The civil case being brought by a retired police officer and funded by the Police Federation against the Libyan man allegedly thought to have murdered Yvonne Fletcher in St James’s Square, London in April 1984 will open a can of worms for the government next month.
The determined anti-terrorist police who have pursued the perpetrators of this crime for 37 years, gathering evidence in the UK and in Libya are livid that their criminal investigation was dropped by the government in 2017 and are now seeking retribution. On the one side, former government sources have described Saleh Ibrahim Mabrouk as an important “agent of influence” who was protected by the British Government when he moved back to Britain in 2009. On the other side, a former British ambassador and the head of MI6 between 1999 and 2004 have claimed that Mabrouk was not a “big fish”.
This was not the only questionable trade in the murky world of the Anglo-Libyan intelligence alliance after 9/11, which involved illegal renditions and billion dollar oil deals. For those who wish to learn more about this, I have, with the help of three British ambassadors, covered the rapprochement after the Lockerbie trial and the atmosphere of distrust within the joint investigative team that worked for a time in Tripoli in my new book, Liberating Libya.
The devastating death of Jethro Watson-Pickering in a Warrior fighting vehicle on Salisbury Plain on Friday has saddened everyone in the military community, but the tragic accident should not be used by those seeking to dilute the army’s capability as an excuse to make further cuts.
Throughout my time in the army, people on the touchline tried to lower the standards of training. Sometimes this was for politically correct reasons, so that lower grade applicants could reach the graduation threshold, but often it was because behind-the-scenes accountants wished to impose a moratorium on activity to save money.
There are some very hard choices being discussed in the Ministry of Defence at this moment. Unfortunately, with a Royal Navy Chief of Defence Staff (and Chief of Joint Operations), land capabilities are behind maritime and air power. The questions doing the rounds are: should we reduce the numbers of soldiers (and commandos), walk away from the army’s premier equipment project (Ajax), or dilute the highest level of training for war (tank to tank fighting)?
When this sort of discussion was held in the past, Ireminded the audience of Kofi Anan’s thoughts as the United Nations Secretary General: “In Eastern Slavonia, we deployed a force of heavily mechanised infantry and helicopter gunships. We went in with such strength that we didn’t have to use force and we successfully fulfilled the mandate.” Or, as a senior officer exclaimed in the 1980s, “Clout, Don’t Dribble!”
Effective deterrence and conflict prevention require credible land forces, not shop-window dressing, so we must resist the Machiavellian plotting against the army and save our soldiers.
Eleven days before the Foreign Secretary officially reopened Britain’s embassy in Tripoli, I was invited to apply for the post of the Senior British Officer in Libya having worked on the United Nations authorised operation since March 2011.
The tasks in the Chief of Defence Staff’s directive included hunting the three men indicted by the International Criminal Court and the resources to do this included British Special Forces and the UK’s spy plane flying from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. Initially, the Ministry of Defence wished to send an officer from the Royal Air Force, but eventually they saw sense and I was put on 48 hours notice to move.
By this time, Colonel Muammar Gadhafi was holed up in his home town of Sirte, where he moved from hideout to hideout in an ever-shrinking pocket held by a dwindling group of loyalist fighters. He swung from rage to despair over his loss of power and finally he made his fatal dash for freedom on 20th October. It was an ignominious ending, which he could have avoided by handing over power six months earlier. After his body was left on public display in Misuratah for four days, he was buried secretly with his son Mutassim and Abu-Bakr Younis Jabr, an original member of the RCC and former head of the army, who was with Gadhafi when he was killed. Meanwhile, the British focus switched to his brother-in-law, the intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi and his son, Saif al-Islam…
I intended to write about an emotive Libyan anniversary this week, but the news that the government has ordered the Armed Forces to deploy their drivers to deliver fuel to petrol stations cannot be ignored. This is not the first time this operation has been dusted down because in 2005, I was involved in preparing 1,000 drivers to operate tankers if the fuel blockade that was crippling the country continued.
The provision of military aid to the civil authorities is an act of desperation and only considered as the last resort. Of course the drivers from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force will be delighted to help and do their duty, but the use of Service personnel for domestic crises is becoming something of a habit for this government. The news that a royal marine general has been asked to sort out the National Health Service adds to the impression that there is a real problem in our national institutions.
The Army in Britain is not funded for domestic tasks other than a few specialist roles such as bomb disposal and ceremonial duties. They are supposed to be training for overseas operations such as the peacekeeping mission to Mali, or the conflict-prevention deployment to the Baltic states. The serious underfunding of the military in the past decade has compounded the issue of poor retention.
Society owes a huge debt to those serving in the British military who have helped the country in the past 18 months. It would be really good if our schools, colleges and universities were to recognise this debt by signing the Armed Forces Covenant (https://www.armedforcescovenant.gov.uk/get-involved/show-your-support/) and encouraging their students to join up.