Blogging Peer goes AWOL

Lord Soley

Those with military experience will know that AWOL = absent without leave! I did have some leave but I can’t claim that I did my duty as well as some other Peers who blogged from holiday and home and certainly not as well as ace blogger Lord Norton – when does he sleep?

Today I am going to hear the Prime Minister speak at the International Institute for Strategic Studies on Afghanistan. It has been billed as an important speech laying out the reasons for our involvement. The resignation of Eric Joyce MP has stolen some of the attention on this but it is part of the real concern about the strategy. It is never easy to persuade the public of international efforts of this type when British troops are dying. We have yet to find the best way on intervening in failed states and I fear these problems are going to be with us for a long time to come but I do believe the international community has a duty as well as a need to intervene. Refusing to intervene doesn’t mean the problem goes away.

At the core of this is the inability of some states to develop stable government and the rule of law to allow development to take place. Our opponents in Afghanistan have killed many aid workers and even more Afghans for trying to modernise their country. Development cannot easily take place in such a climate. When I was in Helmand province a sort time ago I saw how difficult the challenge was and the enormous burden we place on our troops. With the exception of helicopters our troops are well equipped and highly motivated but the tactics of the opposing groups do vary and are much more sophisticated then some people in the UK believe.

Sorry to come back on such a sober note but international problems deserve our attention at all times especially when our troops are engaged in such dangerous work.

14 comments for “Blogging Peer goes AWOL

  1. Croft
    04/09/2009 at 12:08 pm

    “With the exception of helicopters our troops are well equipped”

    Err… that rather seems to be ignoring the vehicle situation. There are still pitifully few Mastiffs, Ridgebacks or Jackal IIs deployed, the former the only really IED ‘safe’ vehicle we have. The situation will improve with more of the above deployed for Christmas but that’s still not a universal replacement of all the older patrol (IED defenceless) vehicles in use.

  2. Frank W. Summers III
    04/09/2009 at 2:05 pm

    Has it occurred to his Lordship that the level of sophisitcation in these matters has diminished?
    I know Lord Norton is a professor of Government and would feel the need to defend his colleagues. But I do not know how he would do so. It seems to me that Montesquieu’s Esprit des Lois, Arisotle’s whole body of work and the policy of the British in the early years in India all manifest a much higher level of expertise than currently exists anywhere in practical terms. The Amreicans seem to think that one can have DC or Hell and feel so very clever for listening a bit to the British. The Brits think one can have Hell or Westminster and feel so very tolerant for listening a bit to the USA. Nobody is actually in Afghanistan. Ecept the dying soldiers.

    A real poilcy might:
    1. Have secured some medical opiate contracts for farmers early on as well as agricultural poppy seed markets and agricultural assistance for food production.
    2. Might have created a US federal system as regards provinces with some tribal federalism in the same upper house.
    3. Might have restored the Monarchy with a Constitutional Grand Assembly every ten years or so provided for as was once their custom.
    4. Might have funded the support of parties in the alliance to assist secualr democrats, socialists and islamists in forming lower house legislative parties.
    5. Might have set up a Bureau of Women’s Affairs from the first day of occupation as a Cabinet ministry.

    I am sorry to say I do not see a lot of competence in the policies there. I see silliness not inevitable failure. My cousin lies in a tomb in Arlington and I am glad we resisted and honor his sacrifice but the policies that get reported to me command little respect.

  3. 04/09/2009 at 5:09 pm

    Is there a known/rational explanation for the spikes in summer months of miliary deaths?

  4. Clive Soley
    05/09/2009 at 11:29 pm

    I saw the vehicles in use in Afghanistan and talked to the troops using them. There is an element of an arms race in this. We deploy tougher vehicles; the enemy pack in more explosives. More importantly patrols have to go on foot if we are not to appear only in helicopters and heavilly armoured vehicles. Many of the mines do get identified and destroyed but the longer term (military) answer is probably improving our ability to spot the mine laying. Remotely controlled aircraft are part of this answer but we do ask our troops to have a visible presence on the ground – that is why they are vulnerable but they were very clear with me. They wanted to have direct contact with Afghans and the enemy exploit this.

    Frank. I don’t agree about the medical production of opiates not because of any principled objection but because there are large areas of Helmund that can be used for this. Why wouldn’t a purchase scheme simply increase supply? A better option is to supply subsidised wheat seed etc and that seems to be working (see the recent UN report)
    Your other points are interesting and produce this challenge. Is it better to try and get the people in a country to organise themselves and have elections and constitutional conferences or is it better to go in and present them with the sort of government we think will work. You are right that the British did that quite well in the 19th century – it was called colonialism and it has gone out of fashion!

    Lady Tizzie. We have more casualties in summer because the fighting dies down in the winter months.

    You might want to read the Prime Ministers speech. Here it is.

    http://www.iiss.org/whats-new/iiss-in-the-press/september-2009/brown-may-send-more-troops-to-afghanistan/

    • franksummers3ba
      05/09/2009 at 11:47 pm

      LCS
      I appreciate your thoughtful and sensitive reply. There are usually merits in half measures. If I insis an sending mail to you at the most empty field in Britain rather than leaving it to the greedy post office to hogall the mail it will not get delivered. All the components I mention exist and they should have been the organizers and are Afghans. That at least was my contention. As to a total rejection of national chauvinism when men are dying I would argue that it always amounts to either insanity or hypocrisy. Your Lordship is doubtless fairly sincere and quite sane but not the operational spearpoint. In a real sense every foreigner renting a hotel room in London today inevitably colonizes it. Consider me a fanatic ideologue for half measures and you will detect my point of view more radily if you wish too. Again thanks for the thoughtful reply.

      • Senex
        06/09/2009 at 9:29 pm

        Frank: Lord Soley’s reply to you, “You are right that the British did that quite well in the 19th century – it was called colonialism and it has gone out of fashion!”

        Not Quite!

        A government with unfettered access to the Treasury for the first time since colonial times has embarked on two military adventures citing the interests of the nation and both with a mandate from the Commons. For the second time the US has undertaken direct military actions where previously it had used proxies. Saddam Hussein was one such proxy armed by the US.

        What is being kept quiet is British colonial activity in the region in the not too distant past. Afghanistan is now land locked but this was not always the case. Afghanistan had access to the sea. The pro Afghani author of the link below establishes a political motive for what is happening in Afghanistan.

        The US is getting itself embroiled with British Empire legacy. I feel that both Iran and Pakistan have historic reasons for keeping Afghanistan fractured and in conflict with itself. It was called the ‘Great Game’ in Victorian times and the Pashtun tribes were central to it. These guys are very slippery indeed and manipulate the politically naïve with ease.

        If Afghanistan can arm itself with a well equipped modern army in the same way that Saddam Hussein was armed it can back a challenge to Pakistan on the Durand Line and through Balochistan can have access to a sea port. It would be a threat to both Iran and Pakistan and we are making this possible.

        Is there a design at work here, one that is part of a new ‘Great Game’? One that will give Afghanistan access to the Indian Ocean, a navy and trade; one that keeps NATO close at hand sacrificing on the alter of the fatted calf that is terrorism?

        Ref: End of the Imaginary Durand Line: Solution
        http://www.afghanland.com/history/durrand.html

      • Frank W. Summers III
        07/09/2009 at 6:04 pm

        I am usually the knid of person who publishes an occasional comment for pay or regularly for a while with some journal (until I quit inexplicably some would say), who attends town meetings and votes. This LOTB has drawn me into something else. I would hesitate to sue for the dissolution of a perceived Pakistani province. I would be willing to see th outcome as good if Bolchistan were integrated in to the Federal Democratic kingdom of Afghanistan or some other such figment of my imagination. Giving the Taliban a province while a lovely and gerneous gift ( Senex please give me any odd provinces you may have if you are so inclined)is not really my inclination. However, I have learned something and so am grateful.

      • Senex
        13/09/2009 at 11:01 am

        Frank: “I would be willing to see th [sic] outcome as good if Baluchistan were integrated in to the Federal Democratic kingdom of Afghanistan”

        Some history: when the British first came to India by way of trade the Indus region was divided into four parts: Persia [Iran], Afghanistan, India and Russia. Russia wanted to annex Afghanistan as part of its expansionist ambitions.

        Afghanistan at the time was a super power comprised of unified Pashtun tribes. Its influence stretched from annexed territories of Persia to what is now known as Kashmir. Within those territorial limits is the country we now know as Pakistan.

        Let’s consider your comment above and ‘pretend’ it represents US foreign policy whilst at the same time remembering the role of the Kaiser’s corporal ‘Adolf Schicklgruber’ in recent European history. He was given a political mandate by Germans to reunify the German speaking people of the region into one nation and he chose to do this by embarking on a war of reunification.

        Fancifully, lets project ourselves to sometime in the future. Afghanistan is a democratic federation where democracy is failing its people. A demagogue arises offering to reunifying the Pashtun speaking people of the region. The Afghanistan constitution is suspended and with a well equipped military a tyrant embarks on a war of reunification.

        India comes into the conflict as an ally of Afghanistan as does Russia. The territories that once comprised Pakistan are annexed and Pakistan disappears as a country. Now consider those nationals holding Pakistani passports, they immediately become stateless in just the same way as the Palestinians have become. Now the world fills with millions of homeless people that have asylum status. Where do those trapped in Pakistan flee to in order to avoid a murderous death at the hands of their invaders.

        This is British Empire legacy; tread carefully there are political mines everywhere.

    • Croft
      06/09/2009 at 1:05 pm

      I couldn’t disagree on the necessity of foot patrol as part of the strategy; there is an inherent risk in this and radio frequency jammers are only a partial protection. Certainly the Taliban will use larger devices to counter vehicle improvements but they would probably do this anyway simply to cause greater damage/casualties were we to make no changes. Retaining the older fleet of vehicles was not good for morale and larger IEDs are I understand easier to detect so the arms race does have benefits.

      The subsidised wheat benefits are by no means clear. Wheat is at a high price while opium has been falling which changes the incentives to grow but that may well reverse. As to poppy production the official figures seem to suggest a lower acreage of production but higher yields and considerable evidence of stockpiling until the price rises.

    • 06/09/2009 at 10:04 pm

      I think it’s important to remember that even if the army had access to all of the high quality vehicles and other equipment it could ever desire, there is still a lot of effort, intelligence and learning required to counter the ever changing tactics of the Taliban.

      Unfortunately, the Taliban themselves learn new tricks as well, such as observing the British Army techniques for safe disposal of IEDs then adapt their attack to get round them. They’ve recently observed that when discovering an IED, the Brits hold-up at safe distance whilst the experts neutralise the IED. So now they plant a second IED at the safe distance point away from a large and more obvious IED.

      It will take a constant adaptation of techniques and training of our troops to try and stay one step ahead of the Taliban, and all this ability to adapt is going to be required of Afghanistan’s own army before we can pull out of the country.

  5. Senex
    06/09/2009 at 3:50 pm

    The Taliban and their foreign helpers are unlikely to be defeated they will simply fade away to form another Al-Qaeda (military base) elsewhere, I use the word Al-Qaeda in the original sense used by OBL in 2001. The US changed its meaning to ‘the network’ to give form to its anger and impotence in the face of a crime. In doing so they brought together disparate Islamic anarchist groups under one internationally recognizable label, furthering their cause.

    With hindsight a better name would have been the ‘Shayatin’ as this has real meaning in Islam for an evil free will. The ‘Shayatin’ will always seek out their birthplace, the smokeless fire of creation. In neighbouring Iran and Pakistan would nuclear power allow them renewal after being diminished by prayer? Who serves the ‘Shayatin’ in these countries?

    The Taliban have wide support in southern Afghanistan but I don’t think they are regarded as belonging to the ‘Shayatin’. Instead they may be thought more like an Islamic Puritan movement, not that the average Afghani would know what a Puritan was.

    Philosophically it is this that I find so sad about US involvement. A nation that moved on from its Puritan roots finds itself embroiled with violent Puritans seeking to establish their way of life. If the Taliban ally themselves with the ‘Shayatin’ they will be destroyed. Better to find a political solution without the ‘Shayatin’.

    As for ourselves we have been dragged along by events. In a nation with a GDP of around 35 billion USD I fear that Afghani governments will come to be even more dependant on foreign funding with little incentive to have foreign troops leave their soil. To add emphasis to this who will pay year on year for General Afghani Stan’s enlarged army?

    You may say: “Those with military experience will know that AWOL = absent without leave!” Many here will wish that AWOL = Afghanistan Without Our Lads.

    Ref: World Guide – Afghanistan
    http://www.intute.ac.uk/worldguide/html/802.html

  6. Frank W. Summers III
    13/09/2009 at 8:03 pm

    Senex,
    I am very critical of Pax Britanica, Pax Americana, the original Pax Romana, the Delian League and the bad behavior of the historical Gilgamesh. This is cheeky but serious. However, apathy and cowardice are worse politics than imperialism.

    A strong healthy Afghanistan with concessions to US companies and Birtish interests I face unblinking. There are handful of people who have been exposed to more of the rough and tumble of the wide world than I and lived to tell the tale. But despite no military record and a due respect for those millions who wear their countries colors I will limit it at a handfull. The British Empire I do not pretend to understand quite as well as those who host this site. Unless you and I start paying the bills here Lord Soley may have us booted.

    • Senex
      15/09/2009 at 4:58 pm

      Frank: “The British Empire I do not pretend to understand quite as well as those who host this site. Unless you and I start paying the bills here Lord Soley may have us booted.”

      Your first point is a worry for me in terms of US foreign policy; does Congress know enough about the British Empire and the bag of worms it left behind it whilst it tries to do the right thing in Afghanistan?

      Your second point is important. There is a difference between us in the nature of our blogging. You have chosen in your posts to fully reveal your identity whilst I have chosen to use a non-de-plume.

      There is another difference between us; your free speech rights are protected by the 1st and 14th amendments to the US constitution, mine are not. Blogging in the US is presenting new challenges everyday but the arguments have been going on for some years; see link below.

      This blog as you say is something else. Blogging here is not to talk to the monkey but to talk to the organ grinder. It is very high profile often very scary and quite unique.

      The difference between our life peers and your Senators is that the latter have to suck up to an awful lot of people just to get re-elected our peers do not. In this respect I don’t think the Senate is going to have a similar blog any time soon.

      My spelling I’m sure gives Lord Soley problems but it remains a mute point as to whether he would ever declare either of us ‘Bard from the Blog’.

      Ref: McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission
      http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1994/1994_93_986
      http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=000&invol=U10296

      • franksummers3ba
        15/09/2009 at 8:12 pm

        Senex,
        I will cheapen and personalize (usualy disparate things but…) this a bit more to say the entertaining parts of your last were well put and well taken. We could of course become the “barred bards once at Lords” and lard lured lairds and others into a larder or learned lore more lovingly lettered. I never spell well here but may tell that I seldom spell like hell in some other venues.

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