I was booked this afternoon to speak on Five Live Drive’s first item after the news, Afghanistan. Originally, they asked me to comment on the Chief of the Defence Staff’s admission that the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee was wrong in its assessment and his implicit criticism of the intelligence services. However once on air, Nuala McGovern asked me more about the Prime Minister’s statement in the House of Commons and since neither he nor anyone else in Parliament mentioned intelligence failings, I had to introduce the subject myself.
The Prime Minister is understandably trying to move on and believes that by acknowledging the courageous work of the soldiers (and airmen) on Operation Pilling and highlighting the future support to those seeking sanctuary, he can draw a line under the whole affair. However, the failings highlighted by General Sir Nick Carter yesterday should not be swept under the carpet. What he seems to be saying is that there is too much “Groupthink” in the analysis and committee discussions. This might be because people are afraid of speaking truth to power on the grounds that they might lose their job, but it could also be that we are simply relying too much on radio intercepts because our human intelligence services have deteriorated so drastically in the past decade. That was certainly my experience in Libya after the botched secret service attempt at entering the country in February 2011, for which William Hague had to apologise in Parliament (see chapter 16 of my new book Liberating Libya).
The other aspect which was equally worrying was the headline about using every “economic, political and diplomatic lever” and rallying international consensus. This mirrors the US President’s approach to the problem, but apart from the disrespect to the armed forces (or military lever) who are still working on the Afghanistan project (not just drones and surveillance aircraft), the idea of holding onto “frozen assets” will only push the Taliban into the arms of our adversaries, who are less scrupulous about providing assistance to repressive regimes.
We too need to be judged by actions not words. If we wish to influence the Taliban government, we must share the risks on the ground as men like TE Lawrence, Glubb Pasha and Milo Talbot did in the past. The answer lies in history.
Kandahar Airbase October 2005