Independent Inquiry relating to AfghanistanAOAV: all our reports

Independent Inquiry relating to Afghanistan: day 4

Statement by Admiral Sir Antony Radakin. Oliver Glasgow KC Lead Counsel.

Today’s session could have been called ‘Where are the civilians?’ Or ‘What about human rights?’

The Admiral, who is principal military advisor to the government, did not serve in Afghanistan, nor was he in command of operations in Afghanistan. Moreover, he did not quite answer questions posed to him by Lead Counsel; rather, he explained parts of his 77-page statement he had already submitted to the court -and which we did not see.

He was happy to explain, however, that military doctrine is guidance, rather than formal instruction, but also ‘an essential part of how we fight’. Doctrine, he stated, adjusts over time and can be refined ‘to achieve our aims’ and ‘to assist to be as effective as possible’. It is important for morale and fighting effectiveness.

Military leaders, he clarified, are answerable to and are sent on missions by the government. Military strategy is developed alongside government policy, confirming that tight connection between the military and the political, whereby the necessary political will is essential for military action.

He patiently explained the differences between strategic, operational and tactical levels, demonstrating the complex nature of military campaigns and the equally complex hierarchy.

The defence aim, in this and other operations, was/is to deliver security for the people of the UK and the overseas by defending them, including against terrorism, and to act as a force for good by strengthening international peace and stability. Success in Afghanistan was to look something like that. The mission of defence was/is to protect our country and to project our values abroad.

UK troops, as part of this defence, were deployed in Kabul (force protection), Kandahar (delivery of air mobility, air intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), and Helmand. Task force Helmand was responsible for delivery of all land tasks, in an attempt to create security conditions to allow the success of the broader operation:

To assist the government of Afghanistan, then to hand over power.

To allow the country to rule itself.

To enable the government of Afghanistan to provide security.

To carry on with reconstruction.

To stop Afghanistan from posing a threat internationally ever again.

Adopting a ‘mentoring role’, UK forces acted on The Helmand Plan: to provide the security bubble to fulfil reconstruction ambitions.

During the course of the day, we became familiar with useful military terminology, names and PJHQ directorates: J1 is personnel, J2 is intelligence, J3 is current operations, J4 is logistics/ medical, J5 is crisis and planning, J6 is communications and information systems, J7 is training, J8 is finance and human resources, J9 is policy, legal and media.

We also learnt about Operation Entirety, which began in 2009, for a 4-year period. to better shape for the pressures and demands of Afghanistan, with the aim of enabling both tactical and operational success in Afghanistan. Priority was given to elevate the shaping of the army’s approach, partly through being informed by the lessons learnt on the ground, on the battlefield. The army naturally and necessarily adapts and responds to pressures and demands, as does the enemy.

International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) came under NATO command after 2003, and the commanders were American officers. Still, conduct during operations was governed by UK domestic and international law. Government to government (Afghan-British) relations were the responsibility of the foreign and commonwealth office, and the role of the military was to complement that relationship.

In 2009 it became obvious that it was important for coalition forces to gain the consent and support of the population, which centred on the need to avoid civilian casualties. Lethal force, it was advised, should not be applied for its own sake, but in order to achieve the ends set. When it came to UK forces, ‘our creed and ethos’ was something that was taught as soon as training began. In Afghanistan, it took the form of ‘Courageous Restraint’, a concept created as part of a winning strategy. According to the Chief of Joint Operations Directive, ‘Any incident that may have resulted in CIVCAS must be reported to the ISAF chain of command.’ It was important to be seen to be operating in accordance with the law, as the insurgent was ‘neutralised’. Areas that required careful consideration and explicit policy and training included the use of force, the conduct of search operations, detention, and questioning, as stated in the counter-insurgency manual.

But as the session drew to a close, what stood out was:

  1. Defence was, in fact, offence.
  2. At the point where this inquiry begins (in 2010) there had already been 9 years of occupation by the invading forces, during which a lot more had happened, in terms of civilian harm, than the comparatively few incidents involving special forces.
  3. The harrowing evidence presented by Lead Counsel on the first day of the inquiry -the photos of the dead men and boys, the names and ages of the victims, the allegations of horrific crimes by the bereaved families- was completely absent. None of it was presented to the Admiral, or was even mentioned in passing.
  4. There was no real testimony or questioning, only explanations and clarifications on the prepared and submitted document.
  5. The military language used throughout became not only tiresome, but also misleading and, at times, offensive, given the nature of the inquiry. Human beings were ‘neutralised’, while a place of violent death for thousands became a ‘theatre’.
  6. The people who were killed were not mentioned, in a court of law, when the most basic human right (moral and legal) is the right to life. In that context, it was easy to forget what this inquiry was even about.
  7. As the focus became strictly Afghanistan 2010-2013, what was absent was the bigger picture: what was happening in Afghanistan was simultaneously happening in Iraq. Yet both the Admiral and Lead Counsel spoke as though those were not the same invading/occupying nations, soldiers, strategies and operations resulting in the killing of tens of thousands. All those parallels regarding combatants, victims, strategies and operations were ignored. Yet the familiar names Gates, Petraeus and McChrystal told a different story.

The most interesting bit may have come at the end, when the Admiral spoke about the  insurgency in Afghanistan -the Taliban. He described it as ‘a political fight with military aspects, fighting for the support of the population’. Not a fighting between good and evil forces; not terrorism. Rather, as a struggle for power, control and legitimacy. He could have been describing the efforts of coalition and Afghan government forces. All political. All self-interested. All deadly.