3/09/2009

Pathetic army excuse about base security does nothing to answer the questions

In the wake of the death of two British soldiers in Northern Ireland, am I the only person who finds the answers coming from the British army in Northern Ireland to be totally lacking in an awareness of the shocking way base security has been treated.

The head of the British Army failed to properly answer questions about why base security guards failed to fire a single shot in return and instead asked the press if they expected security guards to fire in to a group of people that included British soldiers. Quite clearly the press did not want security guards to shoot at British soldiers. What the press were asking was why it was that three terrorists could shoot for more than 30 seconds, why they could approach and fire further shots at those they wounded and why they could then withdraw on foot without a single shot being fired at them.

Furthermore, we all ought to be asking why it is that at a time when it is known that Islamic terrorists have wanted to target British soldiers and when the terrorist threat level had been raised in Northern Ireland, why are British army bases protected by civilians with the same powers as a special constable ? Why are they only lightly armed with pistols ? And why is it that when UK armed forces are specially trained in base security (the RAF Regiment stands out as being expert at this), why on earth are the armed forces not responsible for their own base security ?

As it is I found the army's response to questions about base security to be very poor and reminds me of the way equipment failures and shortages in Iraq and Afghanistan have been constantly excused by the armed forces, only to find a few months later when a senior officer quits that he speaks openly and says what he really knows to be true.

9 comments:

Malcolm Redfellow said...

Sorry, Nich: not with you on this one.

I was in the Black North and specifically Antrim just last week. The general tone is far, far different from even a couple of years ago. For a taste, take the Belfast bus tour; and sit in state on the double-decker crossing the Peace Line. No need to duck. The murals up both the Falls and the Shanklin are now tempered to appeal to the tourist, not to make any great thumping point. It's light; it's fun; it's amazing.

For the ladies-who-lunch there is the astounding excess of the Merchant Hotel. At the other end of the market, Belfast -- believe it or not -- is supplanting Dublin, Riga, Prague and the rest as the stag/hen party resort of choice. There are even gay bars.

Out of town, in the smaller towns, much of the same is true. The relative prosperity (financed at the rate of £4,000 a head by the English tax-payer) means that it has lately been shop till you drop. The big point of debate is the collapse of the housing market (after a 40% increase in two years!)

Now, to the root of your question. Last Wednesday, around 11 AM, we drove into Belfast International Airport. This is shared with RAF Aldergrove. Someway back from the main approach we were halted by a police motorcyclist. Eight further out-riders, escorting three black Range Rovers, emerged from a side road leading to the military facility. [Funny thing: I blogged just that comment last Wednesday evening, and received an amazing number of hits.]

Hold on! Shaun Woodward's answering NI questions in the Commons in a few minutes. Is there some cross-border/international event on the ticket? Who else deserves such treatment?

That was the same day MI5 raised the security level.

My feeling is that the security services were caught cold. Remember that gruesome warning, the telephone message after the Brighton bombing: "We only need to be lucky once. You need to be lucky every time." Do a Google search, and you'll find that ad nauseam on the ultra-Republican websites.

Meanwhile, watch for the "bhoys" (those, on both sides, who've got their noses in the trough) taking out the competition. And, as I type that, I see there's a shooting in Craigavon.

It's not "the armed struggle" any more, when (on both sides) the extortion was easy, when the going rate for a stretch in the Kesh was a BMW and your family looked after in the meantime. It's either gang-warfare (which explains the intra-communal killings which have gone unnoticed in GB) or it's the young rats trying to mark a place in a race where the older rats have scoffed all the pies, and don't intend to share.

Norfolk Blogger said...

All good points, but it fails to address the security issues about the base.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

I'm still not with you on your basic point.

Are you suggesting that "shoot-on-sight" is acceptable in the UK of GB and NI? Or is NI "a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing"?

Would a good Norfolk Liberal advocate gun-play for the streets of (say) Great Yarmouth? And Yarmouth, that great metropolis, is about twice the population of the whole of Lurgan, let alone the townland where where last night's killing occurred. Antrim town, the site of the Massereene Barracks, is smaller still.

Three truths to be told:

1. A NI posting has been, in recent years, a doddle for most squaddies, especially when the alternative, the alternation is a spell in Basra or Helmand. After all, pizza delivery is available in the one and not the other. Inevitably, a relaxed attitude developed. The NISGS are more for ornament than use: consider the job specification. Particularly therein note "deter" not "react".

2. The PSNI are the right and proper authority now. I am surprised that you swallow The Times piece. David Sharrock is rarely that up-front; so I wonder if his filing has been spiced by Michael Evans, on the instigation of Patrick Mercer. Let us remember even Cameron could not stomach Mercer's previous utterances. The burgesses of Newark do seem remiss in their choices of MP.

3. Brian Walker, posting on Slugger O'Toole, and reluctantly endorsing Jonathan Powell's Guardian article seems to reflect my measure.

Norfolk Blogger said...

I don't equate an army base being attacked and its base security forces responding with a shoot on sight policy.

How could this attack be allowed to happen without a single return shot from the defenders ?

Paul Pinfield said...

Nich, I was in the forces for 10 years and have been involved in base security. The rules of engagement were fairly clear: If you are in danger and are reasonably sure that you or the base is under attack, you are free to use lethal force.

The fact that this attack was caught on CCTV and the civvy security team were seen to watch the second stage of the attack, speaks to a total fuck up.

It is incredible that the defence of a military base has been contacted out. Of course, no one will be held to account. It's not the modern way...

Malcolm Redfellow said...

[Heavy sigh]

We're at cross purposes here.

You seem to be assuming that the Massereene Barracks are way out-of-town, a major complex like Sandhurst or Aldershot.

Try looking up "Massereene Barracks, Randalstown Rd, Antrim, Antrim BT41, UK" (say on Google Maps). It's a large compound, but right alongside one of NI's major roads. Not far away, the other side of the A6 is an industrial estate. Not far beyond that is residential housing.

You are recommending a volley of high-velocity rounds loosed into that environment, firing outwards: the other lot were firing inwards, and totally unconcerned about who, military or civilian, was in the way.

In 1209 the Abbot Arnaud Amalric justified the massacre of 1209 at Béziers: "Kill them all. God will know his own." Not a liberal sentiment.

In the bad old days, Ian Paisley denounced "the godfathers of terrorism". That was rhetoric but such did exist: locals will knowingly point out their grand spreads, in Donegal and elsewhere. They, and their imitators still lurk in the shadows. They sent out the young teenager, with a gun, to make a name for himself.

Now add in the extra dimension: every "rising" in nationalist faith and fable, every iniquity committed by the Brits is recalled by the "martyrs for Ireland". Do we want to add a few more names to the catalogue? Any single name, particularly once celebrated in a pub ballad, will give the CIRA or RIRA just the credibility it craves.

anonaLon said...

In such a short period of time, it's difficult even if you are SAS trained to draw your weapon. Even if there had been SAS troopers guarding the base, you might have seen exactly the same result.

My view is, and I certainly don't mean this flippantly, is what the hell are they doing ordering pizza at a high security location?

Malcolm Redfellow said...

The lesser mystery is why does my inbox show a posting from Paul Pinfield which, when I switch to a browser, doesn't yet appear in this list of previous comments.

The greater mystery is why so few people realise the shootings at Massereene took place outside the base proper, at the entrance. Even Domino's Pizza do not have easy rights of access into a base.

Obviously my earlier post was not clear enough. Two terrorists, with semi-automatics, were able to discharge sixty rounds because:
(a) they had no compunction about whom they hit (those pizza delivery guys were "legimitated" as targets because they were "collaborators"); and
(b) they were firing into the base.

The base security did not respond because:
(a) they could not distinguish "friend" and "foe";
(b) the field of their fire was the main road from Antrim town west to the motorway, an industrial and commercial estate across the highway;
(c) they were not apparently not authorised to do so (see my interpretation above of their job description); and that is probably because
(c) British policy has finally got the message and moved on from creating the martyrs on which the various factions of the extreme republican movement feed (do we need a quick chorus of "Sean South of Garryowen" here?).

Anonymous said...

this service needs a big shake up from the top stop recruting ex UDR and start recruiting real ex soldiers.

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