What do they hope to achieve?

I've been trying hard not to write a rant about the Linda Norgrove tragedy. I only posted yesterday, after all, and I wouldn't want to start building a reputation as someone who blogged regularly or anything. But today I have seen the opening lines of two newspaper reports about the matter, one in the Scotsman, which uses the verb 'bungled' and one in the Telegraph which adopts 'botched', both in describing the failed rescue attempt.

See what I did there? I described it as failed. Given that Miss Norgrove died, I think it's fair to say that. None of the Special Forces troops taking part in the rescue attempt were injured, as far as I am aware, and a cell of Taleban kidnappers were killed, so I'd call that a small silver lining. That's not the point of this rant, however.

Botched. Bungled. I'm sure I don't need to look too far to find other words that are at best arrogantly dismissive, at worst deeply harmful. Having endured the BBC's reporting on the matter yesterday though, I have no great desire to trawl the online papers just to stoke my ire some more. 

It will no doubt change in the coming days, but at the moment we don't know what actually happened during that fateful rescue attempt. We do know that the part of the country where it took place is best described as inhospitable; that the soldiers who risked their lives trying to save Miss Norgrove were very highly trained experts; that the operation was as meticulously planned as is possible given the circumstances. We can also be fairly sure that the Taleban kidnappers had no intention of letting their captive live. At best they would have spirited her away across the border to Pakistan, there to become a propaganda plaything for Osama Bin Laden, until such time as her public death was deemed a better way of sapping Western morale than her public humiliation. At worst they would simply have executed her and left her body for a patrol to find.

The military strategists expert in the region would have thought long and hard before proposing the rescue attempt, and by all accounts both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary agonised over giving the go-ahead. This wasn't some gung-ho seat-of-the-pants military joy-ride, not Sylvester Stallone and his OAP chums roaring into town to rescue the damsel in distress. And yet reading the newspapers, hearing the reporters on the radio and telly, you could be forgiven for thinking their only knowledge of military matters was gleaned from watching The Expendables and re-runs of MacGyver. This operation wasn't bungled or botched, and it is deeply, deeply unfair to the soldiers and military planners involved to suggest that it was. 

Linda Norgrove died, and that is tragic. She was a bright, thirty-six year old woman with her life ahead of her. She had dedicated herself to helping others and certainly didn't deserve to be blown up either by an American grenade or a Taleban explosive vest. But she went to work in a war zone. She knew that there was always a risk she might be captured or killed. I applaud her for taking that risk, but I also applaud the men who tried to save her, even though they failed. They didn't kill her - not even the man who pulled the pin out of the grenade and lobbed it into a room, if that's how it happened. The Taleban killed her the moment they took her hostage.

My rant is reserved for the press back home, who at the slightest whiff of honest mistake in the running of what is a very complicated war, immediately leap on the idea that our armed forces are incompetent fools, being lead by politicians who care more for their image back home than the safety of their soldiers. The Foreign Secretary gave out incorrect information, then admitted he was wrong and corrected the error - what an idiot! The Americans changed their account of what happened once they'd had time to review the operation (and less than twenty-four hours) - how dare they tell the truth! Are we not being lead by bunglers and fools who couldn't organise their way out of a paper bag? We must get rid of these morons and elect, what? A new set?

The Taleban almost certainly intended to use Linda Norgrove as a propaganda tool - either releasing regular videos of her being forced to beg for her life, or worse just one video of her execution. Their intention, as ever, would have been to weaken Western resolve. Body bags coming home never play well to the masses, and a young woman, a volunteer charity worker, is a potent symbol indeed. But the Taleban have no need to chip away at our morale as long as the media frenzy continues to do it for them.


This is just damn sad.
Anonymous said…
From a Brits view current available information strongly indicates that the raid was BOTCHED.

Use of a fragmentation grenade in the presence or possible presence of a hostage indicates a fundemental flaw in generally accepted SF operational procedures.

If this has happened then it must be thouroughly investicated and proper measures taken to ensure it is never repeated.

Any such investgation has to be all enveloping to be effective. It will have to include amongst others selection, training and all operational/non-operational procedures.

Failure to do this will severly undermine the effectiveness / reputation of all US Special Forces.

Sentimental wallowing in the likes of patriatism, God etc. is non-productive as it could cloud the issue and delay an effective solution.
JamesO said…
"It will no doubt change in the coming days, but at the moment we don't know what actually happened during that fateful rescue attempt."

I quite agree with you, anonymous. This situation has to be thoroughly investigated, and we have been assured by the authorities that it will be. I hope that any such investigation is as open as it is possible to be without giving away information that might be of strategic use to the enemy. However, until such time as that investigation has been completed and its findings reported, it is unhelpful in the extreme for our media to leap to conclusions.

I'm not sure whether you are implying that I have written this piece out of sentimentality, patriotism or religiosity, but I can assure you that none of these are the case. I am all in favour of an intelligent and thoughtful media exposing errors and cover-ups wherever they can find them, and if the military have botched or bungled that should be highlighted so that lessons can be learned. What appals me is the mindless knee-jerk reaction epitomised by the two headlines I read just forty-eight hours after the operation - well before it was possible to draw such conclusions.

If someone's fuck-up has resulted in Linda Norgrove's death, then that should be reported and they should be either punished or retrained depending on the circumstances. Until we know, however, I would rather the press kept their speculation to a minimum.

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