Major General Patrick Cordingley, DSO DSC FRGS
On: Afghanistan; The Use of Force
23rd February 2007
Prof. Alan Lee Williams: “Your Excellencies, Ladies, and Gentleman, since we have today such a fascinating speaker, I want to make as room as possible for questions. So we are starting the proceedings before coffee, and coffee will be served afterwards. We don’t operate on Chatham House rules, which I think that most people here will be familiar with. If you want them to operate in terms of your question, you need only say so, and that also applies to our speaker. I’m going to take the liberty of saying one or two things very briefly so you know exactly where I’m coming from.
My name is Alan Lee Williams. I’m a visiting professor of politics at Queen Mary College. I am president of the Atlantic Treaty Organisation and director of the Atlantic Council. I say that because this debate is more than just of passing interest to NATO. In fact, its very future is tied up with this action in Afghanistan. I just want to say in the very beginning that I was a Labour Member of Parliament, very briefly, and I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Dennis Healy when he was Defence Secretary. It was quite an experience. I learned a lot about defence and I must confess, that is where my interests started. It’s my pleasure to ask somebody to speak who needs hardly an introduction because without fail we hear his voice on Radio 4 or television. As you know, Patrick Cordingley is a literary man. He was a very good indeed, very experienced commander in the first war against the Iraqis.
It was a highly successful campaign leading the Desert Rats, with all the historical connotations. Since then, he’s become a militarist in another guise, in terms of commentating on the second Iraqi war and a commentator in general on military matters. He tells me that he’s going to deal with the concept of the use of military force as well as the applying it when necessary. So it’s with great pleasure on my behalf that I ask General Cordingley to address us.”
Patrick Cordingley: “My dear Sirs, Ladies, and Gentlemen, there aren’t too many jokes in the next twenty minutes, and I apologise for this. It’s a very, very serious subject. As you heard, I was down in the first Gulf War, and then I was working in ITN during what I call the first Afghani War and then moved over to the BBC for the second Gulf War and indeed do some work with them now. I would describe myself as an observer. I’m certainly not an analyst and I’m certainly not a military historian.
So it may surprise you if I start by asking you to accompany me to Rorke’s Drift just for a moment. What I’m going to do is talk about the use of power leading up to what’s going on in Afghanistan. I’m quite well briefed on the possible reinforcements in Afghanistan which you heard about this morning. At Rorke’s Drift, with the Zulus coming by the thousands, the British Army was equipped with the Martini-Henry rifle which had a very big bullet, .45 calibre. We used the tactics of volley fire at the Zulus as they came at 400 yards. But at 200 yards if you fired at Zulu the bullet was so powerful it was almost certain to go through the first Zulu and kill the one behind. What amazes me about this particular battle was the number of Zulus that were killed.
You and I would probably think it was thousands. In fact, it was 351. A further 300 died of wounds after the battle. It’s actually very prudent. So to give a perfect example of firepower—and 25,000 rounds were fired by the British Army—and the effects were not great. That’s no criticism of the wonderful Welshmen and their 11 Victoria Crosses, it actually the accuracy of the gun. The Boers had a much better gun which they used to great effect against us a short while later. The Mauser was extremely accurate. We’ll move now from the Zulus to the Second World War. A tremendous American study after the Second World War into what infantrymen actually did discovered only 17% of infantrymen actually aimed their rifle when they fired at the enemy. This is a very a surprising fact all to do with irregular armies, fear, and the like.
During the Second World War Mikhail Kalashnikov in Stalingrad studied the effect of a very effective German machine gun in street fighting. And from that, of course, comes the AK-47, a Kalashnikov rifle that we see everyday on the news somewhere. You see insurgents firing it around corners not aiming at anybody at all. You see people firing it into the air in jubilation or celebration. This weapon is used by 50 armies in the world. The question I pose—I don’t know the answer—is How many people has that particular weapon killed since it came into being in 1947?
I’m going to refer back to this later. I will just tell you that 50 million people have been killed in wars since the end of the Second World War, and the Kalashnikov I suspect is responsible for a number of deaths. Of those 50 million, 90% have been civilians, not the intended target at all. So it may well be responsible for huge quantities of people being killed who were never intended as enemy targets.
I want now to take you to one further place as means for historical comment—the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when the British Army was helping the Sultan’s Armed Forces stop the Communist insurgents coming into Iran trying to get to the Strait of Hormuz. They were armed with the 1A1 [sic] rifle—single shot, bolt action, very accurate. We killed a quite large number of the enemy with this rifle. And then was introduced, shortly after, still in this campaign, the SLR [sic] rifle, which has the automatic capability. What they found was, the number of enemy killed went down, and the number of bullets fired went up. The message I’m saying to you is if you wish to kill the enemy, it’s best to fire aimed shots at him. Now this was recently brought home to me, very starkly indeed, last week when I was working with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation making a film about the effect of psychological operations in Iraq by insurgents on the American army and by the Americans back onto the insurgents.
There is a dialogue going on and for those of you who like surfing the net you can switch onto this dialogue. One of the films I was shown—it lasted for no longer than 10 seconds—was completely and utterly horrifying. It showed a sniper called ‘Juba’—in fact I suspect that is a collective name for a number of insurgent snipers shooting American soldiers. Now when I watched this thing, I found it unbelievable myself. I don’t think in my military experience—and I’ve seen lots of dead bodies, I’ve seen lots of vehicles being blown up—I don’t actually think I’ve seen somebody being shot in cold blood. This particular film does not reply to things that we’ve become inured to because we see them every day on the cinema or on our television screens. These soldiers just crumple as they hit the ground. They literally just crumble. It’s horrific stuff. As I’ve said, you’re looking at it, and American soldiers are looking at it, and they’re then sending back messages to Juba on the internet.
We’ve got ourselves into a very curious situation as you can see. My point really is not about the horrific nature of Juba and what was apparently going to be shown on Canadian television, but that if you wish to kill somebody, the best way of doing it is with an aimed, single shot at the right person. Now what I want to do is to take you now to the First Gulf War and say that exactly the same applies to artillery and air power as well. In the First Gulf War, my brigade, and I was lucky enough to be able lead—I say lucky, I suppose some would say unlucky—I was going to lead the American and British effort from Saudi Arabia and through the Iraqi defences into Iraq. We asked the coalition air forces to bomb the barrier immediately in front for two weeks and then we moved our artillery and we then went on and bombed it for another week after that.
We fired 17,000 scud missiles on Iraqi positions immediately in front of us. As you can imagine, there wasn’t much left after, when we advanced through that barrier. On the first night I was faced with an unusual problem. A third of my brigade was taking on one objective, and I was asked to push on and attack an Iraqi brigade position. So I looked to see what support I had available to me: Five British regiments of artillery and five American regiments of artillery. I used those, all ten regiments, for half an hour.
I had more high explosives that I could bring on to the enemy position at one time than the Field Marshall Montgomery had at the Battle of El Alamein. That is what the firepower available to a modern British division actually is. It’s absolutely colossal. There are times when I wonder whether our politicians fully realize what they’re unleashing when they send their armed forces to war. I will say that we fired cluster bombs and we fired depleted uranium during the First Gulf War. After two days I met with my commanding officers, because it was very clear to me that we were killing a lot of people, probably unnecessarily, and said, ‘How can we stop this actually happening?
We need to keep going at the same tempo. We need to keep progressing to get to our objective. But we don’t need to kill so many people to achieve these aims.’ The point I am trying to make is we’ve been trained to fight the Warsaw Pact, we’ve been trained to fight the Russians, to save you in case they get as far as Calais. We were trained to use maximum force that is what we were trained to do. I will tell you just like that it’s not very easy to do something differently.
So we continued. I will just say that Americans had exactly the same problem. The 24th Infantry Division, probably the best American division, commanded by General Barry McCaffrey was advancing two days after the cease fire toward the Euphrates and was fired upon by a Republican Guard division, which was subsequently destroyed two days after the cease fire. There was a little bit of a fuss about it in America, to be sure. We come then if I may take you to the first of the two Gulf Wars, I am just going to mention: A war by air power. A war by proxy, if you like. The Taliban melts away. 3,000 civilians probably killed and very few Taliban leaders. And then of course, the woefully inadequate number of troops left on the ground to sort the problem out. Then comes the Second Gulf War. I’m not going to rehearse the arguments why I think it was very wrong to do it. Containment, in my opinion, was working. It was not just. That is very important, as a soldier. It was not just in all the various categories of the just war argument that exist. But my real fear, my private fear, is that we continue to use, 12 years later, overwhelming force against an army that clearly wasn’t capable of fighting against us. And say I got tricked into joining the BBC. My life since then has been growled out by John [sic] and smiled at by Natasha [sic], which I actually prefer.
If I had longer, which I don’t, I could tell you some lovely stories about what goes on down there. In the Second Gulf War, our tanks fired 1.9 tonnes of DU ammunition. Actually, that isn’t very much. It sounds quite impressive in terms of tonnes. So, I asked my friends who are tank commanders, ‘What were you firing at?’ And they looked a bit surprised and they said ‘Of course, the Iraqi tank.’ To which I replied, ‘But you can go through the side of an Iraqi tank with a bow-and-arrow.’ But of course, the truth is that we don’t have another round, because we’ve gone down the route of wanting DU, with all the unpleasant consequences left behind with radioactivity floating around in the air. Our artillery 18,000 normal rounds and 2,000 cluster rounds, and that’s more than we fired in the First Gulf War.
To get that into perspective to mean something, it’s more artillery than the Serbian Army fired at the Siege of Sarajevo, which went on for more than three and a half years. It’s a colossal amount of artillery. I’m afraid I would go down the route, just as an aside, of saying that I don’t believe the cluster bomb is a necessary piece of artillery to have in our armoury at the moment. I remember very well at the end of the First Gulf War wandering out of the alley where we had arrived thinking I would have a sort of peaceful time sitting there, communing with nature, pleased about going home, suddenly to realise I was completely surrounded with munitions that had not exploded—cluster bomb munitions that had not exploded. 25% of all munitions fired in the First Gulf War failed to explode. And actually that’s a great improvement on what happened in the Second World War.
Of course, the other problem in the Second Gulf War is our unmanned aircraft sending images back to headquarters. 42,000 images coming into our headquarters, allowing the commander, almost like in the good old days, to be able to see the battlefield in a way he never had before. And clearly if you can see a target which you can identify where it is without seeing it yourself but with the images given to you, you will probably engage it. It may have nothing to do with the actual battle that you are prosecuting. Was it necessary to take it on at all? We then get to the peacekeeping phase and the looting that goes on. You say to your friends ‘Why did this looting go on?’
The answer quite simply is we didn’t have enough soldiers to stop it. We feel rather sorry for the Iraqis they’ve had such a bloody awful time under Saddam Hussein. We try whole to control the whole area with insufficient troops on the ground. It was unforgivable that there were so few troops on the ground at the end of the Second Gulf War. Then you get situations like Alamara [sic] where the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment doing so brilliantly there. But it was very aggressive. Half a million rounds were fired by that battle group, just 500 men, in a six month period.
There certainly weren’t half a million dead Iraqis, thank God, but it’s a very aggressive way of going around business. Sometimes I’m asked, ‘Do the Americans, who are very gung ho’—and I think there might be an American or two in this room—‘Are they far worse than us in this particular situation?’ I’m afraid I answer, ‘I don’t believe there’s very much difference.’ That may shock you. I think there is a huge difference in education, but not necessarily in training, or indeed how we are actually prosecuting the particular actions we’re involved in.
I want now to go to where I was meant to be, Afghanistan. I went to Afghanistan with the Royal Marines when they first went to look at the problem to see how they were going operate when they took over from the 16th Air Assault Brigade. The plan was very clear to the 16th Air Assault Brigade: They were going to look after Lashkar Ga and Gardez [sic] on either side of the Helmand River and make certain they were well-protected, and from that do some good reconstruction work, and move out.
It didn’t happen. Very quickly indeed—and it was political, it had nothing to do with the military—they were sucked forward into those towns that you may not know the names of, Sanget [sic], Woosakara [sic], places we’d never heard of before. (We hadn’t actually heard of Lashkar Ga either, but that’s not important) We were sucked into these places, and from that moment on the plan really didn’t go the way we meant it to go.
We had these houses which we were protecting and these villages all around that were destroyed. It’s too easy, when you know you’ve got an aircraft behind you with a 500 pound bomb on it, to call it forth when you can identify an enemy position, and that is what happened. So these towns got basically destroyed. One of my friends said, ‘We came here, I thought, to reconstruct and I look around, all I can see is destruction going on.’ And what isn’t commonly known about Lusakarla [sic], for instance, is 10,000 Afghans moved out of the area and have not come back in again.
We laid waste to that particular area. So, it was not a military fault, it was a political fault for allowing that particular thing to happen. So why do we think we can cope with the situation in Afghanistan when I would say to you that we are facing an indigenous guerrilla force, xenophobic, part of the Islamic faith, and with tribal solidarity. We have to, because of situation we’re in, increase the tempo. As I said, increasing the tempo means the destruction of homes, the Lusakarla [sic] problems, and firepower, half a million rounds of ammunition!
You can see what I’m coming to. 4,000 people were possibly killed in Afghanistan during that short period. I remember saying on the Today program, ‘Am I the only person who minds that we may have killed 1,000 Taliban in southern Afghanistan?’ Now that may shock you, but I do mind because it is not going to win the problem. Every chap that you kill who isn’t a Taliban, which inevitably happens because we’re dropping bombs or attacking with Apache helicopters, you are alienating ten other people. So what do you do about this? We’ve lost the moral high ground. We’ve lost the ability to say to the Taliban, ‘We would like to talk to you about what we’re trying to achieve here.’ I regret that maybe somebody knows a lot more about that than I do. But you can talk to the Taliban. Hamid Karzai was in the Taliban. Several provincial governors were in the Taliban. And my Pakistani general friend said, ‘You can debate with the Taliban.’ But the problem there is, that as I’ve said, we’ve actually lost the ability to go and say ‘We’re going to do this peacefully and we want to talk to you about it,’ because we have already become incredibly aggressive.
One of the reasons that we need this aggression is that we’ve got too few troops on the ground. Now we should welcome what has happened today—the announcement that is going to come out on Monday—and I would ask you just to think back to what General Dannatt said, I suspect probably by mistake, but nevertheless he said it, and good on him for saying it: ‘We’ve got a problem in Iraq,’ he said, ‘where part of the problem there are our soldiers going around Basra are just targets, and we need not to break the British Army on this one.’
So it is sensible to pull out of Basra and go and support the Iraqi armed forces. It is sensible to try and put more troops on the ground in the south of Afghanistan because of the sporting chance that if you put more troops there then you will be able to support the Afghan National Army, which is growing up. You will be able to throw much larger cordons around areas where you want to do reconstruction, which clearly you can’t do at the moment because there aren’t enough troops to guard it. With a lot of troops it just possible that the Taliban may say, ‘There’s not much point in taking on that area, we were actually beaten in Sangia [sic], or given a bloody nose in Sangia [sic], let’s not attack an area where there are a hell of a lot more British troops.’ So I really do think we should welcome it. If you ask me whether I think there is a chance that we will resolve the problem in Afghanistan, I suspect the answer is probably ‘No.’ But if we pull out [sic], given the history of Afghanistan, it will resolve itself in whatever way it wishes to actually go.
If I may finish by coming back to the 50 million people dead. Where I stand on all this is, I happen to think that deep down in the American psyche they want to try and help this problem. I believe Mr Blair wants to try and resolve this problem. Of these 50 million who’ve been killed, they’ve been killed by weapons systems cheaper than making a transistor radio. We have no real capability at the moment of stopping that happening. Nuclear weapons are not stopping it happening. All the high-tech weapons systems we own are not stopping it happening. Surely this is the time, with a change of President, with a change of Prime Minister that the nuclear deterrent debate should go on, but isn’t going to be allowed to go on. Surely this is the time where we should have a serious debate about where we stand in the world and what we want to try to do.
In my book, what we want to try to do is have a much larger army with an awful lot of really good surveillance equipment—very expensive—so we are capable of putting troops on the ground in trouble spots to help in Darfur and other parts of Africa. We really can help. We to be in those armed forces people who understand about the ethos of the countries they are moving into. We speak Arabic. We speak Pashto. How many soldiers speak Arabic properly? How many speak Pashto? Maybe the poor chap who’s been court-martialled for being a spy, I suspect. We need to invest in that way. Do we need a nuclear deterrent? Not an expensive one, I expect [sic]. Unless of course we go ahead and attack Iran and then throw the whole of the Middle East back into the arms of the Russians. Then you get yourself into a problem where you probably do need a Trident replacement. On that happy note, I will stop.”
Sir Michael Burton: “General, thank you very much for that fascinating analysis. I was at a meeting at Chatham House about two weeks ago which was on two subjects, of Iraq and Afghanistan. The speakers on Iraq, I am sorry to say, came to the conclusion that what we were doing there was ‘Mission: Impossible’. But the speaker on Afghanistan, who was rather more optimistic, thought Afghanistan was ‘Mission: Possible’, that it was a challenging but doable task. He was Jamie Shea, a senior official at NATO, who said that Afghanistan was actually a classic nation-building task for NATO. But you can’t get very far with nation-building until you’ve got security. And the question has to whether it is actually possible, particularly in the area where British forces are engaged in Helmand, to bring about the necessary degree of security to enable development to take place, which is what our troops are actually there for. This is the issue. I think it is very reasonable to doubts of whether we can bring that degree of security. I would just mention two, which I would like your comments on. Firstly, is this question of enough forces. Fine, we’re sending an extra 1,000 troops, but it’s still quite a small number given the size of the area and the daunting nature of the task. I also have noticed in some of the commentaries that the Taliban evicted from some town or village, many of them actually come from that town or village. So that once the place has been cleared, surely it can only be a matter of time before they’re back because that’s their home. You’re doing that a number of times but how long can you keep it up for. That’s the first point. The second point is you mentioned the thought given to you by your Pakistani colleague that one can actually talk to Taliban. Well, from what I understand, British forces have actually been talking and indeed doing some deals with the Taliban, I think it’s in Musa Kala [sic], to get them to move out. That particular deal didn’t work for very long and led to quite a serious difference of opinion with President Karzai and some harsh words have been said on both sides. I would be interested in your thoughts on that—whether one can have that sort of a deal and whether that is a sensible, useful, even necessary, thing to do.”
Professor Alan Lee Williams: “Thank you very much Mr Burton.”
Tritton: “I must say thank you General for your speech but I am a little disappointed. [paraphrased] What I would like to say is, I see you are not a geographer. Korea was a winnable war because it was a peninsula. Once you’re on the mainland of Asia, wherever you are, it is virtually unwinnable as a European force. You only have to look at Vietnam and the rest—once you’re on the mainland it just goes on and on and. I personally feel that the lesson of geography is it is extremely difficult for a white European force to win anything, actually, on the mainland of Asia. It is just impossible. I invite your comments as a serving soldier as I used to be.”
Cordingley: “I say I would be disappointed with your question because I think the tenor of my talk, time-constrained, is that we shouldn’t be fighting a war. If we want to kill people we need single, aimed shots. We don’t want to be talking bombs or firing thousands of rounds on them. So, I say to you, we went down there as a peacekeeping force. I do feel very sorry for the previous Secretary of State—Secretary of Defence [sic] because that’s what the army said they were going to do. I was there when it was told to him. So, I don’t support the Labour Party and I do feel very sorry for him in this respect. We, for political reasons, have been forced to turn it into what it has come to now. Now if we’re going to actually resolve this problem we’re going to bring it back to where we hoped it was going to be. The putting of more troops in there will give us a hope that we will get it at Yugas Green [sic]. I have no idea whether or not. We haven’t got enough and that is my plea, you know. Another 1.500 or so, 1.600, is not going to resolve the problem. The north of the country is stable. The north of the country is reasonably well, as I understand it. It’s just a question of spreading that good will south, if that is possible. So to a certain extent I agree with what you are saying, but I don’t think you were really listening to exactly what I was trying to convey—that’s my problem and I apologise.”
Paul Rochford, Councillor; E-AG member: “Thank you very much. I fully support your analysis that we can’t go on with the Cold War approach to things in terms of our armed forces. But then again on the other hand that’s the responsive section because of the fact that we wouldn’t pay the actual price in the first place, so there is obviously a question to that. [sic] And certainly of course we want to see large amounts of European forces, which are there but not being deployed for good reasons. So obviously I would like your comments on that regard in relation to our allies in NATO. I suppose my question is, you’ve separated Gulf War I and Gulf War II and basically Afghanistan I and Afghanistan II conveniently, but my question is about the actual unity between One and Two. One, of course, Sir [sic] was talking and Pakistani intelligence was saying ‘don’t bomb the front line, don’t bomb the front line, let [???????] go.’ And of course, [unintelligible]… So, can we separate the two wars out? Obviously we are fighting [?] in Iraq and things are moving on the ground in Afghanistan. So, what would you have done after [???????] What would you have done when we had a situation where joint security was in bed [imbedded?] with NATO? The first war was a war, as you say. The second war you say we only went there to peace keep. I would suggest there was no peace to keep and there was a continuation between the first war and the second war. The problem is the people that we didn’t fight in the first war have come back to fight us now.”
Cordingley: “Thank you. I wonder if I could address the bit about the thirty-seven nations that make up ISAF in Afghanistan, first of all. I do have some sympathy with the line taken by the Germans. The Rules of Engagement, a year ago, were declared to the whole of ISAF and they’ve changed markedly in the south, where we’ve got to for political reasons though we didn’t intend to go there. Now if you were the German Minister of Defence you saw yours soldiers were doing an effective job in the north of the country under certain rules of engagement, and you are quite content with that because that’s why they went there, would you be very keen to send them to fight alongside the British and the Americans and the Canadians and the Dutch in the south, where things are clearly very aggressive and you don’t necessarily agree with the way those nations are carrying out the task? I do understand the German approach to this particular problem. I think your second question I can answer quite briefly. I do understand the Americans’ wish to retaliate after the Twin Towers and I think if I were President—way above my pay grade—I think I would expect that I would have to something. My big crib [sic]—and I’m afraid it’s such a simple thing to say—is if we had just stayed in Afghanistan, instead of volley fire [sic] and ISAF in Kabul, which put 45,000 dead in 2001, we could have made it much easier for ourselves and ignored the problem in Iraq, which was contained, and we would have a safer world to live in as we stand here.”
Louisa Hutchinson, Member of E-AG: “Thanks very much for your talk. I found it actually fascinating and I agree with your conclusions which I think were that we should have a far larger and more efficient army. My question is how could that possibly happen in the current anti-war climate in Europe, especially in this country? It seems to be exaggerated, literally all the time, on the BBC, especially by people like John Humphrys on the Today programme. It seems to be a non-stop bombardment of anti-war at any cost.”
Cordingley: “I won’t waste time speaking in defence of John Humphrys but I was very impressed when he went to Iraq by the deductions he came up with and the reports he came back with. I think the Army, too, felt that he had actually made a sensible deduction as to what was going on. Coming back to how we do what I’m suggesting with much larger armies. I think one of our big problems is that we’re getting our procurement well and truly wrong. The First Sea Lord, the other day, was brilliant saying ‘Give me a billion pounds and two aircraft carriers we’ve cracked the problem.’ To which I replied to him, ‘I know what you’re saying, but you really don’t need frigates costing £800 million apiece. I can promise you they’d be just as effective if they only cost £400 million.’ So our procurements are probably out of control. The Army’s just as bad. We spent years working on a tank replacement and a reconnaissance vehicle replacement—a hugely expensive programme the name of which I forget. And actually, I gather, we’re about to blow it and decide we’ve got it all wrong. So, if we can just think the problem through, we can save vast sums of money on Trident replacement, on hugely expensive naval equipment, and use it for the least expensive important thing of all, manpower. But we’ve got to take Europe and NATO with us on this one. It’s coming back to really my key, and that is if we really want to have an effect in the world, we’ve got to down to basic simplicity: What is it that people need for help? What is it that we can best equip our soldiers with so they can help? It’s cheaper than what we’ve got at the moment, in my opinion.”
Robert Side: “General, you are all over the media, of course. We watch you constantly on the box. Why is it that the British public is given so little information about what is actually going on down in Helmand. To me it’s very synonymous of British public in the First World War when we, the British people, were not told about what was going on, until the end, when it is was won, and the success was greatly exaggerated. But in the Helmand province, I have no idea, though I do try to follow what’s going on, what the British Army is actually up to. Surely, with our soldiers out there fighting and dying, surely, we have a right to know what our British Army is actually doing.”
Cordingley: “I think that’s a brilliant question. I remember saying to the BBC when Private Beharry was about to get his Victoria Cross or something really big about to happen. Eventually I persuaded them that this was something really, really important. But it’s exactly what you’re saying. For instance, again following your train of thought, when the Marines did that extraordinary thing of dispatching two marines or four marines on the side of Apaches to go and rescue a fallen comrade, sadly he was dead, we were told about that. But what we really weren’t told about was what was actually happening and why it was happening, which is exactly the point that you’ve made. There is an attempt, I think, by the tabloids to give us more of a flavour, which you probably don’t read, about what is actually happening, but it is very piecemeal. But the point comes back—and I really loathe the Ministry of Defence—that the Ministry of Defence is pathetically secretive. It really does worry the whole time—and I suspect this is a political problem, as well—about what’s going to happen if you allow journalists to go and tell us what’s happening. Their people are very, very bad at giving us a big picture—this is exactly what you said—of exactly where they are and what they are trying to do. There’s a certain amount of not telling the enemy, but this is an insurgency. We don’t want to know where Prince Harry is, and I would agree on that, but it would be very useful to see a bigger picture. I take your point and I’ll go back and explore it with them again. I find it difficult enough and there are people at the Ministry of Defence who don’t know what’s going on as well. So, I think you have real point there. Thank you for your question. I can’t do anything more than say I agree.”
Lady of Limerick: “I’d like to thank you very much. I have a son in Lashkar Gah at the moment, so I know a little bit about what’s happening on the ground. But I’d like to ask you to address the dilemma: Arms and armaments cost money for the Taliban, too. We want to win the hearts and mind of the native population. Where do the Taliban get their money from? Many of them are leaders in the drug trade of the poppies that are grown by the community. Nobody has solved the problem of providing an alternative source of income to the local farmers in the community who sell their poppies for good money, which is their livelihood. That money is used by the Taliban to buy arms. The British troops are trying to destroy that source of income for the poor in order to cut the money going to the Taliban. You understand the dilemma. Would you perhaps give us your solution?”
Cordingley: “Thank you very much, because I wasn’t looking at my notes when I was speaking and I know ‘poppies’ is written down here, so thank you for bringing that back in. I think the place is awash with arms and I think there is less coming across the border than we would like to think. I may be wrong on this one, but I think there are plenty of arms and ammunition sitting in Afghanistan anyway. If you fly from Kandahar to Lashkar Gah, it is the most extraordinary sight as you go into the countryside. Suddenly these fields start to appear as you leave Kandahar and they are everywhere. They’re in people’s backyards; they’re up the sides of mountains, poppy fields absolutely everywhere you go. It is an extraordinary sight. David Richards was very clear that to start taking the poppy fields out at this stage was a very dangerous thing to do. You just alienate more and more people. The average farmer gets I think eight dollars a day for growing his poppies and if you tell him to grow some other bit of agriculture instead you get half a dollar a day. The thing just doesn’t make any sense. My big fear—and I’m not really getting around to answering your question, I’m trying to get to that—my big fear is that we’ve got a new general, Dan McNeill, an American, who has said he is going to destroy the poppies. He’s given it to DynCorp to do this thing—an armed American organisation, armed with attack helicopters and sprays and you know what—and they’re going get on down and do it. Now that cannot be helpful. I’ve posed the question and nobody has given me a satisfactory answer. I did start asking it before other people so I feel quite good about this. Why don’t we buy this poppy harvest?”
Cordingley: “There are two stumbling blocks: India and France, who are the main producers of poppy harvests for medical reasons, as I understand it.
Members of the Audience: Germany. Turkey.”
Cordingley: “Germany and Turkey as well. So there are people who disagree. But nevertheless, nobody has given me a satisfactory answer to that. I think if the Americans-led ISAF now and General Neill and DynCorp go ahead with this we’ve got a real problem and it’s going to effect the south, where we’ve got a big enough problem anyway, more than the north. We will certainly not win hearts and minds in those parts.
Michael Handscomb: As the General just briefly touched, this is supposed to be a NATO operation, and I think he said there are 37 participants, NATO and others, all together. They’re listed on one of our sheets. Some of them contribute five, ten, twenty, or thirty, and almost all of them are most reluctant to get up into the firing in the south of Afghanistan. My question, Mr Chairman, is How do we persuade our so-called NATO allies to get up the sharp end and help as well as doing the relatively-easier jobs in the north of Afghanistan.”
Cordingley: “I touched on it in the answer to [Paul Rochford’s] question, vis-à-vis the Germans. I think we must remember that a lot of these nations involved don’t have the capabilities to get in involved in the sort of fighting that’s going on in the south at the moment. They are people with medical teams or people to help with reconstruction—engineers and the like. So among those who are in the north who are capable of being moved south are not as great as your question might suggest. I think I can only answer your question by saying, again, that the rules of engagement that they are deployed under are somewhat different into the south than they are in the north. Their national governments do not particularly like, therefore, the changing of those rules of engagement. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to persuade them. But to be more efficient I suggest the answer is to have the fewest nations in the south as possible in terms of command-and-control. The Canadians who are mentioned a lot are doing a marvellous job. They have 2.500 people there and there army’s only 19.000. It’s a colossal effort. The Dutch have got 2.500 people there and again, a colossal effort. If we put a lot more in—which I think is the right thing to do, I’d like to see us put even more in if we have that capability, which we haven’t, simply because it makes it more efficient and the command-and-control is easier—if we were keen to move back in, I think I’d say ‘Just wait a bit and let’s see what those nations who have more reinforcements to bring in will do,’ before going down the route you suggest.”
Mrs Taylor, Guest: “My son, who is in the Royal Artillery, is scheduled to go to Afghanistan in the next few weeks. He’s on leave at the moment and I said to him this morning, ‘What did you think of all the troops going down there to help?’ And he said he hopes very much they will be a help because there are so few troops there and so much to do. Even though he is in the Royal Artillery he ended up getting pushed into an infantry role rather than the job he was trained for and will be fighting on the ground.”
Cordingley: “Thank you very much for that question. I’ll take the opportunity to say that, when I was there, a Royal Artillery unit was responsible for training the Afghan National Army. Alongside Camp Bastion [sic], this huge camp that we have built for the British troops in the south of Helmand is a vast new barrack complex which I think has got some amazing American name which will come to me in a moment which cost $67 million to build to house an Afghan brigade—the is an Afghan battalion there now. What I can tell you which does give one hope—and you will agree with me on this, I hope—is that the Afghans, when they choose to be soldiers, is a different kettle of fish than the Iraqis, when they choose to be soldiers. These are aggressive people who have got it in their blood and will be very effective indeed. Once these people trained by artillerymen, whoever it is who’s training them—and it’s a very brave task, because they go out on patrol with them and fight with them as well, very brave indeed—once these people are trained, they then go into the areas which they’re stuck in at the moment, like Sangia [sic] where a national army would be much better placed and allow the British troops to come back to surround the areas where we want to do reconstruction. Now that is the hope for the future. Now as I say, the Afghan National Army looks to me as if it could be very effective.”
Professor Alan Lee Williams: “Thank you. I think you will forgive me for not calling further questions. We are running up against the time and we’ve had a very good run. It’s my great pleasure now to move the vote of thanks to your speaking here with your kind of background with the Desert Rats and your father could not be more appropriate. [sic]
Lord Montgomery of Alemaine: Thank you Mr Chairman. Actually my father was not a Desert Rat but I was. In 1947 and 1948 I served in the Desert Rats as a troop leader and deputy [sic]. General Cordingley has made some extremely interesting and refreshing ideas as a possible intellectual soldier. There is an axiom ‘There is no such thing as bad soldiers, only bad generals.’ Of course it depends how you interpret that. General Cordingley is an example of a decidedly good general. We’ve had some extremely stimulating ideas from General Cordingley and indeed from the audience today. As you pointed out, the difference between Afghanistan and Iraq is enormous. People tend to get confused. General Cordingley sorted this out immensely well and very lucidly. I am extremely grateful to you for being here today. Thank you very much indeed.”
Professor Alan Lee Williams: “Before coffee is served, it’s my pleasure to present a book to our esteemed speaker. It’s called ‘My Flying Circus’ and it’s an autobiography of a World War I bomber pilot. On behalf of not only the E-AG but also the RAF, I present the book.”
Professor Alan Lee Williams: “Coffee will now be served.”
Chief Khan: “Thank you very much for your time, You Excellencies. I don’t want to be too long. The problem which is happening in Afghanistan, it has roots. The General will agree with me that Afghanistan is a historical country which goes back about 5,000 years. It’s not a new country like some countries. The problem which happened after the Taliban intervention in Afghanistan was the delegation of the Taliban, the movement which started in Afghanistan challenged to eliminate the warlords which were all over the country. There was a civil war, literally, which was going on for five years. The Taliban movement went into it, whoever sponsored it, Karzai, everybody else, was part of that movement. The movement reached Kabul and eliminated most of the warlords. Then some 100 political things happened and the movement changed, with the engagement of Osama bin Laden, the Arabs, and then obviously our neighbors got into that. My family comes from Paktia, which is located in the south-eastern. My father, who died in 2000, started a fight to bring prosperity, peace, and stability to Afghanistan. He met, at the time, Margaret Thatcher who was the PM. This goes on for the next 15 years. He wanted to bring awareness to the West of what exactly should be happening there. The extremists, or the fanatics, came of age during the Taliban era. We brought a lot of awareness to the West that this was what’s happening and with some small help and assistance in backing, we can tackle those problems. But nobody listened to these things. So finally the American and the international community decide to intervene in Afghanistan. But they replaced the evil with evil and that is the problem. The same commanders, who were engaged in a civil war, fighting for power, were being empowered again. Three years went on and then we have the elections. Everybody was backing Karzai and the government so Karzai was elected as the president and he would come and tackle the issues. During this era, the Pashtun tribes which are in the south and eastern parts of Afghanistan consisted the majority of Afghanistan. David Richards, the general who’s commanding the forces in Afghanistan, literally said on the BBC that 70% or so of people are against you and have a lot of troubles. The international community accepted the fact that Pashtuns were 70% or so. We are coming to the problem of majority and whoever runs the country. Now, the majority’s ignored and the reasons are very clear: We have problems with the warlords. Afghanistan is a country which is literally made of these warlords. The warlords are powerful enough to make a lot of influence in the government. We are both witnesses of the process which elected the government for Afghanistan. Then the last government ruled for only three months. After that, a Loya jirga, which is the mother of the sessions in Afghanistan and has always played a significant role in the Afghan political life, was convened in Kabul. All the tribal chiefs were there and they gave another stage of transitional government to Mr Karzai. The constitution was drawn and put in the papers and approved by the Loya jirga. But the Loya jirga is ineffective in introducing democracy, something that is very new to the country, very new to the tribes. The people seem not to accept that. That’s something that the international community is urging. All of sudden everybody was welcome, people whose hands were still dripping with the blood of innocent people, welcome to take part in elections, presidential elections and also parliamentary elections. Right now in Afghanistan we have a parliament which is made of 88.8% warlords and criminals and thugs and people whose hands are still covered in the blood of innocent people. The question is why do we not have problems in the north, why do we have problems in the south? Because the south was suppressed so badly in the last five years by the international community, I would say the Americans, that literally all those villages are wiped out by the bombings, the indiscriminate bombings. We don’t need that. We want to work with the international community very closely because we are the majority, the Pashtuns, in the country. We don’t want all the government for this, or the power in the government. At this stage if I go on criticizing this government it will take months, maybe years, but it will not do any good for any of us. Your soldiers are involved and our country is in great, great danger. When it comes to poppy cultivation, I’m sorry to say I do not agree with the General. This is law, we have laws in the country, and you shouldn’t have to buy it from the farmers. The laws this is prohibited, that has to be prohibited. If you let our farmers in Afghanistan do poppy cultivation, I would urge you leave farmers in the UK doing the same thing, if you buy it from them because it is widely used in medicine or whatever. But there are problems. We have to come up with a solution. The present government is so weak and corrupted that it cannot address a tonne of problems. The warlords are so powerful they literally control everything. Those warlords are always in the pockets of, I would say Russians—you’re not a fan of the Russians, eh?—the Indians, the Iranians. These are the same warlords that are trusted by the Americans and the international community in that part of the world. Of course, we can talk to the Taliban. But we do not want the British soldiers to go and speak to the Taliban, obviously not. Let us do the job. We are from the soil, we are from Afghanistan, the Taliban is the kind of problem that’s our problem. It’s not the international community’s problem because they have problems there. Now Afghanistan has become like a bustling place where everybody is testing there muscles, which is wrong. Believe me, the information which we have, there are lines of people waiting to become suicide bombers, and the General will agree with me that there are thousands and thousands of people. Yours soldiers lives are in danger. But look at us! There is no development. There is so much corruption. When you go to Kabul, it does not look like the capital of a country. Literally, it looks like a ruined village of Mexico somewhere, which is a shame. Billions of dollars have been brought into the country. Where is the money? We need 90% of our stuff, even milk, to be imported from our neighbours, which is a big shame for us. We do not want to live on donations. Literally, the country has to come up to the standards of a country. We want a country which is not a rich country but a country to live in, like in the time of the King. Unfortunately, the King’s family’s been sidelined, the tribes have been sidelined, and a new era of democracy has been introduced which is very unfamiliar. Do you know what the Afghan thinks of the democracy going on in the UK? I’ll tell you.
The Afghan thinks democracy’s all about drinking and womanizing—excuse me, Ladies, but this is what the truth is. So when the people don’t know what democracy’s all about, you can’t just tell them we’re going to become a democratic state, alright. Through the years, through development, through education, people will adopt it. In my country, people are 95% uneducated. My president goes on the television and he tells my people that he is bringing our GDP to $350. For god’s sake, $350?
We are not even a poor country—Afghanistan is below the poverty line. We have nothing to export. We do not want to live on donations. We want to be a prosperous nation. That’s something that the international community has to understand. Now we have problem. We came up with the solution that there has to be a change of the government. We don’t want Karzai to be removed from the job, obviously not. This isn’t something that you discuss too widely in my council, with some prominent members of the royal family that I talk to, some influential politicians in America and some that I speak to in the UK. A change has to come in the constitution and it has to them a clause [sic] for a good Prime Minister.
To come back to the Parliament: That so-called Parliament has to be dissolved overnight. The thugs and the criminals that are there, involved with the warlords, should be apprehended by your soldiers and taken to the Hague and tried for crimes against humanity. This is exactly what the Human Rights Office in Kabul is working on, collecting data on these people, these criminals. Till the day you address these issues with the warlords and the criminals, you have insurgency. Your families that are Pashtuns very widely [sic] thinks that Karzai is a Pashtun. That doesn’t make any sense. He can’t even invoke his village, not so much his troops, you know that General. We have to have a Loya jirga for all the tribes and prominent members of the royal family which should empower a selected Prime Minister. Then we can have some progress. Now that’s something which we consider a life jacket. Somebody swimming, drowning in the sea, and you throw him a spoon. He can’t take a spoon – he will go down. You throw him a life jacket maybe it will save his life. That’s what we think about it. What we are trying to say is there’s no use for us to criticize Kabul’s [sic] regime.
I’ll tell you something, if we had a strong government in Afghanistan, believe me, most of these issues that you’re speaking of about fighting and losing your soldiers will come to a very much smaller percentage. If you get the 100% problem down to 50%, you get a lot of chances to work together. But if you have a 100% problem how are you going to do it? I’ll tell you a joke. Somebody told our president, ‘Sir, can you fight the corruption?’ He said, ‘When you give me something, I’ll fight the corruption’.
So when you have a situation like this where governors are appointed for half a million dollars and other governors are putting money in their pockets from the revenues, the drug lords are involved in this government. We have men who are in the top positions. They are involved. I was telling this in Kabul to a lot of my friends who are carrying these guns, who are soldiers. I say to them ‘Why are you carrying these guns?’ ‘We want to fight.’ Who are you going to fight? I’ll show you an enemy: The warlords are a big menace to the sovereignty of our country. It’s also something the international community has to look at very seriously. Thank you for your time.”
Justin Glass: “On behalf of us all, thank you very, very much for your very helpful contribution. I hope the General has taken it in good heart. Thank you very much.”