Thursday, 30 August 2007

'Unfriendly Fire'

A 2002 report on MofD attempts to improve combat identification said:

"History shows that fratricide is an unavoidable feature of warfare."
In the fog of war, accidents have always happened. Although true, these sentiments will be of little consolation to the families of the three British soldiers killed on August the 23 when a single 500lb bomb was dropped on to the British fighting position in error. But there is something else. To us in Britain the phrase 'friendly fire' has in recent years come to represent a very particular brand of fratricide: the deaths of UK soldiers under American fire.

Not surprisingly, the common reaction in Britain was almost immediate: why did it always seem to be American pilots who killed our men? The second, and just as important question is, do British soldiers have the right equipment to protect themselves against friendly fire?

As an investigation began, commander of the British taskforce in Afghanistan, went out of his way to play down any suggestion that the American pilots had been too gung-ho. Of course we understand that pilots flying at high speed find it immensely difficult to distinguish friend from foe on the ground when the combatants are so close together. And the technology is not always available to help them. Not surprisingly there have been many close calls and occasional tragedies.

Alternatives? Not really. The air cover must be relied on unless more troops were deployed on the ground. As one defence analyst puts it: "If you don't want that [air cover] then you have to provide enough troops on the ground so that you don't need to call on the Americans to pull your chestnuts out of the fire." So, the alternative - more ground troops, which we don't have, not now anyway. Which brings us back to American pilots and equipment for our soldiers.

We know that this is not the first time that American bombing activities come under scrutiny and criticism - only recently a senior British officer requested that US special operations forces pull out of his area because they were calling in too many airstrikes and killing too many civilians. Reportedly, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots said that they and the French pilots had often pulled out of attacks because of the risk of killing civilians, only to see US pilots called in to attack the same targets. The only other case of British service personnel being killed by in friendly fire involving American military personnel in Afghanistan until now is still under investigation. So we do have valid reasons to be suspicious when told an official explanation.

As for the right equipment, there has been a constant criticism of the MoD since the first Gulf war in 1991, that Britain is not doing enough to protect its troops against friendly fire incidents. At the recent inquest into the death of Lance Corporal of Horse Matty Hull, who was killed when two US A10s attacked his convoy early in the Iraq war, these questions were asked again.

The Commons public accounts committee criticised the MoD five years ago for not doing enough to protect military personnel from friendly fire accidents. When it revisited the issue in May, it found that the situation was scarcely any better, concluding that “...half the programmes seeking a tactical solution for friendly fire had been delayed, deferred or changed. The issue appears to have the low priority at the MoD.”

Sending troops to Afghanistan, defence secretary John Reid said he would be ‘very happy’ if they did not fire a shot. Well, after more deaths last week, with casualties fast becoming the highest since the WWII, his words ring glib and hollow. In the face of this sustained danger in Iraq and Afganistan, Britain's armed forces deserve our every support.

This brings us to the subject of Military Covenant. The Military Covenant sets up that in return for asking our Service personnel to risk their lives and limbs on our behalf, the people of this country through the Government undertake to give them the resources they need. The Government is also under obligation to ensure that if injured the soldiers will receive the best possible care (including long-term care), and if killed their families will be looked after.

They wish it was - there is a growing feeling amongst the Forces that the Government doesn't hold its side of the bargain. Gordon Brown came out of holiday hideout to co-ordinate the Government's response to gun crime, however, on war he remains conspicuously silent. But then what else can you expect from him?

I quite agree with the shadow defence secretary Liam Fox who spoke for a lot of people when he went after Brown for starving the armed forces of funding: "As chancellor, Gordon Brown never gave defence much priority and now the skies are black with chickens coming home to roast." How true, but tell it to the lads...

P.S. You may also find interesting the following links:

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Your child has a problem? Ask the school to solve it!

Just in time for kids going back to school: re dumb attacks on state education.

Blaming state educational system for our stupidity or screwed up lives is very easy but I would like to say something that state schools might put forward in their defence. We would all do well to bear this in mind as our children start another school year.

There was no “Golden Age” of British state education. The idea that there was a “Golden Age” time when everyone was being well educated is a myth. Today state education in Britain strives to educate every child — regardless of race, creed, socio-economic level, family background or mental and physical challenges. State education serves the masses - a very commendable concept, but it obviously presents a unique set of challenges.

State schools are expected to deal with numerous social problems. We expect state schools to deal with every perceived problem that comes down the pike. Not only must the schools assimilate students from every conceivable background and experience, they are also expected to “make every child ‘proficient’ in English and maths; educate the blind, the mentally handicapped and the emotionally disturbed to the same levels as all others; teach the evils of tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and premarital sex; prepare all for university; No wonder some schools have trouble meeting their educational mission.

Now, here comes the punchline: schools cannot do it alone. The reason the children of affluent parents tend to out-perform the children of low-income parents isn’t because low-income people are inherently stupid. It’s because affluent parents tend to be more involved in their children’s lives and have the resources to create a more intellectually stimulating environment at home.

There are things low-income parents can do to even the playing field – such as turning off the television and hitting the public library regularly. I can hear people saying, "Well, sometimes it’s tough to do even these simple things when you are struggling to keep your head above water financially or working more than one job" - well, tell me about it. Anyway, I don't believe this is the case. Today's problematic kids come mainly from broken homes with neither parent having no interest in their children lives. Period.

This last point is probably the most important. We have a bad habit of looking at state schools as merely a means to an end: - you send your child there, and your child gets educated. Actually, the first education your child receives is at home, and he or she should continue receiving education at home until they leave the school. Parents must be partners with state education, not just passive users. Full stop.

P.S. I would like to thank the US-based Carpetbagger Report for providing the inspiration for this post. I was also surprised to see that our cousins from across the pond seem to have very similar attitude problems!

Friday, 24 August 2007

British soldiers get super-weapon to fight war on terror in Afganistan - 2 years after USMC tried it in Iraq

A story broke out yesterday about a brutal new 'war on terror' super-weapon being supplied to British soldiers in Afghanistan. It employs technology based on the "thermobaric" principle which uses heat and pressure to kill people targeted across a wide air by sucking the air out of lungs and rupturing internal organs.

The "enhanced blast" weapon has been used before. The Soviet Union used it in Afganistan, then the Russians quite succesfully used it in Chechnia, where these powerful bombs were dropped both during the siege of Grozny, the Chechen capital, and in the mountains against the rebels hiding in caves and underground bunkers. They were later used by the US in "bunker busters" bombs and more recently against al-Qaida and Taliban underground bases.

Such weapons are brutally effective because they first disperse a gas or chemical agent which is lit at a second stage, allowing the blast to fill the spaces of a building or the crevices of a cave. Combined heat and pressure kill people over a wide area by sucking the air out of lungs and destroying internal organs.

One post-action report from Iraq by US Marines described them as "an awesome piece of ordnance", as it proved highly effective in the battle for Fallujah.

UK defence officials insisted yesterday that the British bombs were different. "They are optimised to create blast [rather than heat]". In a typical double-speak they describe the new weapon as a "Shoulder-launched Light Anti-structure Munition" (SLAM?). According to them, the new weapons would be more effective against buildings and structures used by the Taliban then conventional munitions. They also said the bombs would be also more effective when compared to anti-tank missiles which often miss their targets, insisting that the damage is limited to a confined area.

So, why have they been so coy about it until now? Well, these days every civilian casualty means the loss of more “hearts and minds”, and thermobaric weapons almost invariably lead to civilian deaths. The Soviet Union was heavily criticized for using thermobaric weapons in Afghanistan because they were held to constitute "disproportionate force," and similar criticisms were made when thermobarics were used by the Russian forces in the Chechen conflict.

According to Human Rights Watch, thermobaric weapons

"kill and injure in a particularly brutal manner over a wide area. In urban settings it is very difficult to limit the effect of this weapon to combatants, and the nature of these explosions makes it virtually impossible for civilians to take shelter from their destructive effect."
So, it’s understandable why the Marines have made so little noise about the use of the SMAW-NE (Shoulder Mounted Assault Weapon - New Explosive) in Fallujah. However, keeping quiet about controversial weapons is a lousy strategy, as these days, with the Internet, mobile phones, etc, the truth will out very quickly, the media will find out – as they just did - and we end up handing another bit of propaganda to the bad guys.

Interestingly enough, it seems that the Parliament hasn't been told about this "super toy". Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, always very quick to react on these matters, said "We need much more transparency. The deployment of these weapons should have been announced to MPs." He described the weapons as a "serious step change" for the British army. And of course he is absolutely right in stating that, "...the continuing issue of civilian casualties in Afghanistan has enormous importance in the battle for hearts and minds. If these weapons contribute to the deaths of civilians then a primary purpose of the British deployment is going to be made yet more difficult."

Which raises the real question: what is a primary purpose of our troops being in Afganistan? Are we fighting the war - if yes, then surely the more brutal the impact to deliver quick result with minimum loss of our lives, the better? Or are we there performing policing and peace-keeping role, which presumes the war is over and one can concentrate on 'hearts-and-minds'? If the answer is the latter, then it sucks, because clearly in the eyes and minds of everybody except the US and British Governments, the war is being fought at full blast. Therefore, see the comment re question No.1. Pity about the soldiers, because it is they who are in the middle of this mess.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Writing Tip - How to solve World's hunger

When writing, anecdotes matter. So do images. That is one of the reasons why centuries later we still read Beowulf. If you think about it, Beowulf is just a fantasy cartoon of the day. And the metaphors, the images keep it alive. Must feed the reader's imagination! Remember what the school English teacher always said? - "No surprise for the writer - no surprise for the reader."

Well, my today's anecdote comes from Taxi Tales - thanks, Bob! The blogger is a taxi driver who couldn't help overhearing a couple of chavs - he and she - having a conversation in the back of the cab, as one does sometimes.

picture of chavChavette, - "Why didn't you eat the grub I made you?"
Chav, - "'Cos it was crap, luv."
Chavette, - "But starving people, like you see on the telly, would be glad of grub like that!"
Chav, - "I’ve got no sympathy with any of 'em, luv, 'cos why don't they just move, like get a bus, or someffin' an' go somewhere with a bit more nosh!"
Problem solved.

chav (noun): -- Chav/Charv/Charver, or even Chavster (male) and <Chavette (female) is a mainly derogatory slang term in the United Kingdom for a subcultural stereotype fashions derived from'Hip-Hop' (African-American) and 'Guido' (Italian-American) fashions and stereotypes such as gold jewellery and 'designer' clothing combined with elements of working class British street fashion. They are generally considered to be ignorant, unintelligent, and to have no respect for society.

Monday, 20 August 2007

“...feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues...”

So, what can you expect to find here in the days to come? - Random thoughts and angry rants on politics, news, history, Russia, the West, web, business on the web, moral issues, meaning of life, the blues, and frustrations of the day-to-day struggles to make sense of it all.

In the meantime, for those of you who are too young to know, or too old to remember, the title for this post comes from one of my favourite songs -Janis Joplin
Me and my Bobby McGee”,

written by Khris Kistofferson,

and performed by Janis Joplin:

"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose,

And nothin' aint worth nothin but its free..."