Friday, 25 June 2010

Valhalla across the Styx

I am somewhat heartened to discover that persons of learning and study agree with me that we are in an unsolvable cluster*ck in Afghanistan.
"The original plan for a post-Taliban Afghanistan called for rapid, transformational nation building. But such a vision no longer appears feasible, if it ever was. Many Americans are now sceptical that even a stable and acceptable outcome in Afghanistan is possible. They believe that Afghanistan has never been administered effectively and is simply ungovernable. Much of today's public opposition to the war centers on the widespread fear that whatever the military outcome, there is no Afghan political end state that is both acceptable and achievable at a reasonable cost."
So, why are these prophets without honour in their own country? (maybe because they cannot spell 'their' in the url?) The recent change in military leadership might afford the Supreme Commander the opportunity to trim sails to reach a safer harbour. One has but to read some of the President's explanation for accepting McChrystal's resignation to appreciate that he too recognises that one of greatest Nations faces a very serious threat from a nondescript horde engaged in a poorly resourced offensive.
"We need to remember what this is all about. Our nation is at war. We face a very tough fight in Afghanistan. But Americans don't flinch in the face of difficult truths or difficult tasks. We persist and we persevere. We will not tolerate a safe haven for terrorists who want to destroy Afghan security from within, and launch attacks against innocent men, women, and children in our country and around the world. So make no mistake: We have a clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban's momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity. We are going to relentlessly apply pressure on al Qaeda and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same."
So, how does one see his resolve stack up against the egg-heads in 'thier'(sic) summation?"Let me say to the American people, this is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy. General Petraeus fully participated in our review last fall, and he both supported and helped design the strategy that we have in place. So, no indication there that anything will change as respects WHAT they will do, merely HOW. Will that be a sufficient tactic to overcome Biddle & Cos concerns? After all, whilst the Rolling Stone article, mentions serious doubts and objections amidst some of the grunts and GI Joes there had been no real manifestation that suggested any lack of fighting spirit - rather the opposite in fact.

If we are to achieve Obama's vision - "We will not tolerate a safe haven for terrorists who want to destroy Afghan security from within, and launch attacks against innocent men, women, and children in our country and around the world." - we have to abandon the policy of doing everything only as and where it is supported by Afghan desires and imperatives. We have to win despite their wishes; there is too much at stake to be risked by going along with a Nation that, demonstratively, cannot fully support and enrich itself.

If this means riding rough shod over the independence of another Nation, so be it. Already, too many have crossed into Valhalla. Charon must by now have sufficient payment as would single-handedly deal with cleaning up the Mexican Gulf.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Just another Custer?

The Rolling Stone article that led to the dismissal of the man they call The Runaway General is now on the Internet. It shows a deeply flawed man who, basically, damn near succeeding in fooling all of the people all of the time. My service adages included "any damn fool can live in discomfort"; I was never happy with the four hours sleep, one meagre meal a day and seven mile runs every morning. To what end that lifestyle - Norman Schwarzkopf was no greyhound but he made a pretty good fist of the first Gulf War.

In my book, Gen. Stanley McChrystal was a con artist who had been riding a lame horse for some time. His indiscretions are listed in the Rolling Stone article where he comes across as the leader of a pirate band. Reading the article, I get the impression that it was not so much the remarks that cooked his goose as was the lifting of the veil revealing just what was really happening under his command. The fact that he had three strikes before he was out suggests that the President - the Supreme Commander of US forces, lacked military experience. This should not have been a great problem; he has ample dogsbodies to advise him but it seems they also were mesmerised by Jumping Jack Flash or were unable to make their concerns clear to their boss. There has to be something wrong where a man with the prisoner abuse allegations against McChrystal got anywhere senior to the Executive washroom attendant after Abu Gharib.

For my part, I care little what this episode has done to the war effort. It will fail anyway. My annoyance lies in the fact that we were holding onto the coat-tail of this eccentric. We cannot know how many of our deaths and what trauma are attributable to his commands and methods. The Stone report includes snippets of what his own men think his COIN policies have cost them.

It is to be hoped that the upheaval will lead to new policies. No more giving in to Karzai's demands. No more softly softly. The attitude has to change. If Afghanistan wants to get sorted, then the Afghans must do more. Take for example events such as this. Just what is going on here?

Well, it is a tribal meeting in some village at the back of beyond. Traditionally, a meeting where all relevant stakeholders are present or represented and where an issue is discussed, ideally until an agreement is reached. There is no fixed agenda, no single convener or facilitator, and no scheduled closing session. The resolution of a jirga is supposed to be binding, but not everybody follows social norms and with the erosion of tribal authority and the fragmentation of communities, enforcement has often become difficult. Let me just repeat that - "There is no fixed agenda, no single convener or facilitator, and no scheduled closing session" Any junior junior junior management student will have no problem in determining the outcome. All will want to convince themselves how manly is the timbre of their voice, how balanced and forensically sharp are their contributions and just what an all round damned good fellow he is.

Remember we are talking about tribes here where for centuries there have been feuds of sheep grazing, access to water and doe eyed young boys. Whatever does get any consensus will be local and will have been dealt with in total ignorance of any central Government plan. Not just that they will not know what Karzai wants. He will not know what they want. Some will say that we should be guiding these sheep herders into meetings MBA-style. Sorry, no time and no wish by them to change what has 'worked' for centuries. We will have the meetings and tell them what has been decided and what they have to do in terms of compliance.

This new confrontational style will need to be maintained across the board. If Karzai protests at civilian deaths, point out to him that it is in the community river that the terrorist fish swims. He can reduce the death toll by getting his own people to catch some of the fish - they know damned well who they are.

Involving Afghans in their own salvation has to be a common thread. We see many images of villages. Lots of men sitting around on their haunches. Just waiting for some soldier to life the tit into their mouths. If they want schools, if they want medical facilities, if they want proper sanitation - they can break the ground and do the labouring. Once they have got to putting the roofs on, we will fit them out. If they choose to live in squalor - so be it. They are prepared to work at growing opium and processing the product - doubtless they would abandon that if we took the work over.

We have to accept a war of attrition. Terrorist recruits have to know that taking the wage is exactly the same as becoming a suicide bomber - they will die. Every dead terrorists is one less who can make and install IED. Why should we be the only ones with grieving widows and confused kids? It need not be a big deal - our planning should include performance and attainment targets which, if not met, lead us to the doors marked Exit. If ANA and ANP desert, cease the training altogether - their running away demonstrates they are not wishing to become involved. Why flog a dead horse?

At a time when our Government is quite clear that our financial state will lead to the end of civilised life for most of us, it is total nonsense to be spending the sort of money we are allocating to a situation where the majority of Afghans do not comprehend any improvement and seem less than enthusiastic in direct participation in the remedies we seek to advance.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Reinforce failure

Lt General Nick Parker is No 2 at the Isaf and has today repeated an earlier call he made for support rather than sympathy in Afghanistan. I suspect the actual article is behind a paywall so I will insert his points in the blog.

He hangs his item on the death of the 300th soldier. "it is important to remember that every fatality in Afghanistan is terrible for family, friends and fellow soldiers; this is just as true for the first as for the 300th of our fallen. Nor must we forget those who have suffered life-changing injuries. It is self-evident that, for those intimately connected with these heartbreaking events, there can be little consolation, and at a personal level I very much doubt that the sacrifice of their loved ones can ever be “worth it”. He certainly has that right. So many deaths are due to almost casual violence where there was no connection between the mechanism of death and the deceased. Were I the parent of a son who lost his life when, for example, going to rescue a comrade, I could derive value from his actions and it might be 'worth it'

To learn that his bosses saw some point in his being introduced to some fly-ridden midden in a land of poverty and misery would do nothing at all to lessen my sense of loss. This war has been running now for nine years - what do we have to show for it? Where is there any evidence that the nation has done anything to improve their own conditions other than to sit waiting for us to stuff money in the outstretched hands of their corrupt leaders? They must certainly be aware of the graft but have not found any intention of bettering themselves by rising against it? Is there no Tienanmen Square in Kabul.

Parker writes "President Karzai’s trip to Washington last month set the conditions for a long-term plan, founded in a strategic agreement between Afghanistan and the US that will be developed this year. This, coupled with the vital investment of other international partners including the UK, will underwrite Afghanistan’s future. It provides the “prize” of enduring support to a normal, developing country" Note the clever use of a conditional "enduring support to a normal, developing country" This takes care of any cessation of support not being rewarded on the grounds that the country is not normal and developing - does anyone really believe Afghanistan is such?

The general concludes "Our task is not to run roughshod over its emerging capability, but to respect Afghan sovereignty. We must accept Afghan leadership and solutions and the international community’s approach must be better co-ordinated and aligned" What this says to me is that we will not seek to use our levels of ingenuity and determination but merely go along with what a backward multi-tribal Nation thinks works. Take just one area - the attitude to women. His suggestion would not allow us to spearhead any improvement from the Dark Age attitudes. This issue of involvement comes up again where he writes "The most important ingredient of success is an aggressive political strategy that can build on the improving security. It should draw further strength from improvements in governance and development and a sense of the inevitability of progress" If Afghans are to lead, where is there evidence of their aggressive political strategy? Their leader sulks and threatens his own arrangements with the Taliban. His force can point to areas of improving security. There may be such areas where the ink-blot has spread a few hundred metres but there are more where we are standing still or holding on by our eye brows. How secure could one feel in hearing of a loved one posted to Sangin? The much advertised and heralded Panthers Claw operation is making very hard going. We heard much about the Scott of The Arctic-style expedition to get a turbine to Kajaki dam - see what the situation is there "The main power source for Kandahar city should be the Kajaki Dam in neighbouring Helmand province, but a six-year-old plan to repair it has been repeatedly delayed by fighting and the difficulty of securing roads long enough to get supplies in. Two existing hydroelectric turbines at the dam were repaired by helicoptering in supplies at a cost of $7 million, according to a report by the U.S. government, which is funding the effort. Officials managed to get a new third turbine up to the dam with a weeklong, 4,000-troop convoy in September, but now have decided the road is too insecure to truck in supplies. They aren't sure it's worth the expense to fly in 900 tons of cement and aggregate to complete the project". Air freight of $7 million and then the costs of the wasted turbine and getting it there. How mant other Claws and dams are hidden under the carpet where the Army controls the media?

One might find consolation in Parker's closing offer "The Prime Minister has said that we are six months into an 18-month strategy; the security element of that strategy is now well set to support the other actors who will play a part in resolving the conflict" This tends to suggest that there is a strategy and that this has a duration of 18 months with one third already passed. Does this mean that withdrawal would be reconsidered if the achievements Parker outlines are not attained?

If the article is walled off, many will not be able to access it. That means they would not see this comment "The myth and error that to support the troops you must support the mission is peddled here, as it is almost everywhere, as if it were some unquestionable absolute truth – and it isn’t. Bringing the troops home ‘now’ isn’t the act of disloyal peaceniks disgruntled hippies or militant political opponents of anything and everything that the state engages in. Bringing the troops home from a folly, that is now, is an act of support and solidarity far in excess of merely reinforcing failure. And perchance were the author of this piece to find some objectivity and perspective, then he too would be calling for the immediate withdrawal from this ill-conceived Afghan adventure and not issuing some clarion call to once more ‘go over the top’ and advance slowly towards those machine guns..."

Monday, 21 June 2010

Shallwe Sharia?

New banks that were set up to appeal to the UK's nearly two million Muslims and Sharia-compliant products created by the existing high street lenders have failed to make much of an impact, critics say.

The main aims of Islamic finance include the avoidance of riba, or usury, and making sure that money is not used to support industries considered to be unethical, such as alcoholic beverages, pornography and gambling. HSBC Amanah, probably the most credible and efficient provider of halal banking in the UK, has dramatically reduced its dedicated Islamic banking staff in Britain, and its marketing volume has been turned way down.

Mohammad Qayyum, the director-general of the Institute of Islamic Banking and Insurance in the UK, said that there had not been "a concerted campaign by banks to make people aware" of available products. Another hurdle is that banks often price their Islamic products more expensively than alternatives, he said.

I find it difficult that Sharia, the backbone of how to live Muslim-style, needs a campaign to make them aware of the facility. Also, given that banks would have to employ extra staff to debate these accounts, it would seem reasonable to expect cheap service. I realise that my bank will invest my funds in something that will make money for them but who should pay where income from interest is not halal? Sharia also demands that all parties in a financial transaction must share all of the associated risks. Huh! how likely is that post-Northern Rock.

The linked article reports "However, there could be some improvement with legislative changes designed to make it easier for banks to offer Islamic products, which should reduce their price.
The Treasury has made changes in the tax law to accommodate Sharia products, Mr Qayyum said, and the FSA is consulting on a new framework for the issuance and regulation of sukuk, or Islamic bonds. Be interesting to know just what these moves entail and the costs to my taxes. I would soon end up in chokey were I to increase my income at the expense of another.

Adoption of Sharia in UK is still loudly and frequently demanded. There is agitation for the adoption of Sharia in non-Western societies, and its impact in four areas:
* Family and schooling
* Institutionalization of Shariah by non-Muslim governments ("Parallel Shariah")
* Criminal aspects
* Approach to Women"

Sharia courts operate in some areas of the UK. It is unlikely that the Government will do anything to dismiss these alien ideas which action would attract wailing and beating of breasts from the usual parties. The failure of these religious attitudes in banking must surely go a long way in demonstrating that there is little they can offer in any area of UK life for the majority.

The fact that the system seems to work elsewhere in the world must be associated with the fact that in those places there is no alternative. Sharia or die; if a female, most likely both. There is no place in our secular society for giving dominance to a foreign religion's ideas. We know all about the Spanish Inquisition thank you

Interviews with tea and biscuits

Not often that I get close to current affairs but I am VERY close to this tit-bit follow on to Saville.
More than 150 killings committed by soldiers during Northern Ireland's Troubles were never fully investigated because of an informal understanding between the police and the army.
It was not an informal understanding - I know this because I was the guy who initiated it, discussed it at very high level with the CC of the RUC, presented it and had it approved by the GOC NI and then went on to supervise a unit that ran to 60 investigators working in accordance with the Protocol. Certainly, between mid-70 and mid-72 it was a situation fully known by all RUC detectives; none of whom ever questioned why they were not turned out when someone was shot by the Army. It is not primarily a HET finding either. Saville went fully into the Protocol and included the Brief that was issued.

Most of the shootings were in or very close to Republican areas and took place during some form of demonstration or disturbance by Nationalist sympathisers. These were so dangerous for members of the RUC that the uniformed branch were never in attendance during any riot or subsequent follow up. The majority of the force were nominally Protestant and quite a few were polarised - on more than one occasion I heard the sentiment "If no one worries about a policeman or soldier being shot dead, I'm sure not going to worry about some dead Fenian".

The later-day Saints of HET speak of an ideal world. There was absolutely no way that RUC would or could collect statements from the civilian populace. The RUC forensic facilities were minimal. Their Scenes of Crime officers would not attend crime scene even if offered military cover; a process dangerous for the troops as it put them at risk of further attack. Most Catholic areas had what they termed as Citizen Defence Committees who refused to allow the community to speak with any investigator. They would have University students record statements and hand these to us. We could not know what coaching had taken place. The New Tricks staff of HEC would have no direct experience of street life in Belfast. It was a war zone and far different to some after-hours punch up in a London pub.

The statements that were taken were passed to appropriate RUC stations within two days of any shooting. I cannot recall that we ever generated any response from detectives arising from the content of these statements. The dissident forces were well practised in agit-prop; despite the wildest allegations none from the civil force ever asked us what we were doing regarding any shooting.

The suggestion that no soldier was ever charged is inaccurate. There was the case of Pte Clegg who was alleged to have unlawfully killed a joy-rider. That had the benefit that it was investigated exactly as it is suggested all shootings should have been and even that does not satisfy the extremists when a full court process cleared him of all charges.

No comment is made as to what degree of investigation was undertaken by RUC in the case of civilians murdered by extremists of either persuasion where there had been no military involvement. When three members of a Scots Regiment were slaughtered after having been lured from a bar in Belfast, the senior detective for the area was very clear in stating that his men could do nothing and I had to request help from a Met police squad then in Belfast on another matter. They identified the team responsible within a month as a result of information they received. Two had gone outside the direct jurisdiction of RUC, the third was shot dead by the military in the rioting at the time of Internment. So, the RUC could have dealt with military shootings had they wished so to do. Fact is they felt safer letting someone else do their job.

The comment regarding 'tea and sandwich' inquiries is not new - or even original. Yes - these were sometimes provided but even Gene Hunt would not have withheld them. The suggestion that "More than 150 killings committed by soldiers during Northern Ireland's Troubles were never fully investigated because of an informal understanding between the police and the army" bears examination in terms of workload. 150 in three years averages 50 per year but in fact 1972 was a very violent years. The Saville Inquiry has spent nigh on £200 million and a long time investigating 13 deaths in a short time so what resources would RUC have needed to undertake four every month?

The allegation that "The agreement made in 1970 between the chief constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the army in Northern Ireland was revoked in September 1973 because it was "unsatisfactory" is also misleading. Northern Ireland had a new DPP and there was a move to reintroduce RUC onto the streets in a visible manner by having them undertake patrols escorted by the military. As a corollary, detectives were more to the forefront. This was a political initiative. Can anyone point to any rise in charges being laid against the military follow-on reversion to RUC primacy?

Can the "Derry-based human rights organisation, the Pat Finucane Centre" illustrate any great increase - if any - in prosecutions of Army personnel following them being allowed primacy in the investigation of shootings by the

HET was part of Tony Blair's effort to put so many goodies on the Peace Process table that would tempt the hard-liners into abandoning violence and continue their SF objective by political means. Who knows what agenda or directives they might have? There may be relative peace in Ulster but current arrests of bombers and murderers do not seem to reflect the freedom for RUC to work as HET and the Finucane activists feel was possible.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Bottoms up

This relates to a wine cellar maintained for government hospitality.
Foreign Office minister Henry Bellingham revealed that Government Hospitality, which manages the cellar, had spent £17,698 on new stock since May 6 - bringing the total value to £864,000 - though he insisted the standard practice of buying wines young saved money for the taxpayer.

Well, there's nice eh? It gets better "GH usually buys new stock on two or three occasions each year, as advised by the GH Advisory Committee for the Purchase of Wine. Does that Advisory Committee count as a Quango then and what will we seen when it comes to a "Bonfire of the Quangos"

I had been in doubt as to the FoI process. Really sensitive questions get lost or the answer is 'too much trouble/cost/political sensitivity' but this all slipped out from Parliamentary questions and FoI. I suppose one cannot begrudge the visitors a drop of red but I wonder why wines such as the likes of Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Mouton Rothschild figure on the cellar book. Horrids will sell you a bottle, 75cl, of the Rothschild for £1,000 so IronBru it isn't.

My grandmother used to speak of some generous people who would 'give their arse away and sh*t through their ribs' and we seem to have collected a few in the Advisory Committee for the Purchase of Wine. And how much do they cost us? Attending wine tastings will require that they are chauffeured home. The wine will not look after itself so a cellarman must be employed at a premium above the national wage.

In the scheme of things, this is all small beer (sorry!) but is indicative of the need for root and branch review of just about everything in this sorry country of ours. Osborne's Hordes cannot do everything at once but closing down this cellar would take some junior functionary less than a morning.

Close it, sell off the contents (if the Committee have been doing their work properly those cru will have appreciated in value sitting in the dark) and sub-contract the provision of wine to Berry Bros, Majestic or that spiv in France. It would not save the country but in accord with the Manifesto of the Political Envy party would give many of us a warm feeling. If it keeps even one nurse employed, it is a damn fine thing.

I am off to my wine cooler to prepare a nice Tesco £3.50 white ready for Sunday lunch. Might even spring for a dessert wine to go with the strawberries.