What is Turkey’s President Erdogan up to in Armenia?

The recent flare-up of fighting in the south Caucasus is nasty.  After the break up of the Soviet Union, Armenians and Azerbaijanis fought an unpleasant war over the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh with casualties of around 100,000 and one million displaced.

Armenia prevailed then. Now Azerbaijan, with the help of Turkey, is having another go. And this is not just your regular military-supplies-and-observers assistance.  It looks like unemployed jihadists from the Syrian wars have been bought in as mercenaries.

Of course there is more history to this than can be dealt with in 700 words (try The History of Armenia by Simon Payaslian if interested). Turkey’s tensions with Armenia and its support for Turkic neighbour Azerbaijan are longstanding; ditto for difficulties in its relationship with Russia, to whom Armenia is most likely to turn in extremis.

But even as a ceasefire is being patched together, it still leaves open the prior question of ‘why this and why now’?

Continue reading “What is Turkey’s President Erdogan up to in Armenia?”

The SAS, its role and its place within the NZDF – or who controls the chicken stranglers?

We seek the indulgence of readers of a delicate disposition to bear with us for a moment as we dip into what some call crude soldiery and examine some important aspects revealed in the Arnold-Palmer report into Operation Burnham. We know this concerned the NZ Special Air Service in actions in Afghanistan and drew the attention of writers Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager.

In certain parts of the Army, the Special Air Service is known as the “chicken stranglers”. Some believe there is a connection with SAS training .  Others maintain this is simply vulgar and far from the refined reality of the service.

In their deliberations on issues raised in the Stephenson-Hager book, Sir Terence and Sir Geoffrey considered the role of the SAS and where it sat within the New Zealand Defence Force hierarchy and its accountability.

This raises a bigger question: the role of the SAS and how its persuasive proponents over the years have persuaded successive ministers.

There’s nothing like a brisk exercise at SAS HQ when the gallant warriors break into a mock hostage confinement and spring the witnesses to safety in an impressive son et lumiere performance. More funding for special facilities? No problem.

Sir Geoffrey and Sir Arnold pointed to a structural problem which played some part in the way that the Operation Burnham saga unfolded. This was the place of the SAS within the NZDF organisational setup.

The Directorate of Special Operations was located in NZDF Headquarters rather than with the Joint Forces Command at Trentham, and operated to a large extent within a silo.

“It appears that the Director of Special Operations regularly briefed the Minister of Defence directly (rather than through the Chief of Defence Force) and, as a practical matter, seems to have had direct access to the Prime Minister and other ministers, particularly the Minister of Foreign Affairs, when he thought it necessary.”

The report records an exchange between Kristy McDonald QC, counsel assisting the inquiry, and former Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General (Retired) Tim Keating, who was asked:

 And you were then Chief of Staff to the CDF when the Operation Burnham unfolded, so you knew about the Operation presumably at the time?

He replied:

 “Not necessarily in my role, Chief of Staff to the CDF was more administrative. So various operations throughout that time were compartmentalised for security reasons and matters, operations of that nature were sometimes need to know and only certain people in the Defence Force were included in the briefings.”

Then vice chief of defence force, Air Marshal Kevin Short, made a similar point. Matters involving the NZSAS were held tightly by CDF, the Directorate of Special Operations, and the Commanding Officer of the NZSAS. That closed command structure was well entrenched, having been in place for decades, he said.

“These observations reflect a culture of exclusivity and secrecy associated with the NZSAS as an elite special operations force. This culture resulted in NZDF overly compartmenting information.”

Operational command was delegated to the Commander Joint Forces New Zealand. That was a stronger command authority and responsibility than the technical control assigned to the Director of Special Operations.

“Yet it is apparent that information about NZSAS operations in Afghanistan went through the Director of Special Operations, and that he had effective decision-making responsibility.

“The performance of the Directorate of Special Operations was one of the problems highlighted by Dr Jonathan Coleman (former defence minister) in June/July 2014, when the Incident Assessment Team Executive Summary came to light and the Minister expressed his displeasure at NZDF’s record-keeping failures.”

In further evidence, Lt Gen Keating said he changed the existing organisational structure in an effort to address the problems that had emerged. He moved all special forces operations to the control of the Commander Joint Forces, who was located at Trentham rather than at NZDF Headquarters.

He considered that running such operations out of NZDF Headquarters was inappropriate because there were no systems there to handle the wealth of documentation that came in.

On occasion, the NZSAS are called on to carry out dangerous operations in hostile conflict areas. Being too open about their activities may place them in danger. Much of what they do depends on the element of surprise and the conditions in which they operate are challenging, with the constant prospect of casualties, Sir Geoffrey and Sir Terence wrote.

Despite the need for some security constraints, however, it seems possible that a policy of greater openness with regard to information about NZDF’s activities could be adopted, including as to the activities of the NZSAS.

“The special tactics, techniques and procedures that provide the NZSAS with an operational edge must be protected. Yet when they are deployed in New Zealand’s name because of policy choices made by the Government, there must be some transparency concerning their actions.

“The NZSAS are the forces of New Zealand. What they do engages New Zealand’s cultural, legal and reputational interests and will be relevant to all New Zealanders. The tasks they perform must accord with New Zealand public opinion as to what is appropriate for our forces operating abroad.”

So, it appears that the NZSAS is coming under closer operational scrutiny from within the overall joint command structure, although Sir Terence and Sir Geoffrey agree it will be the task of the current minister to ensure this happens.




Operation Burnham report finds “Hit & Run” served society by holding important people to account

They blew authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson out of the water for several claims in the book Hit & Run on SAS operations in Afghanistan.  They gave a harsh serve to the NZ Defence Force, several senior officers and a minister.

But what did Sir Terence Arnold and Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who conducted the inquiry into Operation Burnham, think of the book?

“Hit & Run is a collaboration between two investigative journalists, of whom one, Mr Jon Stephenson, provided most of the sources and the other, Mr Nicky Hager, did most of the writing. The authors relied on a variety of sources from both New Zealand and Afghanistan,” they reported.

“Although the authors succeeded in uncovering a considerable amount of factual material, they inevitably fell into error, especially in relation to the operation at the heart of the book: Operation Burnham. This is not surprising as the authors had to place heavy reliance on leaks and did not have access to the extensive intelligence, planning and operational material relating to the operation.

“The book does not attempt to present a dispassionate account of what happened on Operation Burnham or the other operations it discusses. It makes serious allegations about the conduct of NZSAS personnel, claiming that they were out to seek revenge on the operations and deliberately and without justification destroyed houses in the villages of Khak Khuday Dad and Naik. Continue reading “Operation Burnham report finds “Hit & Run” served society by holding important people to account”

Watchdog is proposed to keep a check on NZDF – but ‘Hit & Run’ authors take a drubbing, too

Like the proverbial All Black test match, the nearly 400-page Arnold-Palmer report into the Special Air Services actions in Afghanistan, is very much a game of two halves.

In the first half, Sir Terence Arnold and Sir Geoffrey Palmer literally blow authors Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager out of the water for their claims in their book Hit & Run about the SAS conduct of the raids.  In the second they rightly chastise the NZ Defence Force over what can best be described as muddied, incompetent maladministration and misleading briefings to ministers.

For the first half, take this example:

”  …  the principal allegations in Hit & Run about the conduct of TF81 personnel (the SAS troopers) on Operations Burnham and Nova are not accurate.

“First, the operations were not revenge operations; nor were they ‘ill-conceived’.

“There were legitimate reasons for them—there was reliable intelligence indicating there were insurgents in the villages who had been conducting attacks in Bamyan province (where the NZ provincial reconstruct team was based) and who were planning further attacks on the NZPRT and Afghan security forces. The operations aimed to disrupt the insurgent network and improve security in Bamyan province. Continue reading “Watchdog is proposed to keep a check on NZDF – but ‘Hit & Run’ authors take a drubbing, too”

Inglorious history can teach us about heroism

We prefer our heroes untarnished.  And few match the heroism of Winston Churchill.  But a recent report in the Times reminds us of the inevitability of human frailty and the consequences of keeping it under wraps.

During the second world war, Britain’s greatest single loss of life at sea was the sinking on 8 June 1940 of the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her escorting destroyers Ardent and Acasta as they returned home from a failed expedition to Norway.  There were 40 survivors from 1,559 crewmen. Continue reading “Inglorious history can teach us about heroism”

How NZ First has made its mark on NZDF by re-equipping our forces for humanitarian as well as military work

In retrospect, the Coalition government’s  record across the Defence portfolio will be seen as the best in decades.  Not since the 1960s has a NZ government spent so much and at the top displayed so much enthusiasm – at least by Defence minister Ron Mark – for the portfolio.

Mark points out there has been the greatest injection of defence funding in decades, with $4.3bn in operating and capital funding allocated in total across the past three Budgets.

The big-ticket items are evident – four new Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrollers at an overall cost of $2.346bn.  Now the Cabinet has agreed to buy five new Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Super Hercules at a total cost of $1.52bn. Continue reading “How NZ First has made its mark on NZDF by re-equipping our forces for humanitarian as well as military work”

Ali Khamenei or Donald Trump: who understands the situation better?

Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s key military strategist, killed in a US drone strike, seems to have been a brave man.  He was certainly very confident.

Organising a near act of war against the embassy of the most powerful state in the world, located in the heart of a (nominally) allied capital city, was risky.  Flying into the scene of this triumph was, with hindsight, foolhardy.

The thing with politics – and other forms of conflict – is that while actors can shape events, they can’t wish away the underlying realities of the situation. Continue reading “Ali Khamenei or Donald Trump: who understands the situation better?”

Germany’s former foreign minister on life after NATO

German politician Joschka Fischer has had a remarkable career.  From street violence and helping to set up the Green party, he matured into the foreign minister and vice-chancellor of a united Germany, serving until 2005.  His understanding of power politics led him to support the use of force in the former Yugoslavia, though he drew the line at getting rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Now, with NATO leaders dispersing after their meeting outside London, he has turned his attention to the future of the alliance (read here). Continue reading “Germany’s former foreign minister on life after NATO”

King Air 350s might play a role in civil maritime security

Will the RNZAF’s new turbo prop Hawker Pacific King Air 350s fill part of the role identified in the 2019 Defence Capability Plan for civil maritime security?

The King Airs already train the air force’s new navigator and air warfare officers at Ohakea.  Now one has been identified at the Hawker Pacific base in Australia with what resembles a maritime surveillance radome on the lower fuselage.

The 2019 plan says the maritime security strategy will provide

“ … air surveillance capabilities that enhance all-of-Government maritime domain awareness in NZ and the Southern Ocean. The capabilities delivered through this investment will be dedicated to civil surveillance requirements, with Defence support for their delivery and operation.”

The intention is to free up the new Boeing P-8A Poseidons to fly more missions in the South Pacific and further afield. Investment in a range of capabilities will be considered, including satellite surveillance, unmanned aerial vehicles and traditional fixed-wing surveillance aircraft. Continue reading “King Air 350s might play a role in civil maritime security”

Australians hope NZ will buy Hunter class frigates but size and price will come into Defence considerations

Oops.  We messed up when we posted an item under the heading Navy firms its thinking about frigate replacements.

We posted the same item in March under the heading Navy planners consider replacements for ageing Anzac Class frigates.

Other media are apt to blame “gremlins” when this sort of thing happens.  At Point of Order we try to eschew superstition and the supernatural and, in this case, we happen to know carelessness was the culprit.  

Here’s what we should have posted ….  

THE NEXT major defence project on the books after the C-130J Hercules and the Boeing P-8A Poseidons are replacements for the RNZN’s two Anzac Class frigates Te Mana and Te Kaha. While these are due to remain in service until late in the next decade, planning is under way.

Across the Tasman, the Australians expect the RNZN will select the new Hunter class frigates being built by ASC in South Australia to replace the RAN’s Anzacs.  These are essentially the British BAe Type 26 ships being constructed for the Royal Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy.

However, within the Ministry of Defence and RNZAN, minds are far from settled.  The Hunters are bigger vessels intended to operate at the high end of Allied fleets based around aircraft carrier task forces.  Our Anzacs have had to work hard to keep up with US forces when operating in the Gulf.

So, planners are watching carefully a new programme under way to build a new frigate for the US Navy, designated FFG X and intended to replace the Navy’s Oliver Perry class vessel.  They will be smaller, around 4000 tons and equipped with the latest systems and weapons.

Another candidate could be the US Coastguards’ new Legend class high endurance cutters.  These are essentially frigates but carry the traditional Coastguard “Cutter” designation as they have a law enforcement role alongside a naval function.

The USCG is building 11 ships, 418ft long, displacing 4500 tons with a maximum speed of 28 knots, a range of 12,000 miles and a crew of about 148. They are powered by diesel-electric and gas.

According to the Coastguard it will have automated weapon systems capable of “stopping rogue vessels far from shore” with state-of-the-art command and control systems to provide inter-operability with the Navy, a flight deck and a full suite of sensors and defence systems.

USCG cutters have been exercising with the RNZN and RAN in the Pacific and the Coastguard Command expects deployments to this region will increase. In a sense the RNZN’s role is similar to that of the US Coastguard.

The two forces know each other well especially with the USCG icebreakers working from NZ into the Antarctic.

Both the US Navy and the US Coastguard recognise the need for more and cheaper warships to patrol areas (such as the Pacific) which have a lower-level of threat.

Even the Royal Navy has recognised the need for more smaller warships and has chosen the Babcock-Thales Group, the type T31 general purpose frigate with five ships with an average production cost of £250 million per ship. This is based on the Danish Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates with four diesel engines rated providing a maximum speed of at least 29 knots and range of 9,300 nautical miles at 18 knots.