British ‘Boots on the Ground’ in Mali

By N.R. Jenzen-Jones

RAF Reg (AFP)RAF Regiment gunners, aboard a RAF C-17ER, in front of a French VAB SAN (armoured ambulance variant). Credit: AFP.

Royal Air Force (RAF) Regiment troops, possibly based out of Honington or Wittering, have been deployed to Bamako as a force protection (FP) element for RAF operations in support of the French intervention in Mali. France’s Opération Serval is being supported by two RAF C-17ER transport planes, operated by No. 99 Squadron from RAF Brize Norton. These aircraft are to ferry French armoured vehicles from the Évreux-Fauville Air Base in France, to Bamako.

Whilst the British government has claimed there will be ‘no UK boots on the ground’, that is not strictly true. In this video, RAF Regiment FP elements can be seen at Bamako Airport with a range of field kit, small arms, and other equipment. The RAF tactical recognition flash and RAF Regiment ‘mudguard’ badges can be clearly seen (see examples below). French VAB (Véhicule de l’Avant Blindé) series armoured personnel carriers are unloaded from the C-17ER. RAF regiment gunners fought alongside US Marines during the insurgent attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, last September. The attack left two US Marines of Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211) dead, 6 AV-8B Harrier II ground attack aircraft destroyed, and two more damaged. Members of No. 5 RAF Regiment Force Protection Wing and elements 2/10 Battalion US Marines then fought to regain control of the airfield, capturing one insurgent, and killing fourteen others.

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The deployment of limited FP assets as seen in Bamako is standard procedure, and certainly does not constitute a British commitment to combat operations in Mali. Nevertheless, the British government has been less than transparent about these measures. In a 14 January sitting of the House of Commons, Bob Stewart (Conservative Member for Beckenham) asked:

“The House totally understands that no combat troops will be deployed, yet technical personnel will be sent to Bamako airfield to service the large aircraft that will presumably bring in equipment such as tanks. When those aircraft land, will those technical personnel include force protection personnel, possibly including personnel from the RAF Regiment, who are actually soldiers?”

 

Mark Simmonds, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, responded:

“I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The capital of Mali is pronounced “Bam-ack-co”. Just to clarify the matter, there are currently no plans for NATO to be involved in Mali. The EU has drawn up a mission comprising 400 men, about 250 of whom will be force protection, and they are due to deploy later in the year. My hon. Friend asked a specific question about the number of military personnel who will be there to operate and to defend, if necessary, the aircraft when they are in Bamako. I will have to let him know about that.”

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It seems strange that the British government would not be as open and transparent as possible with regards to the FP measures being undertaken to secure RAF assets in Mali. One would think the British public would be reassured to know that the appropriate security elements are in place, whether that technically means combat troops on the ground, or not.

My thanks to Aris Roussinos for his assistance with this piece.
RAF Regiment recognition flash (credit: Wikimedia) and ‘mudguard’ (credit).
RAF Regiment gunners landing in Bamako. Credit: ITN Source.

Australia’s spend on counterterrorism: how much is enough?

Over the weekend, the Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, made a poor defence of the Government’s purported spend of $30 billion on security since 9/11 during his appearance on ABC’s Insiders (view here). Several analysts, including Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Mark Thomson, arrived at the figure by examining expenditure on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, domestic counterterrorism and boosts to intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The question posed to the Minister was, has this been worth it? His answer:

I haven’t tried to test that Barrie. What I do know is that our annual Defence expenditure for the Department that I’m responsible for on the civilian and military side is $26 to $27 billion. So I haven’t done the tally but I’d make this very simple point: When we are in the sure and certain knowledge that we are in the face of an international terrorist threat, it’s not the money that we spend, it’s the preventative measures that we take and the effectiveness of those measures. So it may well be a very large amount of money. The key thing is, are we better prepared, are we doing better and has that money been well spent? And I think we are much better prepared.

The Minister does not state why the figure of $30 billion dollars is justified. He simply states that it is. But it is not enough to shrug one’s shoulders and state being better prepared is your measure of success. For instance, could the Government have spent $10 billion to achieve the same outcome?

Counterterrorism should be costed with a system of accountability for expenditure, otherwise the Government can effectively write itself a blank cheque. If any level of spending on counterterrorism is justified because the measure of success is the absence of terrorist incident, by that logic, any amount is enough. The challenge, therefore, is discerning how much expenditure, especially what minimum amount, is actually required to achieve this state; that is, a sense of feeling secure.

But the Government has no system to measure whether the amount of $30 billion dollars is justified in achieving either a sense of security or actual security.

Unlike Defence’s 2009 white paper (PDF), which outlines strategic aims, capability projects and projected costs through to 2030, the 2010 Counter-Terrorism White Paper (PDF) provides no projected costs to meet the strategy outlined therein. It would be possible to disaggregate some of the costs by examining the contribution of departments such as Defence and agencies such as the AFP, but the Government does not even attempt to provide such figures.

It is difficult to measure the benefit derived from activities like counterradicalisation but that does not mean other areas of counterterrorism cannot be costed. The costs of related capability and equipment, upgrades to intelligence agencies, recruitment, and facilities can be determined and provide part of an assessment of whether the costs are commensurate with security dividends.

If analysts like Mark Thomson are able to cost Australia’s national security then the Government has an obligation, if it chooses to not refute that amount, to break down and justify the spend of taxpayers’ money.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Devar.