Tuesday, October 23, 2007

British Casualty Monitor Update 23.10.07: Decline in casualties continues in Iraq but more troops planned for Afghanistan

Yesterday, we posted on the delayed release of the fortnightly casualty data from the Ministry of Defence. This morning, purely by coincidence, the data on British casualties from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been made available on the MOD www site. This release covers the period up to 30th September. In Iraq, total British military casualties for 2007 have now reached 1506, while in Afghanistan, total casualties for 2007 now stand at 1129.

The ceasefire and withdrawal from Basra City at the beginning of September can be clearly associated with a marked and continuing decline in British casualties.

However, in Afghanistan, casualties have risen for the previous 3 months and, if the trend continues, casualties from this war will exceed those from Iraq before the end of the year.

News round up:

The MOD have announced a massive increase in compensation for soldiers suffering multiple serious injuries. Less good news for the armed forces concerns a new court case being brought against the MOD. It is alleged that horrific torture and mutilation of Iraqi prisoners took place following a fierce battle in May 2004.

Current events in Iraq appear to be taking another turn for the worse as one of the anticipated spin-offs from the invasion, open conflict between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, moves closer.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan the lack of commitment from other NATO members, combined with the continued fierce fighting, is leading Britain to considering sending more troops. Britain already has 7,700 troops committed to the war but the continued presence of Canada and the Netherlands in the south of Afghanistan is now in doubt.

Monday, October 22, 2007

MOD Delay Release of Casualty Updates

This is a brief update for those who are wondering why the Iraq and Afghanistan casualty tracking data has not been updated according to the normal schedule. A delay has occurred because the fortnightly data release has been issued by the Ministry of Defence. No explanation has been issued. The last data release covered the period up to 15th September and the next update was expected to have been released the week beginning 15th October. However, as of this morning (22nd October), no information has been made available. Will update as soon as we hear more.

How Many British Casualties Require High-dependency Clinical Care?

Radio 4 Today addressed the issue of why the Ministry of Defence refuses to say how many injured soldiers are being cared for in high-dependency wards? The MOD has tried in the past to claim that patient confidentiality prevented them releasing the data. This is clearly little more than obfuscation. An application for ethical approval from a research ethics committee would not even be required for the release of anonymised data, and such data is, or at least should be, kept by the MOD for monitoring and resource planning purposes. As someone who sits on a research ethics committe myself this is transparent; on the Today programme this morning a national expert on clinical ethics, Dr Tucker, confirmed that the MOD position was untenable.

John Humphries interviewed the Defence Minister Derek Twigg to try and obtain some clarity on why the MOD refuse to release the data and what the numbers actually are. The interview can be heard here (.ram).

The minister stated that there are currently 24 high dependency patients in the MOD medical facilities at Selly Oak, and 45 in Hedley Court. Strangely however, he refused to say how many patients there were outside of these facilities, but asserted that the number was less than 5. Why would he claim to be certain of the situation but yet be unwillinging to state what the number of patients is? There appears to be two possible explanations. One is that they just don't know, they have lost track of the destination of the cases after dischage or just don't have the data. The other plausible explanation is that the MOD wishes to somehow prevent the tracking or follow up of these cases.

While it may be true that there are currently about 73 high-dependency cases under inpatient treatment, the numbers who have survived the initial stages of clinical care and are now under out-patient treatment or rehabilitation will be much higher. From the official figures published on the MOD www site we can see that, up to 15th September 2007, they are reporting 205 very seriously or seriously injured casualties in Iraq and 81 in Afghanistan. Another striking statistic is that since April 2006 there have been 1189 medical evacuations of personnel from Iraq. Current treatment figures will only represent a proportion of people who have suffered catatrophic injuries.

Knowing just how many young men an women have lost mutiple limbs, suffered brain damage, or other horrific injuries is something the British Government would much prefer remains obscure and uncertain.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Civilian Casualties Continue to Rise in Afghanistan: Are suicide bombers or NATO responsible?

According to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) over 155 Afghan civilians died in ground military operations, aerial strikes and suicide attacks by Taliban insurgents, US, NATO and Afghan government forces in September alone. Their estimates for the number of civilians killed by Taliban attacks and by coalition military activity are very similar.
"At least 80 civilians lost their lives in suicide attacks and over 75 others were killed in military operations and aerial strikes in September," said Farid Hamidi, an AIHRC official.
It should be noted that in previous casualty tallies by the UN, the number of civilians killed by NATO forces has exceeded the numbers killed by the Taliban. What is striking though is the rise in the recorded number of deaths. In July, the UN reported a total of 600 civilian deaths for 2007 to that date, making a monthly average of about 100. Based on that estimate, the total for September has increased by over 50% from the average.

Part of the reason for the apparent rise in civilian casualties during 2007 may be the increased use of suicide bomb attacks. While suicide attacks by themselves are not in violation of international law, and also have the potential to be used as precision weapons for targeting the military, in reality reports suggest that their use in Afghanistan has led to a large proportion of civilian casualties. A UN report (pdf) published last month analysed the use of suicide attacks in detail.
"While the very first suicide attack occurred on 9 September, 2001, when Al Qaeda suicide operatives posing as journalists assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud, suicide bombings only came to prominence in Afghanistan in mid-2005. Only five attacks occurred between 2001 and 2005, when they escalated unexpectedly to 17 attacks over the course of the year. In 2006 there were 123 actual attacks, and in 2007 there were 77 attacks between 1 January and 30 June. Suicide missions now form an integral part of the Taliban’s strategy...

Suicide assailants in Afghanistan and their supporters seem to be mobilized by a range of grievances. These include a sense of occupation, anger over civilian casualties, and affronts to their national, family, and personal senses of honour and dignity that are perpetrated in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations. Some attackers are also motivated by religious rewards and duties..."
Figure: Suicide Attacks in Afghanistan
Source: UNAMA

What is clear from the available data however, is that the increase in suicide attacks cannot, by itself, account for the reported rise in casualties. Half of civilian deaths continue to be caused by pro-Government NATO led forces. It may well be that the use of suicide attacks, in which attackers disguise themselves as civilians (perfidy), makes distinguishing combatants and non-combatants more difficult and increases the risk of 'pre-emptive' shooting. However, the burden remains on all parties to the conflict to take all necessary means to minimise civilian casualties. Not only is it a moral and legal imperative, it also make essential strategic sense. As the UN report on suicide attacks comments on the NATO effort.
"Immediate efforts are needed to diminish perceptions of a foreign military occupation: all forces engaged in counter insurgency operations must reduce civilian casualties and conscientiously work to uphold the dignity and honour of Afghans, to avoid provoking outrage in the population and a ready supply of volunteers for jihad"

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Gordon Brown and Iraq (telegraphing the death squads )

Two major issues were the subject of prime ministerial statement this week in Britain, both having direct impacts on expected casualties in the Iraq war.

Following on from his controversial announcement of limited troop withdrawals from Iraq, the British prime minister followed up with a statement to the house of commons earlier this week, announcing an effective halving in British numbers from Spring next year. If this goes ahead then it will obviously give the government more slack to increase deployments to Afghanistan. If US military action against Iran happens in the near future then the whole plan will be back up in the air. In either event, while many will welcome the reduction in the scale of the British presence, Brown’s statement is also a confirmation of current plans for a medium to long-term military presence in Iraq. Now that that the plans for a continued military presence have been unambiguously expressed, how long will the dramatic decrease in attacks on the British base continue?

The second statement concerned the fate of a small but particularly vulnerable group of Iraqis; those that had worked for British forces prior to their withdrawal from Basra city and other parts of Iraq. The fate of these people, in particular the interpreters, has been the concern of a media and internet based campaign, seeking to ensure that the British Government provides a safe haven to those put at grave risk from their involvement with our troops in Iraq.

Brown’s statement appeared partial and incomplete. Even to someone who had not been following the campaign closely, the stipulation that former employees had to have worked for a minimum of 12 months to be eligible for support appeared to be a sadly ludicrous criteria for decision-making. Surely, the danger that an individual faces is what should concern us? Not whether their contract was for a certain period. Perhaps even more concerning was the public announcement of the policy prior to ensuring the safe evacuation of all the endangered ex-workers and their dependents. ‘Telegraphing the death squads’ might have been an appropriate strap line for the prime ministers address. The understandable anger resulting form the behaviour of our government on this issue is expressed strongly, and with strong language, here.

Update: EDM 2057 captures the wide spread disquiet at the government response to this crisis.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Return of the Gadfly

The last couple of days has seen more mainstream coverage of the Craig Murray and Alisher Usmanov affair. The International Herald Tribune contributes with:

Bloggers beware when you criticize the rich and powerful

Gadfly blogger returns after legal smackdown

And, at last, we are pleased to report that Craig is now Back and Unbowed

Monday, October 08, 2007

Craig Murray weblog is back online

The Craig Murray weblog is back online and, almost, as good as new!
It can currently be read only via http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/, until issues relating to the better known .co.uk domain are resolved.

Posts are expected to resume later today or tomorrow.

Usmanov Tries to Continue his Offensive

Developments continue with regards to the activities of the oligarch Alisher Usmanov, his plans to take a controlling share of Arsenal football club, and his moves to suppress any discussion of his rather suspect past.

The Times is reporting on a court case being launched in the US regarding Alisher Usmanov's business activities.
"Arsenal tycoon Alisher Usmanov in diamond ‘fraud’. The Russian tycoon who has bought a £120m stake in Arsenal, the Premier League leaders, has been accused in court papers of “fraud” and “unjust enrichment” in a dispute over one of the world’s most lucrative diamond mines."
The action is being taken by lawyers acting for the Oppenheimer family. Seems like he has now got into a scrap with someone in the same financial league. Not smart.

Tim Ireland relates a detailed account of the luxury travel, 5-star accommodation, and gifts provided to British journalists who, surprise, surprise, went on to write rather pleasant reports on Alisher Usmonov's charm offensive.

Schillings, the inept PR legal firm that has helped effectively publicise Craig Murry's claims against Alisher Usmanov, have now decided to target UK Indymedia. The term 'slow learners' springs to mind.
"Indymedia UK has been issued with a takedown notice [10th of September & 21st of September] from lawyers acting for Alisher Usmanov. The notice served to Indymedia charged Indymedia with publishing allegedly libellous accusations about Usmanov, one of the richest men in Russia, recently linked to a possible hostile takeover of Arsenal FC.

The author of the posting, Craig Murray, is a former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan and claims to have inside knowledge of the businessman’s allegedly illegal dealings. Murray was sacked by the UK government for exposing the Uzbek government’s use of torture to attain ‘intelligence’ information, and for exposing and criticising UK-US support for a vicious dictator in pursuit of resources.

Murray’s allegations are that Usmanov “is a criminal”, “a gangster and racketeer”. Allegations of criminality seem partly to have been inferred from his connections to “Uzbek mafia boss and major international heroin overlord Gafur Rakimov”. However, Murray also suggested that Usmanov has a criminal past, having been charged with “various offences” in the Soviet Union..."
And finally, we hear that the imminent re-launch of the Craig Murray site will also signal the start of a new initiative, taking the action back to where it belongs. More details soon.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

British Casualty Monitor Update 04.10.07: Uncertain troop reductions in Iraq while fighting continues unabated in Afghanistan

The fortnightly update of Ministry of Defence data on British casualties from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is now available, up to 15th September. In Iraq, total British military casualties for 2007 have now reached 1438, while in Afghanistan, total casualties for 2007 now stand at 1069.

As with the previous update, the data from the first half of September shows a continuing decrease in British casualties in Iraq. The impact of the withdrawal from Basra City at the beginning of September, combined with the ceasefire negociated with elements of the resistance in Southern Iraq, appears to have dramatically reduced British casualties over the last few weeks.

However, the same is not true in Afghanistan, where fighting continues and casualties continue to mount.

News round up:

The army chief's concern over public support for the British military continues in public. But as Prime Minister Brown announces Iraq troop cuts during a surprise visit to Iraq the debate opens on just how much was this a real reduction and how how was just 'a neat trick'. What was clear from his annoucement however was that there are no plans for a full withdrawal in the near future. One has to wonder how long the current ceasefire with the resistance in Southern Iraq can last, following this clarification of strategy.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the US commander pondered over how much fighting will be required by the British next spring; and this just to retake ground won already 'won'.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What happened last weekend...

Following on from our previous post, Empire Burlesque have now written to provide details about the serious server hack that occurred over the past weekend. A number of sites were effected, and this included the new home of Craig Murry.
"In brief, Usmanov made with the legal hit-men, and strong-armed Murray's website host into pulling the plug. But Murray found a new home for his website, when our main man Rich stepped into the breach, offering to host the site on his server, in defiance of oligarchical bluster. This new Murray site was due to launch on Monday, October 1; but lo and behold, Rich's server was hit by the hacker firebomb on Sunday, September 30 - just hours before the Murray site was to go live. Certainly an interesting juxtaposition of events, to say the least. (The new Murray site is not quite ready to go, but you can see a backup version here.)"
As soon as the main site is back up and flying we will post an update.

Meanwhile, Justin McKeating, the author of Chicken Yoghurt, provides a neat mainstream summary of the recent main acts in this still unfolding saga.

Update: And, a slightly belated welcome back to the full Bloggerheads site. But for news on the Murray-Usmanov affair Tim's temporary site is still the best bet.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Craig Murray's weblog: Whats the latest?

Well, the word was that Craig's site would be back online this morning and an expected cascade of fresh, incisive invective would be descending on the heads of Usmanov, Schillings, and probably Fasthosts. However, we have just learnt that there has been a bit of suspected cyber-sabotage of the new hosts server files...

Hmm, the host site will be back and up again soon but the return of Craig's site may be slightly delayed. Still the original Murray posts on Usmanov are pretty well distributed across the blogosphere by now, so if you are new to the story there are many places to catch up on what the fuss is all about.