UK failure to address 'security lapses' at Afghan base is unpunished despite report

Two US generals sacked over attack that led to two deaths, but MoD takes five days to clear itself

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The Independent Online

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Houghton have been accused tonight of failing to thoroughly address allegations of UK security lapses which left Camp Bastion vulnerable to a devastating Taliban attack.

The night assault by 15 heavily armed fighters cost the lives of two US marines and saw 16 British and American soldiers wounded. Attackers were able to walk past an empty watchtower and reach the airfield at the base in Afghanistan, where eight Harrier jets were destroyed or seriously damaged in the five-hour battle that ensued.

A US army investigation into last September’s attack, which took five months, resulted in the sacking of two US generals earlier this month.

Mr Hammond confirmed last week that a review would be done into the US report.

The full findings – running to around 1,000 pages – containing damning criticisms of security lapses by British commanders, were received by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) last Sunday.

But last night the MoD said it had “considered its findings in detail” and decided that “no further UK action is required” – meaning that it has taken the ministry just five days to give itself the all-clear.

The UK was responsible for protecting Camp Bastion, yet in contrast to their US colleagues, two of the most senior UK commanders at the base have since been promoted.

Madeleine Moon MP, a member of the Defence Select Committee, told The Independent: “I am amazed that the MoD has completed its review in the brief time between General Houghton appearing before the Defence Committee on Wednesday afternoon and late Friday afternoon. There must have been a sudden sense of urgency.

“To have any credibility this review must be placed in the public domain. I feel confident that the Defence Committee will want to consider both the US report and documents and the MOD review.

She added: “Having raised the American report with both Secretary of State Philip Hammond and CDS Houghton I am deeply concerned at their apparent unwillingness to address the US document’s allegations openly and transparently.”

The material reviewed by the MoD includes previously secret files containing damning allegations – ranging from British officers being “amused” by the idea of stepping up security, to watch-towers left empty due to troop shortages.

A recommendation to strengthen security was denied by the British “based on cost and time to construct compared to the assessed threat,” according to the US report.

The British “underestimated” the threat of an attack which “should have been stopped at the perimeter with very basic infantry skills,” according to a US commanding officer.

The Independent has previously revealed that recommendations to strengthen security months before the attack were rejected by the MoD on cost grounds.

General Houghton, appearing before the Defence Select Committee three days ago, stated: “Given the fact that we have only just got the unexpurgated, 1,000-page report, it will take a little time to make certain that there is nothing in there that leads us to have a concern that we previously have not had.”

He admitted there is “something anomalous” when investigations into a base where there is shared responsibility for force protection “lead to the sacking of two US generals but no analogous sacking of an individual on the British side.”

After requests for comment, an MoD spokesman said: “The UK has considered its findings in detail. We are confident that we have identified all significant lessons and acted upon them and consequently we are content with our earlier assessment that no further UK action is required.”