The first duty of any Prime Minister is to protect our country and its citizens. A heavy responsibility, especially when it backed up by our armed forces – a freedom paid for in human lives.
And this responsibility has seemingly been made worse, because of the changing nature of the threat that we face. No longer do our enemies have faces, or in most cases territories. They hide in the shadows, among populations too weak and too scared to fight against them.
They use the tactic of the guerrilla, coupled with the religious fervour of medieval religious fighters. Western troops captured, or injured can expect no mercy, just torture and a grisly end.
They are an enemy that our forces are still learning how to fight. How do we win the battle and recapture the hearts and minds of their allies? But more than this. How do we rebuild these countries and areas that in most cases have been shattered by decades of war, dictatorship and have little or no civil society?
Yet over the last 15 years, we have have poured soldiers, sailors and airmen into this new type of war. We give them poor and inferior equipment – sometimes not even that. In 2001 when thousands of UK men and women joined US forces in Afghanistan, they arrived without sufficient body armour and were driving around in Snatch Land Rovers. No wonder the Americans dubbed our forces the “borrowers”.
Despite these problems our forces performed amazingly, beating back hostile forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I was hopeful that the future PM, David Cameron, not only recognised this but fully appreciated their contribution to protecting Britain. He has, after all, visited our troops in theatre for photo ops on numerous occasions, reluctantly pledged to meet Nato’s minimum defence spending level of two per cent of GDP and even promised to enshrine the Military Covenant in law – later dropping this proposal in 2011.
Now in a further betrayal, the PM seems happy to extend civil oversight to the conduct of our troops, while at war. What this means in practice is that the actions and split second decisions of the tens of thousands of men and women involved in both conflicts will be scrutinised in great detail by every ambulance-chasing lawyer and anti-war group – by people who have no idea what it is to serve, to put their life on the line and endure the mental pressures of war.
Setting aside the millions this will cost, (£57 million for Iraq alone), what this means in practice is that a decision that may well have saved the lives of many British personnel might be seen years later as disproportionate, against the law, or worse some sort of war crime.
The Iraq Historical Allegations Team, a 145-strong group of civil servants, is already looking at over 1,500 cases. Many of these cases drummed up by “local agents”, paid nearly three times the rate of a new entrant and twice as much as Army private, will I hope be dropped but the IHAT head Mark Warwick has warned that soldiers could be charged with murder for their actions in theatre.
Are we really going to allow this happen – to allow anybody, even suspected terrorists, those who have a proven track record of violence and hatred against Britain, to sue those we sent to war?
What about those drone pilots engaged in seeking out so-called Islamic State leaders in Syria and Iraq – yes the ones who Mr Cameron praised for killing the IS terrorist known as Jihadi John? Will they face the prospect of trial at The Hague? The Leader of the Opposition believes their actions to be wrong, while some of his allies have gone further believing drone strikes to be a form of extra-judicial murder.
Betraying those who put you in power is one thing, but betraying the men and women who defend our country, risking injury and death is quite another.
If Mr Cameron is intent on deploying our troops more frequently and in greater numbers, then this pandering to the bleeding heart liberals must stop. If he does not, he risks damaging our forces ability to win by placing on them unrealistic standards that have long since disappeared from the battlefield and probably only ever existed in romanticised novels.
(Image Courtesy ResoluteSupportMedia, Flickr)