Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Kim Sengupta was published in The Independent, Augiust 31, 2009.
The commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan will ask for 20,000 more international troops as part of his new strategic plan for the alliance's war against a resurgent Taliban, The Independent has learned.
The demand from General Stanley McChrystal will almost certainly lead to more British soldiers being sent to the increasingly treacherous battlegrounds of Helmand, the Taliban heartland, despite growing opposition to the war.
General McChrystal, tasked with turning the tide in the battle against the insurgency on the ground, has given a presentation of his draft report to senior Afghan government figures in which he also proposes raising the size of the Afghan army and police force.
But the request for troop reinforcements will come at a time of intensifying public debate about the role of the Nato mission. Last month saw a record number of troop deaths and injuries in a conflict that has claimed more than 200 British soldiers since the start of the US-led invasion in 2001. British losses rose sharply last month with 22 deaths, making it the bloodiest month for UK forces since the Falklands war. August has been the deadliest month for American troops in the eight-year war. Most of the deaths have come from lethal roadside bombs that Western troops appear unable to combat effectively. For the first time, the American public now views the fight against the Taliban as unwinnable, according to the most recent opinion polls.
The conduct of the Afghan government has not helped the mood on either side of the Atlantic. While US, British and other foreign troops are dying in what is supposedly a mission to rid Afghanistan of al-Qa'ida militants and make the country safe for democracy, the incumbent President stands accused of forging alliances with brutal warlords and overseeing outright fraud in an attempt to "steal" the national elections, the results of which are still being counted.
Last week, General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, intervened against a backdrop of heightened debate about the UK's military role. He stressed that the objective of the war was "to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a sanctuary for al-Qa'ida and other extremists".
According to General McChrystal's draft plan, the number of Afghan troops would rise from 88,000 to 250,000, and the police force from 82,000 to 160,000 by 2012. These increases are higher than expected, with previous suggestions that the totals would be raised to 134,000 and 120,000 for the army and police respectively.
The US commander will, however, ask other Nato countries to send further reinforcements and will travel shortly to European capitals to discuss the issue. It is widely expected that the UK will send up to 1,500 more troops. At the same time, a force of 700 sent to help provide security for the Afghan elections last week on a temporary basis will become a permanent presence.
Following the withdrawal from Iraq, British military commanders, backed by the then Defence Secretary, John Hutton, had recommended in the spring that up to 2,500 extra troops could be sent to Afghanistan. However, following lobbying from the Treasury, Gordon Brown agreed to only the temporary deployment of 700. Criticism of the decision by senior officers has led, it is claimed, to Downing Street changing its stance.
General McChrystal, who replaced Gen David McKiernan as Nato chief in Afghanistan earlier this year, was originally due to produce his strategic report this month, but decided to wait until after the Afghan presidential election. According to Western and Afghan sources he is continuing to take soundings from various quarters and the finalised document is due out after it becomes clear whether or not a second round of voting is needed to decide the outcome of the poll.
As part of an initial troop surge overseen by General McChrystal, the US has already committed to boosting its forces from 31,000 to 68,000 this year. However Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan was told by commanders in Afghanistan last week that those numbers would not be enough for what is being viewed as defining months of fighting to come.
In his meeting with Afghan officials, General McChrystal is reported to have stated that the extra troops would be needed to enforce a new policy of maintaining a presence in the areas captured from insurgents. This will provide security for residents and allow reconstruction and development.
Other Nato nations have the option of focusing on the training of Afghan security forces. However, say American officials, failure by Nato countries to "step up to the plate" would mean the shortfall would be covered by the US.
Diplomatic sources have also revealed that plans are being drawn up to sign a "compact" between Afghanistan and the US which will reiterate Washington's commitment to the security of Afghanistan while the Afghan government pledges to combat corruption and reinforce governance. Unlike previous international agreements over Afghanistan, the compact will be bilateral, without any other governments being involved. The timing of the agreement is due to coincide with a visit by Mr Karzai to New York, if, as expected, he emerges the election winner.
This article, by Michael Evans, was published in The Times (London), Augiust 28, 2009.
Just 150 Afghan voters dared to go to the ballot box in the area of Helmand province where British soldiers sacrificed their lives to secure a safe election day, it was revealed yesterday.
The figures were released as the British Ambassador to Kabul admitted that troops could be engaged in combat in Afghanistan for five more years.
The Electoral Commission in Kabul said that early estimates of voting in the former Taleban stronghold of Babaji, north of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, indicated that few exercised their right to vote last Thursday. Several thousand people could have voted.
Four of the ten troops who died in Operation Panther’s Claw, the five-week offensive to drive the Taleban out of central Helmand before the presidential election, were killed in or around Babaji.
The ambassador, Mark Sedwill, did not deny the low vote count in Babaji, although he said that it was too early to be sure. He said: “Panther’s Claw, although timed to try to improve security for people to move around for the election, was not specifically itself about the election.”
However, the publicly stated aim of Panther’s Claw before it was launched on June 19 was to make the highly populated area between Lashkar Gah, Babaji and Gereshk safe for 80,000 Afghans to go to the polls without being intimidated by the Taleban.
Defence officials said that, if confirmed, the voting figures for Babaji would be “very disappointing”.
Mr Sedwill said that there was some anecdotal evidence that people from outlying areas travelled into more secure areas such as Lashkar Gah to vote “because they felt more confident in doing so”.
Speaking via video link from Kabul to a briefing at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he said that turnout was expected to be lower than the last presidential election and that he accepted that Taleban intimidation had an impact.
Air Vice-Marshal Andy Pulford, Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Operations), insisted that whether the voter turnout was low or not British troops had made dramatic progress in Panther’s Claw. “British Forces know exactly what they fought for,” he said. “They have seen with their own eyes the improved quality of life that security now enjoyed by thousands of Afghans in Babaji has delivered.”
Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: “If it’s as pathetically small as that [150 in Babaji] then one of the stated objectives [of Panther’s Claw] has not been met.”
Mr Sedwill’s prediction that the campaign could last another five years appeared to clash with the views of Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, who said ten days ago that the troops could begin to step back from the front line within “a year or so”, to be replaced by Afghan units.
The ambassador indicated that it would be between three and five years before Afghan soldiers were trained and ready to take over the security role in Helmand.
In the three years that British troops have been fighting the Taleban in Helmand, 202 members of the Armed Forces have died and about 800 have been injured in battle, 235 of them “very seriously” or “seriously”.
This article was posted to Military Families Against the War, August 23, 2009
The ‘Naming the Dead’ ceremonies, held in Edinburgh’s Princes Street and Glasgow’s George Square, came only hours after it emerged the son of a SAS hero is one of the latest British soldiers to be killed in Afghanistan.
Serjeant Paul McAleese, 29, of 2nd Battalion The Rifles, died alongside Private Jonathan Young, 18, of 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment in Helmand province on Thursday.
Sjt McAleese's father John McAleese, who lives near Falkirk, was at the centre of the dramatic raid that ended a siege on the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980.
He was watched by millions of television viewers as windows were blown out moments before the building was stormed and 19 hostages rescued from fanatical gunmen.
The deaths of Sjt McAleese and Private Young took the number of UK troops killed in the conflict to 206. They came as voters went to the polls in Afghanistan.
The Ministry of Defence said the troops were on a routine patrol not connected with election security. It later emerged that Sjt McAleese died in a secondary explosion after going to the aid of Private Young, who was killed in the initial blast.
Sjt McAleese leaves a widow, Jo, and a son, Charley, who was born a week before his deployment to Afghanistan
This list was published by the Independent, 10 August 2009
Guardsman Christopher King a 20-year-old from Merseyside was killed in an explosion while on patrol in Helmand on 20 July. Private John Brackpool was killed by a gunshot wound on 9 July while attached to the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards. The 27-year-old from Sussex was shot near Lashkar Gah. Lance Corporal Dane Elson was 22 when he was killed by an improvised explosive device during an attack on a compound in Babaji, near Gereshk on 5 July. Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe was a 39 year old from Oxfordshire. He was killed by an IED in Lashkar Gah on 1 July. Major Sean Birchall a 33-year-old, was killed in an explosion on 19 June while on patrol in Basharan near Lashkar Gah. Lieutenant Mark Evison, 26-year-old from London, died in hospital in Birmingham on 12 May after being shot in Helmand. Lance Sergeant Tobie Fasfous was killed by an explosion while on patrol in Helmand on 28 April.
This article, the author whose name has been withheld by the paper, was published by The Independent, August 10, 2009
My motivation is simple. Writing this helps vent off some of the frustration at what is happening out here in Afghanistan to those serving in the British Army, where death and serious injury are sickeningly common occurrences.
Before coming here, I had done two tours in Iraq which saw fierce fighting against the enemy. But, sometimes out here I feel I might as well be on my first tour, as a novice second lieutenant instead of a so-called senior captain with over eight years experience in the Army, due to a shocking rate of attrition that I have never encountered before.
Commentators keep citing previous figures for casualty rates in the Falkland's conflict, as well as the years in Northern Ireland, suggesting that, spread over the time we have been in Afghanistan, the figures here are not that bad.
How reassuring. For a moment I thought the rates might be quite bad; but thank goodness I have been shown that what we are experiencing is in fact a tolerable "medium" number of casualties.
Can we really only analyse the death and injury rate, or view it as a cause for concern, once we get past a certain benchmark or once the average number outstrips a previous average? I had hoped that human progression was a bit more advanced than that, and that there might be more to the situation than a comparison of statistics.
Then there are the injuries. I am talking about limbs removed, double or even triple amputations, on a scale that we've never seen before.
When you read about a "very seriously injured" casualty, that person's life is never going to be the same, nor is it for the rest of their family, who will be sucked in and forever affected by the aftermath.
So what effect does this have on us all out in Afghanistan? My experience of this is from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guard's Battle Group, who have endured a significant number of fatalities and seriously injured personnel, including the death of their commanding officer.
With each death I think each of us experiences a feeling of total shock, powerlessness and impotence. Within your mind you feel you have to do something, especially if you knew the individual. Back at home that might be to jump in the car and drive to some secluded spot where you can get out and scream at the top of your lungs to let out all the anguish. But here nothing of the sort is possible. You are all enclosed within your camp or patrol base; there is no refuge, no private corner to go to, to deal with your grief.
Around you everything else has to continue, and cannot stop. The radios still have to be manned and answered, the patrols still have to be planned, the convoys have to be organised. It is not as if you can take a day off to deal with the grief, to come to terms with it. And even if you could, what good would that do?
Who wants to go and sit in their tent, sweating in temperatures in the high 40s, brooding on the possibilities: what were they thinking in those last few moments, did they know what had happened, did they know they were dying, how terrified and alone did they feel?
The only option available is to embrace the alternative: keep joking with your friends, maintain the banter levels, swapping smutty jokes and stories – literally forcing yourself to keep smiling.
I do not say that as a praiseworthy example of that renowned, age-old, plucky, English stiff upper lip. Far from it – it may be our worst enemy.
After death, life obviously has to go on, but I have always felt that life should go on having learnt a lesson from that death, improving your life as a testament to that life robbed – not merely moving on with a smile, whilst showing "fortitude".
I am just speaking for those of us who deal with the deaths and injuries in Afghanistan indirectly, as an explosion in the distance, followed by a report on the radio, then a helicopter coming in to pick up the casualty.
As for those who deal directly with the deaths and injuries, who have to go into the Viking vehicles after the explosion to pull out the casualties, who have to tourniquet the remaining stumps after both the legs of a person have been blown off, those who have to pick up the leftover pulpy fragments of a disintegrated body and put them into a bag, I am not sure how they react.
I would imagine in a similar way to the rest of us: you put it aside as soon as you can, as there is nothing to be achieved in thinking about it. All you will do is think yourself into a corner, where you are faced with the absurdity and horrid waste of it all. And if you let that take a hold, how are you meant to perform, drag yourself out of your tent at 4am after just three hours sleep, to go on another foot patrol, another 18-hour convoy, another 12-hour shift in the operations room? It does not work.
There is so much that still needs to be done, there are still weeks to get through, more patrols and convoys that need to be completed. So the event of each death is placed away, zipped up in a mental body bag, back in the recesses of your mind.
However, unlike a real body bag, which fortunately disappears, that mental body bag remains in the morgue of your sub-conscious, quite possibly to come out and be re-opened, once you return home and have the chance to think about each death, each injury, each friend gone.
Then there are the equipment shortages. Due to the pitiful numbers of support helicopters and Apaches needed to escort them, every day troops on the ground are forced to expend an enormous amount of hours and manpower just standing still. They sacrifice their reserves of energy, motivation and willpower securing and picketing routes for the never-ending vehicle convoys that have to keep happening in order to resupply the patchy spread of patrol bases with water, ammo and rations; as well as recovering the vehicles that invariably go into ditches and securing helicopter landing-sites for the evacuation of casualties from improvised explosive device strikes.
I think if Sisyphus (the Greek mythological character cursed to roll a huge boulder repeatedly up a hill, only to watch it roll back down again, throughout eternity) could see us now, he would offer his sincere condolences and offer a friendly arm around the shoulder, saying that he knew what it felt like.
If someone provided one of those garishly coloured (army) pie charts depicting the percentage of time and effort sucked up into the black hole of orchestrating these road moves, it would provide a statistic that would be both shocking and embarrassing. It might also partly explain why the military is struggling to gain an advantage over the Taliban and cannot hold a significant amount of ground. Its energy, time and focus is bound up with those road moves, and our most vital asset, our troops, are either sweating on the sides of the roads, securing them, or sweating inside the vehicles of those often doomed convoys. I am not criticising the military on the ground, who have to deal with this dilemma. Everyone seems to already agree on this issue of the equipment, in particular the lack of support helicopters – which rather begs the question of how on earth is nothing done about it? And how does the fact that nothing gets done about it seem to be the status quo and keeps occurring year after year, budgetary policy after budgetary policy, operational tour after operational tour? If a magic genie were to appear in front of my eyes, who in keeping with the spirit of the present credit crunch cutbacks, could afford to grant me just one wish, I think I would simply choose a massive increase in helicopters and pilots – a wish that would have such a crucial influence on what is happening to the British Army out here.
We are dealing here with a tenacious and stubborn enemy. Despite our dropping bombs on compounds that the enemy is using as firing-points, the very next day, new enemy fighters are back.
On the one hand, perhaps the enemy command is so feared, authoritative and manipulative that they force unwilling fighters into those compounds as pure cannon fodder. On the other, perhaps, the fighters willingly go back, despite their comrades having been killed there, so strong is their faith in an afterlife, or so strong is their belief in the jihad they are fighting.
Whatever the reason, they come back undaunted to the same firing-points, despite our overwhelming fire power. Their numbers seem to stay constant, as opposed to decreasing – all of which gives a strong indication that we will not be able to reduce their numbers to a level where they are tactically defeated.
It seems increasingly true that a stable Afghanistan will only be possible with some sort of agreement, involvement or power-sharing deal with the Taliban.
However, as the British Army units here are increasingly sucked into the turmoil of the latest "fighting season" there seems little evidence that anything is happening on the political and diplomatic stage. In the meantime, tour follows tour, during which the most intense fighting appears to achieve not much more than extremely effectively inflicting casualties on both sides, whilst Afghanistan remains the sick man of Central Asia.
I think of a scene near the end of Pat Barker's novel The Ghost Road, set at the end of the First World War, in which a seriously injured soldier lies in hospital, gradually dying. The soldier regains consciousness but due to his injuries can only slur a sentence together, which he keeps repeating. His family agonisingly try to decipher what he might be saying, which sounds like "shotvarfet, shotvarfet". His doctor realises what he is trying to say and translates: "He's saying, 'It's not worth it' ."
The man's father, a retired Army major, in grief blurts out: "Oh, it is worth it, it is."
This incredibly powerful passage goes some way to articulating our response to this conflict. We seem to know and say that it is not worth it, whilst instinctively reacting and saying that it is worth it – it has to be worth it. If I am honest, I do not know what I think about it all conclusively; my reasoning is lost in the storm of media, opinions, analysis that are at play here.
However, I know that no matter how hard I try to see through the clutter of opinions and utter something of my own in order to explain or justify what I'm involved in, I just cannot shake off that nagging, repetitive voice in my head that says "shotvarfet, shotvarfet".