Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Man of His Word

Last week, Brigadier Ed Butler, the outgoing commander of the British force in the southern Helmand province, said that extra helicopters would enable them to press home the attack against the Taliban. “Helicopters have always been top of my priority,” he said. On the 7th October, a MoD spokesman said “The commanders have what they need to do the mission”. The commanders in fact have only an ageing fleet of 8 Chinook helicopters at their disposal. In an interview with BFBS, the armed forces’ broadcaster last weekend, Blair said: “If the commanders on the ground want more equipment, armoured vehicles for example, more helicopters, that will be provided. Whatever package they want we will do,” he said.

In the course of the last week, the government requested other Nato allies to provide additional capacity but without success. Now it appears that UK military chiefs are being forced to hire civilian aircraft and helicopters to support its troops after the US rejected a plea to help meet the shortfall. Yo Blair!, indeed. I know TB has got more important things on his mind, like his legacy, feuding with Gordo and Cabinet struggles over the precise detail of new gay rights legislation. But our military forces really do deserve better...


Ellee said...

They certainly do, I would hate to have a husband or son stationed over there. I imagine there are many other considerable shortage suffered by our troops too, including body amour. The least Blair can do is ensure our troops are properly equipped. The sooner we pull out the better.

CityUnslicker said...

The sane thing to do is to pull out from Iraq to reinforce In Afgahnistan. At least there is hope yet of turning the latter round witht he support of the people; which is not the case any longer in Iraq

Colin said...


In your view, "The sane thing to do is to pull out from Iraq to reinforce In Afgahnistan. At least there is hope yet of turning the latter round"

Historically, the Russian, British and Soviet armies have all been defeated in Afghanistan. Why would this now be different?

Furthermore, the warriors of Afghanistan are not endangering a major part of the world's oil supply but the expansion of Iran in the Middle East is a threat to our economy and security. Not to mention Iran's export of the Islamic revolution, support of terrorism and atomic bomb.

Why should Afghanistan be more important than the containment of Iran in the Middle East?

The Iraq has been controlled for centuries by foreigners such as the Turkish and British armies proving at least the feasibility which is totally lacking for Afghanistan.

Therefore, I am wondering whether it wouldn't make more sense to withdraw from Afghanistan and concentrate on Iraq?

Finally, the invasion in Iraq and the destruction of its army was clearly a major strategic mistake because now the American and British Forces have to do the job of containing Iran which once was done by Saddam and his regime. The result shows that strong desires and good intentions are a bad substitute for realism.

istanbultory said...

Ellee and cityunslicker,
Greetings. It's commonly thought that Tony Blair-the commander-in-chief- came to power with little interest in defence or foreign policy. Wrong.In a speech to a hand-picked audience in Manchester on 21 April 1997 Blair signalled his thinking but no one picked up on it.He criticised the Major government for 'the largest reduction of our military capability since the war', its negative vision in transatlantic relations and uncertainty over Britain's place in the world.He said New Labour would not make the same mistake.
He declared 'Century upon century, it has been Britain's destiny to lead other nations. That should not be a destiny that is part of our history. It should be a part of our future. We are a leader of nations or nothing'. Blair sought to be at the forefront of a new and turbulent world order from the very outset.
His incredible ego, his tremendous belief in his ability to persuade any other leader to his way of thinking (a belief clearly not borne out by events) and his conviction that he has enormous influence with the Bush administration have led us into a series of disasters (6 wars in five years). Iraq looks hopeless but Afghanistan is winnable...but only just.History will take a dim view of Bliar.

istanbultory said...

I agree with you on the debacle in Iraq but Afghanistan is far from insignificant.Whatever the complex issues of American and British military forces operating in Afghanistan against OBL, his Al-Qaida network and/or the Taliban, the country's geo-political significance is worth remembering.

A number of deals have been signed since the fall of the Taliban to ensure the piping of oil now flows solely through Afghanistan and Pakistan, closing the pipeline exit to the north of Afghanistan via Russia, Turkmenistan and other CIS countries.

The US needs a friendly government in Afghanistan to ensure that the Caspian Basin's oil and gas supplies are not transported through Russia, which would greatly strengthen Russia's stranglehold over the Central Asian Republics or via Iran, which the US wants thoroughly isolated.

Colin said...


I agree with your analysis of the importance of the oil pipeline through Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, I am wondering whether the pipelines cannot be better secured by paying the local tribes in Afghanistan for doing the job combined with air support if necessary. The BF seem to begin with his approach.

"“I feel real vitriol seeing our boys dying because of Pakistan,” said one British officer.. Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, has repeatedly complained of Pakistan’s role in providing a haven for Taliban fighters, saying they have openly run camps in Karachi and Quetta. “There is an open campaign by Pakistan against Afghanistan and the presence of coalition troops here,” he said."

In other words, the situation in Afghanistan is very similar to the situation in Iraq: a neighbouring country trying to expand its power by waging war on a democratic government and Western forces. The main difference is that Pakistan already has an atomic bomb whereas Iran is working on it.

You provided a correct description of the American strategy by writing "The US needs a friendly government in Afghanistan to ensure that the Caspian Basin's oil and gas supplies are not transported through Russia,.."

And access to the oil fields of the Caspian Basin is also the reason, why the US is pushing for the EU membership of Turkey. European civilization is sold for oil.

istanbultory said...

Thanks, Colin. Yes, the US push for EU membership of Turkey is primarily driven by strategic economic concerns. Many would agree with the idea that the European civilization is being sold for oil.

CityUnslicker said...

Colin, Istanbul.

Thanks for your comments. I still think though that realpolitk should determine our future strategy.

Iraq is beyond saving. Only massive US and UN reinfrcement would stand a chance of saving the day. It is not all iranian money but internal divisions and wahhabi sponsorship that imperil Iraq.

In any event there will be no US reinforcement and the UN withdrew last year. So Iraq is a defeat. However, as pointed out Afghanistan is more promising and we have not reached the tipping point. Pakistan's support is lukewarm and the Afghans themselves are no fans of the warlords. it is important that we win here to show our mettle.

Colin- How can we contain Iran if we cannot win in Iraq or Afghanistan? How could this be done? Our forces demoralised and our enemies strenghtened? A war in Iran would be virtually impossible given the terrain and religious hatred of the people for the Great Satan.

iran will have to be constrained policitcally and to do this we need to victory in Afghanistan.

Finally, the British Empire did win one war in Afghanistan as well as lose one. So there is ome historical hope.

Gracchi said...

They do but defence needs much more investment to carry out British foreign policy as it stands. Strikes me that Blair has wanted to have a foreign policy that needs more military forces. He's tried being a great power on the cheap.

Colin said...


"Colin- How can we contain Iran if we cannot win in Iraq or Afghanistan? How could this be done?"

In the same way British politicians always did it in their colonies by using "internal divisions", in other words by supporting ethnic or religious minorities, e.g. Tamils vs. Singhalese in Ceylon. It's called "divide and rule". Supporting Sunnites in their struggle against Schiites would help to prevent that Iran entirely takes over Iraq by the means of the Schiite population in Iraq.

"iran will have to be constrained policitcally and to do this we need to victory in Afghanistan."

The Iranians are not stupid. They know that the situation in Afghanistan doesn't threat them except if the British and Amercian forces wanted to wage a two-front war against Iran.

"British Empire did win one war in Afghanistan as well as lose one."

In other words, the victory in Afghanistan didn't last.

"Afghans themselves are no fans of the warlords."

It's not an opinion poll but war. And in war those with the weapons win.

"it is important that we win here to show our mettle."

It's not a soccer game either. Why should soldiers risk their lifes just to "show our mettle" if nothing else is won?

Croydonian said...

To adapt an old crack about Vietnam - the Afghans have defeated most of the Military Champions League, so maybe they should rule the world, or at least their own country.

(Purely flippant comment)

istanbultory said...

Gracchi- Exactly the point I was trying to make. Blair has had global ambitions but failed to make the requisite investment in military planning and infrastructure to support his divine will.

cityunlicker- I think the Chief of the UK Army was implicitly making the same case- Iraq is a lost cause, let's not lose in Afghanistan as well. Certainly, a war with Iran is now firmly off the agenda for all intents and purposes. The importance of a perceptible military victory for the US and its allies in Afghanistan is thus ever more important. I doubt whether diplomatic isolation and/or selective sanctions would achieve the required results with Tehran. A stabilised and more secure Afghanistan, achieved by US/UK fire power would quieten Iranian amibitions.

Colin- I wouldn't underestimate the extent to which Iran is intimidated by the presence of US/UK military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would be practically impossible for the Allies to practice divide and rule tactics and play the Sunnis off the Shia for example. For the Sunni minority, the US and its allies are vile occupiers who are responsible for the collapse of the security, privilege and authority they enjoyed under the previous regime. In any case, the Shias and Sunni are now preoccupied with settling scores with each other and are not liable to be manipulated by outsiders. Iran, Turkey and Syria are all concerned about the situation in Northern Iraq where the allies have quietly facilitated and nurtured the emergence of a pro-western, de facto Kurdish state since 1991. The Kurdish card is one of the few political assets remaining to the coalition in the event that Iraq completely dissolves....

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