Ignore the anti-military propagandists. There are few better opportunities for the young than the Army

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 22 August 2019. © Richard Kemp

GCSE results day is a time of celebration or sorrow for thousands of teenagers. It is also a day exploited by various NGOs and activists to have a go at the Army, who they accuse of luring disappointed 16-year-olds to sign up. True to form, this year it was the turn of Child Rights International Network to publish their report on results day.

CRIN say they’re worried about children’s rights being infringed by the opportunity to join the forces. But their real anti-military motive is betrayed in their press release that says young people “deserve better: meaningful civilian opportunities for education and employment”.

There can be few better opportunities for 16-year-olds, especially those from impoverished backgrounds who lack academic prowess, than junior military service that takes them seamlessly through education to life-long employment if they want it. The Army is the biggest apprenticeship provider in this country. But how would CRIN have a clue about this? I doubt any of them have served. They are Left-wing university graduates who could not contemplate the challenges facing youngsters lacking the advantages they themselves enjoyed.

I was once a junior soldiers’ instructor, part of a training regime that provided a unique grounding in discipline, leadership, sports and education leading to real academic qualifications, as well as full combat skills. Our young recruits took part in adventurous training activities including white water rafting, mountaineering and parachuting. Mentally and physically pitting themselves against the elements, the incalculable long-term benefits for a youngster’s Continue reading

The West must call Iran’s bluff or face the devastating consequences

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 18 June 2019.  © Richard Kemp

Neither the US nor Iran wants war. President Trump was elected partly on a platform that sought to end long-running US involvement in conflict in the Middle East and South Asia. Even if he wanted it he knows better than to engage in a major war with Iran in the run-in towards the 2020 presidential election. Following the traumas of Iraq and Afghanistan he also knows he would be hard-pressed to find allies to fight alongside the US.

As for Iran, the ayatollahs know the immense damage that would be inflicted on their country by war with the US. That alone does not deter them — they would be willing to exchange the lives of thousands of their citizens for the chance to give the ‘Great Satan’ a bloody nose.

But they also know the regime would not survive and to them that is supremely important.

If they don’t want war why are they provoking the US by attacking shipping in the Gulf? Re-imposition of US sanctions following President Trump’s withdrawal from Obama’s nuclear deal has hurt them badly. Even to the extent that they now fear for the survival of the regime.

Their aggression is intended to show Trump that his actions come at a cost for the US and the world, with 30 per cent of global oil supplies passing through these waters. It is also designed to deter him from pushing for wider imposition of sanctions including by European countries.

An important side benefit is the expectation that US retaliation against Iran, short of war, would help rally the people to the regime and ease growing internal dissatisfaction. Continue reading

Trump is right – the Iran deal is dead, and it’s time to contemplate the unthinkable

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 8 May 2019.  © Richard Kemp

President Rouhani of Iran has issued an ultimatum to European governments: break US sanctions against Iran’s oil and banking sectors within 60 days or we will break our nuclear agreement. Counterintuitively, Rouhani’s demands could help Berlin, Paris, London and Brussels out of the dangerous conundrum they are in over the Iranian nuclear deal.

This deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and the P5+1, is certain to fail. Its declared purpose is to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear armed state. In fact, it paves the way for the ayatollahs to lawfully implement their nuclear weapons programme in around 10 years’ time.

Despite continuing claims to the contrary the JCPOA failed to put in place a proper verification process and the International Automatic Energy Authority (IAEA) has not been able to certify Iranian compliance with the deal in any one of the three years since it was struck.

The nuclear archive seized from Iran by Israeli intelligence last year confirmed Iran had consistently lied to the IAEA about its programme and strongly indicated the likelihood of continued covert nuclear weapons development.

The deal failed to prevent Iran’s pursuit of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and since 2016 it has conducted missile tests in contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

Instead of restraining Iran, the JCPOA emboldened the ayatollahs and led to increased aggression across the region. Tehran has Continue reading

Boredom and low morale is the biggest enemy our troops face

Article published in The Sun, 18 April 2019.  © Richard Kemp

Boredom and low morale is the biggest enemy our troops face – and is partly to blame for recent criminal behaviour

In the past couple of weeks, we have seen members of the Forces hitting the headlines for shocking behaviour including drug abuse and serious sexual and physical assault.

And yesterday, The Sun reported how Royal Artillery soldiers Louis Leteve and Jordan Peers, both 23, have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after allegedly driving into another soldier following a brawl.

Things have got so bad that General Mark Carleton-Smith, the head of the Army, felt the need to berate his troops via YouTube.

Less than a fortnight ago, he took to the social media platform to blast soldiers’ ‘indiscipline that is wildly at odds with the values and standards that represent the fabric of not just our Army but the nation’s Army’.

In the unprecedented address, he added: ‘Not only is it downright unacceptable, it’s illegal — and it stands in stark contrast with everything the British Army represents.

‘Any behaviour that falls short of that high standard we cannot and will not tolerate.’

It was strong stuff indeed. So how has it come to this?

Is Forces discipline really breaking down? Why are our soldiers behaving in this way?

There is no simple answer. But there are many negative powers at work, boredom being the most prevalent.

Boredom is the enemy of high morale and while this is no excuse for reckless and criminal behaviour, this may help account for some of the events we have seen in the past few days.

Morale among troops is highest when they are deployed on challenging operational tasks, such as Iraq and Helmand province.

There is virtually none of that today, although many soldiers are employed in Third World countries on mentoring and training tasks.

But the Forces are severely undermanned and the most tedious duties come round more frequently, creating overstretch, lowering morale. Continue reading

We urgently need a new legal process for returning Isil members like Shamima Begum

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 15 April 2019.  © Richard Kemp

The government has little choice but to allow legal aid for Shamima Begum. Many are understandably outraged, yet it is right for the state to support those that can’t afford the costs of litigation in British courts. But this is where the government needs to radically change its policy for dealing with jihadists fighting overseas.

We can no longer continue to treat returning combatants from war zones such as Syria using the same legal processes with which we treat criminals in London or Glasgow. Crimes committed in the UK can be thoroughly investigated, with reliable evidence that meets the tests of criminal prosecution. How can we do the same with horrific crimes committed in the chaos of Raqqa under Isil control? Immense efforts have been made by our military and intelligence services to collect evidence in battle areas that is usable in court, often at great risk to themselves. Even so, only rarely can such crimes be successfully prosecuted in our courts.

Around 400 Islamic State terrorists are known to have returned to the UK so far — with more to come. Of these only around 50 have been successfully prosecuted. We do not have the details, but I would be surprised if many of them have been imprisoned for serious crimes such as murder, torture, abduction and rape. Some will have received short sentences and many are already back on the streets, having committed the most horrific atrocities abroad.

This is not just about failure of justice. It also weakens deterrence against potential terrorists and endangers our citizens. The most dangerous terrorists are those that have been trained, motivated, blooded and have themselves killed. The security authorities say that many returners no longer present a significant threat to us. They are hugely capable and diligent, but even they cannot be truly Continue reading

Shooting Corbyn?

Paratroopers were accused of breaching the standards expected of the British Army after a Kabul firing range video went viral. But did they?

© Richard Kemp, 7 April 2019

This week virtue-signalling MPs, journalists and commentators fell over themselves to condemn a squad of 3 PARA soldiers in a video apparently showing them shooting at an image of Jeremy Corbyn. Armchair judges on TV and social media stridently pronounced their behaviour ‘far below the standards expected of the British Army’.

But was it? The video doesn’t actually show any soldier shooting at Corbyn’s image. These men’s mission in Afghanistan includes VIP protection. They train by firing at a target array of enemy fighters, with VIPs and uninvolved civilians among them – not to shoot at but to avoid hitting. Yes, there seem to have been shots on Corbyn’s picture. That happens in training and helps reduce the likelihood of it happening for real. I don’t know whether that is what we have seen but neither do those so desperate to lash out at our fighting men.

The worst anti-military snowflakes and political opportunists have branded these soldiers ‘fascist thugs’ inciting attacks on MPs and even practising a sinister plot to take out the Leader of the Opposition. What utter garbage. If I’m wrong and these men were deliberately shooting at his image, it will be nothing more sinister than troops fooling around.

No, they shouldn’t be doing that on a range. But they are living and working in extremely hazardous conditions with their lives under constant threat. Sometimes young soldiers do stupid things to let off steam. When they are caught they’re often disciplined. They may have thought it was funny at the time – they won’t now. But as men whose job is to see and do terrible things that most keyboard commissars couldn’t imagine, a black sense of humour will often carry them through. In this case perhaps ill-judged, but for those of us who have served, not beyond comprehension.

The video certainly gives a bad impression of the Army. Soldiers must rise above politics and stay impartial – and be seen to. In my experience that is almost always the case, with a tiny number of miscreants quickly dealt with. But the Army should get a grip of its social media policies, including stamping out freelance filming and posting of military activities that can give a false picture. Continue reading

Poor manning levels due to cost-cutting

Article published in The Sunday Express, 3 March 2019.  © Richard Kemp

A time when the Army is not at war and hitting the headlines makes recruiting tough. As does full employment, but poor manning levels are due mainly to a privatised recruiting machine forced on the Army by cost-cutting politicians. A potential recruit rarely meets a real soldier – vital in encouraging young people and allaying their fears – until well into the application process.

The recruiting bureaucracy is virtually impenetrable. As a former soldier, I am often asked to help navigate the system, but even my understanding of the Army has rarely enabled me to do much in the face of ‘computer says no’.

How can an eager applicant be expected to wait 12 months from initial inquiry to sign-up? Poor manning levels are also caused by excessive outflow. An army savaged by cuts is a declining industry. Conditions of service have been eroded and soldiers publicly dragged through the courts falsely accused of war crimes. All this takes its toll and creates a vicious circle where unpleasant duties come round more often in undermanned units and soldiers leave.

I have been heartened to see generals actively trying to unlock the recruiting logjam as well as an imaginative advertising campaign, the Army’s surge into social media and TV shows, like Raw Recruits.

But I fear the problem won’t be solved unless the Army takes up recruiting methods used by battalion commanders that achieved full manning two decades ago.

I inherited an undermanned unit but was able to turn it round by sending my troops to scout for talent outside McDonald’s and other gathering places for likely lads.The key was getting smart young soldiers in uniform on to the streets – more effective than the shiniest computer or Twitter feed.

Stop the Army witch-hunt – hounding of Ulster soldiers is shameful

By Richard Kemp and Henry Robinson

A version of this article appeared in The Daily Express on 1 October 2018

A British soldier and an Official IRA member, we were on opposite sides during the Northern Ireland conflict. Later, both of us were involved in the process that led to peace and greater prosperity across the province. Today we are gravely concerned about the turn of events that threatens to see many elderly British veterans hauled into court, charged with murder for actions they were involved with while serving decades ago. The aim is to criminalise them individually and collectively.

This is being driven by Sinn Fein, who want to re-write history, with the IRA cast as heroic and honourable soldiers in a just war and the UK armed forces and police as the criminal oppressors. To adapt Clausewitz’s dictum, it is a continuation of war by other means.

This should have come as no surprise: it has been the Republicans’ agenda all along. Neither of us holds a brief for Sinn Fein. But we don’t blame them for this situation — they are merely exploiting an opportunity that has been handed to them on a plate. Culpability lies entirely with the British government for the spectacle of former soldiers in their declining years being arrested in their homes, taken in for police questioning, subjected to months of investigation and dragged into the dock.

Every one of these soldiers was exonerated by proper legal process at the time of the events concerned. Retired soldiers are easy pickings, but the real prize for Sinn Féin is the Royal Ulster Constabulary and particularly the Special Branch which above all was responsible for the intelligence penetration that defeated the IRA and forced Sinn Fein to the table.

Meanwhile the peace process secured early release for Republican prisoners and letters of comfort for terrorists ‘on-the-run’. This amounts to amnesty and has effectively de-criminalised them.

During the peace negotiations, the possibility of an equivalent amnesty for British soldiers and police accused of wrongdoing during the Troubles was discussed but roundly rejected by their leaders who refused to allow their own to be equated to the terrorists they spent decades combating. Yet ministers took no alternative action to safeguard the men who fought under government orders, despite the fact that these vexatious prosecutions were foreseen by many, including both of us. Continue reading

In the name of peace, it is time to accept Israel’s possession of the Golan Heights

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 2 October 2018.  © Richard Kemp

The Golan Heights were a launch-pad for aggression against Israel from the rebirth of the state in 1948 until captured by Israel in a defensive war in 1967. Even today, territory adjacent to the Golan is used to threaten Israel. It is time for the international community to recognise Israel’s possession of the Golan Heights as legitimate and necessary. Such a bold move would do much more than just support Israel’s security — it would also advance peace and regional stability.

The Golan Heights, bordering Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, dominate the Jordan Rift Valley which contains the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. The Heights were allocated by the British and French governments to the French Mandate of Syria in the 1920s and were transferred as part of the newly independent state of Syria in 1946. When the administrative line between the British and French Mandates was drawn in 1923 no consideration was given to defence against aggression from either territory.

The picture has of course changed immeasurably since then. Vulnerability of Israel to occupation of the Heights by hostile forces is proven by recent history and re-affirmed by events from the start of the civil war in Syria until today. This vulnerability remains even with the advent of modern warfighting technology.

As part of the Arab League, Syrian forces launched an invasion of northern Israel across the Golan Heights in June 1948. After the 1949 armistice, there were years of sporadic attacks against Israel from the Golan Heights, including cross-border raids by Fatah and shelling of civilian communities by the Syrian Army. Syria intensified its artillery fire against Israel on the outbreak of the Six Day War in 1967. Israel then seized a major area of the Golan Heights to protect its citizens and its territory. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War by Arab states against Israel, the Syrians re-took part of the Golan — vital ground for offensive operations against Israel — but were subsequently thrust back. Continue reading

Security – Defence – Intelligence – Counter Terrorism