Saturday, July 04, 2009

In the media

Read this and then read this. Now read the offering from The Times and wonder.

Looking at the bigger picture, Matthew Parris reckons we can't win, while Tim Collins, on a narrower front, writes about Rupert Thorneloe and ventures that this was war. "Things like this happen, and often they are flukes," he says.

We beg to differ. We all accept that, in war, soldiers die. What is not acceptable is unnecessary deaths - deaths which could have been avoided with a modicum of care and forethought.

In Aden in the 60s, British forces were issued with mine/IED protected vehicles. In the 70s, the Rhodesians developed a range of such vehicles and saved many lives. In Bosnia, the designs were used by British troops. In Iraq, US forces developed a greater range of such vehicles, which reduced IED casualties by 80 percent.

Col Thorneloe's death was not a "fluke" - it was a duff piece of kit called the Viking, that was not armoured against an underbelly threat. It should never have been allowed into theatre. Our military vehicle designers, the MoD and the military have sat on their hands for nigh on 30 years, ignoring the mine/IED threat.

This is the result - 35 percent of our dead in Afghanistan have occurred in poorly-protected vehicles. In the one properly designed vehicle we have out there, the death rate has been nil. Go figure.

Rarely has the death of one soldier invoked such an intensity of comment – and never in recent times. Ainsworth has been forced to defend the MoD's position, insisting that British forces in Afghanistan were "better equipped than they have ever been". Many are not entirely convinced.

In one thing, therefore, we were absolutely right, suggesting that Col Thorneloe's death was "a major incident with huge political ramifications". Our earlier pessimism about the behaviour of the media was perhaps unwarranted, although it is largely The Times making the running. It was The Daily Telegraph that made the running yesterday.

The Times has Michael Evans reporting that Thorneloe's death "reignites equipment row" – although he is falling for the MoD line that the Viking was adequate when it was introduced to theatre – which it never was – and accepts uncritically the idea that the Warthog replacement will resolve the problem. It will not.

In another piece, Deborah Haynes compares US performance with the British in delivering MRAPs to theatre - 12,000 as opposed to Britain's 235. She does not go into why that is the case, and why the British Army is so reluctant to embrace mine/blast protected vehicles. Exploring that might give her (and her readers) some real insight into what is going on.

Instead - and in both pieces - Liam Fox is quoted. In the first, he is blaming the lack of helicopters on Mr Brown’s refusal to supply adequate funds for the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan when he was Chancellor. "Gordon Brown denied the Armed Forces the funds they needed," he declares. As always, little Liam has never sussed the real story.

In the second piece, he asks, "Why is it that other countries are able to give their armed forces what they need, when they need it and where they need it, but under the current Government we are unable to do the same?" His answer to his own question is not recorded.

Fox, therefore, is offering the usual, low-grade, formulaic stuff but, even then, he is on his own - other than renta-mouth Mercer who, like Fox, is complaining of shortage of funds. But then, the Tories have never been able to get their heads round the fact that this is not about money. Their stance is politically maladroit and illogical. It is in their interests to find cheaper ways of doing things as they will not be able to throw money at the problems. They are setting themselves up for a fall,

Nevertheless, the lack of focused opposition does not entirely surprise us. Nor does the lack of engagement in the political blogosphere. When we see this, however, we suspect they have lost it.

I don't know what is more worrying – the piece itself, or that there are 197 comments (at the time of writing). If this is in any way indicative of the future under a Tory administration, our troops would be well advised to look for a quick exit.