Tag Archives: Afghanistan

The Military Law debate continues

Chief of Army gets up me for commenting on the soldiers being charged for actions in Afhganistan. Well not me exactly but those of us commenting publically.

In an unclassified email to the military he says;

Many will have views about whether or not charges should have been brought. Many may hope that those who have been charged will be cleared. Some, armed with ill-informed opinions and good intentions, have made public comment in response to the media and public interest.

• We must not be party to the pressures being applied by individuals external to our organisation, or by the vocal individuals within our organisation. The Army is simply not above the law.

Full text here

General Gillespie mentions the petition I link to over on the right of this page and it may well be that it’s initiation was ill-formed and that it has no legal basis but I’m not a lawyer and in my humble opinion the petition indicates 20,000 plus votes of support for the diggers. It offers moral support and they may deduce from that the people are thinking of them.

The General is, of course correct but he is playing with the cards he has been dealt and it could be argued that the Howard government dealt him a disparate hand of cards. Removing military command from the legal chain was always going to initiate debate and I for one have always been uneasy giving power to people who understand the rule of law but have little experience in battle.

We do, after all, train our soldiers to deliberately kill others and this is contrary to civilian law.

Being a RAAF lawyer, Kathryn Cochrane might not have read General Gillespsies’ email as she argues for the troops to be charged by their commanders and not by a lawyer.

Troops expect to be charged by those in the military who have field experience and campaign medals; those who know first-hand how military operations are conducted. The troops expect to be charged by “command”; they may not like it but they will respect it.

Command only works through mutual trust. The troops do not expect to be charged by a lawyer – military or otherwise – who has never executed a military mission in a dangerous place, let alone faced live fire in the circumstances such as those of the three diggers. I agree with the troops.

So do I for what it’s worth.

But with lawyers seemingly breeding faster than soldiers I feel sorry for the current diggers as they ply their trade with a legal sword of Damocles hanging over their heads and careers. Officers plan for proportionality; they consider civilians and do their utmost to protect them but it is common knowledge amongst the profession that no plan survives contact with the enemy.

After all the planning, after all the training, when the digger is fired on he commences an “immediate-action” drill. If he sees civilian in that part of a second that leads up to returning fire then he can stop but if there is nothing visible to trigger a caution he is trained to return fire.

But the debate is now turning to who charges and who hears the case. The General is obviously correct and the Director of Military Prosecution is simply doing her job but that is only pertinent while we accept the current regulations as being the best available to maintain military discipline and the rule of law to the satisfaction of Government, the Military and the people.

There are some who suggest that isn’t the case and that can be only a positive in a democracy.

Let the debate run it’s course.

No tanks, we don’t need ’em

Ms Gillard took a swipe at the media for not focusing on issues of “real concern”, saying there was a “ridiculous” debate about the need for more tanks.

“You may as well send them a submarine,” she said.

Good line PM. I bet we’ll hear about it for a while but it is disingenuous and trivializes the debate.

I’ve heard it all before. Not the submarine bit but people saying tanks are useless in certain theatres. They were never going to work in South Vietnam due to the jungle. You only need to ask an infantryman whose arse was saved by Centurions, including this one, as to how effective the tanks were.

Generals of the arm chair variety are today saying Afghanistan is not tank country and if you look at the mountainous terrain you might tend to agree. However, it isn’t all mountainous as I’ve seen any amount of videos of soldiers patrolling in decidedly flat terrain and if I’ve seen it once then there exists a case for deploying tanks.

The Canadians have deployed their Leopards even though they aren’t air-conditioned likes ours.

This from a US defense site

“The heavily protected direct fire capability of a main battle tank is an invaluable tool in the arsenal of any military. The intensity of recent conflicts in Central Asia and the Middle East has shown western militaries that tanks provide protection that cannot be matched by more lightly armoured wheeled vehicles…. [Canada’s existing Leopard C2/1A5] tanks have also provided the Canadian Forces (CF) with the capability to travel to locations that would otherwise be inaccessible to wheeled light armoured vehicles, including Taliban defensive positions.”

The Dutch had their Leopards there as did the Danes while the US do have Abrahams deployed so maybe it isn’t that simple.

Generals are political creatures as well as soldiers and they will be very well aware that the current government doesn’t want to deploy any more soldiers to Afghanistan. So to say “we would like tanks” could be seen as a bad career move. On the other hand, if the government were to say “we are looking at expanding our Afghanistan force to build it up to a independent group and would you like tanks with that? you might get a different answer.

DO we need tanks in Afghanistan or do we want them there? I don’t really know as I don’t know all of the considerations but I do know we are not going to have an open debate about the issue.

More on the Diggers

In case you wonder what us retired soldiers think of the recent decision to court martial three soldiers due to their actions in Afghanistan then here is a letter doing the rounds of the ex-service community with explanatory notes by a Vietnam Veteran.

For those of you who don’t know, Roger Tingley won his Miltary Cross as a 2nd Lieutenant in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The email letter below has been written by Roger as a result of the decision (apparently against the wishes of the Chief of the Defence Force) by one (military) lawyer to court martial 3 young soldiers who made a (split second) decision, tragic as the consequences were, to return fire in a combat situation recently in Afganistan, a situation which it is certain that lawyer has never nor never will have to face, and a situation so dreadful that lawyer could never in her worst nightmares begin to imagine or understand.

Combat soldiers who served during the Vietnam (and any other) war could almost certainly tell of at least one situation that they either knew of, or themselves experienced, where innocent people became casualties. The politicians who send our young men to war know, or should know, without question, that a tragedy such as this is always likely to occur. That these young men now have to face further tragedy in their own lives, regardless of the outcome of their respective courts martial, is a disgrace beyond belief. If someone is to be punished for the tragic deaths of the innocents in this situation, why not the politician(s) who made the decision to send them in the first place or even the electors who chose that (or those) politician(s) to make that decision.

These three young men, privates, the lowest rank in the military hierarchy, are the scapegoats for just another of the tragedies which occur when old men send young men to fight their wars.

RJ Wood
former Lieutenant Platoon Commander during the Vietnam War.
One of the young men sent to fight old men’s wars.

The letter:

I am but a small part of growing and grave concern: not just within the ADF Family and the wider Veteran Community; but of the Australian Electorate at large; that we are seeing the first real nails in the coffin of the ANZAC Military Forces as we knew them.

That the nails are being manufactured from political, delivered by civilians, held by senior civilians in uniform and hammered in, by direction, by mid level military careerists who recognize their masters.

Recruitment is already, although the real facts are obfuscated, becoming a less than cost effective factor and we may be struggling in less than a decade, to find enough service personnel, particularly on the ground and NOT in a barracks base or airfield complex.

Those in power at this time, will by then be well supered….but we will remember them.

So, speaking of Remembrance Day…and the young men (and their poor families) who are about to be dragged through dirty political mud, be publicly pilloried and, whatever the outcome, have their very lives changed forever, may I, in the spirit of fair play, gently ask our current (RAAF) ADF Chief:

Is the Australian Government now going to publicly discriminate: or are they now going to charge any and every single Australian RAAF Ex Serviceman who ever took part in any deliberate bombing (especially Firebombing) of any city or town, anywhere in the world, in World War 2.

I sincerely trust that every addressee will ask the same question of at least one journalist and one elected representative…..well before Remembrance Day.

Very Sincerely,

Roger L Tingley MC

Recycling IED makers

SUSPECT insurgents held by Australian troops are spending time handcuffed, blindfolded and wearing earmuffs to stop them talking to each other.

The journalist is all over the fact that the terrorists are treated like prisoners hoping this will raise a storm of human rights activists complaining about the inhumane treatment whereas the soldier in me is somewhat confused about the next two paragraphs.

Since it opened last month, the centre has held 156 suspected insurgents, most of them picked up by Australian special forces, who scour the surrounding mountains and valleys for Taliban bomb makers, the biggest killers of coalition and Afghan troops, the police and Afghan civilians.

The legal officer at the jail said some of the 156 men detained had been picked up because they tested positive for explosives residue. If there was no further evidence against them, a conviction was considered unlikely and they were freed.

Thus allowing them to get amongst more residue as they build more IEDs to kill us.

That’s insane……. lawyers making tactical decisions that endanger the lives of Diggers.

Not good.

Have we gone insane?

A soldier pens an email to a mate criticizing the Army generally and his headquarters specifically and we are having a national debate. So far the Minister for Defence and a Lt Gen have made statements and hundreds of would be arm-chair generals have given us the benefit of the erudite and considered opinions.

At the Herald Sun every tenth comment says we shouldn’t be there and then there’s some who shouldn’t be allowed to have an opinion.

Houston, Chief of Army, who ever is in charge of “OUR TROOPS” plus the obvious incompetent Major all should be immediately removed.

Houston is actually Chief of the Defence Force. Gen Gillespie is the Chief of the Army and he sure as hell won’t ‘be removed’ He’s doing a sterling job considering all the problems he has. As for the Major who the soldier accused of not doing his job properly, as if he would know, is accused, court martialed, found guilty and dismissed all on the basis of a disgruntled soldiers words.

Every one has an answer. Bring ’em home – they shouldn’t be there, sack the Generals…sack the Majors…send abraham tanks…send Tiger attack choppers and sack the politicians.

Here’s a new thought….remind the soldier about the chain of command, then sack him and get on with it. Defence will always be reviewing the situation and asking for more troops and equipment and the politicians will, as always, not give them everything they ask for.

News.com say the soldiers email will be investigated and in due course, after a lot of questions the Minister for Defence will announce that all is well.

One drop kick says “It’s Vietnam all over again” Well, yes in a sense, it is. It’s a war and you can never get too many tanks or attack choppers or artillery in a war. There will always be a priority and every patrol cant be guaranteed to have full support every time they clash with the enemy.

Whereas I’m reluctant to give credence to one email from a Private soldier I do listen to Generals and Jim Moylan, ex General, has a lot to say on this subject. If you are really interested and look to forming a considered opinion you would do well to read anything he says.

I have written about Moylan before so maybe you should also check that out so you can see I am really on the side of the soldiers. Just not ones who abuse the chain of command.

Sgt Till was tired!

SERGEANT Brett Till may have been fatigued when he was killed 18 months ago trying to defuse a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, a defence inquiry has found.

Sergeant Till, a member of the Holsworthy-based Incident Response Regiment (IRR) had fired a controlled initial blast to destroy the booby trap and was inspecting the result when the bomb’s main 20kg charge suddenly detonated, the inquiry found.

…may have been fatigued. Motherhood statement. Soldiers at war are fatigued for the bulk of their time on operations and unless you have more IED demolition teams than IEDs then it will be ever thus.

Soldiers to be charged over raid

AN OFFICER in line for a medal is among a group of Australian soldiers who will face manslaughter and negligence charges over the deaths of five Afghan children in a bungled raid last year.

The soldiers, mostly from the 1st Commando Regiment, are facing an unprecedented court martial over the raid, codenamed Operation Pakula, near the village of Surkh Morghab in February 2009.

Well, thats it then. Soldiers can no longer go into battle for their country without worrying about legal charges. It could force them to be reluctant to return fire when they are in contact.

That could add to our casualty count.

The soldiers were targeting an insurgent leader who was not found at an initial compound. A crucial part of the prosecution argument will rest on the decision to move to a second compound, and whether the intelligence was sufficient for it to be approached with the same level of stealth and tactics.

In the field, particularly in Afghanistan with no clear and recognisable enemy, all places needed to be approached with […]stealth and tactics.

The interpretation of Intelligence in the field is often at odds with the opinions of staff officers in safe rear echelon compounds – particularly when you are being fired on.

It goes like this: I’m being fired on from a second compound…f**k intelligence ….return fire…still being fired on…throw grenade….still being fired on…throw another grenade…thank God! Not being fired on anymore!

Yes, it’s terrible that civilians died but the Taliban do that. They fire on Coalition soldiers from within a group of civilians and then use the resultant civilian casualties to wind up left wing armchair warriors.

What are the Coalition soldiers to do in these circumstances?

Take casualties, maybe die, because there might be civilians in the compound?

The report suggests the Commando weren’t fully trained. Well, if true, that’s another problem but that can’t be sheeted home to the soldiers themselves.

I have to back the Diggers on this one.

Beneath the Southern Cross…..

Got this link from the SASR network. Maybe some old mortarman, or a young one for that matter, could explain the maths.

I seem to recall being in command of an ambush on Christmas eve 1970 at the base of the Lang Hais and the Artillery put up flares that popped in the shape of a Christmas tree. This was followed by a Cessna 180 broadcasting Christmas carols through it’s boom box. The flares made me feel exposed, the carols stopped me hearing any movement out front and overall I didn’t feel any goodwill to my fellow man. In fact if I had seen any, I would have shot and killed them.

It’s a weird world.

Diggers killed in Afghanistan

Sapper Darren Smith and Herbie were both killed by an improvised bomb.

TWO young Australian combat engineers on their first deployment in Afghanistan have been killed by a bomb in the army’s worst combat loss in a single day since the Vietnam War.

A bomb detonated during a patrol on Monday morning, killing Sapper Jacob Moerland, 21, and Sapper Darren Smith, 26, both from the Brisbane-based 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment.

As a sad coincidence, to the best of my knowledge, the last time the ADF lost two troops on one day in action was in Vietnam on 1 Feb 1971 when Ray ‘General’ Patten and Alan Talbot, both of Recce Platoon 7RAR, were killed by a mine blast.

I have written up that incident here.


Aussie GunnerHaven’t been to Michael Yon’s site for a month or two but visited today and found great reading on Afghanistan He is with the Brit’s 2nd Para and writes of their day to day life fighting “Terry” Taliban (as the Brits call them). If you read on you will find some mention of us Aussies but only a passing reference.

I would really like to see an Australian journalist submit reports on Australian operations with the personal detail Yon uses when reporting on the Brits and the Yanks. It has long been a complaint of mine that the Australian military Public Relations people are more reactive than proactive. I’m sure Australians would love to read of the daily struggles and successes of our troops in far off lands written in a positive style; to read of their sons and daughters lives as they play their part in the war.

Surely it’s a strategy of war to keep the public at home informed and yet all I ever read is terse military media emails that read just like the reports I used to write – just the facts man, just the facts. Minister for Defence said in Canberra today…….Chief of Navy says recruiting up….Gen Gillespie reports troops involved in clash… boring…boring.

Come on guys, give us something to hang on to.

Whatever, go read how Michael Yon tells a story. It’s fascinating.

Also read Where Eagles Dare – Yon’s account of a convoy moving a giant turbine up-country to a dam to provide more power for the locals. The photo of the Aussie gunner above comes from that operation courtesy of the British Minister of Defence (MOD)

Update: Reader FM points to a YouTube video on the Gunners supporting the Turbine Operation.

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