Interesting review of Desperate Glory-book about 16th AAB

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by jumpinjarhead, Sep 20, 2009.

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  1. Bruce Anderson: We are literally adding insult to injury

    With better kit and more troops, our Afghan mission could yet be salvaged

    Monday, 21 September 2009

    In 2008, an outstanding young warrior took a risk. After an early promotion to brigadier shortly after commanding 22 SAS, Mark Carleton-Smith had also been rewarded with one of the most coveted and challenging posts in the British Army: the command of 16 Air Assault Brigade, which is always likely to be in the front line of the front line. Now, Brigadier Mark and his men were off to Helmand. In Sam Kiley's words: "The battlefield was complex, the background politics opaque; even the reasons for the war ... seemed to be constantly shifting."

    However opaque, politics was always present. The modern Army is accustomed to pol-mil: military operations in a political context. Afghanistan is a good example. Mark Carleton-Smith's life would be complicated enough as it was, yet he agreed, enthusiastically, to an additional complexity: the presence of a journalist, Sam Kiley. Sam would not be embedded, with an escort to give discreet guidance. He would be living among the troops, sharing their hardships and their dangers, with no restrictions on his reporting. Had an operation gone hideously wrong, he would have been there to write about it, if he had lived. He could have apportioned blame. The Brigadier might then have copped the blame for enabling him to do so.

    We should be grateful that Mark Carleton-Smith took the gamble. Sam Kiley has produced an outstanding book – Desperate Glory, Bloomsbury, £18.99 – which will join the classics of military history. At times, the prose is raw, but what it lacks in polish it gains in intensity.

    Although there is none of Tolstoy's detachment, Sam describes a Tolstoyan battlefield, with an additional hazard. Even if Tolstoy's officers were cut off from HQ's orders, they did not have to worry about collateral damage. Ours do. Operating on their own, with the constant need for instant decisions, young – very young – officers and NCOs have to get it right. Hearts and minds on the one hand: survival on the other. Fire on the wrong target, and it could mean protests across the world, with the entire mission in jeopardy, so all the sacrifices might have gone for nothing. Hold fire, and there could be more coffins returning to Britain: more sacrifices, more tragedy, more grief.

    Our author was close enough to those soldiers to see the options through their eyes. He talks us through the decision-making process. He makes the reader feel that he was there at the lung-bursting sprint to cover, as the bullets kick up the dust. There to witness the heroism, as men who have just reached relative safety run back through the gunfire to rescue a wounded comrade. There, for the desperate struggle to staunch the bleeding and keep the man alive until the casevac helicopter can reach him. There, too, at headquarters when the tone of voice changes over the radio and the casualty is no longer T3: maximum urgency. It is now T4, not the same need to hurry. The struggle has been unavailing. The man is dead.

    A sniper, Tom Neathway, died, twice. Each time, his heart was restarted. There was no way of saving his legs, or his left arm. Eight months later, he was skiing and sky-diving. The senior officers who run the awards committees must have a problem. How do you decide who should receive a gallantry medal, when they all deserve one?

    This is not a polemical book. Sam Kiley is content to amass testimonies and evidence. Only then do the conclusions become apparent. He and the men he talks to believe in the war. They think that we are in Helmand for good reasons and that, one day, the inhabitants might be grateful to us.

    They also think that we are going about it with the wrong kit and an inadequate number of troops. There are not enough men to hold the ground which other men died to liberate. It is no use winning a firefight during the day if you then have to pull back at nightfall. It is impossible to win the locals' trust if they know that with the darkness, the Taleban will return . The over-stretched troops are also forced to fight with out-of-date weaponry. A dozen more helicopters could make a significant difference, as would armoured vehicles that could withstand roadside bombs.

    In June 2008, Corporal Sarah Bryant was killed, the first female soldier to die in Afghanistan. As she was pretty, blond and recently married, her death was in the headlines. It came as no surprise to the men in theatre. Girls drive trucks, run intelligence operations and dismantle bombs. Sooner or later, it was inevitable that luck would run out. But the hard part was the way she and three comrades died. They were blown up in a "Snatch" vehicle, which is useless against mines. The troops call it the "Magimix. It's supposed to protect people from bombs and bullets but really just chews them up".

    This was too much for her commander, Major Sebastian Morley. When he completed his tour of duty, he resigned, saying that the continued use of Snatch was "cavalier at best, criminal at worst". That provoked perhaps the most ignorant and most contemptible comment ever made by a government minister and, unlike his present boss, Bob Ainsworth, Quentin Davies does not even have the excuse of stupidity.

    Mr Davies, in charge of defence procurement, and who has visited Afghanistan, said the following: "There may be occasions when in retrospect a commander chooses the wrong vehicle for the particular threat, and we have had some casualties as a result". The public is invited to imagine garages full of vehicles and a commander choosing the wrong one, just as a golfer might pick the wrong club. What insolent nonsense. The troops in Helmand have always wrestled with shortages. It is make do and mend. There has never been any choice.

    But there is one great choice, for which we should all be grateful. The men and women in Sam Kiley's book all chose to risk their lives to serve their country. In Sam Kiley's words: "they somehow spread the notion that relentless fighting, terrible food, sleep deprivation and outright exhaustion were a privilege". This book pays tribute to their tenacity, their courage and their humour. As well as joining in the laughter, the rest of us should pay them the most useful tribute: a resolution that no more soldiers will be patronised to their deaths by Quentin Davies for the want of a few million pounds' worth of basic equipment.
  2. Well, I'll be buying the bood. Should be an insightful read.

    The above quote shows just how hopeless our current government is. A government filled with incompetents who think they know better than everyone else.

    And all following the same mantra "Deny! Deny! Deny!" :evil: :x
  3. Did Mr Davies ever recant that remark?

    The PMT had a mix of SNATCH and WMIK, AFAIK but not so many vehicles as to be able to decide that everyone will be in one type. To get enough people out the front gate you took all the vehs which meant both types.