British army

Are we ready for the next war?

Is Britain ready to fight tomorrow’s wars? ‘Ish,’ answers James Heappey, the armed forces minister. Britain’s military is in an okay state, he says. But we need to spend more money on ammunition, medics and logistics systems. Our high-tech kit, the kind that helps us wage electronic warfare and collect data on our enemy’s positions, needs to be better connected with what our soldiers on the ground are doing. Liam Fox, the Tory MP and former defence secretary, is scathing about how we identify threats. ‘We have to stop substituting wishful thinking for critical analysis’, he says, to approving murmurs from the audience at Tory party conference. Fox asks us to remember the 2007

Troubles of the past: The Slowworm’s Song, by Andrew Miller, reviewed

Andrew Miller specialises in characters who are lost, often struggling to deal with the burden of failure. They don’t come much more adrift than Stephen Rose in The Slowworm’s Song, a former English soldier and alcoholic who is trying to start afresh with Maggie, a daughter he has barely met. Miller plunges straight into this painful yet beautiful novel, opening with the bombshell that drives the narrative: a letter that has arrived with the return address Belfast BT2, and a street Stephen may have walked down 30 years earlier. It is from an organisation calling itself the Commission, signed by an Ambrose Carville, inviting Stephen to come to Belfast in

Why didn’t the UK rescue Afghan interpreters sooner?

We lost. Whatever hope we had that we could help Afghanistan crawl out of its misery has been shattered. The dreams of the 14 million women in Afghanistan or the tens of thousands of Kabul university graduates, who had grown-up after the expulsion of the Taliban, are now in ruins. Afghanistan has been broken again, by the Afghans’ inability to bury their personal or ethnic differences; by the perfidy of the Pakistanis, who have harboured and nurtured the Taliban; and by the actions of a foolish old man who happens to be US President. Caught in this web of misery are those who supported the Allied forces and those who

Has Britain learned from its failures in Afghanistan?

As the Americans prepare to leave Afghanistan, and in the UK we hold our own Defence Review, should we not be asking: have we really learned from the lessons of our failures there? I was in Afghanistan for a brief and intense time in 2007 when I was filming for Channel 4 Dispatches and CNN. We saw a country that had been brutalised for decades by the Russian occupation, the ensuing civil war and then American carpet bombing to ensure US troops met no resistance. A country which was becoming restive as the allies seemed increasingly unable to help them rebuild, or for that matter interested in doing so once

Marine A: the shambles that shamed us

Like it or not, and many in high places will loathe it, what we may now call The Blackman Affair is not going to go away. It will be recalled as a shambles and a glaring miscarriage of justice. Also remembered will be the ferocious, self-serving and vindictive role of the establishment in permitting this injustice to occur. Posterity will say that a Royal Marine sergeant on an exhausting assignment in Northern Helmand, Afghanistan, in the late summer of 2011, shot and killed a Taliban terrorist who, though undoubtedly dying and wholly unsaveable, was not yet quite dead. A more expanded account might add that a nearby corporal, secretly filming

Women – and transwomen – should fight on the frontline

My favourite quote of all time comes from John Stuart Mill: ‘War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.’ The willingness of the British armed forces to sacrifice their lives on a daily basis – not for their country these days,

Lariam and my six months of madness

I once went mad in Africa and it was no fun at all. I was snorkelling off the coast of Zanzibar and I dived a little too deep, and something in the middle of my head went click. And then I came up and fell on to a boat that took me back to the paradise sands, and when I got there I couldn’t walk straight and everything started to fall apart. In fairness, that might not have been madness. That might have just been a problem with my inner ear. At the time, though, it was all bundled together. I’d been sub-Saharan for about nine months by this point,

A British policeman shouldn’t take orders from a radical Islamist preacher

Each year Anjem Choudary earns more in benefits than a soldier does starting off in our armed forces. This is a fact I never tire of pointing out – especially to Anjem’s face whenever we have the misfortune to meet. The follow-on point, which I think also worth continuing to make, is that there is something suicidal about a society that rewards its enemies better than it does its defenders. Choudary and his family rake in around £25,000 each year  and – as you can see from this newly-released video above  – we taxpayers now get even more for our money than we had previously thought.  For now we do not only pay

David Cameron’s Unstrategic Defence Review

Michael Fallon’s confirmation last week that a Strategic Defence and Security Review is underway adds another question to the Conservatives’ growing list of slim-majority headaches: what to do about defence policy. With George Osborne hitting the Ministry of Defence with the second-largest pre-Budget cuts of any government department earlier this month, and Number 10 reportedly looking for ‘creative’ accounting measures to cover the fact that Britain will no longer meet NATO’s defence spending target, hopes that defence might escape further cuts have quickly evaporated. So the fact that the coming Spending Review is unlikely to deliver a rosy outcome for the MOD is already well known. The additional complicating factor, however, is the presence of various pre-election