Throughout the past year more than 10,000 military men and women have worked tirelessly as part of the Government’s campaign to tackle Covid-19. Sadly, there has been very little coverage in the national newspapers of the wide range of tasks they have undertaken as part of Operation Rescript. Key activities include testing and vaccinations, as well as casualty transportation, logistic distribution, co-ordination and communications.
Twenty years ago, there was a clear understanding about the use of the military in a national emergency. The British Army had to take control of the Foot and Mouth Crisis in 2001 and four years later, had to prepare plans for the Fuel Blockade that included training 1,000 military drivers to operate oil tankers. Several times in the past decade, soldiers have had to reach out to communities that were devastated by extreme weather events, such as the flooding of the River Severn and everyone remembers the huge part played by service personnel, when G4S admitted they could not provide adequate security cover during the 2012 Olympic Games.
Isn’t it time for the National Media to properly inform the public about the fantastic work carried out be the military in support of the Covid Pandemic, rather than just report on the negative stories such as criminal prosecutions?
Waterstones and Amazon have now added my new book, Liberating Libya: to their online lists. However, do not hold your breath because my publisher intends to wait until after Lockdown and launch the book in October, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the death of Colonel Gadhafi.
The book is dedicated to the nine soldiers, who were awarded the Victoria Cross in Libya (five of them posthumous) and the only Libyan to be awarded the Military Cross in World War II.There also features about the British efforts to end the Tripoli slave trade in the 19th century and the six intrepid women, who carved their name in the desert.
Currently, we are choosing between two sub-titles: British Bonds of Friendship, or British Diplomacy and War in the Desert. Both accurately describe the subject of the book (Anglo-Libyan relations since the first treaty was signed during the reign of James II), but which do you think is better?
This week, we have seen a renewal of rhetoric about Libya. On Wednesday, Chatham House sent out a video explaining the consequences of the conflict and the latest work of the United Nations. The following day, the media exposed the role played by the Russian security firm, which has been increasing since its success in Syria.
This week sees the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the iconic Siege of Tobruk. On 10th April 1941, Rommel launched his first assault on the enclave, but this was halted by a heavy sandstorm and well-sited British guns. The following day was Good Friday, but there was no bank holiday for the defenders because the Afrika Korps drove straight up the El Adem Road, accompanied by a blistering bombardment from artillery and dive-bombers.
The attack was blocked by the Royal Tank Regiment and the Australian 20th Brigade, but the fight continued throughout Easter. On the night of 13th April, Corporal John Edmondson, a giant of a man from Wagga Wagga, rescued his patrol commander and beat back the German advance, but sadly he died of his wounds later that night. For his inspiring leadership and conspicuous bravery, which led to the defeat of the German Easter attack, he was awarded the first Victoria Cross to an Australian in World War II and the first of nine to be earned in Libya.
Commemorating John Edmondson, we must also remember what his sacrifice meant as we look forward to the Libyan national elections later this year.
The announcement that the government is creating four Ranger battalions as part of a Special Operations Brigade hammers another nail in the coffin of the Country Infantry Battalions. The idea of a Tier 2 Force is not new. As part of the post-9/11 Strategic Defence Review, we proposed a similar formation to support the Special Forces, but the Chief of the General Staff vetoed the idea because he believed it would mean the line infantry would be relegated to little more than garrison troops (he was a Royal Anglian).
Since then the county infantry battalions, which were the backbone of the British Army for two hundred years have been devastated by the last three Defence Reviews. Combined with the decision to dispose of our tracked armour (all Warrior infantry fighting vehicles and 79 Challenger tanks), this will limit Britain’s ability to move off roads and tracks in combat areas and will restrict the British Army to “security force” status, wholly dependent on the US military.
The decline and fall of the British Army since the First Gulf War is a tragic tale that is entering a new chapter. Whether this proves to be the denouement, or not depends on the attitudes of society and the state of the country’s finances after the Pandemic.