Thursday, May 02, 2013

Afghanistan: betrayed by the Afghan police?

Afghan 001-mas.jpg

After the news broke yesterday of the first fatalities in a Mastiff protected patrol vehicle, prime minister David Cameron spoke on BBC Radio 4's World at One, promising to look "carefully" at the Mastiff.

"I'm sure we want to look at that carefully and put in place everything we can to make sure our brave men and women have the best protective equipment," he said, words interpreted by the Telegraph as a promise to re-assess the safety of the vehicles. 

Whether intentional or not, though, by focusing in the performance of the Mastiff, Mr Cameron is diverting attention from the greater threat. As we pointed out in our earlier piece safety during road travel is not achieved by protected vehicles alone, but by a package of measures, foremost of which are persistent and systematic route clearance, combined with good intelligence and observation. 

Under the collective title of "route security", British forces have had some success, with no serious incidents since the loss of six soldier travelling in a Warrior MICV in March last year - which was not the first.

Even then, it was widely recognised that, if a large enough bomb us used, no vehicle of any type will protect its crew – hence the need for the raft of measures, making the protected vehicle the last line of defence. 

Why then this incident happened now has been the subject of some speculation, including by The Week in a glorious example of media inaccuracy, taken apart by Autonomous Mind.

We ourselves suggested that factors contributing to the incident could have been complacency, or simply that not enough resources were being devoted to force protection. But the media is not even on the same page, taking the same line as the prime minister, in focusing on the protection afforded by the vehicle. 

In fact, there is nothing substantially wrong with the vehicle. It is about as good a design as can be provided for the money, and its record is superb. But there is a lot wrong with a security situation where the Taliban can place a huge bomb on a major transport route, detonate it and escape detection. 

It is thus to the standard of route security that we must look, and to ask what might have changed to make journeys more perilous. 

And here, there may be an answer. Hitherto, route security has been the responsibility of British forces. But, on 28 February, 70 soldiers from the Scots Guards Battle Group returned home early from Afghanistan, having handed route security on Route 611 to the Afghan National Civil Order Police (pictured above). And it is on this road that the Mastiff was hit. 

Now, it may be a coincidence that, a mere two months after the Afghan police took over security, the Taliban managed to place a huge bomb, so large that it was able to flip a 27-ton armoured vehicle. 

There again, given the known inadequacies of the Afghan police, the fact that many of them are Taliban sympathisers, and the fact that so many are open to bribery, if one was seeking to discover how the Taliban were able to mount this attack, the Afghan police are the first place to look. It is by no means beyond the realms of possibility that our troops betrayed by them. 

Worryingly, as we go through the charade of handing over more and more responsibilities to the Afghans, preparatory to our troop withdrawals next year, our soldiers will become more and more dependent on them for their safety. If there was a betrayal, it may not be the last.