A secret Ministry of Defence (MoD) report on a Taliban attack at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan in which 18 soldiers were killed or wounded admits that funding to protect the base was “not always forthcoming despite warnings”. The revelation is in stark contrast to denials by defence officials that security recommendations were rejected on cost grounds.
Security at Britain’s biggest base in the country was not even a top priority before the attack, suggests the operational learning account and after action report into the incident.
The British version of events, written less than 48 hours after the attack in 2012, has remained secret until now. 15 Taliban fighters were able to get past an empty watchtower and on to the airfield in an assault in which two US Marines were killed, 16 soldiers wounded and eight US planes destroyed or damaged.
A US investigation into the attack resulted in two US generals being sacked last year. But security at the base was the responsibility of the UK, and no British commanders have been held to account.
The MoD report was declassified after pressure from the Commons Defence Select Committee, which mounted an inquiry into the Camp Bastion attack after revelations in The Independent last October that plans to strengthen security months before the attack were rejected by the UK because they were deemed too expensive.
The summary states: “The recommendations clearly articulate the lack of FP [Force Protection] resources in certain key areas of the airfield, countering the media’s assertion that Camp Bastion was impregnable. Although the impression of a vast fortified base in the middle of the desert has offered certain benefits, it has meant that funding for FP enhancements has not always been forthcoming.”
It adds: “There is now an acknowledgement of the importance” of protecting the base and “an appetite at all levels to see security improvements”.
The findings are in stark contrast to repeated denials that proposals for vital defences were turned down.
An MoD official, in a letter to James Arbuthnot MP, chair of the Defence Committee, accompanying the report last week, admitted the findings would “resonate with some of the media reporting that followed the publication of the US review alleging that repeated requests for further investment in Bastion force protection were turned down in the UK on financial grounds.”
An MoD spokesman said in a statement: “The implication that repeated requests from Afghanistan for further investment in Bastion force protection were turned down in the UK on financial grounds is an assertion for which we have found no evidence.”
Claims that Britain refused to pay for better protection of Camp Bastion are also made in classified International Security Assistance Force and US reports, as well as the MoD’s own report. The former head of the British Army, General Lord Richard Dannatt, said: “No reasonable or sensible additional force protection measures at Camp Bastion should have been turned down on financial grounds.”
He added: “Why were these FP requests turned down? The MoD and Treasury must make the position on this crystal clear. Meanwhile the jury is still out.”