Harry has betrayed our soldiers with his Taliban bragging

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 6 January 2023. © Richard Kemp

I was stunned to learn that the Duke of Sussex talks of enemy combatants as being mere ‘chess pieces’ to be taken off the board, less than human. This is not how it is in the Armed Forces. Those of us who have served in the military are taught, even in the heat of battle, that we must treat our enemy with respect and in accordance with the laws of armed conflict. We consider the Geneva Conventions with deference, determined to abide by them in every circumstance.

Yes, of course fighters that are trying to kill you should be killed first, but even then their bodies have to be handled respectfully and given a decent burial. Soldiers are taught to give proper medical treatment to enemy wounded in the field; indeed, there are several examples of wounded British soldiers finding themselves in field hospitals alongside injured Taliban insurgents.

Equally, soldiers are trained to treat prisoners of war according to humanitarian rules. I remember British soldiers in Iraq voluntarily giving their own rations and water to starving Iraqi soldiers on the battlefield. They saw them as fellow human beings in dire straits, not as chess pieces to be callously knocked off the table.

Prince Harry’s absurd claim that it is not possible to kill someone ‘if you see them as a person’ has been disproved in every battle the British Army has fought. Our troops have long held a reputation for being both ferocious and humane. His suggestion that soldiers must be trained to ‘other’ their enemies, as he puts it, before being able to do their duty in war, not only traduces their agency and morality but will also give ammunition to lawyers who want to drag them through the courts on accusations of unlawful killing.

Let’s not forget that we are about to see the beginning of another inquiry into the latest round of allegations from Afghanistan.

While on the one hand Prince Harry makes clear his personal determination to avoid killing innocent civilians, on the other he takes aim at military restrictions intended to achieve exactly that. He says he was denied permission to fire at the enemy after a terrorist attack. That might well have been frustrating, but it would only have happened if his commanders believed uninvolved civilians were in the area and might have been killed.

Harry emphasises how he wanted to return home with his ‘conscience intact’, knowing he had not killed innocent people. That doesn’t distinguish him from the majority; it’s true of every soldier I ever served alongside. But sometimes things go wrong, which is often followed by a lifetime of guilt. I was speaking only the other day to a member of my regiment who accidentally killed a child in Northern Ireland over 40 years ago and will never forgive himself. Continue reading

This offensive is Putin’s final gamble. If it fails, he is doomed

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 30 December 2022. © Richard Kemp

Russia reportedly seeks to launch a major offensive in Ukraine in the coming months. Putin’s legacy, his power and even his life may depend on a decisive victory to justify the immense damage he has inflicted on his own country, not to mention on Ukraine, since the war began. He has caused an estimated 100,000 Russian military casualties so far: a devastating figure that grows by the day.

Given Russia’s size – and its history of fighting mass manpower conflicts, treating its troops as expendable – some seem to think that they can keep this up almost indefinitely. In reality, though, these battle casualties could be Putin’s Achilles’ heel.

His initial plan was to quickly vanquish Ukraine and cow the West by the act of invasion alone. The small size of his force – just 190,000 men – was clearly not intended for a protracted conflict against stiff opposition. As the war unfolded, his generals focused on killing as many Ukrainians as possible, mainly with massed artillery barrages and ballistic missiles, while being ready to give up territory to preserve their thinly-spread army; in effect, buying time to mobilise the number of troops they know they need to eventually overwhelm the country.

That mobilisation, however, has been fraught with difficulties, not least hundreds of thousands of Russian men fleeing the country to avoid fighting, accompanied by large anti-Kremlin protests. Estimates suggest around 100,000 of newly mobilised troops have been deployed so far – barely enough to replace the casualties sustained. Leaving aside the lack of training and equipment shortfalls of these new recruits, Moscow at present simply does not have the numbers to decisively overcome resistance from the depleted Ukrainian army.

We shall see how many of the remaining 200,000 that are claimed actually appear on the battlefield. Whatever happens, Moscow is evidently concerned about its ability to build up enough forces, even Continue reading

Vladimir Putin’s war has humiliated the EU

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 22 December 2022. © Richard Kemp

Naturally, President Zelensky’s appearance before Congress, as a war-time leader appealing for American support, has been likened to Winston Churchill’s address on almost exactly the same date in 1941. Yet by then the US had declared war on Germany and victory was arguably assured. Today in Ukraine, victory is far from assured. Putin could still win.

A more appropriate comparison would be with Churchill’s conference with Franklin D Roosevelt on board the USS Augusta and HMS Prince of Wales in August 1941. As with Ukraine, the US had been supplying arms to the UK. Churchill’s purpose, like Zelensky’s, was to consolidate US support for a long war ahead.

Though even this is not like-for-like. In 1941, with all of Europe occupied, Churchill had nowhere else to turn. That is, of course, not the situation today – Europe is free and prosperous. So why did Zelensky not make his address to the European Parliament in Brussels instead? Indeed, how extraordinary that after decades of peace on the Continent, with European nations claiming to have learnt the lessons of the Second World War, a fellow European nation battling tyranny still has to rely on the United States above its neighbours.

Despite a comparable GDP to the US, the EU has provided markedly less aid to Ukraine. Washington’s assistance alone amounts to 62 per cent of all provided. In military equipment, the comparison is even more stark: EU countries are supplying less than half that of the US.

It doesn’t help that EU countries are themselves reliant on America. Having hollowed out their armed forces since the end of the Cold War and developed a righteous arrogance on defence matters, their military cupboards have long been bare. Some of the wealthiest nations on the Continent have inadequate supplies to maintain their own sovereignty, let alone that of Ukraine or the West.

But this is no excuse. The weakness of European will since February has been disgraceful. Remember when, as Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s borders, several Western European countries were so terrified of antagonising Putin that they balked at the idea of providing even small, defensive-only equipment? For a time, Germany refused all arms exports, limiting military aid to 5,000 combat helmets and doing its best to hold up weapons supplies from Eastern European Nato members.

Advocates of EU governments would say that, in recent months, they have toughened their stance (even if only to save face, having witnessed the strength of Anglo-American leadership). But are they doing enough now? France, with the second largest economy in the EU, is still only the 11th largest donor in the world. Germany, meanwhile, has repeatedly failed to follow through on the commitments it eventually made. Its ‘tank swap’, a scheme to replace Soviet-era tanks with German models, still remains largely unfulfilled. Continue reading

Don’t even think about cutting support for Ukraine, Rishi

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 20 December 2022. © Richard Kemp

Margaret Thatcher understood the need to keep bean-counters away from military strategy, which is why she banned her chancellor from attending the war cabinet during the Falklands conflict. Now there is concern that Rishi Sunak is doing the opposite, defaulting to the investment banker’s mentality by reportedly ordering a data-driven review of British military assistance to Ukraine.

There are suspicions that his purpose is to save money despite government protestations that the review seeks to ensure we are providing the best possible assistance. The truth is that this cannot be done by Whitehall cost-benefit analysis, but only by our military commanders deciding what is needed and how it can best be supplied through close liaison with Ukrainian generals and international partners. A review at this time, whatever its findings, can only hamper that vital work as the officers directly involved have their efforts diverted into feeding into civil service analysts.

This is war by spreadsheet. What can the calculation be? Square miles of territory taken back, tanks knocked out or Russians in body bags per pound spent? Conducting reviews while this conflict rages constrains what should be the only goal: to give Zelensky the men, machines and munitions he needs to overcome the enemy.

The Prime Minister told an audience in Estonia this week: ‘Putin is realising that he cannot win on the battlefield.’ That may be good rhetoric but it is not reality. If such thinking lies behind his urge to review British support, his generals need to disabuse him by explaining that Ukraine can still lose this war and will do so if Western support is in any way diminished. In fact, significantly greater resources from Britain and the West are needed now, for Russia is intensifying its war on Ukrainian cities and Zelensky faces a major offensive from Putin’s newly-mobilised forces.

Britain has played the leading international role in defending Ukraine against Russia from the very beginning of the invasion. Any sign of Continue reading

Prepare for another Russian attempt to capture Kyiv

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 17 December 2022. © Richard Kemp

Rumours of Putin’s imminent escape to Venezuela are greatly exaggerated, as Mark Twain might have said. This flight of fancy has been triggered by the cancellation of an annual press conference and other high profile fixtures, including the Russian dictator’s traditional ice hockey match in Red Square, although a simpler explanation for that might be the optics of the president capering around on the ice while his men are freezing at the front.

That being said, any ruthless despot worth his salt has a Plan B up his sleeve in case the axe gets too close to his neck. Alas, we’re not there yet. It’s unlikely Putin’s generals are telling him that the game is up in Ukraine because, true or not, that’s definitely something he does not want to hear. Instead, despite everything, as they did at the beginning of the year, the military chiefs will be assuring him that victory can be his.

To save his own skin and salvage something of his tattered reputation, Putin has no other option but to vanquish Ukraine. With 100,000 soldiers killed or wounded, Russia isolated on the world stage and its economy savaged, he cannot possibly consider reverting to the pre-February status quo or anything like it no matter how many off-ramp arrows the French president flashes in front of him.

Hence the Ukrainian general staff say Putin is preparing to launch a major offensive between January and March, with Kyiv as the target. There has been increased Russian military activity in Belarus over recent weeks, but it is not clear whether that amounts to a demonstration of force to tie up large numbers of Ukrainian troops, or a real threat to Kyiv and to supply lines from Poland.

Those who reckon Putin would not contemplate another ground assault against Ukraine’s capital after failing so ignominiously earlier in the year are not looking through the eyes of a dictator who has boxed himself into a corner, whose neck is on the line and who is surrounded by yes men. Continue reading

Europe’s resolve against Putin risks crumbling at the first hurdle

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 5 December 2022. © Richard Kemp

If you hold out an olive branch to a bear it will take your arm off. Winter has barely begun and there are already worrying signs that major European countries – and the EU – are weakening their stance on Ukraine and playing into Russian hands.

During his state visit last week to the United States, French president Emmanuel Macron told reporters that Europe should prepare a new security architecture taking into account Russian concerns about Nato’s expansion of its borders, preparing to provide guarantees if Russian president Vladimir Putin agrees to negotiations on ending the war.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz, too, spoke of welcoming Russia back into the fold after the conflict, and on Friday was on the phone with Putin for an hour.

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Ursula von der Leyen tweeted a video claiming 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers had died or been injured since the invasion began, later doctoring it to remove reference to casualties after a strong backlash from Kyiv. Posting it in the first place suggests she was trying to signal the true cost of the war in order to promote dialogue. Parroting the Kremlin’s casualty estimates only helps Russia – Putin’s bombardment of Ukrainian energy infrastructure in recent weeks has partly been to create a humanitarian disaster to make European knees tremble and force a new wave of refugees into the West.

The EU’s answer to that should not be panicky talk of concessions, but immediate strengthening of Ukrainian air defences; sending more generators, fuel and supplies to get battered Ukrainian cities back on their feet.

It is true to say that Putin isn’t going to withdraw from Ukraine any time soon and Zelensky isn’t going to capitulate. Short of Kyiv pushing Russian troops out by military force, this war will only end Continue reading

Winter won’t save Putin. It may end him

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 22 November 2022. © Richard Kemp

The Russians have long considered ‘General Winter’ to be their trusted ally. Hitler found this to his cost when he invaded the USSR in 1941, having failed to learn from Napoleon’s retreat across the snow-covered steppe in 1812. But in both of these campaigns winter was just one factor. Those who think freezing temperatures in Ukraine will favour Russia now are fundamentally wrong.

For one thing, the Ukrainians are not Germans or Frenchmen. Like the Russians, they are accustomed to snow, ice and plunging temperatures. They know how to live and survive in it, as did the Finns when Stalin invaded in 1939 and was bested by a much smaller army in a freezing war for its territory.

Those who have fought in sub-zero conditions know that winter warfare is as much about fighting off the cold as it is about dodging shells and bullets. Even though both sides in this war are acclimatised, the cold weather will hit them hard as frostbite threatens to cripple and kill. Shivering in a frozen dug-out or abandoned farmhouse with no prospect of respite from the weather can penetrate even the toughest soldier’s mind, and make him turn in on himself. It is then that hypothermia strikes, sometimes fatally.

In such conditions training is all-important, with soldiers taught to look out for each other to spot early signs of deterioration. The Ukrainian troops are better trained and more disciplined than the Russian invaders and therefore better able to cope.

Cold weather clothing keeps soldiers alive and fighting in winter conditions. Ukraine’s men are mostly well-equipped, often with supplies sent in by its allies. The Russians are less so, with reports of newly mobilised soldiers having to find their own coats, hats and sleeping bags to make up for stocks that have disappeared into the black market to line the pockets of their quartermasters.

In all wars and in all seasons, morale is the most important factor in battle, and never more so than in winter. Here the Ukrainians will Continue reading

We’re learning the wrong lessons from Putin’s defeats

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 19 November 2022. © Richard Kemp

With Kyiv crippling Russian supply lines and driving back their forces in the east and south, and with Moscow’s missile blitz against Ukrainian cities, both sides are bracing for a tough winter. Right now, the initiative is still with Ukraine, but as Russia redeploys its forces and continues mobilising, the outcome remains in the balance.

This is no time for equivocation. Yet that is what we are seeing, with reaction in the West switching bafflingly between defeatism and triumphalism.

The defeatists are at it again, with rumours that the Americans are engaged in talks with Russia and getting ready to pressure Ukraine into making concessions. There is no doubt that Joe Biden could force an accommodation on President Zelensky, whose pleas for more assistance are a daily reminder of how dependent his country is on Western support. But it would be a terrible mistake.

Putin will not agree to any armistice along pre-February lines after nine months of piling tens of thousands of dead and maimed Russians on top of the self-inflicted economic wreckage his country has suffered. His minimum demand would be for the territory he has already annexed, along with some form of guaranteed Russian dominion over Ukraine. While he or any of his likely successors remain in power, this will not change, whatever incentives Biden might offer.

The triumphalists, meanwhile, seem to think the Putin threat is gone. They can be glimpsed in the arguments over defence spending in the UK, with Jeremy Hunt postponing a decision on increasing the budget to 3 per cent of GDP at least until the spring. This is peace-time thinking – it seems as if Whitehall thinks the war in Ukraine will be over before long and we can return to business as usual.

As Ukraine burns – and Putin’s flames threaten to engulf us – the British Army continues to slash its tanks and infantry, the RAF Continue reading

We are much closer to World War Three than many are prepared to admit

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 16 November 2022. © Richard Kemp

The missile strike in Poland that killed two people on Tuesday and triggered an emergency meeting of G7 leaders caused Western media and pundits to raise fears of an escalation in Russian aggression – and the outbreak of a larger war.

It soon became clear, though, that what happened was accidental and, although there have been some close calls, it is rare for major wars to start by accident.

The de-escalation of the Poland incident, however, does not mean fears of Ukraine exploding into a full-blown European conflict are unfounded. Alarm about the outbreak of World War Three was understandable. Indeed, we are closer to such an eventuality than many are prepared to admit.

Russia has already expanded this war, which started with a focus on military targets, by launching greatly intensified strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, most recently on Tuesday, with a barrage of around 100 missiles causing devastation in Ukraine as well as massive power outages in neighbouring Moldova.

The situation is increasingly fragile. Despite Russian setbacks, this is not the time for complacency.

The important question is: with Putin under immense pressure and desperate to regain the initiative, at what point might he decide to attack Nato weapons supplies entering the battle zone via Poland, which are so crucial to Ukraine’s combat power? Will he take military action against Nato surveillance planes, which play a pivotal role in providing the intelligence that helps keep Ukrainian forces fighting effectively? Will he initiate cyber attacks against Nato military capabilities involved in supporting Ukraine? Continue reading

It’s time to send fighter jets to Ukraine

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 8 November 2022. © Richard Kemp

Several months ago, the supply of combat planes to Ukraine seemed a step too far. A decision to provide Polish MiGs at the beginning of the conflict was vetoed by President Biden amid fears of provoking Russia. Today, however, this is not only a much safer option but a no-brainer. We should give them combat planes as soon as possible.

Almost our entire effort until now has been sending equipment for the ground campaign, such as Himars rockets, fighting vehicles and precision munitions as well as planning support and target intelligence. These have been incredibly effective, but as every military professional knows, modern warfare is about joint operations – land, sea and air. It is from the air that Russia has been doing the greatest damage to Ukraine in recent weeks, using air-launched cruise missiles and Iranian-supplied kamikaze drones to destroy 30 per cent of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in the last month, irreplaceable in the medium term.

This air campaign has a simple goal: to destroy as much of Ukraine as possible, in keeping with the principles of Putin’s new commander, General Sergei Surovikin, who deployed similar tactics in Syria. In response, we have pledged to donate hundreds of new air defence systems. But again, this only amounts to a partial answer to a threat that cannot be properly countered without additional and more sophisticated combat planes. As the respected think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has suggested, modern Nato jets, such as US F-16s, could make an enormous difference in the Ukrainians’ favour.

One of the excuses used by the Americans to scupper the Polish MiGs deal was that it would take too long to train pilots for a war that many believed would end in a few weeks. Today we hear a new set of objections, on the grounds that while fighter jets may help Ukrainians in the short term, it could provoke a disastrous Russian escalation in the longer term, thus backfiring on the West. Frankly, this is a strange line of thinking. We have already transferred a very large number of deadly weapons to Kyiv without provoking a devastating response. Continue reading

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