Sunday, 18 April 2010

Crocodiles cry for soldiers

For those with eyes like mine - the illustration is detailed here.
"The SAS is at the centre of a furious row following allegations that private money was used to equip the regiment's soldiers with body armour for Afghanistan. The Sunday Telegraph has been told that a £400,000 "contingency fund", financed by private donors, was used to purchase body armour for members of 21 SAS, one of the service's two territorial regiments, prior to their deployment to Helmand in 2008. Cash from the fund was also used to pay for operational welfare equipment, personal kit and to pay-off the mortgages of two members of 23 SAS killed in southern Afghanistan in an earlier deployment. The disclosure has been seized upon by opposition MPs and former Army commanders of proof that the Armed Forces have not been properly funded while Labour has been in power. Tory MPs described the revelation as an "outrage and a disgrace" and it has prompted calls for an investigation into private funding of the Army. Details of the row came just days after the war in Afghanistan was highlighted as an election issue when Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said that troops in Helmand were under-equipped. The 21 SAS fund was created prior to the regiment's deployment to Afghanistan in 2008 and was supposed to be used to help families of soldiers who were either killed or wounded on operations. But after the regiment was mobilised in the spring of 2008, commanders feared the unit did not have access to enough equipment or body armour to properly prepare the SAS troops for their six month tour. The Sunday Telegraph understands that those individuals who contributed to the fund were asked and agreed to allow some of the money to be used to buy body armour, training and operational welfare equipment, such as computers and satellite telephones. The fund had also been used to "pay for operational welfare equipment, personal kit and to pay-off the mortgages of two members of 23 SAS killed in southern Afghanistan in an earlier deployment."

Earlier this year we had "The first woman soldier killed in Afghanistan and three SAS colleagues "would be alive today" if the Government had provided the proper equipment and training, relatives claimed last night." There is a small part of this story that resonates with me "the commander of the four soldiers had requested a replacement for their Snatch Land Rover but was refused due to equipment shortages. Soldiers also had to "acquire surreptitiously" mine detectors because they had not been issued enough." The SAS have an estimable record of not letting the Army Rules & Regulations get in the way of a mission - here they would seem to have got a result in IED detection equipment but not in a more appropriate vehicle. Major Sebastian Morley, the SAS squadron commander in Helmand, resigned accusing the government of being "cavalier at best, criminal at worst" for ill-equipping troops."

I have not seen any reports of the Regular SAS, 22 Regt, having to buy their own equipment. Frankly, if they deemed it essential they would have obtained it - from Aintworth's cupboard where he keeps his fur-lined hand-cuffs if needs be. It leaves this old soldier asking why the apparently different treatment. The TA role of SAS was not so warlike as the Regular battalion; The three regiments have different roles: the TA regiments specialise in Close Target Reconnaissance, while 22 SAS performs a wider range of tasks also including Counter Revolutionary Warfare, Counter Terrorism and acting as a Quick Reaction Force.

My concern here is that this all took place some while back and the facts have been available to anyone even remotely interested. So - what did the critics now so keen to advance with patriotic banners flying, do at the time to get a full explanation aired and any snafu sorted? Nothing - there was no political mileage in a populations where more than three quarters of the population is against the war anyway. So, the pumped up plumage of here and now is just so much cynical opportunism.

There is another matter that is being disregarded by those who seek our support in the coming hustings. The medical facilities in Afghanistan do wonders but they operate mostly as triage getting the seriously wounded stabilised so that they can be got to the specialist facilities in UK. Earlier this year, a Defence Committee found that "The Ministry of Defence is insufficiently prepared for a significant increase in military casualties, according to a cross-party committee of MPs.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) called for better contingency planning for the treatment of seriously injured soldiers should its facility at Selly Oak become full."

This complacency at facilities is continuing. The air bridge from war to UK is ruled out by the ban on flights due to the eruption of ash. This extends to Germany where the main US facility outside America is situated. It has been impossible to get anything from the MOD as to alternative arrangements other than the anodyne one size fits all answer "would be treated in coalition facilities" Just what these might be has not ben detailed. Is it such a secret? Or is the MOD response just a polite way of saying 'fuck knows'?

If I were related to a soldier serving in that waste of time situation that is our 'effort' in Afghanistan I would have a 24/7 worry as to his safety and welfare. Propaganda has said that Selly Oak was "Just Wonderful Darling" desp[ite that committee finding but not knowing just how my loved one might access it is an intolerable and unnecessary burden. Plenty of constructive ground there for political pressure in debates - bets it will arise? Pontoons and 5 card tricks only.

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