Friends, my latest book is in the bookshops as of Jan. 19, 2012
War Against the Taliban: Why It All Went Wrong in Afghanistan, by Harry Potter publisher, Bloomsbury.
Giving you a taste below:
Lt Col Stuart Tootal, who commanded 3 Para in Helmand in 2006 said there were five reasons the British failed there.
First, there was ‘no proper intelligence’. Instead, among soldiers and politicians alike, there was ‘wishful thinking’ and the ‘wrong mindset’.
Second, ‘there were clearly not enough troops’. They only had 1,200 combat troops out of a force of 3,000, most of whom would never go on patrol. It was ‘barking mad to think that one battle group could dominate an area the size … of Northern Ireland where it had taken 16,000 British troops … and the support of a first-world police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary’ … to do the job. We made a number of calculations before we went to Afghanistan and we didn’t have enough troops just to do the peacekeeping mission … not only were we stretched for general resources but we had real risks in stretching helicopter hours to cover all those outstations.’
Third, 3 PARA did not have enough helicopters in Afghanistan … despite repeated claims by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, that they did. ‘We had six Chinooks of which at best five would be available’.
‘Quite frankly a brigade needs twelve Chinooks, that’s what the Americans have … that’s one battle group, at any one time. So we were significantly below the number of aircraft needed.’
Another problem, Tootal says, was [NATO’s] ‘poor command and control structure’.
He is especially critical of the UK decision to sideline Brigadier Ed Butler …‘We had mutual trust and respected each other. We should have been allowed to
work together right from the start . . . ‘It was flawed and wasn’t something that would have been recognised in any decent Staff College’ … To take Butler away as
Brigade Commander was a fundamental mistake.’ …
War Against the Taliban records General Lord Guthrie’s criticism of Gordon Brown’s penny-pinching attitude to defence spending during his ten-year reign as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1997–2007). One of his most vocal and persistent critics was, and remains, General Lord Guthrie, a former Welsh Guards officer who served in the SAS and was Chief of the General Staff before becoming Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS, 1997–2001).
Lord Guthrie makes no secret of his disapproval of Gordon Brown’s attitude to the funding of the armed forces.
‘I feel very strongly . . . that he has been very unsympathetic to defence when he was the Chancellor…
‘He was very unsympathetic, whereas Blair was sympathetic. I suspect why he [Brown] was unsympathetic was because Blair was sympathetic;
and I am serious about that . . . the animosity [between the two] was much, much worse than anyone realises.’
He went on: ‘When times were good and we were rich and other departments were being given money, the Army was given as little as they could get away with . . . and they will say, well in real terms you had an increase
every year, but . . . of course it didn’t keep pace with what we were doing in the Balkans and in Sierra Leone [where] we were heavily engaged.’
Throughout the Helmand campaign …the helicopter issue dominated the argument about the equipping of British troops in Afghanistan. Gordon Brown and his ministers insisted that there were enough helicopters and that the alleged shortage was not the reason for the steady rise in the number of British casualties.
Interviewed in the Times on 25 July 2009, Lord Guthrie said: ‘Peter Mandelson said this week he was convinced that no one had been killed through lack of helicopters – well, I don’t believe that’s so. And when Alistair Darling [Chancellor of the Exchequer, 2007–2010] says we will give the Army everything it asks for, that is patently not true.’ To anyone who had been on the ground in a war, ‘helicopters are obviously better than winding columns of troops who can be seen miles away in a cloud of dust. They are easy to ambush and having more helicopters would avoid much of that.
‘Helicopters give you huge flexibility . . . The helicopters are the thing that would save lives and actually make the Army more effective.’
In another passage, Guthrie explained: ‘In the end it’s about money. When we could have made a decent investment, we didn’t,’ a reference to the 1998 Strategic Defence Review’s recommendation, among other things, to more than double the number of Chinook and Merlin heavy-lift helicopters, which was ‘dumped unceremoniously’ by Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon in 2004 on instructions from Brown.
‘Gordon Brown focused on health and education rather than on defence. That means we’re not prepared. When you suddenly realise the body armour doesn’t work, or the vehicles haven’t got the right protection, you have to throw money at it very quickly which means you are paying way over what you would have paid if you had been sensible about planning. It’s no good the Prime
Minister one moment saying success is all-important and then for the sake of a few extra helicopters and 2,000 men allows the mission in Afghanistan to fail. You can’t go to war in a penny-pinching way.’
Lord Guthrie told me that Gordon Brown’s lack of interest in defence was ‘certainly not a Labour thing – old Labour were extremely patriotic and some of our best Defence Secretaries were from the Labour Party. But Gordon Brown doesn’t understand the military.’ When Chancellor, he said, Brown was the only Cabinet minister who refused to attend briefings with the heads of the armed forces. ‘I was very upset that he wouldn’t come and hear our side.’ The only time he did was to talk about the future of Rosyth docks, in Fife, where Brown also has his constituency.
There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that one day General Guthrie, as CDS, went to see Tony Blair, with whom he got on well – despite declining the invitation to call him ‘Tony’ as Blair urged him to do, an invitation he is said to have also extended to the Queen. On this occasion, Guthrie was lobbying Blair for more funding for the armed forces. Blair told him to go and see Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who under their power-sharing agreement was in charge of the economy. Guthrie said he knew what that meant and demurred, persisting that he wanted the Prime Minister’s approval. To no avail: Blair refused to get involved. So, reluctantly, Guthrie went to see Gordon Brown who, as he expected, stonewalled and finally said:
‘You think I’m unsympathetic to defence, don’t you, General?’
Guthrie is said to have answered:
‘No, Chancellor, I don’t think you’re unsympathetic to defence.’ Pause. ‘I think you’re f****** unsympathetic to defence!’
Even if it is apocryphal, it probably reflects Lord Guthrie’s real feelings for Gordon Brown.