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?


Garmsir – Maj Sher Wali

The weekend – Sunday to be precise – marked an anniversary few needed reminding of. 9/11. Fifteen years on from the attack on the Twin Towers, the moment that threw the West into the War on Terror. And by coincidence Sunday also marked ten years since I was ordered into battle as part of that war.

My mission should have been straightforward. To join a handful of other British soldiers – a motley assortment of regulars and reservists, from infantrymen to signallers to medics – whose job it was to help the Afghan army and police retake from the Taliban a non-descript, but strategically important kalay deep in the south of Helmand Province.image

Once secured we were to hold Garmsir for 24 hours until relieved by a larger force. Except things didn’t quite go to plan. After a bloody struggle we recaptured the outpost, but a week later we were still there, besieged.

Day in, day out, we fought for survival. I took my first life in Garmsir, and a few more after that, some at close quarters. This was not killing for killings sake nor was it something to boast about. It was war, and the men I killed where intent on killing me.
After a week I was one of just three British troops who remained in Garmsir. But we were not totally without help, our Afghan colleagues fighting at our shoulder including Sher-Wali, a Pashtun Afghan and Major in the National Police Force.

Sher-Wali had history. He’d fought with the Mujahideen against the Russians and had initially sided with the Taliban when they first took over his country. But growing disillusionment with his new masters meant he was now pitted against them as part of the Afghan Government’s campaign against the insurgency.

He was not an opportunist; simply someone who wanted the best for his family and his people and all too often found himself bitterly disappointed by those who promised the earth and delivered dust.

imageI formed a strong friendship with Sher-Wali. We shared our food, our stories. We fought side by side and on more than one occasion Sher-Wali saved my life, in one incident shielding me from the explosive yield of a rocket propelled grenade with his own body. He was and remains the bravest and most noble man I have ever known.

In the most difficult of circumstances he fought ferociously beside a man he knew little about who came from a culture he didn’t understand, but in whom he had placed his trust.

At the last it was he, not I, who paid the highest price of all. Sher-Wali died on the final day of the engagement, carrying out my orders. For me it was a body blow and when we departed back to base – our Royal Marine Commando relief having turned up a fortnight later than we expected – it was with a mood of melancholy not elation.

Driving into Camp Bastion the faces of those whose entire Afghan experience revolved around this sprawling encampment exhibited shock at the sight of us. Our single remaining unarmoured Land Rover had been peppered by shrapnel and with numerous entry and exit bullet holes, the ballistic matting long since torn off by Taliban firepower, a hole the size of a fist bored into the driver’s headrest evidence of a large-calibre round striking its mark.

Everything was covered with a fine film of Afghan desert dust, lending us humans a ghostly appearance, though not so much so that it disguised the dirt, blood and human waste that stained our uniforms. The strain of the experience showed in our eyes, framed as they were by furrowed brows, matted beards and crazy hair.

For my actions in Garmsir I was awarded the Military Cross. It still arouses in me conflicting senses of pride and shame. I was not alone in being decorated and our clutch of honours – two MCs, a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross and a Mention in Dispatches – made this patrol the most decorated since the ill-fated ‘Bravo Two Zero’ during the first Gulf War.

The sights, sounds and smells of ten years ago linger with me now. But the more intense memories are those of the people I served alongside. Most of all I remember Major Sher-Wali: his smile, his presence and his loyalty.

He died fighting on his own soil. I believe in what we did in Afghanistan, but it was only ever an interlude for me. I had a way out, an escape route, God willing I would return home after a six-month tour. Sher-Wali was at home. His fight was existential. Mine was a job. Yet because of people like Sher-Wali Garmsir has stayed with me and I returned to Afghanistan to fight on two more occasions.

Physically I have never returned to Garmsir. Mentally I have never really left.



Doug Beattie MC joined the Army as a sixteen year old junior soldier. He served for thirty-four years rising through the ranks from Ranger to Captain while serving in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was awarded the Queens Commendation for Bravery during the invasion of Iraq and the Military Cross for his first of three tours of duty in Afghanistan. He is now a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.


The middle of December 2002 and I’d just left the Headquarters building and walked, along with my commanding officer, to the side of the parade square. Stretched out in front of us were not the trappings of an Air Assault Infantry battalion but lines of Green Goddess Fire Engines. CRW_6280

We had just received the news we had been hoping for and with little fanfare Colonel Tim Collins turned to me and said “RSM, lets get the battalion ready for War”

Just 3 months later I stood on the left side of Colonel Collins in Fort Blair Mayne situated in the middle of the Kuwait Desert.

“We go to liberate, not to conquer” It was an opening salvo from the CO, another unrehearsed speech like so many before.  But for the public back home it resonated through the corridors of power, the pubs and bars and the sitting rooms.  It found its way onto the wall of the Oval Office, an inspirational oratory meant for those not preparing to fight.

As expected the first days of war where chaotic as we prepared to unleash controlled violence on an enemy prepared to use chemical weapon. What we had not been prepared for was the real face of our enemy.  They were starving poorly led, poorly equip wretches.  They had no will to fight, no means to fight and no understanding of what was going on.

WMIK on patrol near Ramaila oil fields

WMIK on patrol near Ramaila oil fields

The 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiments mission in those early days was to secure the Ramilya oil fields and the Gas Oil Separation Plants dotted around the desert. My role was to take control of the prisoners of war and immediately I was confronted with 500 enemy soldiers bewildered, starving and scared.

I always remember the conduct of my men, those scared young soldiers fighting as I was in their first war.  They showed compassion very rarely talked about when people mention the Iraq war.  They gave away their own food and when ordered to stop they scavenged for food from nearby building just to feed the starving Iraq prisoners.  They’re not taught this but it’s the humanity in men you find even in war.

Amongst the prisoners there was those who were seriously injured and who quickly succumbed to their wounds.  The gentleness shown by the men of 1 R IRISH was incredibly moving.  They took the body, dug a deep grave so the ferial dogs wouldn’t dig it up and then, taking a compass bearing towards Mecca, they laid him to rest with his head towards this holy sight.  An Iraqi colleague spoke a few words before the grave was marked and recorded. It was the dignity we would all hope for in death, which can, during war, be overlooked.

In early April 1 R IRISH were ordered to lead the breakout from the oil fields to the town of Al Madina southwest of Al Basra.

Col Tim.  I was later to learn that due to his dress he was known as the 'American Tourist' by other members of the Brigade.

Col Tim. I was later to learn that due to his dress he was known as the ‘American Tourist’ by other members of the Brigade.

In Al Madina we were to learn what the war had become.  The population were happy to see British forces and the scene resembled the liberation of Holland during WW2 with cheering crowd’s and kids running alongside our vehicles.

But we also found the population were ready to exact revenge on Baathist supporters in the town. A crowd had gathered in the market place surrounding three hapless men – murdering one they preparing to murder the other two.  But quick intervention by the Rangers managed to secure the prisoners and they were dragged to a nearby hospital.

Entering the hospital we were faced with the ridiculous sight of doctors hurriedly ripping down dozens of pictures of Saddam Hussein while refusing to treat the Baath party supporters.  The whole infrastructure of the country was quickly collapsing.

The advance north continued again led by 1 R RISH into the town of Al Quarna where three great rivers met, the Euphrates, the Shat-el-Arab and the Tigress – the legendary location of the Garden of Eden.  While here the extent of the looting really manifested itself.  We watched an Iraqi army barracks literally dismantled brick by brick, the looters leaving nothing but a barren space.

Our final advance took us into the town of Al Amara, the first unit to enter the town.  Long gone were the Iraqi civilians lining the streets to herald our arrival.  Instead there was a steady stream of men and boys pushing carts full of belongings looted from the homes of individuals who had fled north in the wake of our arrival.

I am asked many times what it was like to fight during the invasion of Iraq but the reality was there was no fighting and no credible enemy. We had been prepared to unleash hell on the Iraqi regime but it soon crumbled and what was left was a shattered helpless army. To take life for no reason would have been criminal.

So in terms of war fighting there was none, but there was honour to be found in the professionalism and behaviour of the men of 1 R IRISH.  For its part the battalion was awarded its first battle honour since Korea “Iraq 2003”.  I was proudly awarded the Queens Commendation for Bravery for preventing the murder of Baathist supporters in Al Madina.

We had gone to war with little preparation and equipment but we never complained.  We just remembered the words of Colonel Tim Collins “We will go to war with what’s in our pockets, the rest will follow us”

St Patricks Day 2003 - Fort Blair Mayne - Kuwait

St Patricks Day 2003 – Fort Blair Mayne – Kuwait


As they always seem to, the explosion erupted out of nowhere. One second there was nothing, the next a ballooning cloud of dust and grit, heat and noise, shrapnel and pressure enveloped the soldier and he disappeared from view. The force of the detonation climbed up his body at supersonic speed, shards of metal hacking and tearing at the soft surfaces of his body, ripping into limbs, puncturing the torso, catching his helmet and pulling it violently from his head, the chin strap offering only token resistance before being torn away.

Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT)

Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT)

In the immediate moment following the blast, the casualty’s shocked colleagues tried to gathered their rattled senses. Then they came to help, their priority, their only aim, to keep death at bay. To apply bandages and tourniquets, tend the devastated injuries and plug the wounds, essentially to stop the man bleeding out, losing the fluids that sustain life.

Although terribly hurt the young soldier is still conscious, aware that around him a small army of others are helping him cling to existence and reacting to his moans and murmurings.

“Its ok mate – you’ll be fine – we got you buddy – just hold on – just stay with us – fight mate”.

The words are encouraging but the façade of optimism is paper thin, those who are tending the casualty continue to reel from the horrific revelation of what a weapon of war can do to one of their friends. Now it becomes a matter of time. The blood can be staunched but the real work falls to the professionals: the doctors and nurses. And to get to them the helicopter is needed.

And there in the debris and the dirt of the battlefield, as he awaits evacuation, the soldier is becoming aware of how seriously he has been hurt.

“I can’t see.” The voice is pitiful, a whimper, a noise like a child might make, “Please help.”

“Its ok mate I’m still here, I won’t leave you” the young infantryman’s best mate reaches across and takes hold of a hand, squeezing it lightly, an act of gentleness and compassion, that hides a terrible fear for his pal’s future.

For so many years now, rarely a day passes without some miraculous, uplifting story appearing in the media about how a member of the armed forces has come to cope with so-called life changing injuries incurred in the backstreets of Basra, or the Helmand Green Zone. Yet many forget those who received terrible injuries in The Falklands, Aden, the troubles of Northern Ireland and the many peace keeping operations around the world such as Bosnia and Kosovo.

Compassion and dignity and the ability to live a full life.

Compassion and dignity and the ability to live a full life.

Some of the victims of war have soared to great success: climbing, skiing, exploring, completing rallies and becoming Olympians. Many others have simply returned to some sort of normality thanks to the medical and technological breakthroughs born of conflict. Prosthetics are state of the art. Mental distress has been recognised and is treated. But so far no one has invented a cure for the sightless. Thus far, losing the ability to see is essentially irrevocable, and deeply traumatic. While the activities of such charities as Help for Heroes, Combat Stress and the Royal British Legion is wonderful and admirable perhaps some of the most critical and challenging work undertaken with scarred ex-servicemen is provided by Blind Veterans UK.

Formerly know as St Dunstan’s the organisation was established in 1915 to cater for the avalanche of soldiers returning from the trenches, robbed of their vision. Its aim was to give training and assistance to this particular group of veterans so they could eventually lead as productive a life as possible without further charitable support.

Those who received – and continue to receive – are categorised only on the basis of need. It matters not how or where people have been afflicted by blindness, be it on the battlefield or Salisbury Plain. It is enough for them to have worn the uniform of this country whether in time of war or peace, as a national serviceman, conscript or modern volunteer.

The ethos of the charity is clear and simple: that no ex-serviceman or woman should suffer their disability alone. If losing their sight is the greatest dread of many soldiers, sailors and airmen, then Blind Veterans UK is the saving grace.

Long after the battle is over. As the uniform is hug up for the last time, there will always be those who will dedicate themselves to support our veterans who have given so much for their country.

For you and me the question is simple, ‘what can we do to support those who support our vision impaired service veterans’.

So start by clinking on and find out what Blind Veterans UK does and how you can support them.

Help creating hope for the future

Help creating hope for the future

The young infantryman is no longer there, but thanks to @BlindVeterans there is still someone to hold the veterans hand, squeezing it lightly, an act of gentleness and compassion, ensuring dignity for those who lost their sight in the service of their country.



You turn on the TV news and there, somewhere after a report on the credit crunch and before the footie, you get the other stuff, events in brief, the stories they haven’t got pictures for or don’t think are important enough to warrant two minutes all to themselves.  Amongst these fillers you hear the presenter say, ‘A British soldier has been killed in action in Afghanistan after being hit by a roadside bomb’.  Killed in action.  KIA.  It all sounds so unsentimental, so impersonal, so clinical.  But its’ not.  It is usually brutal and bloody and painful.  So here it comes, the wretched truth about KIA, a truth you’ll never hear, let alone see, on News at Ten.  This is what KIA is all about.


This was the time a British soldier stood on an IED, an improvised explosive device, a roadside bomb.  It wasn’t clear whether it was the heal of his boot that made contact first, or the sole, or perhaps he was already springing off his toes and well into his next stride when the weapon that he trod on killed him.  It doesn’t matter, for any of these scenarios would have set off the same catastrophic chain of events.

As the weight – several stone of the soldier, and a few more of his equipment – came to bear on the track, it also fell on the part of the bomb that would trigger the explosion.  Just below the surface, encased in a motorcycle inner tube to keep them free of dirt and moisture, were a pair of old saw blades: one connected by wire to an electrical power source, a pack of six domestic batteries; the other attached by a different wire to a Russian mortar shell. The blades were wedged apart at each end by a piece of wood.  In this configuration the blocks acted like a circuit breaker, preventing the flow of electricity, keeping the system inert.  With the soldier’s full weight now coming down inexorably on the top blade, it buckled and bowed in the middle, then made contact with its twin beneath.  And that was that.  The circuit was complete and a current started to flow, at the speed of light, from battery, via the saw blades to a detonator.  In turn the detonator was connected to a booster charge, which in itself was hooked up to the mortar shell.

The weapon could have lain there for days, a week, a month.  It might have been there for a year or more.  Of course, it wouldn’t have mattered to the bomb how long it had gone undiscovered.  It had no feelings, no sense of time, no memory, only and endless patience it wasn’t aware of.  But now its moment had come.  It was about to do the one and only thing it had been created for.  Wreak death on the enemy of those who had first dug the hole for the weapon to sit in and then carefully buried it, hiding all signs of the earth having ever been disturbed.

In that most routine and instinctive of movements, walking, the British soldier had sealed his fate, self-selected himself as a victim.  And the life for his family was about to be irrevocably altered.  Shattered beyond recognition.  Not that they knew it yet.  Though, it seems, he probably did.

Because even as he was completing his step, as events were about to unfold beneath him out of sight, he suddenly stopped as if he suspected something.  Had he already seen something, felt something not quite right through the rubber sole of his boot?  It was as if he already had an inkling of what he’d just done.

But by now it was way to late to alter the course of history.

The chemical reaction going on inside the mortar shell was rapidly generating an extreme amount of pressure and heat – as much as several hundred tones per square inch of the former and anything between 1,500 and 2,500 degrees Celsius of the latter.  It was all happening so fast – unimaginably fast – and it had become impossible to turn the clock back; things had already gone far beyond the point of no return.  Yet for a few more milliseconds there was still no outward sign of the impending disaster.  Because at that precise moment the destructive power was still, just about, being contained within the shell.  The original makers of the shell had been ruthlessly exact in their calculations.  They hadn’t wanted all the heat and pressure to burst out too son.  No, they’d designed the casing to be strong enough to resist its own demise for as long as possible – long enough for the force of the imminent explosion to have reached its absolute zenith.  And only then did it break free.

The mortar disintegrated into a million pieces of metal that hurtled away from the seat of the blast.  There would be no dodging them.  Not at the immense speed they were travelling – as much as several thousand meters per second.  The fragments were followed by the blast wave.  It radiated from the epicenter of the explosion even faster than the splinters of the bomb casing, at a velocity many times the speed of sound.  For good measure there was a heat wave too.  And a hell of a lot of noise.

Because the mortar had been buried only just below the surface of the track the soldier had been walking on, most of the energy was funneled skywards, following the path of least resistance, up through the thin veneer of the Afghan desert.  It took with it bucket loads of dirt and grit.

In the moment the explosion mushroomed clear of the ground, both the soldiers’ legs were shredded.  It was as if someone had furiously rubbed them up an down a giant cheese grater, not stopping until the white of the bone was clearly visible through the bloody, ragged remains of human tissue.  If the soldier had had the chance to take in what was happening to him, then he might have been tempted to count his blessings, pleased at least that both his lower limbs remained anchored to the rest of his body.  But he would have been wrong to do so.  Already they were useless to him; indeed they were hardly recognisable as legs.  There was little or no skin left to speak of, and much of the mass and most of the definition of the muscle had gone too, hacked off by supersonic, super-sharp pieces of twisted metal.  That which remained had become blackened in places – charred, seared by the extreme temperature that accompanied the blast.  The torn remnants of skin and uniform had been similarly singed.

As the cuts of human meat, some minuscule, others the size of a hand, were hacked off the bone, other fragments of the bomb now buried themselves deep inside the ragged flesh that remained.  They also tunneled into the man’s thighs and groin, peppering the muscle.  For good measure the billowing cloud of dust then further contaminated the wounds.

The blast wave continued running up the length of the victims torso, forcing its way under the body armour, eventually tearing it off.  The two removable, protective ceramic plates worn to protect the front and back of the armour had already been blown from their pouches, and now, as projectiles, they had become part of the problem rather than the cure.

By this stage the soldiers weapons had been ripped from his right hand, then the hand and the arm were flayed as the legs had been.

As the blast reached his head, it got beneath the rim of his helmet and forced it off, the chinstrap offering only limited resistance before giving way.  There was also massive damage inflicted on the mans throat and jaw.  A large piece of shrapnel – or maybe it was the plate off the body armour – had torn out his voice box and smashed his chin.  A fold in the skin now hung limply from his cheek.  Even if he had wanted to call out for help, to scream in pain, he wouldn’t have been able to do so.

There was also the damage done that you’d struggle to see.  The force of the explosion had caused serious internal injuries.  The soldier’s eardrums burst.  So too did the blood vessels in his eyes.  His lungs probably collapsed as the blast wave rippled through his body.  By now he was no longer in contact with the ground.  Instead, he and his barely attached limbs were sailing through the air, tumbling, turning, before crashing back to earth.  He was flung a good ten meters from the point of detonation.

The very worst thing of all was that – despite everything – he was still alive.

Eyes rolling; trickles of blood seeping from his ears, nose and mouth; torrents of thick red blood pumping from at least three severed arteries; he was still alive.

And conscious.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the medic did a heroic job trying to treat the soldier, applying tourniquets, inserting a drip, giving morphine.  And then it was a case of clock watching, waiting for the MERT helicopter to arrive.  Knelt down alongside the casualty, the medic held on to the soldiers remaining good hand, offering what comfort he could, reassuring him everything would be alright.  Except it wouldn’t.

Because twenty minutes after he had detonated the bomb, the soldier succumbed to his horrendous injuries, the lifeblood finally drained out of him into the dust.

The brutally dispassionate message went out over the radio ‘UK Bravo now KIA’

That’s is the reality of Killed in Action.  For some, death comes mercifully quickly. But for others dying is an agonizing, lingering, terrifying experience.  Their last on earth.

Now, where were we? Ah yes.  How did Chelsea get on against Man Utd.



I know what it is like to look down the barrel of a gun held be my supposed colleagues. In 2008, my men and I were held at gunpoint by soldiers of the Afghan National Army while some of their associates turned weapons on an insurgent we had captured during a fire-fight. Seconds later the prisoner was dead, cut to pieces by 7.62 rounds from the Kalashnikovs our allies used to mete out their rough justice.

Taking an enemy prisoner

Murder of enemy prisoner

But we were incidental to proceedings. The target was the prisoner not us. We were being kept out of the way while the ANA vented their lethal fury on their true enemy. These days’ things are rather different in Helmand and beyond.

If you take a forensic look at the growing spate of Green on Blue incidents – or as ISAF now like to call them, ‘Insider Attacks’ taking into account the Afghan attacks on other Afghans that we don’t regularly hear about – you will come up with various reasons.

At the moment about 10% are directly attributed to insurgent activity, with perhaps the same number again suspected of being enemy related. But the rest are rather more mundane: cultural clashes and personal grievances for example, also the effect of events that might be taking place far beyond Afghanistan’s borders.

The release of the ‘Innocence of Islam’ and the consequent storm of protest and outrage it unleashed is a case in point as was the accidental burning of pages of the Koran earlier this year.

The tensions led to sensible precautions being taken such as the limiting of joint Coalition-Afghan patrols at local tactical level and now at the strategic level. Yet is not the step backwards some have portrayed it, instead it is the development of an ongoing campaign.

Cultural sensitivities.

Previously a company-level risk assessment would be carried out before any military patrol which involving Afghans forces took place. This would need to be signed off by the Battle Group (Battalion). Now, on the orders of the Commander ISAF, that level of scrutiny has now been given another layer.

Now the initial assessment will still be conducted by the company and then passed up the chain of command as before for scrutiny. But now it also needs the rubber-stamping at Task Force level.  A ‘no’ might arise if a major political or cultural factor was identified at national or even global level that could inflame tempers at the micro-level. Such was the case with the film.

The reality for British forces is they don’t work at Battalion level; instead they work at the company level spread out all over the central populous belt of Helmand.  So in essence they will continue to partner and mentor the Afghan security forces in exactly the same way as we did previously but with more oversight by commanders with an eye for the bigger picture.

To say there have been catastrophic events in Afghanistan recently is indisputable. But as ever, context is all. Despite the picture the media are tempted to portray of a coalition crumbling, these attacks – especially where they are driven by the enemy – mark points on an evolving landscape and potentially the move from one phase of the campaign to another, just as in 2008/9 the proliferation of IEDs increased dramatically and two years later the enemy switched to the targeted assassinations of government officials.

Some may find this hard to swallow, but the Coalition forces and the Afghan Army and Police have made major gains in the last couple of years and the strategy of partnering Afghan security forces is working.

We forget that half of Afghanistan is now under Government security force control. The strategy to hand over the remaining areas by district and province is still well on track and the effectiveness of the Afghan Army increases day by day.

The Afghan Police are still less developed than the Army but that may be due to their mentoring only really beginning in any coherent way in 2009 – three full years after the programme with the Afghan Army began.

Our Afghan partners.

Of course we need to train Afghan forces so that they can determine the fate of their own country. Selfishly, the quicker we do this then the quicker we can withdraw. And the better the Afghans are at their jobs, the easier our departure will be. We need the Afghan forces

My Afghan counterpart.

to provide time and space to allow an orderly pull out rather than a humiliating, ragged, fighting withdrawal with all the British casualties that will entail. For that reason the mentoring must continue, despite the risks.

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