Daily Archives: 8 June, 2010

For Queen and Country

I’ve just been watching this pretty interesting documentary on BBC iplayer. It follows the Grenadier Guards as they prepare for the annual Trooping the Colour Ceremony. The Grenadier Guards took centre stage in the parade only weeks after returning from Afghanistan, a tour of duty in which they suffered a number of fatalities, including their Regimental Sergeant Major. There are two ways to look on this – firstly, it shows how resilient and professional the Guards are, but secondly, also how hard stretched they are in having to Troop the Colour so soon after returning from a hard tour.

I’ve always thought – patriotism aside – that no-one does ceremony quite like the British armed forces, and the Guards are the best in the business. But in the hard pressed and cash strapped modern environment is there a role for public duties? Whilst their shouldn’t be any sacred cows in the Armed Forces, we should not underestimate how important the Household Division is to tourism and Britain’s image. Their professionalism shines throughout, both in public duties and on operations. The Sergeant-Majors are terrifying, and the London Garrison Sergeant Major is the closest thing to God in the British Army.

How in the modern climate can the Army adapt to ensure that ceremonies such as Trooping the Colour still take place? Firstly, it might have to look beyond it being just a Guards event. Although the Guards at the Royal palaces are usually Foot Guards, occasionally other Regiments take a turn – why not use the same policy with trooping the colour? Long gone is the time when the Guards were THE elite of the British Army – nowadays the whole Army is an elite in its own right, with some regiments such as the Paras and the Rifles have their own elite status. It would also relieve the pressure on the Guards Regiments. Might it not make a better showcase for the Army to show different Regiments in this way, particularly with the lack of a broader event such as the old Royal Tournament?

Just a thought…

Click here to watch the Documentary on BBC iplayer

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What next in Afghanistan?

With the onset of President Obama’s surge, and a change in Government in Whitehall, 2011 could prove to be a pivotal year for the future of Afghanistan, as this article on the BBC website suggests.

History shows that the only way peacekeeping forces can leave any country in which they are engaged is by enabling that country to look after itself and stand on its own two feet. Until that point, critics will be able to look upon foreign forces as ‘occupiers’, whether this is the nature of their involvement or not.

Progress in Afghanistan does seem to have been slow, bearing in mind that US and coalition forces first entered the country in 2001. Admittedly for several years the country was overshadowed by Afghanistan. But quite rightly questions are now being asked about whether enough progress is being made by the Afghan Government and security forces in moving towards taking responsibility for their own future.

The usual allegations about the US and NATO being imperialistic do not wash where Afghanistan is concerned, as there is nothing in the country to be imperialistic about. Much as in Britain’s Afghan wars in the Nineteenth Century, the aim is secure and stabilise the region. Afghanistan’s turbulent past shows that it is not a country where any foreign forces should want to linger any longer than they have to. Of course it would be great if we lived in a world where no countries ever failed, but sadly on occasions countries do become a threat to regional and global security.

But by the same token, we should be wary also of bailing out on a country before the job is done. If Saddam Hussein had been deposed in 1991 when the coalition had much broader support than in 2003, years of harmful sanctions would have been avoided – and not to mention the fracturous effect on world politics.

Its not difficult to see that pulling out of Afghanistan before it has a strong and stable Government would leave the country as a vipers nest that would only cost many more lives in years to come. A collapse in Afghanistan might endanger Pakistan, where the border region districts are controlled by either the Taliban or tribes. With Iran on the other side of the country the region is in danger of bubbling over into insecurity, and Afghanistan could be the first domino. And not only is interational security a big concern, but more needs to be done to knuckle down on the poppy growing trade, and the effect that it has on international crime and drug addiction.

Therefore the role of international forces has to move to words enabling as soon as possible. The problem with this is the state of the Afghan Government – can Karzai do enough to tackle corruption? Much rests on the ability of the Afghans to take over their own security, and to make it possible for ISAF to take a back seat and then eventually leave.

History has shown also that sooner or later the Afghan Government will have to sit down and talk with the Taliban, especially its more moderate elements. After 1945 in Germany many former Nazi party members played a role in rebuilding the country. In Northern Ireland progress was only made with the peace process once Sinn Fein was brought to the negotiating table. By contrast in Iraq after 2003 the US disbanded the Iraqi Army immediately, and embarked on strict de-Bathification,and chaos reigned.

As a recent British Army booklet on irregular warfare stated, the trick is not the defeat the enemy, but to make it impossible for them to win and thereby force them to the negotiating table. To do that ISAF and the Afghans will have to demonstrate that they can provide a more stable and peaceful future, thus cutting off the Taliban’s grass roots support and making their armed stuggle impossible.

But as General Mchrystal so rightly mentions in the BBC article, often in military history the turning point in a war ends up being competely unexpected. Thats why it wound be unwise to set any target dates for withdrawal based on domestic pressure.

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