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
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
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
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
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
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
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
David Cameron says the fight against the Islamic State is a struggle that will last years, not months.
He has committed Britain to a leading role in Iraq and has suggested our forces will expand their operations into Syria.
But our forces have been savaged by ill-judged and excessive defence cuts.
Even our limited role in Libya for just a few months in 2011 left us severely over-stretched, according to RAF and Navy chiefs.
And that was before huge new cuts to both services, as well as the Army.
Cameron has ruled out boots on the ground in the fight against Islamic State.
Such public statements are grossly irresponsible and serve only to encourage the enemy by signalling our weakness. Nor does this policy make military sense. Continue reading
Colonel Richard Kemp’s speech at the 2013 Philip Forman Human Relations Award ceremony at Greenacres Country Club in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Click the image to view (opens in new window).
Article published in The Times, 26 August 2010. © Richard Kemp
Chile’s miners need military tactics to survive. Identify the ‘corporals’, keep busy and don’t ring home
I was buried alive when a powerful IRA mortar bomb, improvised from a gas cylinder packed with 200lb of explosives, detonated on the rim of the trench above me, blasting down sheets of corrugated iron revetment, earth and rubble. Mercifully, my soldiers managed to dig me out in a few minutes. Minutes that seemed like hours. Even that brief experience in South Armagh of being trapped, isolated, utterly helpless, was enough to make me shudder when I heard about the horrible fate of the 33 miners in Chile.
The terrors they have endured over the past three weeks, and the horrors that they will face over the next few weeks are of an order rarely experienced outside the Armed Forces.
When I heard yesterday that the men sang their national anthem as the rescue team first made contact, I again thought back to that desolate South Armagh hilltop. Private Dale Robbie had taken a direct hit from another of the ten bombs that had pulverised our position and was entombed beneath his destroyed concrete pillbox. He was badly wounded and bleeding hard.
As Robbie’s rescuers worked feverishly to get him out, they could make out from beneath piles of shattered concrete the muffled tones of the battalion song, The Lincolnshire Poacher — an expression of gratitude, relief and hope beyond the power of mere words that became as legendary within the regiment as the miners’ anthem has already become around the world.
It will be a long time before those men again see Chile’s “blue sky” or feel the “pure breezes” described in the first lines of their national Continue reading