It’s a Fact of War that the deaths of soldiers in a war zone can either be a cause for sadness or celebration _ it’s the Nature of Combat that the vast majority of battle participants would be pleased by any setback suffered by their enemies _ And it doesn’t really matter whether we approve of this fact or not_ it’s just the way that things are _
This author gives his sincere and heartfelt condolences to all those who are either personally_ directly and/or indirectly affected by such losses_ on both sides _
Dateline GMT 090312 _
Approximately 50 hours ago the BBC began reporting the MIA status of six UK soldiers in Afghanistan_ and this quickly developed into news of their deaths with the latest reports stating they had been killed by ‘a massive Taliban bomb’ _
Unfortunately the ‘progress’ of this tragic story_ through the offices of BBC editorial staff_ has left a suspicious trail that is more or less clear throughout to any discerning news follower _ For whilst adding/deleting text between one article update and the next might be deemed ‘acceptable’ in an age where reports are dynamically altered online_ the BBC coverage of this whole incident raises other questions which it fails to answer _
More importantly_ the missing answers give clear indications that the BBC is acting politically_ as the UK government’s mouthpiece _
The Public Purposes of the BBC are listed as follows _
(a) sustaining citizenship and civil society;
(b) promoting education and learning;
(c) stimulating creativity and cultural excellence;
(d) representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities;
(e) bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK;
(f) in promoting its other purposes, helping to deliver to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services and, in addition, taking a leading role in the switchover to digital television
It could be argued that BBC ‘pro-government positioning’ is an acceptable role for the UK’s national broadcaster_ but whilst ‘representing the UK‘ and ‘bringing the UK to the world‘ are both mentioned as BBC Purposes_ these phrases actually refer to ‘cultural patriotism’_ NOT political concerns _
Being proactively supportive of government policy is not an aspect of BBC broadcasting covered by the BBC Charter_ and unless ‘sustaining citizenship and civil society‘ means controlling the news to maintain AND regulate public order_ then the Corporation’s activities reported herein actually lie outside the realm of public control of the BBC_
To make its case this article will focus on two elements of the BBC’s Afghanistan story _
a) the details concerning the bomb
b) the reporting of the Taliban’s response
Details about the explosion which destroyed the Warrior_ killing the crew and passengers_ began almost immediately with the first BBC reports _ Long before triage of the explosion site had been completed Orla Guerin was reporting that the incident involved a “massive explosion” _ She went on to suggest that the source might have been a ‘legacy mine’ laid by Russian forces during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan _
However shortly after the original posting this suggestion was deleted_ along with a mention of Afghan-laid IEDs_ which is alluded to in the final sentence that ‘survived’ in the edited update _
Six UK soldiers killed in Afghanistan explosion – 7 March 2012 –
Last updated at 17:40
The BBC’s Orla Guerin, in the Afghan capital Kabul, said there must have been a “massive explosion” to damage such a robust and heavily protected vehicle. <deleted sentences about Soviet legacy landmines and Afghan-laid IEDs > The area, she said, was sparsely populated and particularly unstable, according to Afghan officials, and insurgents were known to have planted roadside bombs there.
However the Soviet theory wasn’t completely done away with by BBC editors_ it still existed in an op-ed article filed by the defence correspondent_ Caroline Wyatt
Bitter reminder Afghanistan fighting is not over
It is, though, possible the deaths may have been caused by a legacy landmine, perhaps left over from the decades of conflict in the country. However, the Taliban do also use such mines while making new IEDs. The cause of the explosion has yet to be confirmed.
Within a few hours the ‘official’ BBC version began to be broadcast constantly_ albeit with clear indications that this wasn’t the whole story _ Quentin Somerville reported from Lashkar Gah to Radio 4 listeners that an IED (improvised explosive device) was the likely cause of the explosion _ and even though it’s somewhat difficult to hear him through the static interference_ nevertheless editors of the BBC website went ahead and produced a suitably entitled article for this recording_
‘IED likely cause of explosion‘
Later the same day Sommerville reappeared in a filmed BBC News report from whence other ‘interesting’ details emerged _
(quotes from film footage)
the incident happened at a junction on Highway 1 where the Warrior left the road _
this is a common tactic _
as they approached the junction it was already dark
the Warrior is heavily armoured but the explosion was still able to cut through its underbelly_
it’s one of the largest blasts ever seen here _ (this was mentioned in several reports)
initial assessments appear to indicate this was a very large Taliban bomb which was extremely well placed _ one officer told me this isn’t a change in insurgent tactics it was just rotten luck
Shortly afterwards a new update was added to the BBC website_ once again using Sommerville’s quote as the title _
Afghanistan: ‘Very large’ Taliban bomb killed soldiers _
Notice the quote marks around ‘very large’ _ as though this was an official definition of the size of the bomb when in fact it’s simply reiterating the words of a BBC journalist _ and the lead paragraph repeats Sommerville’s assessment yet again _ Initial assessments of the explosion which killed six British soldiers in southern Afghanistan suggest it was a “very large Taliban bomb”.
The following day the BBC used a fresh report_ which ostensibly covered the Ministry of Defence publicly naming the individual casualties_ to further elaborate about the IED _ By now of course ‘senior army and intelligence officials’ were being quoted as well_ and the once suggested Soviet mine had officially become a ‘powerful Taliban bomb’ that had been planted recently _
To anyone following the evolutionary progress of this sad story the inserted addition ‘planted recently’ had a touch of ‘BBCspeak’ spin about it _
Be that as it may_ by producing a collective synopsis from these ‘snippets of information’ we can create what is arguably a more independent perspective of the whole scenario _
1) the Warrior is ‘heavily armoured’ and it used a ‘common tactic’ for avoiding IEDs by leaving the road at the junction on Highway 1
2) despite the heavy armour underneath the vehicle ‘the explosion was still able to cut through its underbelly’
3) according to all the later reports this was an unusually large explosion _ which was ‘extremely well placed’ _ however the unusual size of this ‘bomb’ does not signal a new Taliban tactic _ in other words it’s a ‘one-off’ event _ driving over the area where it was ‘well placed’ was just ‘rotten luck’ _
How did the Taliban plant this unusually large bomb ‘off the road’ in exactly the right place to catch a Warrior armoured vehicle? How did they persuade themselves and each other that they weren’t wasting both their time and their explosives and needlessly risking their ‘mine-laying experts’ as well_ all for the sake of a randomly ‘well-placed’ bomb plant? How can anyone tell from the huge hole in the ground and the scattered twisted remnants of the burnt out vehicle_ that this IED was planted ‘only recently’?
And further to that_ what difference does it make?
to the six dead soldiers_
to their grieving families_
to the viewers and readers of BBC News_
what time of month or season or year the bomb was planted?
With just an hour of diligent research on the internet a far more plausible explanation for this huge and murderous explosion began to emerge _ the alternative version argues and demonstrates that the original explanation made in early reports_ prior to BBC censorship_ actually makes much more sense of this tragic incident _
According to a report by Charles Recknagel in 2004_ there were more than 400,000 mines of various types planted in Afghanistan_ both during the Soviet invasion and immediately after the Russian withdrawal a decade later _ amongst these there are two types of anti-tank mine the Russians used extensively _ and whilst both of them are quite capable of destroying a Warrior_ one of them is worthy of further examination here _
a large, metal-cased Anti-Tank (AT) blast mine which may be laid mechanically or by hand. The mine is part of the TM-62 series… developed from the TM-46 and TM-57 to offer improved capability and greater flexibility. In addition to a conventional pressure fuze (MVCh-62), the mine accepts a variety of other fuzes, including some that give it a full-width attack capability against vehicles.
In any theoretical examination ‘Occam’s razor‘ is used as a general rule or an observation to guide analysts in the development of theoretical models _ put simply it states that ‘most often the simplest explanation is the best’ _
When we apply Occam’s razor to the tragic incident on Highway 1 in southern Afghanistan_ we can quickly deduce that the Warrior that was destroyed_ followed ‘normal procedure’ when it left the road to avoid expected IEDs which are normally planted by the roadside_ and with ‘rotten luck’_ accidentally ran over one of the largest anti-tank mines ever produced_ which had more than enough capability to ‘rip through the armoured underbelly’ and kill everyone inside _
What happened was an awful_ tragic accident_ which took the lives of six young men and left their families and relatives bereft _ and whilst it is no consolation to them in their time of utmost grief_ this sad incident should be placed in context with Recknagel’s report where he quotes Camilla Wasznik_ a spokesperson for the ICRC Mines-Arms Unit _ who stated that some 60 people are reported killed or maimed by land mines across Afghanistan each month_ adding that many other mine injuries are believed to go unreported _ If such figures are true_ then sadly it was simply a matter of time before UK troops became a part of Afghan mine statistics _
(May they all Rest in Peace)
Having considered the wherefores of BBC reporting of these matters_ this analysis will now consider the ‘whys’ behind the Corporation’s apparent denial of Occam’s ‘simple explanation’ _
As stated at the start_ in times of war_ the death of soldiers is cause for sadness or celebration _ Both UK and US High Commands often report their own ‘victories’ through the BBC and history is replete with evidence of the exaggeration that is often used in such reports _ why would a Taliban response be any different?
In any short term consideration it would be ‘tactically stupid’ of them not to take full advantage of the deaths of six UK soldiers _ The BBC first reported that the Taliban had claimed responsibility for their successful ‘attack’ _ they were ‘proud‘ and later ‘very proud‘ of it _
However_ had their spokesmen paused to reflect on the wealth of anti-war feeling back home in the United Kingdom_ they might have realised that reporting ‘accidental’ deaths would actually have served their cause better _
The day after the incident occurred on Highway 1 the BBC began to report on the reactions of UK politicians _
This analysis will not stoop to include the blandness of the response by the current prime minister but will focus instead on assertions made by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond_ who appeared on ITV’s ‘Daybreak’ and was thence reported by the BBC to have stated that ‘morale among British troops serving in Afghanistan was “extremely high” despite the loss of the soldiers ‘ _ This was certainly contradicted by the footage of downcast troops from the dead soldiers’ own regiment_ who had only been ‘in country’ for just over a week before suffering the loss of their comrades and were actually reported ‘left in shock‘ _
For all that Hammond’s rhetoric continued ‘ The people on the ground are… hugely satisfied by the level of public support that they have back home ‘ _ but again this was refuted by ‘on the ground’ reports from BBC journalists in Yorkshire _
Halifax says ‘time to come home’ after Yorkshire soldiers killed
Residents of the West Yorkshire town of Halifax – the spiritual home of 3 Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment – have been giving their reaction to the deaths of six British soldiers in one Taliban bomb.
And the response “enough is enough” is echoed by many.
Book of condolence for soldiers killed in Afghanistan
Eddie Morton, chairman of the Spenborough branch of the Royal British Legion in West Yorkshire, said: “It’s always sad to hear of the death or injury of our fighting forces, but particularly poignant that our local regiment is concerned. It reminds us every day of the dangers our personnel are facing and we often wonder why... The legion wouldn’t have thought its work was needed 90 years after it was set up, but we’ll be there to support families of deceased servicemen when and how they need our help.
With this evidence of the hard reality in mind_ rather than the ‘upbeat opinion’ of the Defence Minister et al_ it is easy to imagine the already weakened ‘acceptance’ for the UK troops in Afghanistan being much more seriously eroded had these six soldiers died as the result of a horrible ‘accident’ _ Public reaction was much louder when an RAF Nimrod accidentally exploded _
In a national climate where London rioters are still attending court hearings_ the Queen’s Jubilee Tour is just beginning and London Olympics is just around the corner_ the reporting done by the BBC in the last 50 hours has helped to shore up what little is left of UK public support for our national involvement in Afghanistan _ which brings us back to the original question_
what does ‘sustaining citizenship and civil society’ really mean?
Finally this article returns to several BBC reports on the response of the Taliban _
The differences between reports using ‘proud’ and ‘very proud’ have already been highlighted above _ Bearing in mind the BBC propensity for grammatical errors on their news website_ it must be conceded that either the inclusion or exclusion of an adverb in the Taliban message to the BBC might well have been accidental _
However the inclusion of a whole sentence about the Taliban response (with adverb included) at the end of an emotionally charged report that included photographs and interviews with relatives of the dead soldiers_ this was definitely not accidental _ It was a quite deliberate and seemingly gratuitous act possibly carried out by a junior editor or even an apprentice _
Or_ as this article maintains_ it was a Corporation decision to add the ‘very proud’ sentence_ an action guided by the same BBC policy which removed the ‘legacy’ mine from ever being mentioned by BBCNews again _
At time of writing this author is carrying out a straw poll amongst ‘non-politicised’ UK citizens_ in preparation for a new article that will examine the BBC usage of the term ‘Islamist’ _ The report will argue that the final inclusion of the ‘very proud’ Taliban sentence in an article about grieving soldier’s relatives was both provocative and intentional_ And that this is evidence of an ongoing political policy which members of the BBC and the BBC Trust are deeply involved with _
update Sunday 11 March 2012
in a report about memorial services being held across Northern England for the six dead soldiers_ the BBC appears to have downplayed the cause of the explosion and the Taliban have not been mentioned at all _