'The surge is not yet complete'

Excerpt from an interview with the British army's Colonel Richard Kemp.

By
June 17, 2010 10:50
Col. Richard Kemp.

col richard kemp 311. (photo credit: .)

Richard Kemp served in the British army for 30 years before retiring in 2006 with the rank of colonel. He saw action in most of the trouble spots Her Majesty’s forces were involved in during that time, from Northern Ireland to Bosnia and, more significantly for his understanding of Israel’s position, in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he served as commander of British forces.

It was in Afghanistan that Kemp experienced how Islamist groups exploit their Western enemies’ commitment to international law, fighting from within civilian populations. It was those experiences that led him to speak out in defense of the IDF during Operation Cast Lead when in an interview with the BBC he said: “I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today in Gaza.”

Kemp was here earlier this month for a conference on “Israel’s Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace” organized by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, he discussed the implications of a NATO presence in the West Bank, the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq, al- Qaida, homegrown terrorism in the UK and the raid on the Mavi Marmara.

A veteran of several NATO operations, Kemp is skeptical about the possibility of the organization even being able to muster up a peacekeeping force in the event of an Israeli-Palestinian accord, and even more so about the effectiveness of such a force should it actually be deployed.

“I think one of the big questions in my mind is where are the NATO forces going to come from,” says Kemp. “NATO has had a real problem in persuading its member nations to make a meaningful contribution to the operation in Afghanistan, and that is an operation that is designated as NATO’s priority operation and it is the only big operation that NATO is involved in today. If we can’t generate forces for that operation, with people sharing the burden either in terms of contributing forces or contributing funding or other assistance, it’s hard to see how easy it’s going to be to persuade NATO member nations to donate forces for a peacekeeping operation on the West Bank.

“The second question I would have is the sustainability and endurance of a force like that.

What happens when the extremists turn on NATO? What happens when NATO forces are attacked? How long would the electorate in a NATO country allow its forces to remain involved in such an operation if, for example, large numbers of its troops are killed in a terrorist attack? We have seen this before, although not in a NATO operation, but for example in 1983 in Lebanon where the American and French peacekeeping forces withdrew in the face of a large number of casualties. Now why would the same thing not happen to a NATO force? If you put a NATO force in that position and then withdrew it before the job was done, how much security, safety and peace is that going to bring to Israelis or Palestinians? “Also, how effective would NATO be in a peacekeeping role in the West Bank? Look at all the national rules of engagement and the restrictions that NATO forces operate under today in Afghanistan, at the complexities of the chains of command. In some ways peacekeeping is more difficult than actually being a combatant in a war. At least to an extent you know where you are when you are a combatant, but in peacekeeping everything is so blurred I can’t see how a NATO force in a peacekeeping role in the West Bank would be any more effective than a United Nations force, and we’ve seen how effective UN peacekeeping forces are in the face of any aggression against them.”

How would you see the implications of an IDF withdrawal from the West Bank and possibly from east Jerusalem for insurgency and terrorism?

On that subject I think every successful extremist group, every successful terrorist campaign, has depended heavily on a safe haven. You just have to look at Vietnam, look at Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and today [the Taliban] with its safe havens in Pakistan. By leaving that vacuum in the West Bank, you would leave Israel very vulnerable to terrorist attacks by insurgents who could operate from there. I think it could become a sort of honey trap for Islamist extremists.

You have spoken of how Islamist groups exploit Western commitment to the rules of war. Can you tell us about your experiences in Afghanistan?

The Taliban in Afghanistan use the civilian population to shelter behind. Even very recently, British troops in Afghanistan have experienced boys as young as 14 throwing grenades at soldiers, forced to do so by the Taliban, a tactic that obviously makes it very dangerous for British troops. British troops were reluctant and in most cases will not open fire on children, and the Taliban know that, they exploit that.

They exploit not just the rules of war, but also the humanity of British soldiers – a humanity they don’t show to their own people. If anyone in the in the areas of Afghanistan over which the Taliban has control is thought to have cooperated with NATO forces or with the Afghan government, then the penalties for that are extremely serious, and whole families can be killed or beaten or burned out of their homes. But they know the British troops and other NATO troops won’t treat people with such disregard and they exploit that fact. They also have forced Afghan civilians to move in front of them after they have attacked NATO troops to help them get away. That kind of thing is what I’m talking about and it still happens day by day in Afghanistan.

The full interview will appear in this week's Magazine.


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