Tuesday, January 09, 2007

to all of those men..

Well, who else saw Sean Langan's film from the mission down to Garmser last year? Still can't stop thinking about it. A small advisory/training team and a company or so of Afghan police were sent down from Camp Bastion to Garmser in the far south to establish a government presence on roads leading in from Pakistan. The operation was expected to last 24 hours.

It lasted six days. Helicopter resupply was delayed again and again, until the medical stores and the ammunition ran short. Even casualty evacuation was held up, again and again, due to the shortage of airlift - the only available Chinook had been summoned to the survivors of a multiple mine strike. The Taliban turned out to have around 1,000 men in the area and ample supplies of mortars, RPGs and 107mm rockets. Not just that, they were firing from positions with concrete overhead cover.

The Toms were fighting from WMIK Land Rovers, mobile and bristling with .50 calibre machine guns but utterly without any armour. The Afghan police, from civilian (US Ford, naturally) pickups. The only suitable vehicle belonged to some Estonian medics. Eventually the "final objective", a canal just outside the ruins that passed for "town", was taken, whereupon the Afghan police commander decided that it couldn't be held. His last appearance had been after a prisoner was brought in, wounded, when he tried to interfere with the medics treating him in order to interrogate - well, torture - the guy, which the Scottish (Army Air Corps - but then, the commander was Household Cavalry, and the team included Camilla's Killers, Royal Irish and Royal Scots TA among others) RSM saw him off from.

Now, what?

It looks like two US battalions are being withdrawn from Afghanistan for...guess what? The Surge. They should be gone just in time for the spring campaigning season, when the Taliban have been boasting of a drive against the Kabul-Kandahar road. Le Canard Enchainé recently mentioned tales that an SAS patrol near Kabul encountered serious opposition and that infiltrators were feared to be setting up near the city. I'm not sure this has much credence, as one false move anywhere in Afghanistan can mean heavy opposition. But it's not good.

But digging in that story, there's worse. Colonel Chris Haas, the head of US special forces operations in Afghanistan, describes the situation as "bleak". Now, anyone who has read Sean Naylor's Not a Good Day to Die will know that Haas needs a lot of bleak to put him off. Trucks rolling over? Afghan allies running away? Air support not shown up? Allies want to attack friendly village? Air support turns up and bombs wrong side? No sweat. Bleak.

Meanwhile, the refurbishment of MOD Main Building costs £2.35 billion pounds. Which would fix most of the immediate problems, with a billion left over for spice. But the good news is - the Government wants to X-ray young asylum seekers to check they are not pretending to be young in order to get benefits. The Royal College of Paediatrics says it doesn't work. The Royal College of Radiographers says it's unethical to irradiate people without medical purpose. In total, there are 2,500 cases of dispute about age a year, of which 60 per cent in a pilot at the Oakington detention centre were telling the truth. So that's 1,000 people a year who might perhaps maybe be getting tuppence more than Rupert Murdoch says they should.

And, as always, whoever proposed this is innumerate. At best the examination is accurate to within +-2 years - seeing as the key age is 18 and a range between 16-20, even on the manufacturers' promise it's completely useless.

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