11 December 2006

That strange disconnected feeling

Although we gave defence issues a bashing over the weekend, this simply reflected the fairly heavy coverage in the MSM and the fact that events seem to be coming to a head.

Thus, there can be no let-up in coverage, not least as today there were also defence questions in the Commons. Courtesy of the internet, we were able to watch with growing incredulity as Des Browne claimed that the training of Iraqi police was progressing well and that Operation Sinbad was delivering results.

Somehow, somewhere, there seems to be something of a "disconnect" between what the secretary of state is saying and even the limited coverage that we get in the MSM and from other sources.

For instance, in today's Telegraph & Argus – EU Referendum's local paper – we see a headline on how a "hero sarge" rescued "trapped Britons". The strap gives further detail and the story itself reveals all – that two badly injured British contractors had to be rescued from heavily armed and hostile Iraqi police, in order for them to receive urgent medical treatment.

Er… excuse me? A British soldier had to rescue two British citizens from the local police? Said Sgt. Leonard: "They were armed to the teeth with snipers and heavy machine guns on the nearby rooftops and all the weapons were pointed our way".

Such testimony adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests that the Iraqi police are highly unreliable and thus, while we hail the gallant and cool Sergeant but wonder whether he inhabits the same world as the secretary of state, where everything is going so swimmingly well.

Equally do we wonder when reading a report today in The Scotsman, from which we learn that the commanding officer of the Black Watch in Iraq has warned that insurgent attacks will rise ahead of the planned security handover to local forces in the Basra area next year.

This is not news at all to the followers of this blog. Says Major Wrench: "What we feel is that the insurgents, or terrorists and criminals as we refer to them, are operating from the north and moving south. We are beginning to see increased activity coming from the north as groups try to jostle for position, knowing that at some stage we will be withdrawing."

But what we also learn from the report is that, in the early hours of last Friday, a British soldier was seriously injured in a rocket attack on the base at the Shatt al-Arab hotel. We know also from another report that there was also a rocket attack on the base last Wednesday and we had the additional report which indicated that, in recent months, the base had taken over 1000 mortar and rocket attacks.

If all this is happening already and Major Wrench is predicting that attacks are going to intensify, then our troops look to be in for a pretty miserable and dangerous time. Just because most of the attacks miss their targets does not mean that the potential for enormous carnage is not there – these things are dangerous, as can be seen from this dramatic shot of a mortar attack on the British Abu Naji base in al-Amarah.

It seems almost inevitable, therefore, that we will be seeing more soldiers making their trip back to Blighty in coffins.

All that brings me to the editorial in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday, headed "Lions supplied by donkeys". One should not be too rude about it, I suppose, but do we really need a "comprehensive strategic review"? We already know what is needed. What is missing is the political will and the determination to ensure that our troops get the weapons and protection they need.