Category Archives: Articles

A British soldier in Sangin

The Islamic State in Afghanistan

Article published in The Sunday Express, 18 January 2015. © Richard Kemp

As British and American forces were moving out of Afghanistan last autumn, clear signs were already emerging that the Islamic State were planning to move in. Despite the warnings from Iraq and Syria this had no effect on NATO withdrawal plans, leaving a security vacuum that now threatens a full-scale re-run of the jihadist onslaught in the Middle East.

A British soldier in Sangin
A British soldier in Sangin

In recent weeks we have seen increasing evidence that the Islamic State’s Khorasan group, encompassing both Pakistan and Afghanistan, is building a dangerous presence there. Circumstances in Afghanistan and Pakistan are different to Iraq and Syria where isolated and fractured security forces were unable to prevent rapid gains by the Islamic State.

But the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan face huge security challenges and, though not as weak as their Middle East counterparts, also lack capability. It would be naïve in the extreme to assume the Islamic State could not extend its brutal tyranny into vast swathes of territory in both countries.

In Pakistan, the Taliban and Al Qaida are in disarray. The Pakistan Taliban are fractured by tribal infighting and increased pressure from government forces. Following the devastating US drone Continue reading

Europe Needs an anti-ISIS Playbook

Tepid tutting won’t stop the flow of jihadists to Syria, but strong action might


Article published in The Wall Street Journal, 18 December 2014

For decades, European governments have made multiculturalism an integral part of their social agendas, particularly with respect to immigrant Muslim communities. The core values were supposed to be pluralism and individual freedom, but in practice multiculturalism has only stoked radical Islam’s unyielding nature and enabled it to subvert European society.

Many immigrant Muslim groups have not only been able to segregate themselves from the larger community. They have also made strident demands of national lawmakers and local authorities for, among other things, the right to exercise Shariah law, to impose Islamic educational principles and to prioritize perceived Muslim sensitivities over Europe’s liberal norms.

For many European Islamists, the urge to respond to the call of jihad is strengthened by the governments in Europe that legitimize their grievances. When demonstrators in July chanted “Death to the Jews” while waving the black flag of Islamic State, they gathered freely—not in Syria or Iraq, but in the Hague, where their right to support that genocidal group was protected.

Islamic State has declared, and capably demonstrated, its intentions to achieve genocidal goals. The group espouses an extreme form of Sunni Islam, which it pursues brutally through mass executions, crucifixions and beheadings, and answers to the word of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a zealot so radical that even al Qaeda has denounced him, albeit for its own tactical purpose.

For now, Islamic State’s efforts are focused mainly on Syria and Iraq, where it has conquered large swaths of territory and butchered non-Muslims, Sunni “apostates” and Shiite Muslims. If not confronted, however, it’s only a matter of time before it turns its attention outward. This week’s hostage-taking in Sydney is an early warning of the group’s magnetic effect on violent residents of the West. With more than 15,000 European jihadists now fighting with Islamic State, some of these radical soldiers are bound to return home, bloodied, carrying crucial military experience, and with blueprints and orders for further destruction and conquest.

More than 40 countries have already joined an anti-Islamic State coalition. The U.N. Security Council has adopted a binding resolution compelling states to prevent their nationals from joining jihadists in Iraq and Syria. That’s a start.

Meanwhile, recent reports indicate that hundreds, if not thousands, of European jihadists are becoming disillusioned with Islamic State. According to media reports, Continue reading

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Article published in The Independent, Thursday 18 December 2014. © Richard Kemp

Ambulance-chasing lawyers are damaging our armed forces

The Al-Sweady case was not an attempt to achieve justice but an act of “Lawfare” against the British state. Lawfare is the increasing systematic use of human rights laws, the laws of armed conflict and other legislation to undermine the capability of Western democracies to fight effectively in the 21st century.

The other motive of the conspirators in the Al-Sweady case was greed – greed on the part of the Iraqis for compensation.

The astronomical costs in this case – £24m – are only a fraction of what such claims from Iraq and Afghanistan cost the British taxpayer. And it is only one element of the damage done by this and similar cases.

These false, widely publicised, allegations of murder, abuse and torture against British soldiers have been used to incite hatred and stir up violence – and not just in Iraq. It is likely that they have aided terrorist recruitment and led to unnecessary loss of life.

Allegations of war crimes have hung over the heads of the soldiers in this case for 10 years. The violence of the assault in the ambush in 2004 that gave rise to the Al-Sweady investigation, and the courage and fighting spirit of the British soldiers involved, is demonstrated by the award of Military Crosses, high-level bravery awards, to Sergeant Major Falconer and Sergeant Wood.

These brave men, and the others involved, who volunteered to fight for their country, should not have been subjected to years of stress and uncertainty. There has been untold damage to their morale and that of their comrades.

Equally concerning is the wider impact on our armed forces. The cumulative effect of years of legal attack on our troops is to risk making both soldiers and commanders unnecessarily cautious in battle, endangering their lives and the lives of civilians that they have to protect.

This legal war of attrition is also steadily undermining the Government’s resolve and forcing Defence ministers to err on the side of extreme caution – a stance that usually ends in military defeat. Only this week we have seen new guidelines about interrogation techniques, which ban soldiers from intimidating prisoners even Continue reading

Female soldiers just lack the killer instinct

Article published in The Times, 18 November 2014. © Richard Kemp

Ministers want equal opportunities on the battlefield but women will harm the warrior ethos

Within weeks a government review into whether women should be able to serve in combat will be published. It has nothing to do with a lack of male recruits, cost efficiencies or improving battle effectiveness. It was clear from the moment last May when Philip Hammond, then the defence secretary, ordered it that the purpose is to extend gender equality for political purposes and to “send a signal” correcting the historic “macho” image of the British Army.

This transparent political agenda means that it is almost certain the review will recommend lifting the ban on women serving in units whose role is to engage with and destroy the enemy — the infantry, Royal Marines, armoured corps, SAS and SBS.

This will damage the fighting capabilities of the armed forces.
Women already serve in the front line, especially as combat pilots, medics, engineers and artillery fire controllers. I have had many women under my command on operations and can vouch for their courage and effectiveness, which has been every bit as great as any man’s. Their prowess has been demonstrated time and again in recent years in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the combat arms — and especially the infantry — are very different and unlike any other job in the world. Even in the
high-tech 21st century, 100 years after the outbreak of the First World War, the infantry soldier’s ultimate purpose is still to get out of a trench and charge into the teeth of enemy fire: to close with the enemy and kill him face to face with bullets, bayonets, grenades and if necessary in hand-to-hand combat. To kill or be killed.

Unfashionable though it may sound in our modern era, motivating soldiers to fight effectively in this way demands a warrior ethos, Continue reading

Future sacrifice will swell this sea of poppies

Article published in The Times, Saturday 8 November 2014. © Richard Kemp

Crowds at the Tower are remembering past loss. But the need for young people to lay down their lives is unending

This week I joined the millions of visitors to the Tower of London’s poppy-filled moat. Most seemed deeply moved by Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, which gave them the opportunity to understand visually the vast scale of the sacrifice made by our fighting troops 100 years ago.

Their thoughts were no doubt in the past. Mine turned to the future. Among the crowds were school parties and it struck me that in the coming years we will still need teenagers like these to fight and to die for our country; to make the same sacrifices that were made by the 888,246 British soldiers, sailors and airmen each represented by a single poppy (pictured below) below the crowd’s down-turned eyes.

The rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), with its threats and assaults on our citizens and national interests, is but one reminder of the constant perils that lie ahead. Even with the march of Continue reading

We entered Afghanistan to protect the British people

Letter published in The Sunday Telegraph, 2 November 2014. © Richard Kemp

General Lord Dannatt (“We are giving the Afghan people a chance at a better life”) says that we deployed British forces to Afghanistan to help the Afghans “get a life after two decades of bloody civil war”. That was not our purpose and would not have been a legitimate reason to send British forces to fight and die.

There was only one reason for this intervention alongside our American allies. Following 9/11, the world’s worst terrorist atrocity, in which more British citizens died than in any previous attack, the
objective was to throw out or destroy al-­Qaeda and to prevent the country from again becoming a base that international jihadists could use to attack the West.

The lack of clarity by generals and politicians on this singular objective was conditioned largely by a politically correct denial of the true purpose of military action in Afghanistan. It is summed up in
the words of John Reid, defence secretary at the time of the British deployment to Helmand in 2006: “We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years and without firing one shot because our Continue reading

Colonel Richard Kemp: So proud of the Daily Mirror’s Elizabeth Cross campaign

Article published in The Mirror, 27 October 2014.

Since commanding British Forces in Afghanistan in 2003 I have closely followed the campaign there, especially from the time our troops deployed to the south of the country in 2006.

In Helmand British forces have fought in the most intensive combat since World War 2 and Korea.

In often horrific battle conditions, they have unfailingly shown the ferocious fighting spirit and extraordinary courage under fire for which British troops are renowned the world over.

In thousands of hours of combat with the Taliban, our men have not lost so much as a single fire-fight.

But the cost has been high.

453 British troops have died in Afghanistan since 2001, 404 killed by enemy action. I was proud to be associated with the Mirror’s campaign to recognize their sacrifice through the Elizabeth Cross, Continue reading

Hamas and Islamic State are part of the same Islamist front

Recognising a Palestinian state now will thwart hopes for peace

The Palestinian state doesn’t exist yet and the only structures in place that may resemble a functioning state are controlled by
the internationally designated terrorist group Hamas.

Nonetheless many countries have “recognised” a Palestinian state through formal declarations, and groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organization have been granted observer status at the UN general assembly. Europe had been resisting until now the urge to recognise an entity that doesn’t exist in real terms. Unfortunately some Europeans are today indulging in a “recognition now” policy.

On October 3 the new Swedish government announced that it would recognise Palestine as a state to promote a negotiated two-state solution. Also the British parliament voted on October 13 to approve a motion recognising Palestine as a state “alongside Israel”. And though more than half of the MPs did not cast their vote, the
result was overwhelmingly conclusive: 274 to 12.

We should expect more similar moves like these across Europe. No matter how well intentioned these initiatives may be, recognising Palestine as a state now is inappropriate, counterproductive and unwarranted. It will not promote peace, it will not boost a negotiated solution, it will not change the reality on the ground and it will reward Palestinian Authority’s unilateral moves.

Furthermore it represents a tacit approval of the unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas, a thoughtless move at a time when jihadist groups such as Islamic State (Isis) are in full expansion. Actually, moving the political and strategic focus away from the threat of jihadism to deal with a fantasy is a grave irresponsibility.

Here is why:

First, recognising Palestine as a state today is detrimental for Continue reading

No politicians have experience of war. But the generals don’t have much either

President Obama’s former adviser on Afghanistan, Bruce Riedel, says the British army’s performance in Afghanistan means it can’t fight outside Europe in future.

He has a point. British military effectiveness in Afghanistan was undermined by political correctness. When our forces went to Helmand in 2006 the focus was more on reconstruction and human rights than fighting insurgents. This should have been challenged by the generals, whose job is to wield robust military influence over politicians in war time.

The usual charm and compliance of the senior officer will not do when so many lives are at stake. Alan Brooke, chief of the imperial general staff, clashed repeatedly with Churchill during the Second World War.

There is no evidence of anything like that over Afghanistan. Yet today it is even more important that generals do not take political misjudgement lying down. None of today’s senior politicians has any experience of war. Unfortunately, that is largely true of the generals as well. Most of their experience — at best — came from Northern Ireland. The lack of urgency in that 30-year policing campaign created a peacetime mentality ill-suited to the high intensity combat in Helmand. Continue reading

Israel’s Security and Unintended Consequences

Would General Allen — or any other general today — recommend contracting out his country’s defences if it were his country at stake? Of course not.

The Iranian regime remains dedicated to undermining and ultimately destroying the State of Israel. The Islamic State also has Israel in its sights and would certainly use the West Bank as a point from which to attack, if it were open to them.

There can be no two-state solution and no sovereign Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan, however desirable those things might be. The stark military reality is that Israel cannot withdraw its forces from the West Bank.

Fatah leaders ally themselves with the terrorists of Hamas, and, like Hamas, they continue to reject the every existence of the State of Israel.

If Western leaders actually want to help, they should use all diplomatic and economic means to make it clear to the Palestinians that they will never achieve an independent and sovereign state while they remain set on the destruction of the State of Israel.

When in 1942 American General Douglas MacArthur took command of the defence of Australia against imminent Japanese invasion, one of the plans he rejected was to withdraw and fight behind the Brisbane line, a move that would have given large swathes of territory to the Japanese. Continue reading