The Enemy Within

We have heard the 'Manchester Spirit,' quoted a great deal this week. I must admit, I'd never heard of it before. I last visited Manchester a couple of years ago. While there I wrote an irreverent and tongue-in-cheek blog post but decided not to publish it because it was somewhat disparaging about a place that I do have a degree of affection for. Here is an extract of what I wrote,.

"I spent a couple of days in Manchester, (pronounced "Manchest-Orr"), this week. Wednesday was apparently the hottest day of the year; it rained all day in Manchester. It is in fact many years since I last visited and the place if anything has become more glum than ever it previously was despite its attempts to sell itself as being “cool.”.

Manchester abounds with people who look either like Liam Gallagher or as if they have just walked out of a young offenders institution, (I think many have). The rest give the appearance first thing in the morning of having done half a row of optics in three pubs the night before and there is barely a flicker of enthusiasm anywhere except in the electric trams hurtling back and fore. An early near miss with the Eccles tram on Market Street in fact alerted me to this new urban threat..

I quickly picked up on the idiosyncrasies of the locals who mostly say "eye-yoh" instead of hello and "c-yoh lateoh" instead of goodbye.  An additional linguistic hindrance is the inability of the populous to pronounce the word car correctly, instead sounding like a deranged and demented parrot being put through a wringer. Most of the girls appear with the same hairstyles, the same clothes and many are rumoured to all have the same husband. Husband by the way is loosely defined as someone who is "avin-yoh" and who need not actually be married "2-yoh" to qualify for this role. Most Mancunians tend to like spending their annual holiday in places like "ayanap-oh" drinking lots of "larg-oh."  .

While there I bought a birthday present in Selfridges only to find on return home that the security tag was still in place. I suppose the shop assistants must not be in the habit of having to remove many. I wasn’t an early fan of the City Mayor idea but Boris has turned me. Manchester badly needs a personality to pull it together and help it rediscover it’s soul which is deeper and richer than the sum of a bunch of night clubs and the BBC, dragged kicking and screaming to Salford by the last government.".

How terrible then that a night of indescribable pain and suffering brought to bear on the most innocent of innocents by a barbaric murderer should be the catalyst for the deep and iridescent soul of the City to find itself and shine through. As was the case after the Arndale Centre bombing by the Provisionals, Manchester is more united and in a better place as a community but at a cost which is obviously not worth paying. The many acts of individual and collective kindness in the immediate aftermath, and since the tragedy, are a fine example of people pulling together in the worst of times. From taxi drivers to local residents and passers-by, hoteliers and business owners who threw their doors open to the distressed and disorientated, to the homeless man who rushed in to give first aid to casualties. All are Samaritans and an example to the rest of us. (I would not though, recommend removing nails, glass and shrapnel from the wounded as the well meaning homeless fellow did; just leave it there for skilled surgeons to deal with)..

This was the incident when our luck ran out. A 'big one,' has been expected for a long time, ever since 7/7 in fact. That it happened in Manchester, a city with the resources and skill-sets to deal with a major incident is better than it happening in, for example, a medium sized city or market town. The grievous casualty list  could have been worse had the perpetrator entered the arena itself. Instead, he detonated the device, or it accidentally detonated, in the waiting area, just before the security entry point. This is similar to the Brussels Airport bombing where the terrorists detonated the device in the soft area before security. This has implications for security planners and for the rest of us. At a minimum, we can expect further disruption, queues and waiting when entering any crowded events for the foreseeable future.

The challenge for the Security Services seems overwhelming. Some have been quick to criticise them this week but when we learn that five terror plots have been disrupted in just the last two months and that there are 500+ active investigations drawn from a pool of 3,000 suspects with a further 23,000+ 'subjects of interest,' the scale of the task at hand becomes clearer. When one considers it takes in excess of 20 operators to do covert surveillance properly on just one target the size of the challenge is self evident. Remember too that for some of our Security Service personnel their lives are at constant risk. They live and operate in the dark shadows to keep the rest of us safe. Most of their stories will never be told. Perhaps some stories will see the light in forty or fifty years time, (as was the case with Bletchley Park), but most secrets will stay secret. They do what they do out of a sense of duty and responsibility to do the right thing. Collectively, we ought to be just a little more appreciative and thankful for their service, sacrifice and courage.

Investigations will be following many strands but a priority will be to determine if the bomber manufactured the device himself or if there is a bomb maker on the loose. Making a bomb is not difficult. The ingredients for TATP for example, which was used in the 7/7, Brussels and Paris attacks, (and is rumoured to have been used in Manchester), are easily found in most household kitchens and ladies make-up bags. An electrical circuit, initiator and battery complete the package. The biggest hurdle for the would be terrorist is in making the decision to commit to the act. A separate specialist bomb maker however, is a game changer because it suggests that bomb making may evolve in sophistication. The good thing about DIY bombers blowing themselves up is that the evolution stops there. While acts of terror perpetrated by 'lone wolf,' individuals are difficult to predict, terrorist cells give the security services a slightly better opportunity to penetrate them. However, the numbers of jihadists out there are a concern given, if they ever got together in numbers, our problems would grow exponentially. In Belfast in the early seventies I wouldn't have thought there were not many more than 50 or 60 PIRA 'volunteers,' with perhaps 300 'runners,' behind them. At the height of the Troubles, they tied up 16,000 soldiers in Belfast alone.

So, where does this leave us?.

The incident was followed by a well worn and choreographed sequence of announcements, pronouncements and platitudes designed to arrest any sense of public panic and foreboding and to encourage us to be nice to one another whilst remaining alert for anything untoward or unusual happening around us. Given the aim of the terrorist is to murder and maim, to instil fear and to create divisions in society by their monstrous acts, the public script is fine in as far as it goes. I fear though, that as a society, we are some way from the moment of 'collective recognition,' when we become more demanding and questioning of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. .

If seventy-five of our young and unprotected citizens being shredded by high velocity 'shipyard confetti,' isn't a wake up call then it is worrying to think what kind of escalation will bring about a meaningful change in our efforts to confront home grown terrorists. Were it not so distressing for the families I sometimes think some of the images of the aftermath of a bombing should be published to bring some people to their senses. President Trump was eviscerated by social media when he introduced a travel ban to the US from some countries yet we allow the free movement of 'persons of interest,' between the Middle East and the UK. The Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, returned to the UK from Libya via Turkey just four days before the attack. TPIM's, (Prevention and Investigation Measures), should be strengthened and Control Orders, which were pushed back by the then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in 2011 should be reinstated. Personally, I would drag Nick Clegg by the collar around all the mortuaries in Manchester and make him apologise to the families of the victims. 

The 'Prevent,' strategy also does not deserve all the criticism which has been thrown at it. It requires more resource and probably, some more imaginative and creative thinking but it is a start. The war against Jihadists will be with us for 100 years. We are in the early days of this conflict, at least domestically. As a society we by and large rub along together reasonably well given the enormity of change which has been forced upon the natural population in the last two generations. Certainly, we have problems but less so than some of our European neighbours who are seemingly culturally less well equipped to deal with the challenge. We are after all, despite what some may believe, something of a bastard nation in terms of our historical DNA.

Op Temperer, which saw soldiers deployed to release police officers for other duties was a not unreasonable thing to do for public reassurance and PR but nonetheless, leaves informed individuals with a slight sense of unease. There is no possible way that an armed 19 year old soldier will react with anything like the degree of professionalism, in the public domain, that one would expect from a trained police firearms officer, (many of whom are anyway, ex Army and are trained to a very specific and high degree of training for those very difficult environments and situations). That doesn't mean that soldiers cannot do the task. It means they have to be trained for it rather than for general warfare. In a previous post in 2015 I criticised the low numbers of available trained armed police officers. We need more. Here is what I suggested,

"The basis of national confidence in our response rests on 22 SAS. Even with a sub unit based in London though, they can’t be everywhere. Even if they could be within 45 mins of every town in England, 45 mins is too long in these situations. I think the Home Secretary and Chief Constables have no choice but to radically upgrade fire arms training and arming of police officers across the UK. To send an ordinary unarmed beat officer into one of these situations will have only one outcome. In mitigation, it is very difficult to acquire and move around automatic weapons in the UK. The police are very skilled at interdicting plots before they get to maturity and especially when working with GCHQ, 5 and 6 it is not easy for terrorists to plan and execute operations. It isn’t impossible though. Cuts in the numbers of police officers should be suspended immediately. Military support should not be considered by the COBRA committee after a bad thing happens but the committee should start planning on that basis now.

What does that mean? I would nominate two infantry battalions or Marine Commandos for Home Defence, one operational the other resting and training on 4 week rotations and rotate the battalions with others every 12 months. The operational battalion would be dispersed in platoon sized sub units across the UK, each with a serving or retired SAS or SBS instructor with a section on short notice to move 24 hrs a day. Their aim would be simple; in the event of a terrorist attack their task is to rapidly deploy and kill the terrorist. I would rebuild the old Northern Ireland ‘Tin City,’ to suit current scenarios, ie shopping malls, theatres, spaces for large groups and train both police and soldiers relentlessly. This is not a game, when this new enemy get in their stride the casualty list climbs by scores every minute. They do not negotiate. Speed and aggression are paramount. Our current intelligence and Special Forces based response is not commensurate with the threat. Many would recoil at the inclusion of military assets as part of normal support to the police but these are not normal times and this is no ordinary enemy. The safety and well-being of ordinary citizens is much more important that what column writers in the Guardian think. Anyone thinking that such a plan is excessive may wish to consider how we would deal with a four man fire group letting rip at the Metro Centre in Gateshead two weeks before Christmas. Thought so. I’d mostly be calling in the Commanding Officers for their briefings right now."

Street poets and liberals who think a declaration of love and some hugs are going to keep our children safe are misguided, delusional or are just barking mad. The bad people are amongst us and are intent on bringing us harm. We need to ramp up the resources we devote to anti terrorism and do so with the same unfettered determination which the US did with their creation of Homeland Security after 9/11. Any talk or debate with an air of 'we will not let them change our way of life,' is simply detached from reality. Here's a newsflash, life changed forever on Monday evening in Manchester. The quicker we get with the programme the fewer victims we will be burying. Moreover, and despite the efforts of the good people who stood up when they were needed on Monday, Manchester and it's new Mayor need to admit that the Manchester area is a key hub in the UK for Jihadist sympathisers and activists. It has a problem and it needs to first admit it, then deal with it.

AMERICAN PUBLIC INFORMATION FILM ON RUN, HIDE, FIGHT. THERE ARE MANY SUCH VIDEO'S AVAILABLE, MOSTLY FROM THE US. HERE IS ANOTHER, THIS TIME FROM LA WHERE I GUESS THEY HAVE HAD PLENTY OF EXPERIENCE IN THIS FIELD.

Finally, for individuals going about their normal daily routine, I do think this old post , from which the clip above comes, about situational awareness and personal security is worth revisiting for those who have a care.

 

 

 



 

Libya; Ho Hum......

A 49 page parliamentary report from the Foreign Affairs Committee published today draws some pretty damming conclusions on David Cameron's ill advised and poorly planned and executed foray into Libya in 2011. 

Drawing all the critical strands together in the report we can neatly summarise them with the technical phrase which is often used on these occasions, it was a clusterfxck.

The failure of the half hearted enterprise was hard coded in it's very inception. We had no business being there and the policy of doing so at minimum political and military risk with no thought to nation building at the conclusion of the operation was either naive or simply stupid. Perhaps it was both. 

Now, Crumble is no Kissinger and I hate to say I told you so....... but I told you so. In what I thought at the time were some pretty good posts, I repeatedly articulated what was plain to any passing bystander but not to the genius's in Whitehall who failed to soak in any lessons from other recent interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and seemed oblivious to events in the rest of the Middle East. Sometimes I think you could hammer six inch nails into their foreheads and it wouldn't make any difference to their ability to reason.

Just for the record, here are the posts from February to August 2011,

Unrest in Libya and Haslemere                      February 22nd, 2011

Libya; The Wrong Issue For Britain                March 4th 2011 

Libya; No-Fly Zone Issues                               March 11th 2011

Libya; Who's The Nutty One?                         March 31st 2011

Libya; Straight Talking At Last                       April 4th 2011

Another Fine Mess.........                                 April 14th 2011 

Libya; Coalition Fragments                            July 15th 2011

Bless                                                                August 23rd 2011

What is to be done then to assist the Prime Minister of the day in making a balanced foreign policy decision thereby avoiding reckless interventions such as Libya. We can't go on leaving entire countries in a bigger mess than they were before we turned up uninvited. In my view, the Prime Minister needs a sanity check mechanism in his decision making process. One that is unencumbered with domestic political or career mindsets and definitely no policy wonks straight from the PPE course at Oxford. What I have in mind is a panel of six or eight clever folk who have an expertise in looking at problems in four dimensions, obliquely and from the inside out. They could be specialists in given fields but it isn't a hard requirement. Their task on being given a briefing paper would simply be to figure out the unintended consequences if the paper became policy. Their job would be to ask the 'what if's?' that others are either too timid, too inexperienced or too stupid to ask. Their input might just assist the Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet in coming to better judged decisions, or at least be more conversant with risk. The team could work from a basement in Whitehall or from their home locations. All they need is the highest security clearance, be politically agnostic and without any career ambition in government. You could say that I've just described MI6 but that hasn't worked out so well over the past twenty years has it?  

Back to the blog in 2011 and this post,  Libya, The Black Watch & Spike was my favourite, mostly because of this concluding line from Spike Milligan, 'How long was I in the Army?...... Five foot eleven!'

Corbyn is right; but for all the wrong reasons

Have we really thought this through Mr Cameron or is it about gleefully watching Labour rip itself apart?

MP’s are expected to approve airstrikes against the Islamic State today. In an unexpected turn of events I find myself in agreement with Jeremy Corbyn. He is right, but for all the wrong reasons.

The domestic narrative has been driven by the media and Conservative party into a direct assault on Corbyn’s integrity and worth as a party leader. Unfortunately, the Middle East cannot be distilled down into soundbites and 3 minute Janet & John segments on the ten o’clock news. That approach pretty much created the conditions for ISIS to germinate and thrive in the first place. The general public have become more cynical and suspect about political intentions and smell a rat. At this point, airstrikes can in no way be described as having the support of a convincing majority of voters.

It’s obvious, except to the most clueless and sycophantic Members of Parliament, that additional strikes by the UK with the 5 or 6 strike aircraft that we can muster, (although in addition, 40% of UK airstrikes in Iraq are conducted by unmanned Reaper aircraft), will have little impact on an enemy that occupies territory larger than the United Kingdom.

There is no appetite in the Westminster ‘something must be done’ Brigade to committing ground forces and no long term framework, budget or plan exists for a nation rebuild should ISIS miraculously cease to exist. It seems ground fighting will be left to a shaky coalition of the Syrian Army, the Iraqi Army, the Iranian Army and the Kurds (who as it happens, are far from united themselves).  It’s not even clear if we have the assets to extract any downed airmen from occupied territory, except from Cyprus 500km away, or is that something we leave to the Russians, Americans or French? Instead, we have been drawn into a less than compelling debate that rests on, ‘everyone else is bombing and we should join in.’ No we shouldn’t. The French have committed themselves yet hold a patchy record in their support of previous UK operations. The Russians have thrown their hat in the ring but for motives which are not wholly aligned with our own. In fact, they are not aligned at all as intrusions into Turkish airspace and Syrian radars locking onto Turkish fighter jets prove in a continuing policy of attempting to destabalise NATO. In fact, the Russians are ramping up their involvement with a new airbase opening in central Syria. The Americans will not commit in the force required to eradicate ISIS at this point in the presidential cycle. David Cameron surely knows all this so why the stampede to dust up the odd $1,000 rusty Toyota pick-up truck with £100,000 Hellfire missiles? Frankly, I can’t figure it out.

The absurdity of the airstrike concept becomes apparent when we look back at previous air campaigns. In fact, I can’t think of any that defeated an enemy without significant ground assets except perhaps the final defeat of Japan and no one is going to drop two nuclear warheads, although there would be many who would support such a move. Whilst we have accurate weapons they are only as good as the intelligence from which targets are selected. Looking at the ratio of missiles fired to missions flown in Northern Iraq against ISIS, that intelligence is probably not as complete as commanders would wish. Moreover, the Russians have deployed the S-400 air defence missile system in Syria so we mostly won’t be flying anywhere unless they agree. That’s right, a major international incident could be right down to a half trained Russian peasant pressing the button marked ,’Ogon’!’

Interestingly, while we have conducted 450+ missions in Northern Iraq, Turkey, which has 100 F 16’s, appears not to be striking ISIS at all. The Arab states meanwhile (Saudi, Qatar, Jordon and the UAE), who were initially active in Syria seemed to have stopped their missions some months ago. Am I alone in thinking the UK could get sucked in here and be left holding the can with Russia, (who is using the pretext of attacking ISIS to further its strategic regional goals), on the other side of the table?

The largest fault in the debate however, is an incomplete appreciation of the enemy which is not a good basis on which to make decisions. ISIS is not a rag tag bunch of psychopaths  racing around the desert high on religious fervour. They have funds, they hold territory which is divided into provinces, they have received an unprecedented inflow of Jihadists from around the world and have a bureaucracy that is divided into civil and military arms. Many are well educated and among their number they have experienced military commanders. They think on a long term basis and strictly adhere to the precepts embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and pursue a return to 7th Century law and justice. It is wrong to describe ISIS as ‘un Islamic.’ It is very Islamic and therein lies the problem. We attempt to rationalise something that we don’t understand by calling them monstrous murderers or by using other descriptions that fit our terms of reference. In their eyes, medieval treatment of their enemy is the norm. The West has continually underestimated the ISIS threat on an intellectual level which is serious because their doctrine marks all of us, including 200m Shia Muslims and any other Muslim who drinks or sells alcohol,  wears Western clothes, votes in an election and so on, who are not one of them, for death. The caliphate has provided the structure for a rebirth of Sharia but in its most fundamental interpretation.  Caliphate propaganda also alludes to the belief that there will be only 12 legitimate caliphs with Baghdad being the eighth and that the armies of Rome will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria; and that Islam’s final showdown with an anti-Messiah will occur in Jerusalem after a period of renewed Islamic conquest. They believe they have an obligation to terrorise to draw us into such an apocolyptic  showdown. In that context, slowly degrading ISIS from the air may be the least worst option but that’s not something we have heard from the Prime Minister. Notwithstanding that, you can’t bomb ideas and you can’t bomb beliefs.

Just in case anyone has forgotten; we still have lads in Afghanistan - 2 Scots celebrate St Andrew's Day near Camp Qargha in Kabul.

My view in summary then, stop reflex responses to single incidents and work to create a political framework to commit sufficient international force by ground and air to eradicate ISIS and have sufficient long term funding to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure to sustain it independently. In short, get right everything we got wrong in Iraq.

In this letter to a constituent, Labour MP Andy Slaughter nails it. It is encouraging to read an MP openly articulating his reasoning prior to the vote but somewhat depressing listening to others who are too stupid, docile or misguided to think for themselves.

Dear Ms xxxxx,

Thank you for your email regarding airstrikes by UK forces in Syria.

After much reflection and research, and after listening to the views of many people, including constituents, fellow MPs and the Government, I have decided that I cannot support British military action in Syria at present, and tomorrow I will vote against the motion in the House of Commons that sanctions it.

It is my view that the eradication of Daesh from Syria, Iraq and around the world is a necessary process and one in which the UK should be engaged, including through effective military action.

While I am not currently persuaded that it would be lawful for the Royal Air Force to bomb Syria, I agree that this is arguable and it is not the principal reason for my opposing the proposed military action.

There are three tests that I do not believe the Government have passed, and that the Prime Minister failed to satisfy in his statement to the Commons last week.

First, there is no tactical plan for taking control of the area of Syria currently occupied by Daesh should bombing be successful in dislodging them, (which itself is questionable, given that bombing of that area by 11 other countries has continued for over 15 months). There are not competent, relevant or motivated ground troops who are sufficient to the task at present.

Secondly, there is no functioning international alliance that can turn short-term military gains into a programme for the peaceful governance of Syria. The Vienna talks are a start to such a process, but at present the aims of Turkey, Russia, Iran and the NATO countries are so disparate as to be chaotic.

Thirdly, the permanent defeat of Daesh in Syria requires the end of conflict, which is what allows it to thrive. Any short-term retrenchment will likely benefit the Assad regime, which is itself responsible for seven times as many civilian deaths as Daesh this year. That may mean a shift in the balance of forces, but it will bring us no nearer to resolution.

I want Britain to engage in: a concerted diplomatic effort to wean Russia and Iran away from their support for Assad, and Turkey and Saudi Arabia from giving comfort, if not actual support, to Islamist extremist groups; a peace process that allows non-extremist opposition to talk to the acceptable parts of the Syrian Arab Army and Kurdish forces; and a concerted attempt to cut off the funds and arms sustaining Daesh.

That is a very difficult, perhaps impossible, agenda, but to engage in bombing missions on the basis of ‘something must be done”, or even on the basis of solidarity, without clear objectives does not show sound judgment.

There are other arguments for and against intervention: that our contribution would be small, especially given the lack of military targets without the risk of civilian casualties; that we should support allies, whether they be the Iraqi or French Governments; and that we remain at risk from Daesh attacks on the UK, whether we take further military action against them or not.

However, the three points set out above are my red lines. I will, of course, review my decision in the light of changing events, but given the UK’s poor record of intervention in the Middle East over the past decade, I think that further military incursion should be approved only if a high burden of proof can be established.

Thank you again for taking the time to share your thoughts with me on this most important of issues. I set out my views on Syria and on the current situation in Palestine and the Gulf in a debate on the Middle East in Parliament yesterday, which you can read here.


Yours sincerely,

Andy Slaughter

Labour MP for Hammersmith

Jihadists; What About The UK?

I’ve never been to a pop concert. I won’t be going to one anytime soon. The son of a friend was at the Bataclan concert in Paris on Friday night and thankfully, made it out with his friend. 80 others didn’t and many more are left with life threatening and life changing injuries. Those young people saw things that evening that most soldiers don’t see in a career. Just as their lives have changed, so has life for us all. The attack which security services in Europe expected but dreaded manifested itself in a brutal slaughter of the innocent on a medieval scale. It is an unfortunate irony that many of those kids who were perhaps living life to the full, brimming with optimism and idealism would have been the very constituency who supported mass migration from Syria, Africa and the Middle East this year. I described it at the time as possibly the biggest Trojan Horse in history. The full ramifications of unfettered migration over many months from war zones is yet to be felt. The media has been very sensitive to cross referencing migration and terrorism, especially the BBC who were at the forefront in creating political pressure to open the doors, but the fact remains that mainland Europe does not know what internal security risks it has created as a result of its liberal approach to the problem.

The threat from Sunni jihadists is not new, especially in France. Returning foreign fighters, domestic supporters of ISIS and other individuals sympathetic to the jihadist cause who pre date problems in Syria create a complex and multi stranded threat. At the moment, it is not known if the perpetrators on Friday were returnees working to Syrian based planning and funding or grassroots operators sponsored by domestic organisations or a combination of both. The dominant threat currently comes from ISIS and that pre dates Fridays incident with 10 out of 17 previous attacks since September 2014 being perpetrated by ISIS fighters or sympathisers. A French returnee has also reportedly told the authorities that Syria was a “terrorist factory” where individuals were being trained to attack Europe in the near future, and it has also been reported that returnees would attack not in their countries of origin, but elsewhere to lessen the risk of detection upon return (Le Monde, October 20). According to The Jamestown Foundation there is roughly a 3:1 ratio of domestic sympathiser events versus returnee attacks and while the security services stop or disrupt more than half of those initiated we know from old experience that the terrorist only needs to get through once. Certainly, the events of Friday in Paris wholly justify the British Governments approach to the Syrian refugee crisis in focusing on the camps and only letting individuals in directly from those camps who have been fully vetted.

Whatever the source of funding and planning of the terrorist operation France plans to hit ISIS hard. Air operations overnight are a start but the skies over Syria are becoming congested with Allied and Russian aircraft and the French may decide to focus on Northern Iraq where they have already flown 1,285 sorties against Islamic State targets whereas up until last night they had flown only two sorties in Syria. At some point, the Allies are going to have to commit ground forces to destroy and eradicate ISIS. Given justification for previous conflicts it shouldn’t be difficult to come to that conclusion. ISIS is engaged in genocide in Northern Iraq, they present a high level threat to our own populations and war from the air is not working. Having created the vacuum in which ISIS has flourished I’m not sure for how much longer governments can continue to ignore their moral and political duty.

It’s also clear that Schengen is finished in an already rattling European construct. No government will survive if they fail to protect their citizens. The Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer knows this and is becoming more vocal in his demands for permanent border controls and faster repatriation of asylum seekers. That view in Germany is underpinned by the popular view which is hardening, helped by incidents such as the one last week when  a Montenegrin citizen was arrested while allegedly driving to Paris with several weapons. While German police have not established a direct connection between this incident and Friday’s attacks, they have said that a link cannot be ruled out. The fact that this man was from Montenegro and made it to Germany in his car will strengthen the demands for stricter border controls along the so-called Balkan route of migration. Politically, Merkel is now in a weakened state which will probably be terminal and we can expect a rise in support for parties coming from the extreme left and right wings, especially if governments are not seen to act.

2001 New York
2002 Moscow
2002 Bali
2004 Madrid
2004 Beslan, Russia
2005 London
2006 Mumbai
2008 Mumbai
2009 Maiduguri, Nigeria
2012 Kano, Nigeria
2013 Baga, Nigeria  
2014 Kaduna, Nigeria
2015 Paris

What about the UK? The list of significant terrorist actions above reminds us that we are well within their reach from either internal or external operators. Our Security Services will stop most incidents but what of those who get through? Our experience with Jihadists is mostly limited to the 7/7 bus and tube attacks in 2005. The big difference between Jihadists and the Provisionals, who we fought for 30 years, is that the Jihadists are prepared, or expect, to die. That was never the case with PIRA. Moreover, we have to ask the basic question, ‘is our lightly armed police force trained and prepared to respond to a fire group attack like Paris?’ I don’t doubt the bravery of individual coppers but facing multiple battle hardened assassins armed with automatic weapons and suicide belts is a level beyond their normal drills, even if they are an armed response unit. Witness the television scenes of the armed French policemen outside the Bataclan concert, unsure of what to do. The basis and success of previous actions were on attacks going wrong which led to armed sieges and negotiated outcomes or by action after much preparation and reconnaissance by special forces. It just doesn’t work like that anymore. To save lives action has to be swift, aggressive and lethal. 

The old ‘Tin City’ for NI Training.

The basis of national confidence in our response rests on 22 SAS. Even with a sub unit based in London though, they can’t be everywhere. Even if they could be within 45 mins of every town in England, 45 mins is too long in these situations. I think the Home Secretary and Chief Constables have no choice but to radically upgrade fire arms training and arming of police officers across the UK. To send an ordinary unarmed beat officer into one of these situations will have only one outcome. In mitigation, it is very difficult to acquire and move around automatic weapons in the UK. The police are very skilled at interdicting plots before they get to maturity and especially when working with GCHQ, 5 and 6 it is not easy for terrorists to plan and execute operations. It isn’t impossible though. Cuts in the numbers of police officers should be suspended immediately. Military support should not be considered by the COBRA committee after a bad thing happens but the committee should start planning on that basis now.

What does that mean? I would nominate two infantry battalions or Marine Commandos for Home Defence, one operational the other resting and training on 4 week rotations and rotate the battalions with others every 12 months. The operational battalion would be dispersed in platoon sized sub units across the UK, each with a serving or retired SAS or SBS instructor with a section on short notice to move 24 hrs a day. Their aim would be simple; in the event of a terrorist attack their task is to rapidly deploy and kill the terrorist. I would rebuild the old Northern Ireland ‘Tin City,’ to suit current scenarios, ie shopping malls, theatres, spaces for large groups and train both police and soldiers relentlessly. This is not a game, when this new enemy get in their stride the casualty list climbs by scores every minute. They do not negotiate. Speed and aggression are paramount. Our current intelligence and Special Forces based response is not commensurate with the threat. Many would recoil at the inclusion of military assets as part of normal support to the police but these are not normal times and this is no ordinary enemy. The safety and well-being of ordinary citizens is much more important that what column writers in the Guardian think. Anyone thinking that such a plan is excessive may wish to consider how we would deal with a four man fire group letting rip at the Metro Centre in Gateshead two weeks before Christmas. Thought so. I’d mostly be calling in the Commanding Officers for their briefings right now.

Understanding War

Bad guys

President Obama has just finished talking at the UN where he said the world must act to "reject the cancer of violent extremism." He also talked about the Ukraine, Ebola and the Israel / Palastinian problem but it is clear that minds are focused on clearing out ISIL.

I think many Western and Middle Eastern countries view the Arab Spring as a lucky escape. This new and very different fundamentalist threat though has them very concerned. Many players, or the way they present it, view ISIL as a pestilence that can be eradicated. I'm not so sure it will be that simple. What the papers here haven’t explained is that ISIL are well organised and well led to an extent that is little understood. They have a command structure and operate tactically on the ground to a strategic plan with strategic goals. They have many Chechen's in their leadership so any view of them being a bunch of bloodthirsty mad rag-heads is misplaced.  Its going to take a lot more than air strikes to clean this up.

Recent ISW update

Well informed reporting however is difficult for the passing observer to come by, I'm here to help. These guys, The Institute for the Study of War, send regular updates on the situation on the ground. You can also find updates on other security matters pertaining to the Middle East and Afghanistan and also some reports. The one below, A Strategy to Defeat the Islamic State, written by Kimberly Kagan, Frederick W. Kagan, and Jessica D. Lewis, is well worth a read. Knowledge dispels fear!