spike jutting forward from the forehead.” 

“Well,” said Nasruddin, “that will be a task for the armourers and saddlers, not for me.”

“No, Mullah,” said Ahmed, “you do not understand.  You must bring a unicorn into the bloodline.  The spike must come from the skull.”  He laughed, prompting Nasruddin to realise that for Ahmed the project was just a way of becoming rich, that the result of Nasruddin’s dedicated work would never be of any use in battle.  (And the basic idea of marrying the speed of an Arabian to the endurance of the twin-humped Bactrian would give a compromise too slow to fight, too cumbersome to turn quickly, too stupid to use its teeth effectively, too weak to travel far without water, and in battle against elephants too terrified to respond to the reins.)

Why a unicorn?” asked Nasruddin.  “A detachable spike and harness can be quickly changed if damaged in battle and thus must surely be preferred.”

“Oh, Mullah,” laughed Armed, “again you have failed to understand. We are not breeding the SFs for battle, we are breeding them to bring gold to the treasury.  We have learned that the Sultan intends to convert his Constantinople Janissaries into cavalry, invisible cavalry, warriors impossible to fight when they are mounted on invisible unicorns, and he will pay well for them.

But where, wondered a mystified Nasruddin, could an invisible unicorn be found today, and he returned to Tashkent none the wiser and uncharacteristically pessimistic until he remembered the old magus who lived in solitude in a cave below the citadel.  He would know — and he did.

“I can tell you where to find them,” he said. “They’re high in the Hindu Kush, but they are fierce animals.  You will never see a mare, of course, because they are invisible, and the stallions, as you may know, can be pacified only by virgins on the night of a new moon.  So first find your virgin, but don’t go near a unicorn unless she is present, whispering to him.  Without her whispers he will kill you.  He will stomp and trample and bite, and then violate, and the pain of that magical horn is exquisite and lethal.  You never hear of anyone surviving a unicorn rape, do you?”

Five months later, when Nasruddin returned to the Guards’ stables accompanied by a virgin riding a unicorn, he learned that both his camel mares were in foal, but even if one of the foals was a mare it would still take some time before it could be covered safely by the unicorn (for unicorns are large and heavy).  This programme would need several years, sufficient, he hoped, for the Grand Vizier to tire of Ahmed and his fantasies, a breach now undoubtedly necessary for Nasruddin’s health, for every warrior he had consulted had predicted failure — on the basis that in battle they needed a mount that would perform excellently at the job it was bred to do, not a mount that, while capable of two different jobs, would have him killed because it was not quite as good as it ought to be at the critical moment.

Ahmed then appeared.  “I’m pleased you’re back, at last, for we have agreed another small modification that will increase the value of the invisible SF and, when we sell them to other warriors the rewards will be very substantial.  Unfortunately, you will need more gold, we know that, and so we have taken gold from the warriors who want to buy.  For them it is an investment, a joint enterprise, and so the SF will now be known as a Joint Stealthy Fighter, a JSF.”

“Well, what is this new modification that will cost so much gold?” asked Nasruddin.

“We want the JSF to fly.”

“What?  You’re serious?  You mean fly like a gryphon?  Don’t tell me you want a gryphon in the bloodline.  It can’t be done.  You are mad.  Have you never seen a male gryphon?  Huge, they’re huge, and covered in spikes.  Our mares will die of fright if presented to gryphons.”  Nasruddin had lost his fear of the Grand Vizier and was now determined to oust Ahmed from the court.

“You’re inventing problems,” said Ahmed.  “I’ll report you to His Excellency.  Female gryphons can be covered by the Arabian and Bactrian stallions and then the program will continue from there, but you can work in parallel by offering a gryphon to the unicorn.  It’s called concurrency.  I shall inform His Excellency.”

Nasruddin was thinking deeply.  Looking over Ahmed’s shoulder he could see that the virgin, having stabled the unicorn, was now being led away to their quarters, leaving her charge tethered but already fretting at her absence.

“You really have problems understanding this programme,“ he said.  “The last female gryphon known was in Scotland, an infidel realm on the edge of Europe, and she was seen to seize four oxen yoked to the plough and to carry them off, with the plough, which it dropped as uneatable.  That would have probably been just her breakfast.  They’re twice the size of the males.  It’s a matter of scale, and you have no experience of scale, have you?  But, I’ll help you.  The unicorn there, as you see, is a little bigger than a horse.  Go into his stall and brush his hide, stroke his horn, talk to him but remember he’s deaf, so shout at him, tell him that instead of the young girl you will now be looking after him.  He’ll like that.”

And that is how Nasruddin, the Philosopher-Fool, killed the JSF project.

Bullingdon Defences - cover KINDLE

Boris: A Happy Coincidence

 

The sudden availability of the late Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the Brexit’s principal spokesman and, for a short time, candidate Leader of the Conservative Party, together with the Prime Minister’s decision to postpone yet again the decision on London’s airport expansion, is directly relevant to the post that appeared on the Blog yesterday. 

Serendipity

Brexit has given the UK the freedom and incentive to assume again its historic leadership of Western Europe, using the traditional quality of the Armed Forces and their fighting spirit to establish once again the nation’s reputation for innovation and success in the fields of technology and commerce as much as in naval, military and aeronautical conflict. This opportunity can be harnessed to attract the international finance that seeks to invest in leadership, and will additionally help to unify the constituent parts of the UK.  Success is a magnet.

The postponed decision on London’s airport is supposedly restricted to that of a choice between an additional runway at Heathrow and one at Gatwick, a counsel of despair dictated by intellectual fears of the perceived impossibility of designing alternative solutions whose responsibilities politicians will consent to accept.  It is, of course, a ridiculous situation, described in one response to an enquiry as choosing the better of two bad alternatives when both are eliminated by the original criteria of noise and traffic pollution, and, of course, by future inaccessibility.  “Boris Island” showed the way — why was it discarded? Should it not now be reexamined in the light of its proponent’s new availability as the internationally renowned and energetic enthusiast needed to drive its candidature forward?  Why is its potential not being assessed in combination with the comparatively low-cost utility of Manston Airport?

Expansion at Heathrow is for the brain-dead.  Gatwick may be a potential solution for some of today’s problems, but for none of tomorrow’s, and thus it must be ignored on financial grounds.  The Government’s decision must cater for very long-term requirements, and these include both the ability to expand, and then to keep expanding without (as has been traditional in airport construction) tearing down expensive facilities at their half-life.  Moreover, the construction’s investment operation must be integrated within the national investment plan and exploited as an irresistible magnet for foreign funds, a task for which the late Mayor of London would be unrivalled.

The Plan in Brief

  1. Secure the future of Manston Airport by compulsory purchase.  (Note: its future ownership is currently in contention).
  2. Designate Manston as a Freeport, upgrade its facilities, expand its area, and invite appropriate industries to reserve plots.  (Brussels might have objected to the Freeport status, but Brexit will applaud it.)
  3. Complete the “Boris Island” construction plan and begin work there as soon as is appropriate.
  4. Negotiate the route for a double (or probably triple, eventually quadruple) MagLev track from Manston to Boris.
  5. Plan improvements to current rail links and upgrade to motorway status the dual-carriageway A299 link from Manston to the M2. 
  6. Plan a New Town south of Manston and east of Canterbury.  (Early housing will be required for the construction force and the personnel transferred from Heathrow.)  Finance can be leveraged off the eventual resale of Heathrow for housing.
  7. Begin the diversion of air traffic growth from Heathrow and Gatwick into Manston as the first stage of the joint BorisManston operation, concentrating initially on dedicated air freighters and business traffic.
  8. Exploit the Freeport status as the principal attraction for investment — an attraction which, owing to geography, and freedom from the EU’s limitations, will be huge.
  9. Build the Boris Island 4-runway intercontinental airport, London’s only 21st-century airport (with potential for a later additional seventh runway), fully integrated with the fifth runway operation at Manston (where space should be reserved for a future sixth runway).

Operationally the two airports will have Boris Island (London East) as the principal activity and Manston (London South) as the satellite, with most air freighters using Manston, but financially, and especially for investment, the two airports must be treated as a single entity.  With some very substantial investment funds looking for returns larger than those offered by the banks, a Government-sponsored opportunity such as this must be very attractive.

MagLev rail link
The Magnetic Levitation (MagLev) high-speed rail link

The MagLev link (much shorter, less expensive, and far less disruptive than that proposed for Gatwick-Heathrow) is obviously crucially important, but in view of the absence of the constraints that hit the Gatwick-Heathrow traffic, adequate helicopter links will be available too. Phase Three could see the MagLev track extending above the river, close to its bank, into the City and perhaps beyond.

The New Town will be needed for the substantial numbers of workers employed in the years of construction, plus some of the airport workers transferred from Heathrow, plus some of the immigrants continuing to arrive at Dover, plus those arriving to work in the new and high-tech industries established in the Freeport.

Boris Island
Britannia Airport, Boris Island, London East, “Shivering Sands”

The “London Airport problem” requires a big solution, sufficiently big to attract the attention of the type of international finance sought.  This solution is sufficiently big also to offer partial solutions to the local employment problems, and to the need to identify suitable space for the Government’s national housing development plans.  No physical constraints to the airport’s construction have, it is claimed, been identified in the latest feasibility study of what is now called Britannia Airport (previously “Shivering Sands”), and the value of the project as a national inspiration should be sensational, typical of the morale boosting activities the UK’s role as leader of a Greater Europe demands.

So who will forward a link from here to Boris?

 

 

The EU Referendum: Leading a Greater Europe

Most of the questions addressed to the Blog in recent weeks have asked for a simple answer to the Referendum question, straight and easy to understand.  They implied that the facts thought to be relevant were unavailable.  How then should the enquirers vote?  To this there was no satisfactory answer, but the one the Blog provided was at least accurate: “The Referendum, it had been said, was to offer a choice between remaining in ‘a reformed EU’ or leaving, and as there was as yet no ‘reformed EU’ in which to remain, then the vote must be postponed. Ideally, it should be postponed for at least the two years necessary to reform the EU’s Byzantine policies and procedures.”

A few questions were addressed also to FLIP, drawing the following response:  “While it is easy to construct a list of reasons justifying the decision to remain, it is equally as easy to do so for the decision to leave. Accordingly, paralleling certain bizarre possibilities in quantum mechanics, there are two correct answers which become incorrect immediately they are given, this depending on the quality of the politicians tasked with the next stage of the processes.”  The decision in favour of leaving being unalterable — another vote, as proposed in the online petition and certain to expose the UK to international ridicule, will be rejected — it is essential that the negotiating teams (i.e. for both the UK and the EU) consist of the finest adult brains available.

The UK team must therefore ensure that the EU team understands from the start of the preparations for the first meeting that the UK intends to negotiate on the basis of a fraternal relationship disciplined by the UK’s vision of l’Europe des patries, and that accordingly the UK will work to mitigate any adverse consequences of her withdrawal suffered by the other 27 member states.

And that is why for the Blog’s contributors it is impossible to ignore the Referendum’s result:  the sector offering the greatest opportunities for fraternal support, the sector in which the current international dangers are now most obvious, and in which the UK’s eminence and leadership will be uncontested, is Defence, as it has been in centuries past.  (France, owing to its insoluble internal fragility, is no longer a realistic rival for a freed UK.)  During the two to three years of negotiation ahead of us the recognised threats within Europe will be Islamist terrorism from the south and southeast together with Russian adventurism from the north and east, and the UK’s most valuable contribution in this respect will be in the Air.  (The third threat, to be examined in a future Blog, is the latent flood of hopeful immigrants from Africa supplementing the existing flood of refugees from Asia Minor.)

So where does the UK now stand, with the Referendum having divided the country into nearly equal proportions, the majority of the MPs not representing this trauma, and the content of the forthcoming negotiations being uncertain?

  • The UK currently has the world’s fifth largest economy
  • The UK currently has the largest defence budget in the EU
  • The UK has one of the five permanent seats on the UN Security Council
  • The UK is one of the two nuclear-armed Western European countries
  • Until the turn of the century the UK was renowned for military success.

That is the platform.  Brexit is now forcing a changed perspective on the UK, one that will require a detailed examination of the most recent Strategic Defence & Security Review (SDSR2015), and out of this will emerge a revised scale of priorities.  Moreover, among the beneficial measures Brexit will drive, long overdue, will be recognition of Effects-Based Financial Analysis as an essential preparation for Defence Investment.

Defence of the People is the Supreme Law

The 21st-century dangers the West faces and will continue to face are of such overriding importance that even the notoriously blind statesmen on the left of the political spectrum will recognise Salus populi suprema lex esto as the governing principle for the immediate future — and when they do so the way is clear for the newly freed and revitalised UK to assume, in its role of Europe’s Defence Supremo, the leadership of Greater Europe — of the fraternal partnership of the UK, the EU, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and the Balkans.  This partnership would be a mutual understanding based on Europe’s Judaeo-Christian heritage, comprehensive but probably unwritten (with any aspects considered essential for written confirmation covered by such existing treaties as those of NATO, UNO, OSCD, OECD, et al).  Assumption of the de facto  leadership of Europe would contribute significantly to the reunification of the UK – and would attract investment.

In recent years the EU’s military ambitions, fostered by a perception that a United States of Europe must have its own Armed Forces, have called increasingly on the UK to support such EU initiatives as anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa, and while such activities are obviously laudable, the stress imposed on a diminished navy has strained the UK’s ability to fulfil NATO requirements.  This EU-NATO conflict had to stop, and Brexit, naturally, will now stop it.

However, within the scope of a revised vision, and with no political stress on the NATO relationship, the UK will lead Europe’s own contribution to European defence, greatly to the benefit of the EU member states.  Pre-Brexit discussions with the US considered ways in which the Royal Navy might assist the US Navy east of Suez, and perhaps also in the Far East, but the UK’s currently budgeted Order of Battle (OoB) will not allow a continuous presence there (a temporary attachment while en route to showing the flag in Australia, New Zealand and around the old Empire being the most the UK will offer).  The UK’s maritime attention will now be concentrated on the North Atlantic (plus the Falkland Islands’ interests) to safeguard the trade routes important for the EU, leaving the French to cover the West Coast of Africa with the Spanish, the Red and Arabian Seas with the Italians, and the Mediterranean with both.

Poseidon to be bought for the RAF
P-8 Poseidon to be bought for the RAF

This maritime responsibility will require many more than the UK’s nine new ASW/LRMR Poseidon aircraft now on order, plus more attack submarines, and many more frigates than contemplated in the SDSR, but will not justify the cost of the two new aircraft carriers and their short-legged jump-jets.  Regular readers may remember that this Blog has never ceased to criticise the carriers for their cost and vulnerability, and the ‘Joint Strike Fighters’ for their cost and tactical uselessness, and will remember also that the MoD’s publicity machine does not recognise these failings.  Fortunately, the reappraisal forced by Brexit will ensure that ministers will have no excuse not to ask the questions their civil servants have until now suppressed, and, having asked those questions of independent experts and analysed their answers, the ministers will know how to finance the aircraft they really need.

Tactically limited F-35B landing
Tactically limited F-35B bought for the Royal Navy and the RAF

The North Atlantic maritime threat is almost wholly a low-intensity submarine conflict from which escalation would rapidly bring nuclear war, which no candidate for state-on-state conflict wants.  (Even as far back as the ’sixties some of the ASW aircraft, the Mark III Phase 3 Avro Shackletons, were equipped to carry nuclear depth charges.)  However, if it did happen and remain non-nuclear, then it would almost certainly be accompanied by a low-intensity land war in Scandinavia and the Baltic region, a scenario recently explored by General Sir Richard Shirreff in his faction (not fiction) thriller 2017 War with Russia.  This would require Europe’s resistance to invading tanks to have air support that would in turn require a semblance of air superiority to protect it.

Air Support

The EU’s NATO members would contribute their fighter squadrons, and to the mélange of F-16, F-35A, Eurofighter Typhoon, Swedish Gripen, the UK would add the RAF’s Typhoons and, on current planning, the hopelessly inadequate F-35B Lightning II.  (General Mike Hostage, while Commander of USAF’s Air Combat Command, confessed he would not commit the F-35A Lightning II to battle without an escort of F-22 Raptors, so this ‘Golden Turkey’ is not an asset on which British ministers should rely, despite having a total of 138 on order.)

Various press releases describing the F-35B Lightnings ordered for the Royal Navy and the RAF have fantasised about their use for Close Air Support (CAS), but in Whitehall and Westminster there is much confusion about what CAS is.  In the US the war between the Air Force and the Army is not as big or as serious as the war between the Air Force and the Navy, but in respect of CAS and its cost in blood it is crucially important.  One of its casualties was the definition of CAS which was changed to emphasise that the enemy to be attacked must be geophysically close to the friendly force to be supported — this then allowing big bombs dropped through cloud from aircraft six miles above the battle to be classified as CAS, and shiny, sexy aircraft to be bought to ferry them to the battlefield (and to bring them home again when the Rules of Engagement forbade their use).  Previously it was always understood that CAS was provided by pilots who were physically and psychologically close to the troops they were supporting, situationally as aware as they, in visual contact with the enemy, and trained to interpret its movements — but no commander will commit a British F-35B to true CAS at ground level against Russian armour, not at £125 million each and sensitive to anything aimed at its single engine.  Yet an effective deterrent to Russian armour is essential, so how will the UK, as Europe’s leader, meet an armoured thrust into the Baltic States?

A-10
The A-10 ‘Warthog’ ~ World’s greatest CAS aircraft

By far the greatest CAS aircraft ever designed, the Fairchild Republic A-10 ‘Warthog’ Thunderbolt II, has a truly astonishing record of success and survival against Russian armour (in Iraq).  It has a similar record in counterinsurgency (COIN) in Afghanistan.  Regrettably the RAF’s buyers, as readily seduced by the glamour of ‘pointy-noses’ as any in the US, have never ordered them.  However, with the UK as Greater Europe’s unofficial but undisputed de facto leader, the principal partner of the US in NATO’s response to a Russian attack, the RAF needs the superb and proven A-10 — which could be available with new engines and new wings from the US at around one quarter of the cost of the unusable F-35B.  (The grounds for cancellation of the F-35B order would be its failure to meet the original performance specification and price.)

The Way Forward

Sterling has fallen on the exchange markets, but as it has been overpriced for some years, as have the currencies of several countries, the new rate will benefit British exporters.  The FTSE100, in apparent contrast, has risen, but this is far less significant as an indicator of economic health, and if the UK’s economic activity is to rise, as it surely must, substantial investment is necessary.  Defence, in which the UK once led the world, can again lead in this, and a deal on the new A-10, widely needed for both anti-armour and future COIN, should be sought.  The second most obvious area will be in the design of new warships according with the principles of Effects-Based Investment.

The Blog will return to the potential of British leadership in a Greater Europe, and to this subject of cost-effective CAS protecting Greater Europe, fairly soon.

 

 

Bullingdon Defences - cover KINDLE

The Kindle version of Bullingdon Defences is now available on Amazon.  Its royalties go to Help for Heroes in support of the flight instructor training scheme for disabled veterans.  Do recommend it to your friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Fortune and Nasruddin

“It’s 2014,” I was told at breakfast this morning. “It’s a New Year. ‘Everything is going to be better,’ Dave says, so perhaps in preparation for next year’s SDSR we’ll have some new defence policies related to the real world.” But I wasn’t listening.

I was mourning John Fortune of whose death I had just heard. He was ‘a lefty’, I’d been told, but if so then he was an uncommonly perceptive one with a great contempt for the incompetent way the nation is governed by Whitehall. When once asked about scripts and rehearsals, of which the Bird-Fortune team used neither, he explained that they were unnecessary because they worked with “the indefensible. Like British defence policy. Then you don’t have to make up jokes. You just say it.”

Here, in 2008, they presciently discussed the Carrier-Strike programme and its intention to use the short-range F-35B STOVL aircraft.  Some of their figures five years ago were optimistic, the programme cost having doubled since then and the size of the Royal Navy having been reduced further, but in general the sketch was based on a fair interpretation of the MoD’s flawed maritime policies.

2 future carriers

My ancient friend, the philosopher-fool Nasruddin, whom regular readers may remember from past blog entries, although recently in Afghanistan which is regularly visited by F/A-18 strike aircraft launched from American warships in the Indian Ocean, knows nothing of aircraft carriers. Nevertheless a tale is told of him that may strike a chord with readers who have studied the operational limitations of the F-35B STOVL aircraft scheduled to cost us ……. cost us what? The MoD does not know. The Defence Secretary does not know either. But a colleague in Washington predicts that we shall be lucky to get away with £125million each, and that would be only the notional cost anyway, for the real cost over its service life will double this figure. That is a lot for a widget that won’t do what it said on the bubble-wrap packaging when the MoD chose to order the STOVL Joint Strike Fighter.

Mullah Nasruddin visited the souq one day when a caravan of merchants had stopped to fill stomachs and water bags, and to fleece the locals. One of them, a most distinguished man Nasruddin was told, took him into conversation and, having realised that Nasruddin was a very holy man, offered to show him the holy cup that never ran dry. No matter how much wine was drunk from it, the merchant’s friends confirmed, always it refilled itself overnight.

Eventually, after much hard bargaining, Nasruddin persuaded the merchant that he, a holy man, was by far the best qualified custodian for such a holy vessel, and just as the merchant was about to leave he agreed the price he would pay for it.

When Mullah Nasruddin awoke the next morning the holy cup was dry but, nevertheless, because it was holy he washed and dried it with loving care, congratulating himself on his astuteness, and praising the quality of the wine that would have been in it that morning if Allah had wished it. 

 

Lions Betrayed by Donkeys

THIS IS A REPUBLICATION.  AFTER THE ORIGINAL WAS EMAILED TO REGISTERED FOLLOWERS IT INEXPLICABLY DISAPPEARED FROM THE SITE.

Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, has said of the Blackman court martial: “The case is of the greatest public interest, involving as it does a unique charge of murder against soldiers on military operations against a wounded detainee. There is, therefore, the greatest public interest in the whole of the proceedings being publicly reported.”

And when sentencing Blackman the Judge Advocate General spoke of the importance that “this Court sends out a very strong message that while this sort of offence is extremely rare, if not  unique, those Service personnel who commit crimes of murder, or other war crimes or crimes against humanity while on operations will be dealt with severely. This is a message of deterrence but it is also to reassure the international community that allegations of serious crime will be dealt with transparently and appropriately.”

So both the Lord Chief Justice and the Judge Advocate General recognise the importance of the public interest and, specifically, in the JAG’s words, the importance of the message. Accordingly, it may fairly be assumed that both judges accepted that there would be public discussion of the trial, of the verdict, and of the sentence. The JAG alluded also to transparency – which is a good start point for public discussion of what some consider a travesty of justice, and which others have described as a political ‘stitch-up’ recalling memories of Admiral Byng, of Captain Dreyfus and, more recently, of Sergeant Nightingale.

So let us look at transparency.

Blackman+Blair

Public comment has compared, for example, Blackman with a drug addict who murdered his baby son in anger because he had exhausted his supply of cannabis and yet received a prison sentence of only six years, and, more tellingly in view of the ‘transparency’ urged by the JAG, compared with the late prime minister, the Rt Hon Anthony C.L. Blair, who avoided impeachment and wanders the world accumulating treasure.

The killing of Osama bin Laden offers an interesting comparison. He was shot dead by Special Forces who could have captured him and could then have taken him to America for trial (an inconvenient trial perhaps). He was defended only by his unarmed wife. He may have preferred death to capture, as probably also may the Afghan in the Blackman case, but that is not relevant. Osama bin Laden, although not in a war zone, was shot in the line of duty, and was alive when the trigger was pulled, while Blackman’s Afghan, who in contrast was in a war zone, also was shot in the line of duty, may not actually have been alive when Blackman pulled the trigger, and earlier had been attempting to kill British servicemen, for which purpose he was when discovered still armed. (No one can swear that he was alive when shot, but medical specialists in this field explain that a dead man’s muscles can twitch, giving the appearance of life, if the chest is hit soon after death, as it was in this case by a bullet.)

Equal and appropriate treatment!  Is this the message?

Blair-Bercow motto

We can take this a little further during the next couple of weeks. For the present, responding to the JAG’s call for transparency, we shall just ask for the reasons that a child killer, a soldier killing a live al-Qu’aida leader, and a civilian whose moral deficiencies wilfully led to the loss of more than a hundred thousand lives, should be treated so differently from Blackman. All are not equal in the UK, certainly not in the decisions of the MoD when the objective of treating an accused man with justice is replaced by the objective of looking good to the liberal establishment and pretending to the world that “the British Government is whiter than white.”

The question we must ask as we search for transparency will be about the apparently compulsive need to punish our own, propitiating Moloch, the god of the Guardianistas, in a spirit of self-abnegation that appears to justify, as once with the first-born, Penance-by-Proxy (PbP). For the higher civilian ranks within the toxic environment of the MoD, no opportunity to injure servicemen ever appears to be  deliberately neglected, whether by reducing pension entitlement, by premature redundancy, by misinterpreting or rewriting regulations, by invalidating allowances, or by convening avoidable courts martial – and Blackman’s court martial was avoidable, as, for similar reasons, was Sergeant Nightingale’s. Psychiatric evidence in both cases was accepted by the court and then discounted, yet both men deserved at least the consideration freely given to the psychoses of undeserving politicians.

Those who allow PbP to persist in the official treatment of the Armed Forces betray them as surely as do those of their leaders in the MoD who send them out on patrols where every footstep may shred their legs, emasculate them, mutilate their bodies, or kill them, and then – if they have survived so far – after the continual stress of these patrols has accumulated to such extent that it affects their judgement, insist that there can be no allowance for this because not everyone, according to the JAG, buckles at the same point.

Sergeant Blackman, RM was betrayed, and such betrayal will continue (and Army recruitment will decline in consequence of this and similar betrayals) until the Government stops it.

The Betrayal of Sergeant Alexander Blackman, RM

“He broke the RoE.  He shot an Afghan man who wasn’t offering an immediate threat.  That makes it murder.  Court martial him.  He’s obviously guilty!  What’s that you said?  Battle fatigue?  Well, tie him to a post, blindfold him, and shoot him at dawn.  Usually do that with ‘battle fatigue’ cases, don’t we?”

Well, no, not for most of the last century, and shooting men suffering from ‘shell-shock’ or ‘exhaustion’ or ‘combat stress disorder’ or ‘psychoneurosis’ is surely today abhorrent to almost everyone, as public support for the grant of pardons to the Great War victims undeniably demonstrates.  The attitude of the public may indeed be in part emotional, but the official agreement with that attitude is not.  The new official attitude is owed not to emotion but to a greater understanding of the medical factors contributing to battle fatigue.

Or so it was thought … until we read the weird comments of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) while giving sentence at the tragic conclusion of the court martial of Sergeant Alexander Blackman, RM.  Let us look at these comments to see what they reveal, and while doing so we should remember Admiral Byng[1].

“Your actions have put at risk the lives of other British service personnel.”

Was the court actually given evidence to support this claim?  If it was, then was it rigorously examined?  If it wasn’t, then why did the Judge raise it?  Which British service personnel are now at risk who were not at risk before this Afghan was shot (and before all this publicity intended to show that ‘justice’ is seen to be done)?

“You have provided ammunition to the terrorists whose propaganda portrays the British presence in Afghanistan as part of a war on Islam in which civilians are arbitrarily killed.”

The elision of civilians and terrorists here plays the al-Qu’aida game, and the suggestion of providing ammunition is emotional Whitehall PR-speak directed not at the man he was sentencing, but at the news media.  If allusions are to be made to the civilian-terrorist dualism in Afghanistan, then, as must be expected from a naval commodore (equivalent to an army brigadier or a one-star general) even when not a seagoing naval officer, an explanation that the Taliban operate in the translucent sixth dimension[2] of the counterinsurgency battlefield cube is required.

Here are two more examples of emotional PR-speak dispensed from Whitehall:

“… you have betrayed your corps and all British service personnel who have served in Afghanistan, and you have tarnished their reputation.”

—   betrayed ? tarnished ?  (This non-nautical naval officer is out of his depth.)

and:

“The victim was particularly vulnerable because he was seriously wounded …”

That word vulnerable in PR-speak seeks sympathy for an enemy armed with an AK47 and a grenade, wearing no uniform, who had recently been attempting to murder (by the court’s definition) Sergeant Blackman and his men.  The Geneva Convention governs the wartime conduct of its signatories, and leaves the non-state, non-signatory Taliban free to torture prisoners in ways it is unnecessary to describe here, where they might be read by children, but are well-known to the Royal Marines.  Sergeant Blackman did not “execute” anyone.  He killed an enemy on the battlefield, which was his job and ought to be still, but regrettably he did so outside the Rules of Engagement (the asinine RoE we are all aware must be rewritten before the next campaign).  One cannot be certain that the JAG’s remarks were written for him in Whitehall, but being based on a false equality it does seem so, and thus one asks why he did not hear the ghost of Admiral Byng whispering behind his chair.

Although the issues of ‘temporary insanity’ and ‘the balance of his mind was temporarily disturbed’ were not reported in the news media, and thus may not have been raised during the court proceedings, the following was quoted as part of the JAG’s comments:

”We accept that you were affected by the constant pressure, ever present danger, and fear of death or serious injury.  We also accept the psychiatric evidence presented today that when you killed the insurgent it was likely that you were suffering to some degree from combat stress disorder.  While we acknowledge your personal circumstances and the immense pressure you were under, we note that thousands of other service personnel have experienced the same or similar stresses.  They exercised self-discipline and acted properly and humanely – you did not.”

So “combat stress disorder” was accepted as a contributing factor ! 

But then, amazingly, incredibly, it was dismissed because others with the same or similar stresses have coped.  Everyone who has been in action, and by that is meant real action with incoming fire dangerously close, knows that it is not possible to assess whether stresses are the same or similar for two men standing next to each other, and knows also that if stresses could be assessed as the same, their effect on two men standing next to each other could be very different.  But the JAG appears never to have seen action.  He appears to have had no personal experience that could qualify him to make such judgements.  (However, he is a senior RFU official and an experienced centre three-quarter, so he understands what being offside means.  Here he is offside, and he surely knows it.)  Of course, he did have sitting with him three officers who are Royal Marines, but we do not know what experience they have had under fire, and we do not know and we shall never know what views they expressed, what guidance they offered to the JAG, or how harsh they believed the sentence.

Those who have walked the walk, their four tourniquets strapped loosely in place before they went out through the wire, aware that every step might lose a limb or two, and their genitals, perhaps their life, know well that Sergeant Blackman, deliberately disregarding the Rules of Engagement, was temporarily insane.  His action was totally out of character and contradicted every report in his excellent service record since he entered the Royal Marines as a recruit.  That crucial fact must not be pushed aside.

His splendid career to date, and the high regard in which he is held both by his seniors, grateful for his loyalty and reliability, and by the men he led and protected and taught and mentored and comforted, have been used by commentators as obvious reasons for clemency in the sentence, but other commentators are asking why these factors rang no alarm bells to alert the Ministry of Defence, long before the decision to convene a court martial was made, to the unwelcome reality that this was a clear case of temporary insanity.

Unwelcome”?  Yes!  Read on.

Battle fatigue does not follow clear rules.  Men can survive horrific stress with a short prayer as they go out through the wire each morning.  “Dear God, if it’s to be today, please make it quick.  I’ve done everything I can, so now it’s up to You.”  And then they forget, concentrating on their individual and team duties, until they are back at base … and then, when they want to sleep, they remember.

These men ignore personal safety as they fight to protect their ‘mates’ who, they know, fight to protect them.  But for their patrol commander, a man such as Sergeant Blackman, there is this crucial difference:  he not only has to protect his ‘mates’; he bears full and awesome responsibility for their physical and mental health, and he knows, and he knows that he dare never forget, that any mistake he makes can kill them or, far worse, allow them to be captured.

The youngsters a patrol commander leads out through the wire may not all have conventional families, but most have parents and siblings, many have close friends, and some of these friends might already have borne them children.  The responsibility for these, too, weighs on him.  And then there is his own family.  The total emotional load can overwhelm.

Let us follow him out through the wire.  At 100°F it’s not as hellish as it will be later, but his sweat-smeared vision and the shimmering haze already reduce his visual awareness.  Horizontal sightlines are short; he wants height and a slant vision, but the small hand-launched drones give inadequate coverage, and the soda-straw view from the Reaper drone somewhere six miles above them, even when available, gives no comfort.  He needs a guardian sitting half a mile above him, scanning ahead and on the flanks with high-powered binoculars and infra-red sensors, and talking to him.

Initially the chosen route is through sparse vegetation rooted in loose earth where shallow mines are easy to lay and to conceal, but fortunately the flanks are open and movement there will be seen, which means there will be no movement until an ambush is sprung with an explosion.  His point man is sweeping with the detector, but finding nothing increases the probability of any IEDs there having too low a magnetic content.  The dangers change as they move into fields where the crops are chest high.  It is more difficult here to recognise disturbed ground, and the enemy could be lying within a few yards of their path, prepared to erupt with automatic fire at point blank range.  Watching the flanks is so tiring, continually twisting the body.  His men are spaced at wide intervals to ensure that a typical IED would kill or maim no more than two of them, unless it was one of a daisy-chained group integrated with a skilled ambush team, so a surprise jump attack from a very short range would be answered by the adjacent men.  But it would be nice, he thinks, to have an Auster on top of him, as his Dad did in Korea, looking down vertically so nothing could be hidden, telling him where the Taliban were concealed, which way they were moving, what weapons they carried, and how numerous they were .  His fine-tuned senses predict trouble near; his memory recalls similar silence before they were attacked two days ago.  Then his radio man whispers that the link to base has failed, as it so often does, and as it crucially did during the last attack when Dusty was killed.  They are approaching the compound they are to search, he senses his men’s tension, then an explosion triggers automatic fire and rocket grenades from behind the wall ahead and he has a man down.  This they have practised; he has drilled his patrol to cope exactly with this.  Two men are attending to the mine’s victim, his radio man is now calling for air support, but without response, the remainder of the patrol is returning fire at the compound, and he is choosing which flank will be the more likely source of the second attack while lamenting the lack of an Auster to watch both flanks for him.  And now all the time, never ending, he is questioning what mistakes he might have made that could still be rectified, what routine he might have left undone that could yet still be covered, how they will withdraw if the extent of the opposition prevents him attacking the compound, clearing it, and using it for shelter until an Apache arrives.  Johnny has lost both legs and much of his lower body.  For him a medical evacuation will not be necessary, but two men are down with very serious shrapnel wounds and a third has a bullet in his right shoulder, so that radio must be made to work.  Where is the air support?  How numerous is the enemy?  Where are they hiding?  Which way are they moving?  Weapons?  What do they have with them?  He needs a Chinook for medevac and an Apache for suppression, but where can the Chinook put down with reasonable safety, and will the Apache be willing to fire on the compound when there is a fair chance of there being non-combatants inside?  He has reached Johnny, whose bloody corpse has been lifted onto Buster’s broad shoulders, gives the signal to withdraw, and warns of probable danger from the right flank.  Should he order his men to conserve ammunition?  Bill, struggling ten yards ahead of him, carries the shredded  remains of Johnny’s legs, but he looks away, forcing himself to concentrate on the immediate problem of a fighting withdrawal without air cover.  He will think about his letter to Johnny’s pregnant girlfriend later.  The radio is working again, but no Chinook is available.  And the Apache will be late.  Now he must shepherd the lads back to base.  Concentrate on this.  Concentrate.  Tomorrow it will all have to be done again.  And the Taliban will know that.  Perhaps then there will be air reconnaissance before they set out … yeah, as if … This is his forty-ninth patrol.  Will he be home for Tom’s birthday?  Will he ever be home?  God, it’s hot.  Concentrate.  Concentrate.  Bill needs help.  He can hear him sobbing.

So, on four or five or six days a week a patrol commander may have to live with this type of pressure, week after week.  Remember: stress is cumulative.  (Perhaps JAGs aren’t told this.)  His principal enemies are said to be Afghan insurgents, but he has been well trained to deal with these.  The second line of enemies are in Whitehall, where few understand either the monumental size or the enormity of the tasks he has been given, and no one, it appears to him, wants to understand.  How else, he so often wonders, would inadequate numbers of men have been sent to Helmand right at the start of the campaign.  Why else is their equipment so inadequate for the work?  Why else has there never been top cover for their patrols?  Unanswered questions such as these have piled on the pressure, for the undeniable evidence of dereliction of duty, Whitehall’s Duty of Care, hits hard at the morale he labours so assiduously to foster among his men.  Whitehall repays his loyalty with disloyalty, reinforcing always the adage that Loyalty in today’s Armed Forces is a One-Way Street.

The patrol commander’s insoluble problems are too many to examine in a short blog entry, so let us look at just one key factor: Top Cover, or explicitly in this case – Very Close Top Cover alias ‘Buddy Cover’.

As the Armed Forces prepared for World War II they discovered they had no light aircraft, none at all, suitable for miscellaneous logistic and liaison duties, and for artillery spotting.  None had been designed for military use.  No one in the War Office appears to have foreseen the need (just as seventy years later no one in the MoD did).  The short-term solution developed into a very successful one with the requisition of 24 civil recreational aircraft recently built in England under licence from Taylorcraft in America.  A few of these were then fitted with a simple radio and sent to France, but were recalled in May 1940 as the German Army swept towards the Channel ports.  Soon production of the new Auster Mk I began with the fitting of a more powerful engine and a military radio to what was still effectively only Taylorcraft’s civil light touring aircraft.

The Auster Mk I first went into battle in December 1942 in Operation Torch (the invasion of Algeria and Morocco by a joint Anglo-American force, albeit principally American) as 651 Squadron providing Air Observation Post for two Infantry Brigade Groups on their advance into Tunisia against Rommel’s rear formations.  This was the start of a profitable relationship between ground units and slow-speed pilots providing what today is termed ISR – Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance – a contribution that inspired one Army historian[3] to write:  “Furthermore, each Air Observation Post pilot can know and be proud that his efforts saved many British and Allied lives, a fact that has been vouched for by many infantry and armoured corps commanders, both Senior and Junior.”

But they are not saving lives in Afghanistan, and this impacts directly on morale.  It impacts directly on the troops.  It increases the pressure on their commanders.  One news report on this court martial said of the Royal Marines in Helmand that their “key concerns were their limited numbers, their lack of air support, and overwhelmingly a feeling of isolation.”  This, the JAG should note, truly constitutes ‘betrayal’ — and those responsible for this genuine betrayal did not have the balance of their minds disturbed, they were not suffering from ‘combat stress disorder’, they knew not battle fatigue.

This ”lack of air support‘”is well known by the MoD and by the public.  All the promises of air support made in Whitehall and at Westminster remain undelivered, and the desperately needed Chinooks promised by the present Prime Minister are for 2015, after the withdrawal is complete.  (His predecessor refused the extra helicopters continually requested because, it has been reported, a woman at the FCO advised him they were unnecessary, and thus still the resupply convoys roll out each day to play at ‘Afghan Roulette’ on mined roads flanked by snipers.)  Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, who was killed in this way, was one of those officers whose regular reports lamenting the absence of air support and requesting its delivery were ignored[4].

Does Whitehall have an excuse?  No.  Absolutely none at all.  A successor to the Auster Mk I, built with 21st century technology, smaller in size but similar in payload and with much greater performance, has been available since that warrior leader, the Rt Honble Anthony C.L. Blair, sent insufficient men inadequately equipped into Helmand Province to defy the advice of Liddell Hart and Colonel T.E. Lawrence[5].  The aircraft is inexpensive to buy and economic to operate.  It was highly praised by the MoD’s own test pilots who evaluated it over a period of four winter months, and strongly recommended for the top cover of convoys and foot patrols by the MoD’s own tactical research analysts at the Defence Academy.  It was rejected by their superiors in Whitehall as unnecessary, then rejected again and again as unnecessary, while the numbers of dead, mutilated and psychologically afflicted continued to mount, and the cumulative combat stress on commanders of unescorted foot patrols took its toll.

All the proceedings to date suggest that the administrative decisions which have led to Sergeant Blackman’s present hell have been made by Whitehall warriors, either in suits and ignorant of war or in uniforms but have never had to fight for their lives and sanity in hellholes such as Helmand.  This blog has commented previously on the toxic treatment of the Armed Forces by certain members of the senior civil service in the MoD in Whitehall.  It has been explained in the words of Dr Johnson: “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea.”  The suits in MoD who have not been soldiers, finding their petty jealousies amplified by proximity to those who have seen real action, externalise what Johnson saw as their mean thoughts.  If there had been any involved who could think clearly, then the Defence Secretary, it is quite certain, would have been advised that this case was a ticking bomb, that it could wreak enormous damage on the impoverished morale of the Armed Forces, probably incurable long-term damage, and that a quiet enquiry finding a justifiable verdict of temporary insanity would be by far the best way to proceed.

If the Defence Secretary had been properly advised by his civil servants after the court martial had been convened and the case was known to the public, then he would have announced that justice must have priority over administrative convenience, and that if the failings of the MoD in the Helmand campaign would receive unwelcome attention they would all have to live with it.  But what the MoD now has is a SNAFU[6] FUBAR[7] to rival the Nimrod and the SOF Chinook SNAFUs.  Mr Hammond may be given all sorts of reasons why he has no need to become involved, but actually there is no escape for him.  The inexperienced Judge Advocate General’s charge of betrayal has ensured that.  Betrayal ! ! !  Betrayal?  Whose?

Sergeant Alexander Blackman, RM, was betrayed by Whitehall when he was told to cope with insufficient numbers of men, betrayed again when nothing was done to improve morale by reducing the sense of their isolation, betrayed again when the top cover he would have had in the last major war and in Korea (and the American Army and Marines always had in Vietnam) was refused, betrayed again now his family is knowingly endangered by the publication of his identity, and betrayed again when, as was Admiral Byng in respect of the Admiralty’s failures, he was court martialled and sentenced with maximum publicity (and his family wilfully exposed to attack from jihadists), to distract public attention from inadequacies in the Ministry of Defence.

No “unwelcome reality” suggesting the MoD’s incompetence will be tolerated, whatever the human price, for the greater that price, the more effective the smoke and mirrors will be.  Whatever happens, those couple of hundred lives and, too, the limbs lost in Helmand ambushes, must not risk their promotions, knighthoods and bonuses.

Admiral Byng copy


[1] Executed 1757 to conceal Admiralty failings.  Petition for pardon vetoed by the MoD in 2007.

[2] The faces of the counterinsurgency battle cube (the COIN-cube) merge the three spatial dimensions with the fourth, the Time-Morale Continuum, the crucial fifth, Finance, and the sixth, into which the insurgents disappear at will, hidden among the non-belligerent bystanders or changing identity to that of innocent farmers by merely dropping their weapons onto the ground and becoming invulnerable.

[3] The Air Observation Post, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Bazely, DSO

[4] Dead Men Risen, Orwell Prize winner, Toby Harnden

[5] The Point of the Spear, W.F. Hogarth

[6] SNAFU: Situation Normal All Fouled Up

[7] FUBAR: Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition

Thoughts on sentencing for battlefield crimes

The remarks by the Chief of the Defence Staff in respect of sentences not taking circumstances into account were surprising, not in what he said, for this would be the line straight from Anonymous in Downing Street, but in that he spoke at all when his words might be heard as an intervention in the due process of law.  However, his point that while retired officers might ask for leniency in the sentence, serving officers could not, is valid.

The relevance of this to the blog is that today I read the foreword to an anthology of articles published in the blog last year.  The foreword’s author, writing as Heraclitus, saw action as a battalion commander in World War II and thus earned the right to speak on battle stress and its effects.  The anthologist has suggested that part of what he wrote should be published now, before the book appears on Kindle next week.  Here is the extract.

“My one criticism of this book’s choices and comments is that the anthologist has paid insufficient attention to MORALE, the second of the classic Principles of War, this being prompted by Friday’s newspaper reports of the court martial verdict on the Royal Marine who killed an insurgent wounded during a Taliban attack on his unit and subsequently captured. Whether it was murder or a coup de grâce (and it should be remembered that this same sergeant, even if in this incident he appeared to show no evidence of grace, if faced with the certainty of one of his own men falling, badly wounded, into Taliban hands, would have administered to him also a coup de grâce), the deed was not done in an English garden on a quiet afternoon in a heavily-scented early June with cucumber sandwiches and Pimms on a tray.  It was done on a bloody battlefield light years from home, in a different universe far from loving and supporting families, and utterly remote from his earlier life’s frame of reference.

“This is not irrelevant. All who have been under direct fire know that feeling of sudden personal isolation when the mind recognises for the first time that there is someone out there “who seriously wants to kill me.” The world then changes; it is now a small globe with fuzzy edges, and the sharpest entities within it are friends and foes; the acutest memories are of disciplines, drills, and loyalties; and the only aim of importance is the survival of those mates who are fighting for your survival. That situation on the battlefield is driven and sustained by MORALE.

“These thoughts were triggered by this sentence from the Daily Mail report:

The key concerns were their limited numbers, their lack of air support, and overwhelmingly a feeling of isolation.’

“In that isolation will be found the answers to many mysteries the civilians lurking in Whitehall will not understand unless they study Field Marshal Viscount Slim, who wrote, on the basis of his brilliant and astounding triumph in Burma:

‘It is not that conditions are bad that upsets men so much as delay or failure to recognise that they are, and to take steps to improve them. For example, few things are so discouraging as to ask men to work with obsolete or worn-out equipment – yet if it can be shown that there is a good reason why it cannot be replaced at the moment and that at the same time everyone above them is going all out to get them better tools, men will come to take a fierce pride in overcoming their difficulties.’

“As all who have interviewed men and women returning from Afghanistan know well, the MORALE that sustained them was generated within their units, and the prevalent belief that those above them in Kabul and Whitehall and Westminster had betrayed them is a sentiment unaffected by a Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, assuring them that they were all showing the same bravery as were our athletes in the Peking Olympic Games! (Mr Brown, readers may remember, is recognised as an expert on courage and has published books on the subject.)

“These three concerns emerging in the evidence at the court martial should be the concerns of everyone, not just of the Royal Marines whose MORALE, and thus their fighting ability, was shaped by them. The ‘limited numbers‘ problem, owed initially to flawed MoD policies directed more by financial criteria than by rational appreciation of the military, political and economic situation in Helmand, emerged from the Director of Operational Policy who was “the policy lead ….. for the UK’s military engagement in Afghanistan” and a senior civil servant wholly devoid of military experience. The politicians involved, as still today, just did not understand.

“The ‘lack of air support‘ was well known, both by the MoD and the public.  Promises were made but not delivered, and the desperately needed Chinooks that were promised by the present Prime Minister are for 2015, after the withdrawal is complete. His predecessor, the expert on courage, refused the continually requested extra helicopters because, it has been reported, a woman at the FCO advised him that they were unnecessary, and thus the resupply convoys rolled out each day to play at Russian Roulette on mined roads decorated with daisy-chained IEDs and flanked by snipers. Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, who was killed in this way, was one of the officers whose regular reports on the absence of air power were ignored, as described in this book, and was one of the officers whose character – leading from the front, as he was when the IED exploded beneath him – fostered and then sustained the MORALE of his men on which his own commanders depended, and which Whitehall and Westminster fail to understand.

“The third concern, ‘a feeling of isolation‘ (which is primarily mental, and not just physical), is reinforced by every manifestation of failure in the ‘Duty of Care’ (which existed for centuries before the meretricious ‘Military Covenant’ was invented as an election aid). The limited numbers, the lack of air support and the feeling of isolation are all linked. Inadequate numbers needed force multipliers to compensate, most obviously in the form of Persistent Surveillance by the type of small military aircraft (SMAs) available in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and in British colonial wars such as the Malayan Emergency. As explained in this book, there were none in Helmand and many lives were needlessly lost in consequence. Without the SMAs the resupply convoys were increasingly necessary and limited by their vulnerability, rendering remote bases occasionally short of important items such as ammunition and batteries, and often, as Prince Harry reported, without the regular delivery of mail so crucial to the maintenance of MORALE. There is the key to isolation – no friendly movement to be seen, no convoys and no SMAs, and no one caring about the mail. They are quite alone! No one sees them, so no one cares!

“And then when the attacks come, the air support is late, buddies get killed, and their bodies, if not recovered, are mutilated and displayed as trophies to taunt the survivors. That is a different world, and those who sit in judgement on what happens there have a duty to recognise that. And the politicians have a duty too, to acknowledge the responsibility of those who left our infantry to fight without the numbers and equipment they need, without the air support they requested, and in isolation from what Whitehall thinks is normal. Part of the guilt for the crime for which this sergeant has been found guilty lies in Whitehall with those who created the isolation in which he lost his frame of reference.”