Failure in Afghanistan – why and what are the implications?

Failure in Afghanistan – why and what are the implications?

Failure in Afghanistan – why and what are the implications?

by Philip Ingram MBE

As a former senior military planner and intelligence officer, I would just like to bring to your attention a few thoughts around how and why the situation in Afghanistan failed in such a spectacular way and what the implications for the UK are going forward. I have significant global operational experience after 26 years’ service.

This immediate situation was caused by President Trumps order to leave set for 01 May 2021.  President Biden could have reversed the order but instead just chose to delay it.  Once the Taliban and people of Afghanistan knew they Coalition were leaving they knew what the future would hold. The Taliban will have been influencing the tribal leaders and families of all those in the Afghan Army and Police not to fight. The had been running an alternative social structure for years, whilst in waiting for an eventual withdrawal as they have the ultimate planning tool, they operate in multiple generation time frames whilst we operate in Parliamentary, Presidential, or more accurately tomorrow’s headline, timeframes.

The US only had 2500 troops on the ground. If there had been will amongst the rest of the international community and especially the EU who are happy to hang on the coat tails of US and UK underpinned defence but when crunch comes not step up to the mark it is a sad reflection of the EUs sense of responsibility on the World stage. Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland and others could easily have filled the US boots and equipment on the ground and airpower vacuum. I am sure if that had happened the US could have been persuaded to maintain enablers such as intelligence and some logistics.

However, the rot started in 2003 when the very real progress that had been made with the original deployment to remove the safe space for Al Qaeda was halted to put Iraq as a priority. The fault for that lies squarely with the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and his spin team misleading the country to an unnecessary conflict that opened a second unnecessary front. The deaths today and tomorrow in Afghanistan can clearly be put at the feet of the Blair/Bush pact!

The final failure is of real concern for the standing of defence in this country. Whilst service man and women at the tactical level on the ground were making huge strides, improving the lives of the Afghan people and paying the price in lives, limbs and sanity for it their commanders at that critical Operational/Strategic juncture were misleading themselves and political decision makers.

They would only spin positive news and report it up, ignoring the reality. Chatting with Simon Akam the author of The Changing of the Guard, he told me only yesterday “I keep recalling being driven around Bastion by an amiable media minder saying, “We have these key lines we’re meant to be pushing, and they just don’t correspond to reality,” and that was 7 years ago.” To do otherwise would risk promotion, glory and medals!

We have to face the facts that senior British Military Commanders, many now with Peerages, Knighthood’s or DSOs misled their political masters in country and back at home that all was going well when the reality that no matter how many Afghan security forces and police we trained they were poorly paid if at all, corruption was rife, leadership in many cases poor and we were training them to rely on Coalition Airpower, Artillery, Communications, Casualty Evacuation and embedded mentoring. All of which disappeared the moment we asked them to fight alone.

It is time those commanders, who are the same ones that have been responsible for what was discovered in the Wigston review, Atherton Review, AJAX, NIMROD, Defence Estates and so much more, are properly held to account and not left with huge taxpayers’ funded pensions and national awards. Simply, they have failed in their roles.

The legacy? Islamist chat groups are already laughing, saying we just need to wait and will always win. We will never be trusted when we say, work for us we will look after you. Terror organisations are emboldened, more attacks on the streets of the UK will happen. China and Russia are laughing, the threat to Ukraine and Taiwan I would argue has just stepped up a notch or two. It will cost us more to prepare for these eventualities than it would to have stayed!

It is time to commend the service personnel and diplomats carrying out the NEO operation, all Afghan people who worked for us and helped us, our service personnel at the lower levels who worked so hard and sacrificed so much. It is time to pray for those we can’t help, we can’t begin to know the horrors they will (not might), suffer. It is time to take a broom to Defence and sweep out the dead wood before the next disaster and time to hold the dead wood serving or retired to account.

Philip Ingram MBE is available for comment – please check Contact us

The Changing of the Guard by Simon Akam, a review by way of opinion.

The Changing of the Guard by Simon Akam, a review by way of opinion.

The Changing of the Guard by Simon Akam, a review by way of opinion.

Updated 8 April 2021

By Philip Ingram MBE

It is rare when you pick up a book and one of the first names, Richard Palmer, a young officer with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, jumps off the page at you. I was there, in Iraq, running Intelligence Operations, when the report of his convoy being struck by an IED came in. Part of my team investigated the incident; I will never forget the post incident report or the autopsy report.

Simon Akam’s book starts in Canada and again brings out names and incidents I was well aware of. I flew to BATUS to be briefed on David Allfrey’s ISTAR Squadron, I had heard of the infamous lunch back in Germany with Her Majesty The Queen, which allegedly caused bad blood between Allfrey and Graham Binns, his Brigade commander, another character I had come across frequently.

The book covers the British Army post 9/11 and a malaise that led to a complete mission failure in Iraq; I had witnessed first-hand the long-handled screwdriver of ordered tactical inaction from PJHQ and Whitehall. Whilst I didn’t have first had experience of Afghanistan, I had sent enough of my soldiers there and had to keep a detailed understanding of what was going on to have a clear inside knowledge of what was happening. Akam has got the tone of what was going on just right.

I mention tactical inaction. There were a number of operations run outside the classic MoD chain of command in various theatres.  Many of these were very successful but there is no way Akam would have known about them or be briefed on them; they saved lives and and that was important.

David Richards, Richard Sheriff, Chris Brown are all generals I have at various times, worked for and with. Akams’ general observation that failure is rewarded by promotion and telling the truth rewarded by side-lining, is so true. As he highlights, there is no accountability at senior levels and extrapolating this is why Defence is in such a mess today. The equipment programme, historical recruiting (yes, I know it’s got better), welfare, single living accommodation, the complaints system, women and so much more can only be described as failing or having failed in the past; where are the sackings that would happen in any accountable organisation?

This very well written and researched book is perceptive, accurate and very important. Describing incidents accurately, calling out failures in planning, command and more worrying, openness, i.e. a clear policy, official or learned behaviour, of covering things up. His description of what was presented at some of the inquests are clear examples. It is a pity I can’t elaborate more without distressing some of the families or contravening the Official Secrets Act. I know what I know.

This book is a must read and I would urge the MoD to take it as lessons identified document, as that is what it is and change as a matter of urgency. Defence needs a CDS who will drive to learn the lessons Akan has highlighted and not as continues to happen time and time again, behave like an ostrich.

Before 9/11 much of what the British Army did, worked. In Bosnia the British Bailed the Americans out as they deployed into implement the Dayton Agreement but failed in their river crossing to get troops on the ground. The British Army worked well in Kosovo, FYROM, Croatia, in Northern Ireland and in Germany during the Cold War.

Mind you the Cold War Army perfected the art of covering reality up. As an aside, my small, armoured unit, supporting an armoured brigade, would have taken the whole of the Divisions refuelling assets just to get it to its deployment location as we weren’t allocated transporters but were integral to what was called the Covering Force battle, but that is another story.

One question that needs to be asked is, ‘what was the turning point that changed the British Army from one that was successful on operations, planned by the likes of Jeremy McKenzie and Mike Walker to one of failure?’

Personally, I noticed a significant change around the period the infamous Iraq Dossier was drafted, altered and released. I was in Defence Intelligence at the time.  They say the tone is set from the top and it is around then that the super tanker that is the MoD reset its course to the tone from Number 10 that started the rot.  Akam has explained the consequences in a masterful way.

An outstanding book – I can’t recommend it more highly.

Addendum – Added 8th April 2021

You know a great book when you keep thinking through many of the issues it highlights. I would suggest that many of the major companies that have failed during and pre the COVID 19 pandemic have experienced the same self-misinforming impotent leadership that Akam rightly and accurately teases out. This book isn’t just a set of lessons for the Army and wider military to learn it is for all to learn, there is so much business can and should take away from what Akam has identified.

I am very much minded of the Alfred Lord Tennyson poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” verse 2 ”

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
   Someone had blundered.
   Theirs not to make reply,
   Theirs not to reason why,
   Theirs but to do and die.
   Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.”
In business the 600 would ride into unemployment or removal from post by the board. In the military, in the Army it leads to death. I would argue our officer Corps sole role is to “reason why,” why didn’t any of our 4*’s or 3*s resign when the rot started as that would have been a legitimate political gesture, instead they did “not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.” To the 634, “the six hundred” who died in Afghanistan and Iraq and to the countless who have suffered life changing injuries seen and unseen, who is accountable? The sad thing is excuse book, volume’s 1-100 have been deployed to say “not me guv”.  I’m sorry, but the military prides itself on being a hierarchical Chain of Command enabled organisation so the buck has to stop at the top. Would it not have been better for 600 starred officers to resign and 634 deaths? Just think that through.

 

 

Cyberwar – The FireEye and SolarWinds attack

Cyberwar – The FireEye and SolarWinds attack

Cyberwar – The FireEye and SolarWinds attack.

Should Digital Authoritarianism cause the threshold for war to be redefined?

By Philip Ingram MBE

In early December the US based cyber security giant, FireEye detected a breach in what Kevin Mandia their CEO described as, “a nation with top-tier offensive capabilities.” He went on to say, “The attackers tailored their world-class capabilities specifically to target and attack FireEye. They are highly trained in operational security and executed with discipline and focus. They operated clandestinely, using methods that counter security tools and forensic examination. They used a novel combination of techniques not witnessed by us or our partners in the past.”

The attackers stole a series of what he described as, “certain Red Team assessment tools that we use to test our customers’ security. These tools mimic the behaviour of many cyber threat actors.” In essence they stole FireEye’s own hacking toolkit but given its customer base of high-level corporates and government agencies, the toolkits would be designed to test these networks and systems.

Whilst investigating the attack his team identified that, “the attacker primarily sought information related to certain government customers.”  More worryingly they identified, “a supply chain attack trojanising SolarWinds Orion business software updates in order to distribute malware we call SUNBURST.”

Some reporting has attributed the attack to a Russian state-sponsored group known as APT 29, or Cozy Bear. However, in 2017 a group of hackers known as the Shadow Brokers published a collection of hacking tools, stolen from the NSA. FireEye have not yet named the actor but speculation it was Russian is rife. A Kremlin official denied that Russia had any involvement.

SolarWinds is a company that provides IT infrastructure management software, ensuring software updates are downloaded and installed automatically and the like.  Many of its customers are large enterprises or government agencies controlling things like critical national infrastructure, power and water grids, nuclear facilities, military facilities and more.

SolarWinds estimated some 18,000 customers had downloaded the trojanised updates enabling the attacker to possibly monitor network activity and possibly steal data and credentials from the infected systems. It could potentially allow the attacker to take control of networks.  The full degree of exploitation hasn’t been made public yet.

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has released an alert detailing what it knows about the breach. “Beginning in March 2020, hackers used SolarWinds software updates to install a secret network backdoor, which authorities are calling SUNBURST,” they said, adding, “Once installed on a network, the malware used a protocol designed to mimic legitimate SolarWinds traffic to communicate with a domain that would often direct the malware to a new internet protocol (IP) address for command and control. The attackers used rotating IPs and virtual private servers with IP addresses in the target’s home country to make detection of the traffic more difficult

The CISA concluded, “taken together, these observed techniques indicate an adversary who is skilled, stealthy with operational security, and is willing to expend significant resources to maintain covert presence.”

In the UK, SolarWinds clients include the NHS, the Ministry of Defence, Cabinet Office, Ministry of Justice, GCHQ, the Civil Aviation Authority and various police forces. It’s not clear if any of these bodies used the Orion update or if they have been affected. The UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said, “The NCSC is working closely with FireEye and international partners on this incident.  Investigations are ongoing, and we are working extensively with partners and stakeholders to assess any U.K. impact.”

Microsoft has also been affected and identified 40 clients that had been exposed, including some in the UK.  Paul Chichester, NCSC Director of Operations, said:  “This is a complex, global cyber incident, and we are working with international partners to fully understand its scale and any UK impact. That work is ongoing and will take some time, but simply having SolarWinds does not automatically make an organisation vulnerable to real world impact.”

In a recent speech by the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, at Policy Exchange earlier this year, when talking about attack from authoritarian rivals and extremist ideologies, he said, “Their strategy of ‘political warfare’ is designed to undermine cohesion, to erode economic, political and social resilience, and to compete for strategic advantage in key regions of the world. Their goal is to win without going to war: to achieve their objectives by breaking our willpower, using attacks below the threshold that would prompt a war-fighting response.”

He was describing what he went on to call ‘Digital Authoritarianism’ and said “None of our rivals can afford to go to war as we define it. They want to win below that threshold. However, the stakes are high.”

However, what has never really been defined from a defence perspective is where that ‘threshold’ lies? If the attack had been physical in nature against critical national infrastructure either by a physical team taking control or explosives destroying its operability, then that would likely have crossed that line.

How do you respond to ‘Digital Authoritarianism’ where that authoritarianism has led to data, possibly classified, designs, processes, codes, being stolen? How do you respond where that authoritarianism has allowed a foreign state to have control of nationally critical capabilities to the same extent as if they had people in the control room? How do you respond when physical infrastructure has been destroyed because of manipulated code?

Given that war hasn’t been formally declared since 1939 yet British and allied troops have been in an almost perpetual states of conflict since then end of the Second World War, does that mean that the very underpinning definitions of warfare that General Carter alluded to need to be redefined before we can properly examine our defence and security needs?

What is clear is this latest attack is yet another wakeup call to national cyber vulnerabilities. How many more are needed before we see a greater response? If nation states can’t protect their infrastructure from attacks by other nation states, surely that is a fundamental failure in government?

Cyber, I am sure we will see, will feature heavily in the upcoming integrated Defence and Security review, and rightly so.

 

 

 

 

 

Leadership is about doing, not saying.

Leadership is about doing, not saying.

Leadership is about doing, not saying. It is time with regard to Mental Health training and awareness, for senior leaders to ‘walk the walk and not just talk the talk.’

There was a slight nervousness in the faces of General Sir Nick Carter, Admiral Tony Radakin, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith and Air Chief Marshall Sir Mike Wigston, collectively known in defence as ‘The Chiefs’ in a video they released collectively to mark World Mental Health day on Saturday 10th October.

“During these important times it’s more important than ever that we take notice of our mental wellbeing and that of our colleagues, our friends and our family and particularly those we lead,” said Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the Defence Staff, opening the video.

“Since the publication of the Armed Forces Mental Health Strategy 2011, the mental health and wellbeing of our Defence People has been a subject of substantial investment and focus. The next five years will see a period of sustained focus on mental health and wellbeing. We need to engage everyone in Defence, at all levels, if we are to maintain a mentally healthy population,” said Lieutenant General Richard Nugee, then Chief of Defence People, in his foreword to The Defence People Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2017-2022.

So, do the senior leaders in Defence lead by example when it comes to Mental Health, we are 3 years into the 5 year strategy building on the 2011 foundation?  This is a very difficult question to get a tangible answer to as, despite their underlying nervousness, ‘The Chiefs’ were advancing a more positive mental health message in their video, which is good. They were talking the talk.

Not being satisfied with the substance behind some of the MoDs ‘talk’ a little digging was done.  That digging found out that, “The MoD does not mandate any formal recorded Mental Health training for Senior Officers.”

That is fine in itself as the Armed Forces Mental Health Strategy was published in 2011 giving a long time to get training in place and develop a culture of it being “must do” for leaders, as that is setting an example. After all the Australian Navy says, “Leaders acknowledge the moral equality of all who serve and build a climate of mutual respect.” That is simply leading by example and the training exists in various guises.

In addition, our senior leaders have a command function and that is a legal function, requiring set, auditable standards to ensure consistency and fairness in their judgements. They, in various guises, are the ultimate arbiters with complaints, they set the moral policy across defence and rule on areas where they feel it has been broken. You can’t do that on ad hoc knowledge.

So, what is the reality of how the senior leadership of all three services approach the example they set to mental health awareness and training. It is recognised there is a lot of mental health awareness briefing going on across defence, but given ‘Command’ has a legal status, ad hoc briefing isn’t good enough.

According to ‘The Chiefs’ and the Armed Forces Mental Health Strategy, mental health is engaging everyone and is getting substantial investment; therefore, formal training is critical to ensure the foundation for that legal status Command empowers so that it is consistent and auditable.

Armed with positivity from the Chiefs talking the talk, the MoD was asked about formal mental health training in the senior officer cohort, so RN Captain, Army Colonel and RAF Group Captain (OF5) and above. These ranks and above are those in the most senior command positions, those that should set examples to their subordinates across defence.

The statistics speak for themselves, OF 5 is Captain (RN), Colonel, Group Captain and they go up from there so in Army parlance, OF 6 is Brigadier, OF 7 Major General and on:

Rank  Number of Officers            Number MH Trained          Percentage

RN (including RM)

OF9                2                                  0                                              0%

OP8                7                                  0                                              0%

OF7                32                                4                                              12.5%

OF6                85                                9                                              10.6%

OF5                297                             2                                              0.67%

Total:             423                             15                                            3.55%

Army

OF9                4                                  0                                              0%

OP8                16                                2                                              12.5%

OF7                42                                3                                              7.1%

OF6    Brig     147                             14                                            9.5%

OF5    Col      517                             3                                              0.58%

Total:             726                             22                                            3.03%

RAF

OF9                3                                  0                                              0%

OP8                6                                  0                                              0%

OF7                28                                0                                              0%

OF6                83                                4                                              4.82%

OF5                286                             1                                              0.35%

Total:              406                             5                                              1.23%

What makes the statistics worse if that could be possible, is that none of ‘The Chiefs,’ the Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral of the Fleet, Chief of the General Staff or Chief of the Air Staff have completed any recorded training course and only seven 2 star (OF7) officers in ‘Command Positions’ across defence have done so, none in the RAF. Is this leadership by example?  It is clear that our senior leaders in uniform and worse, those in command positions, do not walk the walk.

Karen McLeish whose teenage son Alistair was found hanged in a bathroom at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, told Mark Nicol of the Mail on Sunday, ‘This is a shocking disclosure. The MoD constantly says it is committed to soldiers’ mental health. Yet how can they be when so few officers are trained in this area and when the course is voluntary? This is the wrong attitude; the MoD must properly accept its responsibilities otherwise troops will continue to suffer in silence until it is too late to help them.’

Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee said to mark Nicol of the MoD figures: ‘It is sad to see an important initiative, not being welcomed by the officer class. Their absence and non-participation is concerning given the genuine efforts the imbalance in support for mental versus physical health.’

In essence, actions speak louder than words, is what the first African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Colin Powell, said of leaders when he uttered the words, “The most important thing I learned is that soldiers watch what their leaders do. You can give them classes and lecture them forever, but it is your personal example they will follow.”  Is this leadership by example?

The gauntlet has been thrown down, how many more lives must be destroyed or lost before the senior officer cohort in Defence stop talking the talk and actually walk the walk? When will command recognise the need for moral leadership, leadership by example? When will defence recognise the need for consistent auditable activity in its people sphere?

I personally had a senior officer record in interview notes after interviewing me, “I wish to formally record my concern for the welfare and wellbeing of this officer,” and he then did nothing but watch my life fall apart over the next few years. He took great delight in highlighting to his bosses that he showed concern by noting his concerns, he talked the talk, but his inaction in looking after me or even talking to me and telling me of those concerns, demonstrated he didn’t walk the walk. Defence tried every trick in the book to stop me getting a copy of his interview notes, they failed, so, yes, it is personal!

If the Chiefs say, “People are our most important asset,” yet this is the example they set, how can they be trusted with less important issues such as equipment capabilities as are being debated as part of the Integrated Defence and Security Review. Where does the responsibility ‘buck’ stop?

{All answers were provided by the MoD under a FOIA request that asked about any and all formal MH training. The MoD provided all of the answers and were approached by the MoS for comment, providing only a holding reply, they won’t talk to Philip Ingram as he is on Defences naughty step.}

 

Philip Ingram MBE is a PTSD survivor no thanks to the MoD; he is available for comment please just visit the Contact Us page for details.

 

 

 

 

Toxic by Dan Kaszeta – a review

Toxic by Dan Kaszeta – a review

Toxic by Dan Kaszeta – a review

(A History of Nerve Agents, From Nazi Germany to Putin’s Russia)

By Philip Ingram MBE

I have the unenviable label attached to my profile as a CBRNE expert partly through modules on my Applied Science degree from The Royal Military College of Science being nicknamed the ‘Chemistry of Death,” partially because one of my Masters degree projects was in emerging CBRN threats and partly through my military service having had to deal with CBRNE threats both theoretical and actual all during my 26 years in Service.

I therefore looked forward to the book “Toxic” by Dan Kaszeta, delving into the history of nerve agents from Nazi Germany to Putin’s Russia. Of course, I was considered an expert, I had made organophosphate compounds in a lab, I knew the Germans had invented nerve agents on the back of pesticide research and that the British had invented Vx and Novick’s were Russian; so, what would I learn?

All I can say is a hell of a lot!  Toxic is a comprehensive, exceptionally well researched and thorough explanation of nerve agents, where they came from, how, in broad terms they are made, stored, weaponised, used and work. Having sat in a laboratory being lectured about nerve agents, they can be a very dry subject to say the least, but Dan Kaszeta has managed another coup, to tell their history in a way that reads like a spy thriller. Toxic is a page turner!

That page turner is enhanced by Dan’s very real credibility having been a US Army Chemical Officer and, in the US Secret Service, protecting POTUS from CBRN threats. His knowledge, practical experience and ability to put things in real context shines through.

The title of the opening chapter gave away that the book was well written ‘Axis of Weevils’ brought together the German connection with pesticides, a summary of the whole chapter in 3 words, brilliant.  Importantly he describes how it was the German Army and not the SS who controlled the militarisation of the pesticide research discoveries, a clear example of the real tensions there were between different elements of the German war machine.

The other two important point that came out from his analysis of the German development of nerve agents were the complexity manufacturing them and how this was greatly magnified when attempting industrial level production and secondly the importance of the stocks, documents and scientists captured by the allies at the end of the war.

The complexity issue is critical and reinforced at every turn as the history weaves its way thought the 1950’s and the UK discovering Vx and the 60,70and 80’s with the challenges of not just manufacture but storage and of course delivery means. It is critical when examining the flippant way many so called scientists suggested they could easily make Novichok in a laboratory as part of their defence of Russia post the Skripal affair.

I have one comment to them – I dare you – I know none would even consider it and I shudder at my own fume cupboard concoctions (to be clear none were nerve agents or close).

The unpredictable nature of nerve agents as a weapon and their lack of real impact on the battlefield was well explained as he described their use in the Middle East by Iraq.  Such is their political psychological impact we mustn’t forget it was partially nerve agents that led to the second Iraq war and all of the consequences being still suffered today.  Dan highlights with clear examples why nerve agents are not good weapons of war and not as effective as their deadly reputation suggests.

Given that, I was hoping he might have uncovered more detail around a little reported Operation Avarice where the CIA bought chemical weapons in Iraq in 2005 and 2006.  The few press stories about it are misleading, inaccurate and only tell skewed parts of the story, however I suspect the real files relating to Avarice won’t be released for many years, if ever! One for the next edition.

Having clearly explained how difficult nerve agents are as a weapon of war he explains their effectiveness as weapons of assassination, carefully targeted as in the Vx attack on Kim Jong Nam and the Novichok attack on Sergei Skripal. It is refreshing to read sound accurate analysis, logically explained and completely myth busting.

In all, if you have an interest in military weapon systems, chemical warfare, the impact of personality on decision making and intelligence gathering, the intrigues of manufacturing, storing and weaponising nerve agents (without too much detail) then this is the book for you.  If you like espionage, intriguing factual accounts of real events and a really good read, then this is the book for you.  I highly recommend it.

You can order the book here: https://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/toxic/