Dodging blame is the only concern of UK military leaders

The mother of one of the troops killed in the Camp Bastion attack, condemns the British Army’s complacency in an open letter

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As I follow all the news reports and quotes from British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, General Sir Nick Houghton and other officials in the UK, I am outraged at the total disregard these officials have for the tragic events that happened on Camp Bastion, a British base in Afghanistan on September 14th, 2012. The US army, ordered by General Amos of the Marine Corp., has done an independent investigation into what happened that night, and two of our generals have been retired for not doing enough to protect the men under their command.

My son paid the price when he and his men were attacked by the Taliban.  He was one of two US marines we lost that night. Sixteen American and British soldiers were wounded.

I am in total disbelief that the UK saw no apparent need to do a proper investigation and hold its own commanders to account. To ‘review’ another country’s report and not conduct its own investigation shows a total lack of concern for troops then and in the future.

Never, as the Mother of Lt Col Chris ‘Otis’ Raible, would I have thought that our son died, along with Sgt. Bradley Atwell, not just because of the enemy, but because of the total negligence of those they trusted and were there to defend.  I am so outraged at the arrogance and total lack of empathy over what had occurred at Camp Bastion. Nobody from the UK ever bothered to send their condolences for the fact that my son died on a base which the British were in charge of defending.

My son paid the price when The Taliban cut the fence, unnoticed, killed him and Sgt Atwell, and destroyed $400 million worth of mostly American aircraft and equipment.

I have had to read article after article with Mr. Hammond, seemingly only worried about “blame” and “interpretation” as he calls it, from the report on Camp Bastion that was released a few weeks ago by the US. Further, he stated in many UK articles that two US Generals had resigned and in his view justice was done and no accountability is warranted by the UK. How do you not have accountability on a base you own and that security was your responsibility? From my ‘interpretation’ the actions of Mr Hammond, UK commanders and the officials who refused to pay for extra security on Camp Bastion, were not only cowardly but were also the direct cause of these deaths, injuries, and loss of aircraft and equipment on that night.

The outrage, in all this lack of action, is topped by the fact that even prior to the US investigative report, none of the UK commanders were held accountable or even reprimanded after September 14th. Instead, Group Captain Jeff Portlock, Bastion Base Commander, was promoted and Brigadier Stuart Skeates CBE, in addition to being promoted to Major General, was bestowed the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service for his service in Afghanistan. 

The UK had the ultimate responsibility for the security of the entire base, the airfield, the towers, and the fence, which again is in the US report.  Conducting your own investigation would be something that, in light of the catastrophic events on Camp Bastion, before and leading up to the attack, would hardly take much thought or debate in anyone’s mind. There were constant breaches and intelligence reports prior to September 14th, that British and American commanders were warned that an attack was imminent.  

And warnings that the airfield was not secure were obvious to everyone last March, when an Afghan stole a vehicle on the base, tried to run over military personnel and then set himself on fire after US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had landed at the base.

Lt-Col Chris Raible with his father Alvin Lt-Col Chris Raible with his father Alvin  

In May, two Taliban cut the perimeter fence, and entered and exited unscathed. This went unnoticed until days later when the surveillance video (which is available for viewing on www.marines.mil) was checked.  The constant tolerance of Afghan scrapers cutting metal off the perimeter security fence to sell as scrap metal was always tolerated for fear of upsetting the villagers.   

The most disturbing fact was to learn that out of the 24 towers on that base less than half were manned the night of the attack. The unmanned watch towers frequently contained cardboard cut-outs replicating soldiers – the Taliban weren’t fooled by this. 

With only every other watch tower being manned, that meant gaps of hundreds of metres or more between watch towers that actually had anyone in them. Who lets this kind of thing occur in a Combat Zone?

I have countless reports from US Marines on Camp Bastion of incidents they witnessed on the outside of that fence on a daily basis.  A Marine, serving at the time Chris was Commander, witnessed a so-called farmer walking his goats place a dark bag next to the security fence hidden in the poppy crops.  He immediately went to LtCol Raible and reported it. When they had gone to retrieve the bag they had found an AK47 automatic weapon in the bag. 

The airfield, quarters, and hangers that the Taliban attacked are nearly 10 miles away from the main part of Camp Bastion. The airfield is almost an island in itself, located in the worst rolling terrain for Taliban to hide and yet had the worst security provided by the UK on the entire base. 

It is amazing to me that after the horrific events of September 14th and all that is learned from this US report, the UK thinks it can get away with a quick review and take no further action. There needs to be an investigation into Britain’s share of the responsibility for what happened. There has been no accountability for the British commanders that failed as leaders. Instead, they have been rewarded with promotions. Lessons learned would be invaluable for future security and safety so that this could never happen again.

The US leaders at least conducted an investigation, briefed the families, and released the report to the public. Would the UK have taken this more seriously if a British family had lost a son or daughter, or if Prince Harry, who was on the base when the attack happened, had met the same fate?   How many investigations would have be done and how many would have been fired as a result? 

My son was not a Prince, just an amazing person that made everyone laugh at all the wrong times, demanded perfection from everyone around him, loved and adored his children, graduated at the top of his class in high school and college, and was promoted to LtCol and was promoted to be the Commanding Officer of Marine squadron VMA-211 which he loved. In his position he demanded perfection, attention to details, and never cared about the popular, political or diplomatic way. He knew that his demanding ways would potentially save lives and that is how he conducted business every single day. He reported and expressed his concerns about the lack of security at the airfield but nobody did anything about it.

Chief of Defence Staff Sir Nick Houghton and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond (Getty) Chief of Defence Staff Sir Nick Houghton and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond (Getty)  

When I was given the news of his death, my mind went back to this beautiful blond blue-eyed baby boy on the day he was born. How could two Marines, at nearly midnight, be coming through my front door to tell us that Chris had been killed? The next shock came when, always worrying about him flying the Harrier and knowing all the risks, was discovering that he died on the ground, not in the air. I can’t tell people he died doing what he loved, because on September 14th, with just a pistol, he fought against heavily armed Taliban fighters. I am told Chris held out for over an hour, until he was killed trying to save his men and his aircraft. Chris was the highest ranking officer to be killed and this was the biggest loss of military aircraft and equipment since the Vietnam war, yet the UK sees no apparent reason for a full scale investigation, only instead a so-called review of the US report and the audacity to promote those in charge.

My son didn’t get a promotion for the lives I am told he saved that night, but instead, got a tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery. He will never see the sun again, his children marry, take vacation or enjoy the everyday things that most of us take for granted.

The US has taken responsibility for its failings, but for the UK to walk away and deny all responsibility, on the base they owned, and the security they were responsible for, is the reason I will take my message to all that will listen. I will get the accountability, responsibility and justice for Chris, Brad and all those men wounded because of this negligence. When I read Mr. Hammond’s comments that the US didn’t “blame” the UK, and his statements that the retiring of the two US General’s relieves the UK of all accountability and responsibility, I see clearly how the events of September 14th happened in the first place. This total blatant disregard for safety and security from all coalition forces was the recipe that ultimately caused this disaster. I will be the voice of the son that will never speak, and I will not let a country get away with not being exposed for what they have caused.   The conduct shown by the UK’s high ranking military and Defense Secretary and other defense policy makers should scare every family in Great Britain.  Without learning lessons from investigations, and fixing all these major problems in the future, other tragedies will occur.  The US report, as it states on the first page, was only an assessment of US accountability.  It clearly shows the failures of the British within their base. US accountability was given in the retiring of the two US Generals for not providing additional security to protect the US Marines and the entire airfield on Camp Bastion when they realized the security the UK had in place was grossly inadequate. So why the UK did not do their own investigation is beyond comprehension and only shows the world that dodging blame and responsibility is the only concern of their leaders – not the security of the bases they own.

We can only pray and hope that something good will be learned so that my son LtCol Chris Raible and Sgt. Brad Atwell will not have died in vain.   We in the US consider the British people our friends and allies, with the same purpose of preserving the freedom of both countries. I do not want to offend the British people in any way, as they are all Mothers and Fathers and families that would not ever want to face the same fate for their loved ones. All I want is for the British military to stand up, do the right thing, investigate, learn and publicly show where you also failed. Vow to make changes, so this will never happen again to anyone else’s son or daughter in the military, when we join again to protect all our freedoms. Assure all military that even though we cannot control what could happen to them in combat outside of their base, we will do everything possible to keep them safe on their base and give them some sanctity of peace, security and rest from the horrors of war and conflict.

The US has investigated for a year, and I am told has taken responsibility and actions to hopefully correct the wrongs of September 14th. I am hoping the people of the UK will demand action, accountability, responsibility and a full scale investigation, of the incidents of September 14th 2012 on Camp Bastion.

No other Mother should lose a child again in such a tragic, negligent way, for me I can’t lose again, I have already lost it all.

God Bless our sons, Lt Col Christopher Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell,

Kim Raible

Mother of Christopher Raible

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