Sunday, 17 October 2010

Seal'ed documents

The Sunday Telegraph has come out strong on the hostage rescue operation. The article is headed "Linda Norgrove: how the rescue operation was bungled. The rescue operation was planned meticulously, so how did it lead to the aid worker's death?" We may never know.

The longer it takes to assemble the evidence and come to a judgement, the more the fabric of the evidence is abraded. The rescuers came from a very specialised team and will have discussed the incident immediately afterwards. Unless efforts were made to segregate all individuals when the initial suicide bomber idea was disputed, debate will have continued. Men who live and work very closely develop their own esprit de corps. Where three or four are gathered together and the rescue mission arises they will come to a consensus as to what happened. Not from any improper intent to pervert the inquiry but where there is a difference of recollection, the version proffered by the strongest individual is the one that will prevail and be reiterated when personnel are interviewed. That is assuming the questions put are not answered by "It all happened so quick I don't really remember in detail"

The team used are described as "The highly secret unit, equivalent to the Special Boat Service of the Royal Marines, is composed of operatives battle-hardened from years of "kill-capture" missions waged in the mountains of Afghanistan since 2001" Just what is meant by 'kill-capture', we cannot know but the Wikileaks article contained references to what were really assassination squads that engaged in 'kill-capture'. We may assume from the drone penetrations into Pakistan that defeating the enemy has priority over fussy procedures to determine actual guilt. And that is where things could go very very wrong.

The results of any investigation will attract world-wide interest. Officialdom will not want it bruted about that such units exist. If so, the statements taken by US Army CID will be very much redacted before getting into general knowledge and the whole thing veers into politics and away from a post-engagement debate as to tactics. There are already questions that need to be put to the planners of the operation and those who agreed that these should be implemented. "The special operations forces team flew to the site on a night with no moon and "quick roped" down to the ground, immediately getting into a large and lengthy firefight, during which at least nine militants were killed."

The operation was against an isolated community in very remote country. At night, the slightest noise can be heard from a long way away. Certainly, a helicopter hovering overhead at a height to allow rappelling directly into compound would have been heard with sufficient time for the hostage-holders to get into position before the first attacker was on the ground. One of the factors that has been advanced has been awareness that the captors were absolutely ruthless and the value of Ms Norgren's life was zero. Even if she were not in fact killed by a suicide bomber, the likelihood that she would be executed must have been very high.

Another problem for the organisers are the reasons advanced for using an American team at all. The excuse was that the SAS were very busy elsewhere, the Americans knew the terrain described as very arduous. It shows scant regard for the value of the life of a UK citizen if it really was considered impossible to get together a SAS team of about a dozen for a,at most, four day absence from 'elsewhere' Image intensifiers (night sights)do not work in total darkness and there has been no mention that thermal imagery was available for every man to be so equipped. Knowledge of terrain must be immaterial - the Regiment is well used to operating in Yemen and other difficult areas. Satellite etc photographs of the compounds and surrounds would be available in such detail as to plot a route from remote landing point to front door. Loading way points into a GPS device would make the terrain problems look like the M6 on a Friday night. The SAS specialise in a procedure where troops are parachute dropped at a high level and then use free fall techniques to glide silently to the ground. Designed and taught for clandestine insertions.

Hague and Cameron are fingered as having given the final go ahead. So far as I am aware, neither has any direct personal knowledge of clandestine operations so they would only have considered the political aspect. I can see some Sir Humphrey giving them the briefs with a comment "The spams have a military plan" and that would be as much vetting as as the tactics ever got.

The main point much advanced by those supporting the saga is that 'we' did not kill the woman; the terrorists did. I find that an argument that I will leave for debate by better philosophers than I but it does seem that things could have been done better.

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