About Doug Beattie

I am a soldier and author. These BLOGs are the by-product of my own personal thought stream from 30 years in the military.

Security first

There is no such thing as a racing certainty but – ironically, tragically and unconscionably – the closest you’d get in these troubled times is a continuation of the decline in the number of members of the armed forces.

 

There can be no doubt – and I am in absolutely no doubt – that the primary role of the state is to protect its citizens: their lives and their limbs, and their property. Everything that follows – healthcare, economic prosperity, education – is dependent on national and personal security.

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So you would like to think, indeed you would expect, that the number of soldiers, sailors and airmen (and this argument extends to the police and the security services) reflects the current needs of the nation.

 

It goes without saying that there will be times that greater strength is required, and times when less is required. But it should also go without saying that you have some contingency, some slack in the system, that allows for a robust and rapid response to reasonably-perceived threats.

 

Threats such as terrorism.

 

So how have we come to the situation where successive recent administrations have presided over a steady decline in personnel numbers and there are reports that more is to come?

 

At the height of World War II there were 10,000 service personnel in per 100,000 UK citizens.

 

During Suez it was around 1,500.

 

During The Troubles and the Falklands 600.

 

Kosovo and Sierra Leone, 350.

 

Iraq and Afghanistan, 300.

 

Today… 220, the lowest ratio for a century.

 

Defence is not merely a numbers game; the War on Terror is not just about ‘boots on the ground’, it is also about deploying technology. But you can monitor as many social media sites as you like; without someone to act on the intelligence gathered you are impotent.

 At times like this it should be a case of all hands on deck. There will be empire builders who, even in the face of the carnage, protect the interests of their own establishments, cliques and enclaves. But any politician worth voting for will tear down the walls, bang heads together and ensure any of those charged with looking after the rest of us are appropriately funded, resourced and staffed.

 

As an old soldier, as the UUP’s justice spokesman, as an ordinary citizen of Northern Ireland, as a human who shares the revulsion and horror of recent and past terror attacks, I understand the need for law and order, for adequate national defence, for security services that are up to the job of keeping us safe.

 

I abhor conflict. I long for peace. But while there are those who think otherwise you need to be ready for both.

 

Beyond party politics: looking at the person

By Philip Gomm

I first met Doug Beattie a decade ago. Battered and bruised, he was sitting quietly beside a make-shift airstrip in the Afghan desert.

I was in the depths of Helmand as a television reporter.

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Doug was there carrying out his duty. His face was battered and bruised. He was far from family and friends, far from most of his colleagues in the Royal Irish Regiment, just an old soldier dispatched to do his nation’s bidding; trying to ensure the security of his own country and protect the innocent people of the country he had been sent to.

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Sat there under camouflage netting, and in the face of my persistent questioning, he told me his story. It was not hard to get a measure of the man. He spoke openly but modestly, emotionally but not angrily. He recounted his recent bloody exploits against the Taliban and a more distant past encapsulating service across the globe in the interests of those who needed help.

We have been friends ever since.

It came as no surprise to me when, years later, after returning to Northern Ireland for good, he entered the political arena on his doorstep. As a unionist councillor, as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and now as a candidate in the Westminster election.

Today politics is, for many of us, a dirty word. Its participants viewed with disdain. Yet my opinion is that there are still those attracted to politics for the right reasons rather than the wrong; because they want to make a positive difference, not put their snouts in the trough. My personal view is that Doug Beattie is one of those good men.

To my mind politics requires participants – the public and the politicians – to go beyond the partisan. UUP, DUP, SDLP or no bloody P at all, there are times when choosing which candidate to vote for is as much about the type of person they are as it is the party they represent.

You don’t have to like them. You don’t have to always agree with them. But you do have to believe that they will stand up for your rights and those of everyone else in the community; that they will champion their constituency and fight to make it prosper.

They must act with integrity and honesty, not vanity or boast. They should wear their hearts on their sleeve but make decisions with their head.

In my experience Doug Beattie tries to do all these things. He is not perfect. Far from it. He is not always right. But he strives to be both.

I won’t have the opportunity to vote for Doug Beattie. I only wish I did.

Philip Gomm is a former ITV journalist. He is now Head of External Communications for the RAC Foundation. This is a personal view.

No need for international team to investigate Troubles’ deaths

I’ve worked alongside an international police force – a United Nations’ operation to fill the law and order vacuum left in post-conflict Kosovo after the withdrawal of the Serbs. It worked there. Indeed, it had to work for there was no alternative. Foreign expertise needed to be drafted in.

That is not always the case.

Take Northern Ireland.

The clamour around Stormont for an Historic Investigations Unit (HIU) has been voluble and persistent, with a proposed remit to investigate the 1,800 Troubles-related deaths, including around 400 attributed to the military, police and other forces of the state.

All well and good; except we already have an effective and professional police force. It’s called the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and interacts on an equal standing with colleagues across the UK, not to mention the Garda Siochana and Interpol.

The PSNI has its own section dedicated to exploring the events of recent history: the Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB).

With all this in place it is hard to see why an HIU would deliver a better result for the friends and family of the deceased who, rightly, still demand answers. It is harder still to see why the HIU would need to recruit from abroad – not just Ireland and the rest of the UK, but continental Europe and even South Africa – to carry out its work.

In effect it will be an international police force, with a strength of between 250-300 investigators and other staff, working parallel to the PSNI but very separate from it.

The HIU will be neither servants nor agents of the crown but an autonomous force with operational control falling to the Director of the HIU, not the PSNI Chief Constable. It will have a substantial budget allocated by the Department of Justice through the policing board and is set to run for an initial five years, with the provision for one year extensions.

The resources being muted for the HIU are impressive. But why could those same resources not be allocated to the PSNI team?

The Ulster Unionist Party is the only political party at the Stormont Castle talks who are against any form of international police force being brought into Northern Ireland to police its citizens. Which is not the same as saying that the LIB should not be regularly reviewed to ensure it is compliant with the ideals of the proposed HIU. If there are shortcomings in the current set up then why not correct them rather than dismantle an already-established system?

Northern Ireland is not Kosovo. There is no law and order vacuum here and there is no requirement for a parallel international police force operating alongside the PSNI to investigate UK citizens.

Revisiting A Memory 

It’s not the booming sound you would normally associate with an explosion – it is something more muffled, almost restrained, that marks out a suicide bomb exploding. In the moment of detonation the air is filled with smoke, debris, shrapnel and something else – a thin red mist.
The coppery taste and smell of blood invades your senses. There is a smell of burning; of clothes and of flesh. The damage will have been done instantaneously by shipyard confetti – nails, nuts, bolts, ball bearings – scything through skin and bone.

In the second or two after the blast, an unreal silence falls, with people stunned to a standstill, grasping to comprehend the almost incomprehensible.

The quiet passes all too quickly and then the screaming starts: the injured crying out for help, the survivors searching for friends and relatives, the newly-bereaved overwhelmed by the loss of loved ones.

The utterly devastating assault of a suicide bomb explosion on the body and mind defies adequate description. Perhaps that is for the good. One cannot understand such an attack unless you are there to witness it, but if you do then you wish you had been anywhere else in the world but there.

I know all this because I have been on hand for two such attacks; one in 2006, the other in 2008. Both in Afghanistan.

Each was devastating: several people left dead, many injured, many more traumatised. You may leave the scene of the blast but the memory of it follows you home. There will be days, weeks, months when I forget. And then something happens and it all comes flooding back. Something like Manchester. And with a horrific twist.

For my experiences were not wholly unexpected. I was a man in uniform. A soldier. A target. But not necessarily the people who died around me. But the killing at the concert cannot be explained away as a legitimate act of war. It was an act of terror, of hate, of butchery.

Yet, I also know the pain of watching children die. For the other vivid, blood-red memory I carry from Afghanistan is that of Shabia. A tiny girl with terrible, mortal injuries caused by a British Army shell. In the last moments of her life she was thrust at me by her grieving, accusing grandfather.

The old man did not speak my language. He did not need to. For the message was clear in his eyes. They were pleading eyes, accusing eyes, helpless eyes.

It did not matter to him, or to me, that I had not fired the mortar bomb that did the damage. I was guilty by association. It was a term I hate but one that explains it easiest – collateral damage.

I think of Shabia often. When I look at my own children and grandchildren. When I look at coverage of events like Manchester. 

I will never hide from my part in the devastation of war but I tell myself there is a difference. And I believe there is. A big one.

In Afghanistan, I know that we did everything we could to avoid innocent casualties. It was the thing we feared most. I would have given anything to have changed what happened that day.

But in Manchester, the bomber did everything he could to cause innocent casualties. The people he slaughtered were not collateral damage; they were the focus of the attack.

Politically Unpopular Conflict

Afghanistan-Taliban

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

It is a soldier’s job to fight wars, to close with and kill the enemy, to follow orders even though the consequence may be death or serious injury. It is the soldier who knows fear and faces hardship. Even if their endeavours are successful they are quickly forgotten. And if those endeavours are seen as ending in failure then abandonment follows faster still.

But if a soldier’s lot is to go to war it is the politician who sends them to war to stand by them. After all, it is often politicians’ failure to deal with global frictions that result in conflict and they are no less responsible for the fallout that follows.

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Helmand 2010

Therefore, for soldiers like me, it is incredibly frustrating when politicians distance themselves from decisions they take individually and collectively, leaving it instead to the soldier to bear the blame.

The starkest example of this is surely the Iraq war. While I am proud of my actions and the actions of the men I commanded in Iraq, I fully understand how controversial the war was and still is. Yet I will never distance myself from that conflict; I will recount with pride the part that soldiers of my regiment played and I will do so without shame.

Yet I feel that some politicians are happy to pretend the Iraq conflict never happened; they find it inconvenient, embarrassing and calculate that it is potentially poisonous with the electorate.

David Simpson, an outgoing Member of Parliament and candidate in the 2017 General Election did not vote for the Iraq war – he was not an MP at the time. Though to his credit he did visit the troops in Iraq in 2008.

He could, quite rightly, have highlighted this show of solidarity as part of this campaign. But he has not.

Instead he airbrushes the episode from history, focussing instead on a visit made in 2010 to see serving men and women in Afghanistan.

Iraq

Facebook Post Dec 2010

The tragedy for the politician – and for politicians in general, for episodes like this taint everyone seeking public trust and public office – is that Mr Simpson never actually made that journey.

His trip was cancelled a month before he was due to depart; a month before the photo he has used in his latest campaign literature was posted on Facebook in an album entitled ‘Afghanistan’.

Only he will know why he sought to create something out of nothing; fabricate an occasion that did not happen; ignore the valuable trip he actually did make to Iraq. But it is not just Mr Simpson who has to live with the consequences, so must we all. The trust between soldier and politician is eroded; already-fragile public respect for our elected representatives is chipped away further still; democracy is sullied just a little more. And for me there is a personal element.

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General Election 2017 Literature

For back in 2010 when David Simpson was posting a picture on Facebook of him supposedly in Afghanistan and attracting comments such as “Well done, David, we’re proud of you” I was in Afghanistan, dealing with the death of a friend and colleague, killed on Remembrance Sunday.

The irony is that there are other members of the DUP – David Simpson’s party – who did visit the troops, notably Sir Jeffrey Donaldson who came to see my unit in Nad-e-Ali in January 2011.

He knows how important it is to hear first-hand the issues soldiers face, the real life and death challenges. He is also a man who will not distance himself from unpopular conflicts – not least because he, like me, has served in the armed forces.

Of course some will say this blog is political opportunism and I will allow them that indulgence, but I would have raised this issue had David Simpson been my political opponent or not. The truth being I am staggered others are attacking me for speaking out and challenging on this issue.

Andy A

Standing with Andy Allen at DCMH Thiepval Bks

This is not a matter of party politics. It is more fundamental than that. It is about personal integrity. It is about how anyone believes they can look voters in the eye knowing they have served up a falsehood; knowing they have stood on the shoulders of the brave men and women of our armed forces in order to promote themselves.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity” – but I will never hide or deny my part in it be that as a soldier or politician.

Note: Since this blog was posted David Simpson has withdrawn his election leaflet and removed the Facebook page in question. He has, however, not given an explanantion as to why he mislead the elctorate in the first place.

Does the MOD have Corporate Responsibility for Early OP BANNER issues.

When British troops hit the streets of Northern Ireland in the 1970s they were armed with two things: rifles and yellow cards.

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Circa 1993

The latter contained the formal rules of engagement (RoE) and were supposed to offer guidelines on the use of the former.

The RoE addressed three basic questions associated with the split-second decisions troops had to make when faced with an option of opening fire: can you, could you and should you? The first two questions are essentially legal dilemmas. Where would you stand in the eyes of the courts if your engaged a terrorist target.

The last question is much more related to how a soldier’s actions would be viewed in the court of public opinion. And yet, in those

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Soldier in the early days of BANNER

early days of Operation BANNER, the subtleties and complexities of the conflict were rarely, barely, explained to those being deployed.

By the time I became an instructor with the Northern Ireland Training Advisor Team (NITAT) in the early 90s things had improved significantly.

My role – alongside PSNI Officers, legal experts and explosive technicians – was to help all major military units in preparation for ops in Northern Ireland. As much as anything we considered the political and the cultural, as well as the legal, not least the military’s powers to stop, search and arrest. We also considered tactics and procedures, dealing with the public, the appropriate reactions to intelligence reports.

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Multiple on a rural foot patrol.

Then there were the computer-based judgmental shooting exercises with group and individual discussions surrounding each shot fired.

It was thorough, deliberate, measured and worked on the principle that the people were the prize. To defeat the IRA specifically, and terrorism in general, we needed to separate the trouble makers from the populace; try and offer up an alternative to the pessimism and fear increasingly ingrained in a violence-ridden society.

This training sea change was recognition of the often overwhelming pressure young soldiers endured in those first months and years of the conflict; pressure which resulted in high-profile cases where actions were later closely scrutinised; cases such as the death of Joe McCann in 1972.

McCann was a local leader of the IRA, he was the RUC’s most wanted in Belfast and intelligence reports linked him to the

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Joe McCann

murder of a number of soldiers and the attempted murder of RUC officers and Ulster Unionist MP John Taylor.

Intelligence reports stated that McCann regularly carried a pistol as a personal protection weapon and that he was likely to use it if cornered. Any soldier at a heightened state of alert with these briefings and intelligence reports in his head and without a full understanding of the political and geographical situation would, when confronted at a checkpoint by a known terrorist, open fire. And that is exactly what happened with Joe McCann.

The decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to direct the PSNI Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB) to prepare a file on McCann’s death and not any of the numerous paramilitary killings in Northern Ireland gives the impression that the justice system is unbalanced in its treatment of legacy cases and is skewed towards the actions of the state while ignoring the actions of the paramilitaries and terrorists.

Of course the Westminster government hasn’t helped.

Some 200 suspected terrorists – including Hyde Park bomber John Downey – received so-called comfort letters which effectively gave them immunity from prosecution. Although some would argue it is not immunity – but if that was the case the evidence against him would have been heard in court. Indeed, it has allowed some to openly confess to their crimes, including Kieran Conway who appeared on national television and admitted to playing a part in the murder of British soldiers, safe in the knowledge his words would have no consequence.

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Narrow Water near Warrenpoint 1979

This is just one example of behaviour that has created a perception that in recent years Westminster ministers have desperately been trying to disentangle themselves from the past, leaving individual soldiers – who did previous ministers’ bidding – to face the fall out.

And this despite the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) less than satisfactory conduct more than forty years ago when they knowingly sent soldiers to Northern Ireland without adequate training.

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RoE page 2

I believe the MOD does have a corporate responsibility for the actions of soldiers in in the 70s and early 80s. It is important that they take responsibility and in doing so protect the soldiers they sent on Operation BANNER so ill equipped. A clear statement from the MOD today accepting corporate responsibility would end this recent fiasco before it gathers momentum.

Cost versus benefit – should role of the Gurkhas be widened?

(First published on C4 News website)

The manpower of the British Army is now at its lowest level for more than 200 years. At around 82,000 soldiers this is fewer than during the Napoleonic Wars. Yet the Ministry of Defence hopes to retain its capabilities and its tempo of operations. That is a questionable and ambitious goal given the volatile nature of the world today.

In recent times, some 21,000 British soldiers have been cut from the order of battle: men and women from Scottish regiments, historic English regiments — some of the oldest infantry units in the army.

The strength of the Brigade of Gurkhas has remained virtually undiminished since those recent cuts. However their numbers were drastically cut in the 1990s when the army as a whole was restructured from the Cold War footing of the years before.

These men (there are no women, though this is set to change) have served the Crown for 201 years. Native (Nepalese-born) Gurkhas have won 13 Victoria Crosses and are rightly viewed as a model of loyalty; an institution within an institution. And it is another British institution — the actress Joanna Lumley — who long fought to secure rights for the Gurkhas that were commensurate with other soldiers who serve the UK. Chief amongst those rights were pension entitlements.

Ms Lumley secured her victory. In 2007 the government said that it would put Gurkhas on an equal pension footing and backdate this allowance to 1997, the point at which the Gurkhas’ home base moved to the UK. Some ex Gurkhas have complained that the equitable provision should pre-date 1997 but their claim was dismissed this September by the European Court of Human Rights.

Ms Lumley’s efforts were clearly in tune with the Great British public. But have her achievements actually weakened rather than strengthened the long-term future of the Brigade of Gurkhas as a core part of the UK’s military offering?

For while the cost of employing a Gurkha has risen, his flexibility has not.

Each man who joins the Gurkhas goes through a rigorous selection process in Nepal (paid for by the MOD). The successful candidates are then transported to the UK (paid for by the MOD) undergo military training which includes English lessons (paid for by the MOD). After five years they are entitled to what is known as long leave, six months at home in Nepal, during which time they are again supported by the MOD (though this too is set to change). Of course the MOD is not spending its own money. It is spending taxpayer cash. Our money.

So what do we get in return? Obedience and bravery, unquestionably. The fighting record of the Gurkhas is second to none. And yet in modern times soldiering has not been limited to warfare in far-flung places. And this is where the Gurkhas limitations are revealed, for what they don’t possess is utility.

The Northern Ireland conflict dragged on for 30 years yet not one Gurkha unit served on what was known as Op Banner. Nor did they turn out to help with the fire strike in 2002 that drew in 18,000 military personnel. And they were also absent from the Foot and Mouth disease front line. In fact they have not and never will help with any task that supports the UK civil power. Why? Because the memorandum of understanding with Nepal prohibits it. Simply put, if the Gurkhas were the last troops on the island when civil order broke down they would not deploy to restore it. To that end they have less flexibility than your average soldier.

What the Gurkhas do possess is the ability to recruit and recruit quickly. Having reduced the size of the military to an all-time low, by keeping the Brigade of Gurkhas the British Army can be rapidly enlarged should the need arise. But retaining these men of honour has meant that other men of honour, men from the UK, have found themselves out of a job.

I am Northern Irish. I served in an Irish regiment. That regiment was once the largest in the British Army. Now it is the smallest. There are more Gurkhas currently serving in the British Army than there are Irishmen. In total, Irish-born service personnel have won 188 VCs (of 1,355 awarded) yet that illustrious history counted for nothing as we were decimated in similar style to all those other units that have their roots in the UK.

If the Gurkhas really want equality then their usefulness should be subjected to the same objective scrutiny lavished on other regiments and corps. In the interests of fairness, surely no one — Ms Lumley included – could disagree with that?

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