About Patrick

Defence and security expert with comprehensive media experience, coupled with specialist knowledge of Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan and military operations past and present.

London-based security analyst, Patrick has worked for NATO as an analyst and is a former Captain in the British army's Royal Irish Regiment. He is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute, studying the reform of the U.K's Army Reserve, cohesion and logistics. Patrick has appeared on international, UK and Irish television and radio to discuss security matters, and has written for leading broadsheets. His latest appearances were as an expert contributor to National Geographic's 'Nazi Mega Weapons' series, where he contributed to four episodes, including on the Atlantic Wall, the Wolf's Lair, the SS, and the Siegfried Line. He has specialist knowledge on the conflict in Afghanistan, having served in Sangin in 2008 and he has provided security research and analysis for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. He also has expert knowledge of the current security situation in Libya and comments on wider security issues, including strategy, current military operations, military history, the role of the media in war, and ethics in war.

He has written for The Irish Times, The Guardian and The Independent, and has appeared on The National Geographic Channel/Channel 4, Sky News, BBC News, BBC News HardTalk, BBC Radio 4 Today programme, BBC File on 4, BBC Radio 5, and numerous Irish national TV and radio programmes.

His memoir, 'Callsign Hades', (Simon and Schuster 2010) has been called "the first great book of the Afghan war" and describes his experiences serving with Irish soldiers in the last Irish line regiment of the British army in one of Afghanistan's most dangerous places. It has since been incorporated onto the syllabus at Sandhurst, and excerpts from his work are also taught to Australian officer cadets.

Patrick was educated at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth and King's College, London, where he studied Intelligence and International Security before attending the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. He was awarded the Trust Medal for Overall Academic Performance, The John Pimlott Prize for War Studies and the Defence and International Affairs Prize during his time there.

He has commanded soldiers on operations in Afghanistan and deployed to Cyprus, Kenya, Malawi and Malaysia.

He has also published in military and ethics journals and on defence issues on political blogsites. He has spoken at numerous universities and military command courses on security and ethics issues. He is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Royal United Services Institute, the Irish Military History Society, the Military Ethics Education Network, and former member of an IED and Radicalisation project funded by the US Office of Naval Research and Hull University. A full list of Patrick's publications are listed in the links section below.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

NATO 'on message' on Afghanistan... but what does the message mean?

While NATO Secretary General Rasmussen is to be congratulated for his personal commitment to Afghanistan (
The Daily Telegraph, 23rd October 2012), as should his wider organisation and the men and women of our own armed forces, some of the statistics quoted in his Telegraph Op-Ed remain questionable, especially in light of a report issued today by the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee that states that a viable state in Afghanistan is not achievable.

Firstly, when Mr. Rasmussen says that: 'During the first six months of this year, Afghans led over 80 per cent of all operations, and they are currently conducting 85 per cent of their own training' he fails to mention that in the last year ISAF has lowered its criteria of classification for ANA units to be capable of independent operations, thereby allowing more units in the lower categories to qualify for the highest category. This has been discussed in a recent
BBC Radio File on 4 (36th minute) investigation and by Professor Cordesman of the Council on Foreign Relations in his report that questions the failed metrics of 10 years of war in Afghanistan.

Secondly, Mr. Rasmussen fails to mention that attrition in the Afghan National Army is averaging about 2% per month throughout the year. For some reason, ISAF prefers to give this figure as a monthly percentage rather than an annual one. Whatever way you look at it, there is no escaping the fact that the ANA are losing about 24% of its force a year to attrition. This is beyond what most analysts agree is sustainable in the long term.

Thirdly, Mr. Rasmussen is picking statistics that reflect progress in certain regions of Afghanistan at the expense of other regions with negative trends. When he says 'in and around Kabul, enemy-initiated attacks fell by 17 per cent in the first eight months of this year, compared with the same period last year' he fails to mention that Kabul has traditionally been one of the safest regions with the least attacks. Moreover, the latest US Department of Defence report on Afghanistan (page 70) describes the Kabul area of operations as ‘statistically insignificant (less than one percent) compared to all security incidents throughout Afghanistan’. By contrast if you take Regional Command South which includes Kandahar province - the seat of the insurgency - as a real indicator of progress, then according to the same report (page 119), violence actually increased by 13% during the traditionally quieter winter period. Furthermore, violence in RC-S represents 21% of Afghanistan's total, so this is an important indicator.

Fourthly, Mr. Rasmussen's choice of the 'enemy-initiated attack' metric is also questionable as it does not include potential attacks and undetonated Improvised Explosive Device 'finds'. As the most recent UK government report has outlined, the metric which includes these variables, known as 'security incidents' has experienced no significant change recently.

Fifthly, Mr. Rasmussen and NATO maintain that 'transition remains on schedule' and that 'in the course of 2013, the Afghans will have the lead for security throughout their country.' These plans are indeed, on schedule, but the key qualitative and quantitative question here is 'transition to what exactly'? Given the wider context of the West’s mission in Afghanistan, transition is not an end in itself. If NATO hands security over to Afghan forces that in some regions are unable to venture outside their bases, then how are we to know the accurate picture of reality? While NATO will definitely fulfil its mission of transition, the effects of that transition remain highly uncertain and should not be separated from the post-transition security situation.

Finally, Mr. Rasmussen's piece must be seen in the context of declining public support for the war: 70% of Americans and 73% of Britons are now against the war. Furthermore, the respected security think-tank International Crisis Group has recently released a damning report on Afghanistan's transition while the New York Times, having supported the war for the last eleven years, published a seminal editorial entitled ‘Time to Pack up’ on 22nd October calling for a withdrawal based on a schedule dictated only by the security of the troops. The fact that the newspaper of the city that has most reason to see troops remain in Afghanistan is now calling for US forces to exit speaks for itself.

NATO and the international community have shown remarkable commitment to Afghanistan. However, I believe the statistics quoted in Mr. Rasmussen's piece need to be seen in their wider context. Furthermore, despite the best efforts of NATO, the West’s wider security and stability mission in Afghanistan is heading for strategic failure. This is due to both our own hubris and the pervasive corruption and incompetence of those we chose to ally ourselves with in Afghanistan. The only solid and perhaps long-term gain we have achieved after eleven years of war is the reduction of al-Qa’eda in the country. This had mostly been achieved by March 2002.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Media failing in its coverage of Afghanistan.
The death of another two British soldiers last week in Helmand was followed by the usual 30-second Colonel’s voxpop on the 10 o’clock news and accompanied by the standard release of heartfelt messages of condolence from their surviving comrades on the MoD website.  Other than the quick delivery of facts, there has been very little analysis of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan by the British media.
Before turning to why this is, a round-up of the events over the last ten days may provide some context as to what is actually going on in the country.  On 6 August the Afghan Defence Minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, quit after parliament voted to remove him over border clashes with Pakistan. Wardak was seen as a close ally of both the US and the UK whose loss ‘could have significant consequences for transition’ according a senior coalition diplomat in Helmand province.
The same day, a police chief in Ghor province was killed by an explosives-laden donkey, further evidence, if it was needed, of the success of the Taliban’s campaign to assassinate Afghan officials ahead of NATO’s 2014 withdrawal. This campaign has already seen a 53 percent increase in targeted killings of officials by the Taliban between January and June this year; somewhat offsetting  the positive news released by the UN on 8 August that civilian casualties had dropped by 15 percent during this period compared with the same period in 2011.
However, since most civilian casualties (some 77 percent) are caused by the insurgency, even if the lower civilian casualty trend continues (it won’t, July has already seen a further 5 percent erosion) what this really signifies is the insurgency is getting better at directing kinetic activity to where it matters most: onto Afghan officials and their civilian sympathisers.
Next, on the night of 9 August, three US special forces soldiers were shot dead as they broke the Ramadan fast over a meal with their Afghan colleagues in Sangin. The ‘green on blue’ incident marked the third of its kind that week: three other NATO troops were killed the same day and another a day later.  There have been 27 such attacks this year which have left at least 37 NATO soldiers dead, highlighting the increasing infiltration of the Afghan security forces since the NATO withdrawal announcement. So far, this year’s figures are on course to be  50 percent up on last year’s.
On 14 August Afghanistan experienced its worst day of violence of 2012 when suicide bombers stuck markets in Nimruz and Kunduz provinces, killing up to 50 civilians. This was followed a day later by another bomb attack on a market in Herat city that wounded 18 and then the alleged shoot-down of a US Blackhawk helicopter today that killed 11 soldiers yesterday. Afghanistan hasn’t had as bad a week as this since the urinating-on-corpses and Koran-burning scandals of January and February.
Granted summer fighting season always sees increases in attacks, but taken together and in context, these events belie the ground truth in Afghanistan: it’s not getting any better and when the West leaves it will get worse, quickly.
To be fair, the British media has reported these stories; the basic facts are easy to find online. But what is really missing is any meaningful analysis. Very few of the seasoned war correspondents seem willing to stick their necks out, call a spade a spade and reveal the West’s efforts in Afghanistan the unmitigated failure they undoubtedly are. Why is this?
The most obvious answer is to be found in the increasingly familiar relationship between the British military and the British media that has been engendered by ten years of journalists covering Britain at war. As the military control access to the battlefields, and given the dangers of reporting unilaterally, correspondents are forced to rely on the military embed system that assigns them to certain locations and military units. 
Quite simply, if a correspondent writes an article that is too far ‘off message’, the next time they apply for an embed they are likely to find their application at the bottom of the pile. And when it is eventually approved it will be for a location far removed from where the news is breaking. Editors, already averse to Afghan news after eleven years of inoculation, are not going to tolerate a defence correspondent who cannot cultivate good sources in, and stories from, the military. Generally, write something negative and you’ll find what sources you had shut up shop. Then try to earn a living as a defence correspondent.
And so, we, the public get the diluted, policy-centric version of events in Afghanistan: the positivist euphemisms of career and legacy-orientated military officers who are ‘cautiously optimistic’ about Afghanistan’s future. The constant press conferences stating that the transition to an ANSF lead remains ‘on track’ despite the reality that less than ten percent of ANSF units are able to conduct independent operations, that ethnic divisions and desertions are rapidly increasing – thereby undermining the future integrity of the ANSF, and that once security duties are handed over Western armies see it as ‘mission accomplished’ paying little attention to subsequent events on the ground.
Such facts are borne out by the recent comments made by an internal security officer in the Ghorband valley, outside Kabul, to the BBC: ‘during operations, we have found bomb-making factories, huge caches of weapons and ammunition. But the government told people “everything is fine.” They lied.’
As a security professional who has served in the British army in Afghanistan and has worked as a research analyst on the country for an international security organisation, I understand the institutional and cultural restraints that can be placed on soldiers and journalists to tow the line. Indeed, undue criticism undermines fighting power: fortitude and courage of conviction are often the difference between victory and defeat. It would be wrong to ignore that the military have delivered real operational successes in Afghanistan.
The problem is – in the military’s own words – these gains ‘remain fragile and reversible’ and have not been converted into the strategic nor the political gains needed to stabilise Afghanistan. Given the nature of Afghan culture and the Afghan state, it is highly questionable if the military could ever have delivered these anyway, even if resourced eternally. 
Unlike other interventions in Iraq and Libya, it is obvious that Afghanistan, fundamentally, is going one way, and that is down. Northern warlords are already re-arming in preparation for the coming civil war with the southern Pashtuns after NATO withdraws. ANSF troops occupying the ‘transitioned territories’ marked as green areas on headquarters’ maps are increasingly confined to their bases and will be more so when the West leaves. Expect a more savvy Taliban to gradually take back territories British and other nations’ blood was spilt on as what’s left of the NATO force positions itself in a few major population centres. 
Which brings me back to the latest British soldiers to be killed. Of course they knew the risk of their vocation and of course they died doing a job they loved. But suggesting that that job, in Afghanistan, is going to have a tangible and long-lasting effect is flying in the face of evidence.  And logically, if we are leaving in 2014/15 regardless of whether the job is done or not, then why not leave it not-done in 2012? It would save hundreds of lives.
However, it appears that losing the battle for public perceptions is a fate worse than death for the West’s strategic communications specialists.
An officer recently told me that when he arrived in Camp Bastion at the beginning of his tour, a colonel addressed his group, saying that – and I ad lib here – ‘they needed to see the job through to honour those who have given their lives.’ When the sacrifices of those who have gone before are cited as the primary reason to sacrifice those who live today, we know the situation is beyond saving.
Now, not in 2014, the West should leave the areas that will slip to insurgent control and concentrate its dwindling forces in areas where they can have long lasting effect and conduct counter-terror strikes if need be.  Expending young men and women’s lives in districts that will effectively ‘transition’ to Taliban control in two years anyway is simply the pursuance of a failing strategy that runs counter to reality.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Afghanistan: The metrics of strategic failure.

Those attending the NATO summit on Afghanistan on Sunday in Chicago have a lot to reflect on. So far, 2012 has not been a good year for the organisation nor the country. The killing last Saturday of two British servicemen again highlighted the increasing ‘Green on Blue’ attacks by Afghan security personnel on NATO soldiers, while US Marines urinating on corpses, Korans being burnt, the murder of 17 Afghan civilians by a renegade American sergeant and a large attack on Kabul have all represented serious political setbacks. These setbacks have been all the more significant given that the military campaign cannot now save the West from long-term strategic failure.
This is not to say the military have failed in their mission: in the regions where they have been sufficiently resourced, strong tactical and operational gains were made during 2010/11 in the key provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. The transition of security duties to Afghan forces also remains on schedule.  However, these successes have not translated into the strategic, and ultimately, the political gains it the surge was designed to deliver.
In the 2007 Iraq surge, for example, violence decreased by about 70% in five months. In doing so it created the space within which governance and the rule of law could begin to be established. Twelve months into the surge in Afghanistan, the U.N estimated that violence had risen by 39%; governance remains patchy at best. Furthermore, violence is increasing even in areas that are meant to be secure: attacks in the Kandahar region rose by 13% over the winter 2011/12 period. Attacks in the East were up 3%. Taken together, these figures indicate that in the two regions where insurgent violence is most concentrated, attacks have continued to rise, even during the traditionally more benign winter months.
Meanwhile, NATO states populations’ support for the war is at their lowest levels ever (27 percent in the U.S), France and Australia have already announced accelerated withdrawal timetables and progress toward a political settlement has stalled. A December  2011 US National Intelligence Estimate concluded that pervasive corruption and Kabul’s incompetent governance had undercut the surge’s security gains and that President Karzai’s government might not survive a NATO withdrawal at all. Basic metrics support this view.
The central statistic of the Afghan campaign is an economic one. Although it has experienced rapid economic growth recently – the IMF estimates Afghanistan’s GDP to be over $19 billion – without the inflation generated by over 100,000 NATO troops and their support staff, the country’s GDP is historically close to $12 billion. The cost of training and equipping the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) is forecast by the U.S to be $4-6 billion a year for the foreseeable future, depending on their size. Thus, funding its security forces will cost Afghanistan about a third to a half of its actual GDP every year. This is simply unsustainable.
Of course, the U.S and its NATO allies are aware of this. Reports suggest that the U.S will continue to provide $5 billion next year; it hopes NATO members will make up the $1.3 billion difference. However, so far the alliance has only raised $550 million (Britain has given $110 million), leaving a significant shortfall in ANSF funding. Moreover, the long term sustainability of even this amount is in question. With Europe’s financial woes continuing, it will become increasingly difficult to justify funding an unpopular and distant war that could eventually see NATO governments supporting one side in a civil war.
Here, the echo of the Soviet experience in the country begins to reverberate loudly. When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, they continued to fund and equip President Najibullah’s forces. With Soviet support, the beleaguered president was able to cling to power, gradually ceding some 90% of the country to the Muhajideen insurgency as his army’s appetite for the conflict waned. However, when the Russians turned off the money tap in 1992, Najibullah’s regime rapidly crumbled. 
NATO knows that the ANSF in their current form are unsustainable. Next year, the U.S will cut in half the $11.2 billion it gave the ANSF for 2012; the net result being that, after a rush to reach ANSF manning of 352,000, the force will be reduced just as it hits this target. The latest NATO figures indicate that Afghan forces currently total 344,000, but given the long term questions over sustainability, a force of about 230,000 is now being considered more realistic. 
Forces this size would fall far short of the number required by NATO’s own doctrine to successfully conduct a counter-insurgency campaign. Such doctrine holds that 20-25 counter-insurgents are per 1,000 members of the population. Even given the geographic concentration of Afghanistan’s insurgency in the south and east of the country, the 230,000 figure falls far below this ratio. By comparison, Iraq, which has a similar population to Afghanistan, has over one million army and police personnel for its 30 million citizens. Simply put, even ignoring Pakistan’s hand in Afghanistan’s affairs, without a large and sustainable security force to suppress the insurgency, the government will be unable to hold the areas NATO forces have fought hard to clear. The only way to avoid this scenario is through some sort of political settlement.
However, in the short term at least, a political settlement seems unlikely. The Sunday assassination of Maulvi Rahmani – a top negotiator for Karzai’s High Peace Council with strong links to the Taliban– has highlighted the continuing precariousness of the negotiations process.  Mahaz-e Mullah Dadullah, a hard line insurgent faction, has claimed responsibility for the killing. Their actions indicate that many elements of the Taliban remain opposed to any negotiated settlement that would deny them the return of to an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Clinton has not spoken pro-actively on negotiations in over a year. Ahmed Rashid, a leading Afghan analyst, recently indicated that the main reason for this is due to disagreements within the U.S administration over whether the negotiations process should be prioritised at all.
Yet some sort of a political settlement is now the only way the West can arrest Afghanistan’s slide into civil war. Otherwise, on their current trajectory, the basic metrics of its eleven year investment of blood and treasure in Afghanistan point towards strategic failure. When combined with the qualitative evidence of widespread corruption the complete picture is even worse: a lack of popular support for the Afghan government, an internal Pashtun/non Pashtun divide, a massive forthcoming shortfall in aid as military assistance is cut and the continuing undermining of stability by Pakistan provides the context within which the quantitative evidence must be understood. Reports that former Northern Alliance warlords have begun re-arming in preparation for the Afghanistan NATO leaves behind suggest they understand the ground truth better than those meeting in Chicago this weekend.