A scandal greater than phone hacking reporters, toadying politicians, and corrupt policemen all rolled up together has surfaced.
Yet the Operations in Afghanistan report of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, published at the weekend threatens to be overshadowed in the wave of arrests and resignations that continue in the wake of the News of The World furore.
The report concluded: “It is unacceptable that UK Forces were deployed in Helmand for three years from 2006 without the necessary personnel, equipment or intelligence to succeed in their mission.”
In other words too few were ordered to do too much with too little.
“The force levels deployed throughout 2006, 2007 and 2008 were never going to achieve what was being demanded,” said the committee’s chairman MP James Arbuthnot.
When the Taliban switched tactics and increased the employment of roadside bombs the MoD didn’t “respond quickly enough to these challenges.” It took time to introduce properly armoured vehicles.
From the start of operations in Afghanistan in 2001 to mid-June 2012, 371 British military personnel were killed with a further 586 very seriously or seriously wounded.
Implicit in the report is that some, perhaps many, of these tragedies might have been avoided if the military and political top brass had done their jobs better.
If the MoD had concerns they weren’t being communicated to ministers.The chiefs of staff didn’t forward the complaints of commanders on the ground to the Cabinet. Either they couldn’t appreciate the gravity of the problems, in which case they were incompetent; or if they did they thought the truth wouldn’t be well received by their political masters. In this case their conduct, well, let’s just say it poorly served the ranks. As the MoD didn’t release all the documents the committee required we can’t be certain.
Today Defence secretary Liam Fox announced the re-balancing of our armed forces which is intended to follow the UK's withdrawal from Afghanistan (no easy matter according to the select committee’s report).
Reducing the Army to its smallest size since the Boer War with just 84,000 regulars and a beefed up Territorial Army of 36,000 by 2020 is being driven by cost saving rather than strategy. What mustn’t be repeated are the mistakes made in Afghanistan where troops may have paid with their lives for “a failure in military and political co-ordination.”