28 July 2009

The fog of war

So operation Panther's Claw, or at least phase 1, is over. How do we, sitting at home, evaluate this? One would have to be desperately thrawn not to welcome the first two parts of the Prime Minister's statement (quoted here):
"What we have actually done is make land secure for about 100,000 people," the Prime Minister claimed. "What we've done is push back the Taliban – and what we've done also is to start to break that chain of terror that links the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of Britain."
although the hyperbole of the third part rather weakens the overall effect.

But I have yet to see printed anywhere a clear statement of the objectives and timing of the operation against which to measure what has been achieved. Sure, there is lots of vague stuff about clearing the Taliban from an area of the province (said to be the size of the Isle of Wight) with a view to preserving it for the elections. But which townships or strongpoints were to be cleared, by when and in what order? The Times has a nice graphic but it mainly illustrates what we don't know.

Then there is the question of troop numbers. We are told that 3000 British forces were involved. But what of the Taliban? According to The Guardian (here):
There had been up to 500 Taliban fighters in the area at the start of Panther's Claw.
Is this accurate?

And what about casualties? We have been told of the deaths of 10 (or perhaps 11) British soldiers, but nothing of the wounded (although I think I heard the figure of 50 mentioned on the BBC World Service last night). And, apparently, we don't count Taliban casualties.

The only other question I have is to wonder how this operation related to the parallel operation further south in Helmand by the US marines. Since Panther's Claw began, we have heard virtually nothing of what the Americans are up to.

Finally, I should record that I have nothing but admiration for the British troops, taking on a tough enemy in terrible conditions, no doubt with commendable skill and bravery. And perhaps for obvious reasons we should not expect to be kept fully informed about progress. But it is worth bearing in mind that truth and frankness are among the first casualties in the fog of war.

1 comment:

subrosa said...

As you say certain information needs to be kept out of the public domain - for operational reasons. But the platitudes and the insincerity of them are cringe-worthy.

Also there still is no long-term plan (see Defence of the Realm, Richard writes about that).

Good post Dave.