Health and Happiness

In gratitude to all followers and viewers of this website for their support in 2022, I wish you health and happiness during the festive season.

I remember particularly the feeling of being separated from my family on Christmas Day in Belfast during the Troubles and in Libya during the Arab Spring. So for the Armed Forces men and women, who are serving King and Country on operations at Home or Abroad and especially to those on guard in sangars on Christmas Day, I heartily thank you for your duty and wish you best fortune during 2023.

The Divis Tower Christmas Day 1981

Military Assistance In The Spotlight…Again

This week we should spare a thought for the soldiers, sailors and air personnel who will lose their hard-earned Christmas leave to stand-in for ambulance drivers and border staff.

I was involved in many operations designated as military aid to the civilian authorities (known as MACA) during my time in the Army, but some were more popular than others. In my experience, soldiers preferred to help vulnerable people during natural disasters such as flooding, or severe snow storms rather than any tasks related to industrial action such as Operation Fresco, which used the iconic Green Goddess fire tenders. It worried many of us when we became involved with industrial disputes because we were seen as strike breakers and were alienating some sections of the public from who we need support. This is the main reason why the military chiefs are pitched against the planned operations (as well as the other issues such pay and availability of troops).

It used to be a rare occurrence that the military was called to help at Home, but since the Foot and Mouth operation, it seems that we have been needed more frequently for national tasks such as Olympic security, Covid relief and illegal immigration. There is a great danger the public starts to believe that the Army is organised for civil contingencies, when in fact this is not even a funded activity. The problem is that the Media does not tell the public what the Armed Forces are really doing in places such as Africa, the Baltic and Iraq because it doesn’t suit their narrative. We really do need a much better public explanation of what the military does on a day-to-day basis.

The Iconic Green Goddess on Operation Fresco

Lockerbie Suspect in US Custody

The report today that Abu Aghila Mohammad Masud has been finally handed over to US authorities, two years after Washington announced their charges against him, has catapulted the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 into the news ten days before the 34th anniversary of this devastating terrorist attack over Lockerbie.

I have often been asked whether it was Libya or Iran that was behind the Lockerbie bombing. The argument for Iran’s involvement is that they were seeking revenge for the shooting down of one of their civilian aircraft by a US warship five months earlier. The much stronger case is that Gadhafi was retaliating for the loss of the Aouzou Strip, a disputed piece of land between Chad and Libya that is full of Uranium deposits and provided the Brother Leader with much of his nuclear weapon capability. Gadhafi believed that the French and American military assistance to Chad tipped the balance and led to 7,000 Libyans being killed in what became known as the Toyota War.

His first act of revenge was to destroy a French DC-10 that was flying from Brassaville (in the People’s Republic of Congo) to Paris on 19 September 1989. The death of all the 170 passengers and crew, from 18 countries, was not widely reported because it occurred over the Niger desert, but the use of a suitcase bomb should have put everyone on high alert.

A similar mode was used against the US Boeing-747 en-route from London to New York. The violent death of 259 passengers and crew as well as eleven residents of Lockerbie was much more widely reported than the September bombing, but I find it strange how few reporters made the connection between the two attacks that were only three months apart.

The censure of the international community and the reaction of President Reagan condemned Libya into ten years of isolation until Gadhafi agreed to hand over two individuals, who were tried by the Scottish courts. His seclusion ended after he donated $1 Billion to the families of the victims of Lockerbie and handed over his weapons of mass destruction and agreed to help US and UK intelligence agencies in the fight against Al Qa’ida. Much more of this story is covered in chapters 15 and 16 of my book, Liberating Libya, which I wrote with help from the British ambassadors at the time of Gadhafi’s reintegration into the international community.

WMD Ready for Loading onto a US C-17 at Mitiga Airbase Following Gadhafi’s Lockerbie deal with the US Government

US Prisoner Exchange With Russia

The exchange of US sportswoman, Brittney Griner with Arms Dealer, Viktor Bout, reminds us of Russia’s long history of prisoner swaps. Human hostage trades were established early in the Communist era and continued throughout the Second World War and the Cold War. The first prisoner exchange treaty, which set the standard for subsequent agreements, was brokered between the British MP, Jim O’Grady and Lenin’s envoy, Maxim Litvinov in 1920 (the draft agreement that was signed on 12 February can be found in Appendix 3 of my book, Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners).

US military prisoners captured during the Russian Civil War were released early in 1920, but there remained a few civilians who were arrested for spying and were held in Moscow along with British and French hostages. Perhaps the most infamous case was that of Mrs Margueritte Harrison. She travelled to Moscow as the correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, but was arrested on Good Friday and taken to Lubjanka prison on the same night as Francis McCullagh. She was tortured by the Tcheka and coerced to act as a Soviet agent. Her false reports led to the arrest of Mrs Stan Harding, correspondent for the New York World, but did not save her from being re-arrested in October 1920 and sent to the Novinsky Prison for Women, eventually being released on 29 July 1921, in exchange for American famine relief.

British prisoners released by the Russians were always quarantined and “debriefed” by MI6, in order to check whether they had been “turned”, or sympathised with Soviet ideology. When you read that Brittney Griner has been taken to an Army Base in San Antonio to help her adapt back to normal life, you can be sure that an element of this programme will be controlled by the Central Intelligence Agency for the same purposes. The ten month imprisonment must have been an extremely traumatic experience for her, but not as bad as the fifteen months of Bolshevik torture suffered by Margueritte Harrison.

Why Somalia?

The visit by the Minister for Development and Africa to Somalia this week begs the question why do we put our priority there and not closer to home in Libya and the Maghreb?

London has awarded medals to troops deployed in Somalia for more than ten years. We are currently involved in several military operations including the African Union peacekeeping mission, the United Nations support mission, the European Union training mission as well as our own support to the Somali National Army in the government’s “comprehensive approach to security”. Many people who I served with in Libya moved on to East Africa to help with the fight against international terrorism.

The reasons why we are in the Horn of Africa date back to the humiliation of the US portrayed so vividly in the film “Black Hawk Down” and Washington’s decision to pull out of complex peacekeeping operations. What particularly vexed the International Community was the way Somali pirates disrupted the sea lanes in the Indian Ocean from the bottom of the Suez Canal to the Seychelles. Apart from protecting international trade, we are also helping to prevent the spread of militancy into neighbouring countries such as Kenya and the proliferation of weapons into Arabia.

The media highlighted the very important issue of humanitarian assistance in their coverage of Andrew Mitchell’s visit but yet again failed to mention the outstanding work of the British Army overseas. It is another example of the suppression of the whole truth to suit an editorial narrative that neglects our armed forces and hides them from the public eye.