Comment at end
10th November, 2009
Captain Tiernan: ‘Often we hear people say “yes we support the soldiers but we don’t support the cause”. Well, the soldiers support the cause. So if you really want to support the soldiers then we too as the public should support the cause in Afghanistan.’
On Radio 4’s ‘Today’, yesterday morning, a serving British soldier was interviewed on the slipping public support for the war in Afghanistan.
Margaret, a regular reader and commenter at this blog has kindly transcribed the interview for me.
Visit the BBC site and scroll down to 8:10 here to hear the entire interview.
Read Little Ole American’s comment here on the opening remark of John Humprhies. (excerpt: We do NOT send our young people “to die”.) Mr Humphries, your bias is showing.
Today interview (10 minutes):
John Humphries: We spend a lot of time on this programme talking to politicians about what we’re doing in Afghanistan and why. Quite right too. When a nation sends its young people to die in a foreign land – another one has just been killed – they must be held accountable. We spend very little time talking to the men who are sent, who risk their lives doing their duty. The men and women who know what is happening on the ground because they live there for six months at a time. Captain Andrew Tiernan of the Grenadier Guards is one of them. He came back from Afghanistan for a bit of leave on Friday. He’ll be back there the week after next. This is his third tour of duty there in three years, and he’s with me now. Can I make it clear Captain Tiernan that you’re not here because the MOD put you up for it, it’s cos your mother suggested it.
Capt. Tiernan: Er that’s correct I travelled home and was subject to 48 hours worth of Sky and BBC news courtesy of the RAF and as I watched that news I became a little frustrated at some of the negative reporting on Afghanistan, mentioned that to mother and before I knew it I had a phone call from the editor of your programme.
John Humphries: Hmmm… and you say negative reporting … um … but we’re reporting what is happening, you appreciate that, I mean if five people are killed as they were horribly last week by a policeman, we have to report it.
Capt. Tiernan: Absolutely, and the tragic events of last week need to be reported and I believe were reported well. But lots of the talk subsequently about a wholesale pull-out from Afghanistan does not support the soldiers who are out there risking their lives. Often we hear people saying, “yes, we support the soldiers but we don’t support the cause “. Well, the soldiers support the cause. So if you really want to support the soldiers then we too as a public should support the cause in Afghanistan.
John Humphries: I suppose the reason a lot of people say that – that we ought to pull out – is because they don’t – we don’t understand exactly what it is you’re doing there, what the purpose of it is and when we will know whether you have achieved that purpose or not.
Capt. Tiernan: Erm… perhaps that ‘s the case but I’m sure that ‘s been the same on every battlefield throughout history.
John Humphries: Has it?
Capt. Tiernan: Well, er I believe so and perhaps I can use this opportunity to tell you some of the things that we are doing.
John Humphries: Please do.
Capt. Tiernan: I’m commanding a company group of some 120 soldiers comprised of two Grenadier platoons, an Afghan national army company and importantly 15 Afghan national policemen, and we are providing security to the people in a district centre in Baku centre south nearby to Lashkar Gah And the ideal that we’re building towards is an outer ring of security provided by ISAF and the Afghan national Army…
John Humphries: ISAF being the international force, yeah?
Capt. Tiernan: That’s correct and an inner ring of security provided by the Afghan police and working alongside ISAF . We are able to keep the insurgents away from the district centre so the people in that population centre live in a way that is akin to a gated community with that security provided by us. There is a curfew in place for instance at 21.00 hours at night so when they go to bed more often than not we’re patrolling the streets and continue to do so throughout the night. In the morning when they wake up we ‘re there again. So they close their doors at night and go to bed safe in the knowledge that ISAF and Afghan national security forces are securing …
John Humphries: I want to come back to this notion of a gated community in a moment, but when you talk about training or mentoring police for instance in that part of the world, it’s very difficult to understand how you can do that. With great respect you’re a brave, highly trained officer in the British Army but you know nothing about the kind of lives those people lead and we know are leading, I mean we know that a very large proportion of the police force are on drugs. We know that they can effectively buy their way in, they’ve only got to have a couple of friends vouch for them, senior officers pay a £100,000, $100,000 to become a senior police officer. In those circumstances, knowing nothing about the culture of the place, knowing nothing about the tribal relationships and all the rest of it, how can you, however good you are at your job, train those people?
Capt. Tiernan: Well, how foolish would it be to go about any kind of operations in Afghanistan without being alongside the Afghan national security forces? If we were just there on our own we’d be far less effective. For instance the Afghan national policemen who I work with have saved the lives of my men by finding improvised explosive devices in the ground. They were metres away from where I ws standing but I would not have noticed them because I don’t live there. The Afghan desert to me looks pretty similar. Whereas to the policemen that live and work there and from those areas a little bit of disturbed earth which is pretty innocuous to me is telling to them. And what we are now doing in Afghanistan, er, General McChrystal’s directive towards imbedded partnering which means completely working hand in hand with Afghan national security forces…
John Humphries: Living with them ..
Capt. Tiernan: Living with them, planning with them, operating with them, his directive is one of those rare documents that is so strikingly correct that everyone that reads it from the lowest ground commanders to the most senior military commander understands its worth, understands what it aims to do and is very happy with the strategy there.
John Humphries: So is the idea that you become entirely integrated with those forces or they with you?
Capt. Tiernan: Er… exactly we come together and work hand in hand.
John Humphries: But you live separately?
Capt. Tiernan: No, that’s one of the…
John Humphries: So you will share barracks, you will share a tent?
Capt. Tiernan: Yeah, in my area we will share an [option room?] we’ll share a planning room and our soldiers will live together.
John Humphries: Quite literally, in the sense that you’ll line up in the same line to get your food, you’ll have bunk beds next to each other, all that sort of thing?
Capt. Tiernan: Quite literally.
John Humphries: And how long does it take to establish that kind of relationship and how do you know, putting it very crudely, that you can trust them?
Capt. Tiernan: Um… well I think I am fortunate in my area in that we’re perhaps slightly ahead of the game. I think if operation Herrick 10 was defined by Operation Panthers Claw which was clearly widely reported on, I think this…
John Humphries: In which a lot of people die.
Capt. Tiernan: Indeed, but I think this operation, Operation Herrik 11 will be defined by a move towards embedded partnering, and in my area where geographically the lay down of forces goographically, the willingness of the local people and the quality of the Afghan national security forces that are under my command means that we’re ready now to do embedded partnering and I expect us to one of the first areas of operations in Helmand to be fully embedded.
John Humphries: But if what you’re doing, if the purpose of this is to establish as you put it gated communities one does have to wonder about how long it can go on. You can’t forever protect a group of Afghan people, however a noble that job may be, that isn’t what British forces are meant to be doing, is it? You’re meant if you can to be bringing peace to that part of the world, you can’t do it by hunkering down, collecting a group of people together and having a couple of rings of steel around them so they can go about their business within that gated community. That’s not what’s meant to be going on is it?
Capt. Tiernan: Well what’s meant to be going on and what is going on is that the British army’s engaged in a counter- insurgency campaign alongside the international security forces and the Afghan national security forces. A classic counter-insurgency campaign will talk about the ‘inkspot approach’ and that means that you provide an area or you secure an area such as a gated community, such as I have got in my area of operations, and because you then demonstrate to the population how life is better when it’s under the influence of ISAF and Afghan national security forces as opposed to the Taliban or the insurgency then that attracts other people into that area and the inkspot can spread. So in my area we opened up a school two weeks ago which is a huge, huge thing for the local people, and indeed my commanding officer said that the thermometer of our success would be the success of that school, so you would be…
John Humphries: But as soon as you go the Taliban will come back.
Capt. Tiernan: Well, hopefully when we go we leave behind Afghan national security forces that can provide their own security.
John Humphries: How long will that take?
Capt. Tiernan: I am not going to speculate on how long that can take, I believe the chief of the defence staff spoke on that yesterday. But what I can say what I can speak about is that is my third tour in Afghanistan in successive years. The first time I was there we were engaged mainly in defeating the Taliban. Last summer we were…
John Humphries: Which we thought we had done and failed.
Capt. Tiernan: Which in my experience we were doing pretty successfully. Last summer I was on patrol with Afghans but with a smaller group say 3 or 4 Afghans to maybe 20 British soldiers and here with McChrystal’s directive which has the support of Task Force Helmund’s headquarters we see British forces moving towards embedded partnering. As I have said I believe that’s exactly the right way forward in Afghanistan.
John Humphries: But as things stand we are getting this dreadful drip drip drip of British soldiers being killed in Afghanistan. It’s averaging about 2 a week isn’t it this year so far. And their loved ones here at home are wondering how long it’s going to go on. Obviously you as a captain cannot tell me that, but they are asking themselves what is the evidence that it’s working. You can say from your narrow obviously micro view of what’s going on that in your particular area you’re with a decent bunch of people who are doing a decent job. You can’t speak for the country as a whole, can you?
Capt. Tiernan: Of course I can’t, but I know of my colleagues and friends who are doing similar jobs to me throughout the province and throughout our battle area, they are having similar experiences.
John Humphries: And you’ll be happy to go back?
Capt. Tiernan: I think the fact that I am there for the third year in a row suggests I’m happy to go back, yes.
John Humphries: Captain Andrew Tiernan thank you very much.
British operations in Helmand, Afghanistan (including Operation Herrick) (pdf) by Daniel Marston.
Daniel Marston is a Research Fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University and a Visiting Fellow with the Oxford Leverhulme Programme on the Changing Character of War. He was previously a Senior Lecturer in War Studies at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He has focused on the topic of how armies learn and reform as a central theme in his academic research. Dr Marston was responsible for overseeing the counter-insurgency modules for Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and the British Army. He has lectured widely on the principles and practices of counter-insurgency to units of the American, Australian, British and Canadian armed forces, as well as serving as a reviewer of and contributor to counter-insurgency doctrine for all of the above. He also continues academic research in this area, and in 2005 was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
The DREADFUL BUSINESS of Jamie Janes’s mother and the PM
The story of the death of, co-incidentally, Grenadier Guardsman Jamie Janes, has taken over our airwaves over the last few days. You can hardly fail to empathise with the mother in her phone call discussion with Gordon Brown. You should also question WHY The Sun is running this campaign.
I believe the attack on Gordon Brown by a bereaved mother is unfair and unbalanced. Not because she is angry and feels that she has (right or wrong) full knowledge of all the facts regarding equipment, army funding and of the position on the ground on the day her son was killed.
I believe it is unfair because Mr Brown’s letter to her was clearly not meant to be an insult to her son.
And yet it has been portrayed as such. The whole business has been hijacked for political purposes. Mr Brown, for all his bad writing and spelling, has taken the trouble to write personally to bereaved relatives. And no allowance has been given for his poor eyesight. We are always going to have bereaved families who will blame government decision, shortcomings, “lack of” equipment. It is to my mind, beneath contempt that the papers have encouraged this bereaved mother – as I am sure they have – to record her phone conversation with the prime minister, in order – and ONLY in order to make it more difficult for him, the government, the army and in the end the entire operation in Afghanistan.
Listen to this bereaved mother’s phone call with Gordon Brown (almost 13 minutes).
While naturally sympathising with her loss, I refuse to get on board this bandwagon. Mrs Janes may well have complaints about equipment and there may even by some truth in the treasury’s historical position as regards funding the forces – “do you understand, Mr Brown, lack of equipment?” But in his letter to this mother I think Mr Brown was empathising and sympathising with her loss. Nothing else. Until this story broke we did not know that he had been writing to bereaved relatives.
This mother does NOT know all the ins and outs of the position on the spot at the time her son was killed. Brown clearly had no other intention than to pass on his personal condolences. That should be reflected better, in my opinion, by this bereaved mother.
Tags: British army captain Afghanistan, Captain Andrew Tiernan, Grenadier Guards, helmand, ISAF, John Humphries interviews serving soldier, Operation Herrick, soldiers support mission in Afghanistan, soldiers support the cause, Today Radio 4