It’s the fifth anniversary of the British occupation of Afghanistan and to commemorate the occasion Tony Blair has addressed the troops on British Armed Forces Radio (as if they didn’t already have enough to piss them off). In the interview he insisted that the Government had not underestimated the scale of the mission.
He denied any suggestion that the government was trying to downplay the seriousness of the situation for UK troops, nor had it underestimated the danger.
“It was always going to be tough. In some senses whenever you go into a battlefield situation like that, there are always things that you learn, there are always things that come at you in a more intense way then you expect,” Mr Blair said.
The Government not only underestimated the danger of the mission, it misled the public public over the type of mission this was. At the time the current mission in Helmand province was decided, the Defence Secretary was John Reid. According to a senior defence official he omitted a crucial caveat when talking up the mission . The public was told that this was not a combat mission and that there were sufficient troops to accomplish it.
While ministers claimed the resistance had taken commanders by surprise, officials from the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office yesterday told journalists that the government had been fully briefed about the dangers troops would face in Helmand.
Both diplomats and army chiefs had briefed ministers to expect “pretty stern opposition” from the Taleban, one FCO official said.
But, an MoD official suggested, those dangers were not fully explained to the public.
“Whether that was insufficiently communicated by the MoD or by the government as a whole… it probably was insufficiently communicated,” the MoD official said. During a pre-deployment visit to Afghanistan in April, Mr Reid even appeared to suggest that the British troops might not be involved in any combat operations at all during the three-year mission.
“We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years and without firing one shot because our job is to protect the reconstruction,” the minister said at the time.
According to the MoD official, Mr Reid had been advised by civil servants accompanying him to Afghanistan to add a caveat to that statement, a form of words such as “but it ain’t going to be like that.”
And then there’s this:
Britain’s most senior military chiefs warned John Reid not to commit UK troops to “a war on two fronts” in Iraq and Afghanistan more than 18 months ago, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.
Despite clear advice that a “significant” withdrawal of troops from Iraq was needed before a new mission, Mr Reid went ahead with the Afghan deployment after coming under pressure from Tony Blair. The advice, prepared by military planners and endorsed by the Chiefs of the Defence Staff, was given to Mr Reid on his arrival as Secretary of State for Defence in May last year. Despite the warnings, he went ahead with the deployment in January.
Mr Reid was accused last night of having taken “a gamble” by the Conservative spokesman on foreign affairs as the political and military fall-out from the conflict continues to grow. The present Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, has been forced to deny persistent reports that military chiefs are pressing for significant withdrawals from Iraq in order to shore up the Afghanistan operation.
So Blair’s statement is obviously untrue. If he hadn’t underestimated the seriousness of the mission, one would assume that he would have provided the troops with the proper equipment in the first place instead of belatedly promising it now.
However, the Prime Minister 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.”
Why now instead of at the start of the mission? Why wait until 40 of our troops are dead before promising to supply them with what they need? The military and MPs have been saying right from the start of this mission that they were under equipped for a combat mission. If the claims made by Reid and Blair had been true then the troops might well have had the correct resources and numbers as we were all told that what they would be doing was peacekeeping and reconstruction rather than the full scale war that they are fighting. Either we were lied to or New Labour is so incompetent at fighting wars that they have no business being in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Let’s look at another falsehood from Blair.
“If we let Afghanistan be used again as a training ground for the export of terrorism, it turns up on our streets – it harms British citizens.
“So what our troops are doing in Afghanistan is of fundamental importance not just to the security of our country but [to] global security.”
Has the threat of terrorism decreased since sending troops to Afghanistan? In short, no it hasn’t. The threat has in fact increased dramatically.
RADICAL reforms to speed up terrorist trials are being considered in an attempt to free up a worsening legal log jam, The Times has learnt.
Government lawyers have held talks with the Bar Council to discuss how best to streamline a trial process that is struggling to cope with increasingly complex cases and a growing number of defendants. The backlog is certain to increase because police and the intelligence services are conducting more than 70 anti-terrorist investigations which, they believe, will lead to more arrests.
Would such measures have been necessary before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq? Somehow I doubt it. Blair has subjected us to his lies and spin for so long that few people believe a word he says anymore. I don’t think the troops at the sharp end of his failed policies are going to fall for this bullshit either.