In the run-up to the election, Tories were adamant that Labour were betraying British forces in Afghanistan by refusing to provide enough helicopters, and that casualties were higher as a result.
Here’s Cameron: “It is a scandal in particular that they still lack enough helicopters to move around in Afghanistan.” (video below)
And here’s Patrick Mercer: “If we want to save lives we need to get the troops out of these vehicles and put them in helicopters. They are vulnerable but not as vulnerable as road vehicles. There’s a shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan.”
Plenty more where that came from on a variety of news sites, Tory blogs and candidates’ websites (the latter being particularly entertainingly ill-informed) if you care to Google for it.
After much chest-beating about how our boys are being left for dead as a result of not buying enough new helicopters, the Conservatives are finally in a position to sort it out. And so in today’s Strategic Defence and Security Review they will boldly… cut helicopters.
Various media estimate the cut to the helicopter budget at anything between one and four billion pounds.
The Perthshire Advertiser, in a scoop that should have been picked up much more widely even if from an unconfirmed source, report that bosses at Vector Aerospace in Almondbank are bracing themselves for further layoffs as they believe “the Lynx and Sea King models will be canned in the Strategic Defence Review.”
HMS Queen Elizabeth is already slated to “carry no planes, only helicopters,” so a premature death for the Sea King could render the QE uniquely pointless among aircraft carriers.
The idea that helicopters were some kind of magic bullet that would end casualties and deliver victory in Afghanistan was always a ridiculous boys-own fantasy dreamt up by a Conservative leadership with scant military experience.
Almost the first thing anyone knows about the Afghan-Russian War was that the USSR’s defeat is plausibly attributed to the ability of the Taliban (they were on our side then so we called them the Mujahideen) routinely to shoot down helicopters using Stinger missiles provided by the CIA. Elements in other secret intelligence services would no doubt be happy to fill that need today.
So the helicopter cut is less of a tactical disaster than the Tories of yesterday would have you believe, even if it’s obvious that if you absolutely must fight unwinnable wars against non-state enemies in landlocked mountain nations, a helicopter is a hell of lot more useful than a nuclear ‘deterrent’ or indeed an aircraft carrier with no aircraft.
Of course, there’s one Tory whose dulcet Lanarkshire tones I’ve yet to bring you on this subject: Dr (not that one) Fox. Here he is in January:
“Helicopters in Afghanistan provide an essential capability due to the unforgiving terrain and the dual threat from IEDs and mines to our troops. However, in 2004, the current Prime Minister as Chancellor cut the helicopter budget by £1.4 billion. Over the weekend, it was suggested in leaked letters that that cut was against the direct advice of the then Secretary of State.”
Afghanistan’s repetitive history is well-known, but that’s just creepily familiar.
And now, some popular music: