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ON BOMBS AND BANKS

06-11-2008

Bomb

The Stirrer has previously highlighted the shortcomings of the Land Rover "Snatch" vehicle for combat situations - and now it's apparently prompted the resignation of a senior SAS commander in Afghanistan. Barbara Panvel reflects on the government's priorities.

Two weeks ago a woman wrote to a local paper saying that the war in Afghanistan had been distant to her until her younger sister's friend - a lad who had grown up in the same town - was killed there on active service. This made her wake up to the 'harsh reality' of the war. The enormity of the loss, in her eyes, had become huge, she said.

Newspapers often remind us of the missing or imperfect military equipment and the poor treatment of the armed forces when injured:

  • Paratrooper Ben Parkinson who lost both legs and the use of one arm, endured terrible fractures including to his skull, face and spine, and suffered severe brain damage was offered less than a third of the £484,000 compensation given to a civilian RAF typist who suffered a strain injury to her hand.
  • Sergeant Steven Llewelyn, who now has 40% lifelong disability in a roadside bomb attack, has had no compensation by the MoD, because they were not sure who had planted the bomb.
  • The fuel tank of the Hercules aircraft which exploded did not have explosion-suppressant foam - unlike the US Hercules aircraft, though for more than 20 years reports had recommended the Hercules foam as an "urgent" need.
  • Two American Blackhawk helicopters, which were fitted with winches, were eventually sent to rescue the soldiers — three-and-a-half hours after the first explosion was reported.
  • One of the reasons Corporal Wright from Edinburgh died, was that the rescue helicopter sent was not fitted with a winch. A suitable US helicopter arrived too late to save him - partly because of delays due to a shortage of radio batteries.
  • Now Major Sebastian Morley, special forces commander in Afghanistan, has resigned. He is reported to have said "chronic underinvestment" in equipment by Britain's Ministry of Defence was to blame for the deaths of four SAS soldiers in June who died in Helmand province when their lightly armoured Snatch Land Rover split apart after hitting a landmine. Before their deaths, British commanders had complained that the Snatch was unsuitable: "We highlighted this issue saying people are going to die and now they have died."

The political response?

Defensive.

There is a growing call to silence coroners who highlight these shortcomings.

A reply to the letter in the local paper was published came the following week, with the editor's title: Defence is the best option for foreign policies:

"It took motherhood to make me wonder what cause could justify the loss of these precious lives. Civilised countries - Sweden, Switzerland, New Zealand and Japan - have found the answer: true defence. They have undertaken not to attack other countries, and have redirected funds to strengthening defence. Sweden has used the money saved to reduce unemployment by training their young people. For many years – since Mikhail Gorbachev first advocated this approach to foreign policy - a minority have campaigned for defensive defence [or non-offensive defence] policies in this country and elsewhere."

The first writer ended sadly, deploring the loss of these boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, parents, grandparents - and their own loss in not being able to 'live their dreams of tomorrow'.

An added pain to some relatives is the feeling that these deaths and maimings have not been worthwhile - 'a waste' - and that the missions to Iraq and Afghanistan should not have been undertaken.

Brigadier Michael Harbottle wrote 'What is Proper Soldiering?' advocating defence, rescue and construction as proper soldiering activities - not invasion, the creation of chaos and the killing of civilians.

What sort of regime sends its forces to invade, create chaos, kill civilians and deprive those forces of the best defensive equipment - but commits taxpayers' money lavishly to rescue banks from the consequences of their own actions?

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