Special Report: Greece’s triangle of power

This first appeared on Reuters.com
A presidential guard marches by a newspaper stand featuring news about Greece's election results in Athens in this June 18, 2012 file picture. REUTERS-Pascal Rossignol-Files
A nexus of media, business and politics lies behind the country’s crisis, say critics.

By Stephen Grey and Dina Kyriakidou

(Reuters) – In late 2011 the Greek finance minister made an impassioned plea for help to rescue his country from financial ruin.

“We need a national collective effort: all of us have to carry the burden together,” announced Evangelos Venizelos, who has since become leader of the socialist party PASOK. “We need something that will be fair and socially acceptable.”

It was meant to be a call to arms; it ended up highlighting a key weakness in Greece‘s attempts to reform.

Venizelos’ idea was a new tax on property, levied via electricity bills to make it hard to dodge. The public were furious and the press echoed the outrage, labeling the tax ‘haratsi’ after a hated levy the Ottomans once imposed on Greeks. The name stuck and George Papandreou, then prime minister, felt compelled to plead with voters: “Let’s all lose something so that we don’t lose everything.”

But not everyone would lose under the tax. Two months ago an electricity industry insider revealed that some of the biggest businesses in the land, including media groups, were paying less than half the full rate, or not paying the tax at all. Nikos Fotopoulos, a union leader at power company PPC, claimed they had been given exemptions.

“It was a gift to the real bosses, the real owners of the country,” he said. “The rich don’t pay, even at this time.”

This time the media made little fuss. “The news was not covered by the media … because media owners were among those favored,” Fotopoulos said later. Leading daily newspapers in Athens either did not mention or downplayed his claims, a review by Reuters found.

To many observers the episode illustrates the interplay between politics, big business and powerful media owners. The interwoven interests of these sectors, though not necessarily illegal or improper, are seen as an obstacle to Greece’s attempts to rescue its economy. They are, say critics, partly to blame for the current crisis and for hindering reform.

(more…)

Casualties in Afghan war level off

UPDATED: 29/9/11 – Despite a UN report released today reporting higher violence than ever in Afghanistan – the latest figures show fatalities trending massively down for US and UK troops in Afghanistan. The number of US servicemen and women killed is significantly down despite the unusual loss of so many SEALS in a helicopter crash. Details see amended graphs here:

(more…)

Raiders of the Night

A shorter version of this article appeared in the Sunday Times on June 5, 2011.
BY STEPHEN GREY:

BY the light of a full moon, a team of America’s most elite Special Forces fast-roped from helicopters into the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

Creeping through the pine nut groves of Qalandar district, Khost province, they approached a hide-out of bunkers, tents and make-shift buildings that was now used as a training camp for suicide bombers.

Their target, tracked to this location from Pakistan, was a senior leader of the Haqqani Network – a ruthless branch of the Taliban.

In the fire fight that ensued, the special force operators faced counter-fire from machine guns and RPG rockets, and even a suicide bomber that attempted to creep up on them. But at the end, they had killed both their target and 18 of his fighters.

Michael Waltz, a reserve officer with US special forces, was deployed to the region. And he recalled the attack won support from local people: “The elders were thrilled, even though we had destroyed some of their crop. There was an actual procession that came down from the mountains, down to our base to thank us.” (more…)

Fighting for Bin Laden – Secret War

A film i made with Dan Edge and Martin Smith on the secret war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan was broadcast on Frontline PBS in May 2011.

Here’s the link to watch it (if you live in the USA):

 

 

 

Winners of the 2010 Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism

I’ve just been informed of this very great and thoroughly undeserved honour. Thanks to all involved – and most particularly to all those who are assisting me with my reporting, often at huge personal risk to themselves:

Winners of the 2010 Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism


Adrian Mogos (Romania) - Local journalist category

Stephen Grey (UK) – Freelance category


London, 19 October 2010

This year’s jury selected two outstanding candidates whose fearlessness and journalistic excellence represent the overall mission of the Kurt Schork Awards for International Journalism.

Kurt Schork Memorial Fund The 2010 Kurt Schork Awards for International Journalism will honour freelancer Stephen Grey (UK), and local reporter Adrian Mogos (Romania). The awards ceremony at Thomson Reuters headquarters, Canary Wharf on Wednesday 3rd November, will be followed by a reception and panel discussion.

This year’s Schork jury included Jeremy Bowen of the BBC, John Burns of The New York Times, Sir Harold Evans, author and former editor of The Times and The Sunday Times, Rana Husseini, author and human rights activist, and Michela Wrong, freelance journalist and author.

The jury was particularly impressed with the quality of Stephen Grey’s articles on Afghanistan, saying that they represented some of the best coverage anywhere, combining maturity with excellent analytical skills, and making a complex war more understandable.

The jury said Adrian Mogos provided an excellent in-depth investigation into issues of compelling importance. They felt that he showed great initiative, persistence and ingenuity, backed up with excellent research to expose human rights violations.

About the Winners


Adrian Mogos - 2010 Winner, Local journalist category

 


Biography

 

Adrian Mogos was born in the town of Cluj – Napoca on 1974. He graduated from the Faculty of Journalism at the West University of Timisoara, following up with postgraduate studies in European Studies in Slovakia. Since 2004, Adrian has worked for the Bucharest-based daily newspaper Jurnalul National. At the same time, he was accepted as a member of the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism. In 2009, Adrian was made a fellow of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, and this summer he was awarded the CEI – SEEMO award for outstanding merits in investigative journalism. Adrian is often invited to share his experience with young journalists in Romania and Moldova.

Winning Stories


Stephen Gray – 2010 Winner, Freelance journalist category

 


Biography

 

Stephen Grey is a freelance writer and reporter based in London, covering security issues for both newspapers and television and radio. A former foreign correspondent and Insight Editor of the Sunday Times, he has continued to work for the paper as a freelance, covering most recently the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but has also written regularly for publications including the New York Times, Guardian, Prospect magazine and Le Monde Diplomatique. He is best known for his work on reporting the CIA’s rendition program, which resulted in his first book, Ghost Plane. Since 2007, he has been reporting on the war in Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand and Kandahar, where he reported in the spring and early summer of this year. His account of the battle for Musa Qala – Operation Snakebite- was published last year by Penguin. He has made several films for Channel 4 Dispatches, BBC Newsnight, Radio 4’s File on Four, and is currently working on assignment for the PBS documentary series Frontline. Stephen is married with two children.

Winning Stories

Hearts, minds and the same old warlords

Go up close to what’s happening in Afghanistan – for example,
in the city of Kandahar – and  you find crime, corruption, tribal
conflict and ordinary people powerless to resist the armed might
of the militias. No happy ending isin sight

by Stephen Grey (first published in Le Monde Diplomatique)

Kandahar, Afghanistan. We visited the snooker club at the Kandahar Coffee Shop. It didn’t sell coffee. And I can’t play snooker. So we ordered burgers and filmed street life from the terrace: the traffic went around the roundabout and a manic flock of doves circled a hundred feet above. US soldiers drove by in huge armoured trucks, policemen stopped white Toyota Corollas and searched their trunks for bombs, and gunmen of every species drove around in their SUVs and pickup trucks.

Round the corner was our hotel. Half of it was destroyed earlier this year when a man walked past, pushing a bomb on a cart. He was heading for another target but when challenged by police, he and his cart – and the side of the hotel – were blown up. The bomb was detonated by the policemen’s shots. The hotel owner is busy rebuilding. He’s expecting an influx of journalists and trade when Nato conducts what until lately was called the “summer offensive” or even “the battle for Kandahar” but now, causing confusion, is just a “complex military-political effort”.

Everyone is still playing up the game in line with a recent ABC News headline, “Campaign for Kandahar May Be America’s Last Chance to Win Over Afghans”. On a visit to Kandahar, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, described the city as “as critical in Afghanistan as Baghdad was in Iraq in the surge”.

Sadly for the US, almost everyone supports the Taliban rebels. Even Nato commanders. A senior officer said: “If I was a young man, I’d be fighting with the Taliban.” In this heartland of the Pashtun people, the idea of being a stooge to foreigners or an unpopular Kabul government hardly appeals to the young unless there’s serious money involved. They ask themselves if they want to take the money and work with foreigners, or fight and risk a courageous death. Most people loathe those who work with the government.

I met a professional man in his 50s, a generation that dominates the administration (they were in their 20s when the Russians were here). He has a long flowing beard. “That’s because he’s a communist,” said my Afghan companion. “The people that ISAF appoint, most of them are communists.” (ISAF is the International Security Assistance Force, the Nato mission in Afghanistan.) “They support Lenin and Marx?” “No, not at all, but they were the ones that collaborated with the Russians. We call them the communists.”

“They’re still in power?” “Yes, they like working with foreigners. They’re all communists. Many of them got educated in Russian too. We all despise them.”

“And the beard?” “Oh they do like their beards. They’re trying to cover up their past.”

Who is fighting whom?

(more…)

Helmand and Kandahar – talk at New America Foundation

This is a talk I gave at the New America Foundation on the day that General Stan McChrystal resigned.

Helmand: anatomy of a disaster?

Published on Afpak Channel. By Stephen Grey, June 15, 2010

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Mills takes over command of Helmand – Afghanistan’s most violent province — from the British this week, Britain’s Conservative-led government of David Cameron is busy in London wrestling with the question: just what has been going wrong?

The shake-up of NATO command structures in Afghanistan — which spins off a new divisional headquarters, Regional Command South West — from the British-led Regional Command South in Kandahar, now places almost all of Britain’s combat troops in Afghanistan rather uneasily under the leadership of an American.

With a force now of nearly 10,000, the Brits have been fighting in Helmand since the summer of 2006 and lost more than 290 troops. While it is perilous to consider the province’s woes in isolation from the entire country’s downward spiral, there is a need to ask why things have gone particularly badly in Helmand.

For the British, it is a matter of national reputation. Not is only is there a small matter of the British Empire’s three previous Afghan wars thought (wrongly, as it happens) to have been disastrous failures. There is also the widespread view, shared by a majority of the British Army itself, that the U.K. tarnished its reputation for counterinsurgency operations by getting wrong its campaign in Basra, Iraq, and requiring an embarrassing bail-out by the Americans in Operation Charge of the Knights in 2008.

Is Helmand another case of waiting for the Yanks to come?

(more…)

An Army Officer writes …

Reaction is coming in to some of the points raised in the joint piece I wrote with Andrew Mackay (now a retired Major General but former commander of Task Force Helmand), posted on the Channel 4 New website, and also here.

musaqala 08 14One quite senior person (like everyone, nameless for obvious reasons,) disagrees strongly with the point advocating the abolitin of the UK’s six-months tours. He says they are by far the best thing for soldiers in combat, and not least of which by far the best way to avoid PTSD, according to academic research. (Am looking into that). Also senior people are starting to do one year tours like the Americans.

The senior officer added:  “The key is your first point: political will is key. This is a war and if you want to succeed you had better do it properly!”

All I would add here is that no-one is suggesting long tours for combat troops. But what doesn’t make sense is the endless revolving door headquarters (and the nonsense that you can get to grips with a place like Helmand in six months). I hear plenty of voices suggesting that a Northern Ireland system of a permanent headquarters seems to make more sense. Those doing staff jobs aren’t in the same boat as those in the line of gunfire. A straw poll of  Army officers also indicates alot of dissatisifaction that although the UK military is supposed to be on an ‘operational footing’ there is little evidence of that in practice.  Mst people come back and do pretty irrelevant jobs after war tours in Afghanistan or Iraq. It hardly seems the career structure is geared towards winning.

Another officer in the ‘thick of it’ writes in some detail. (more…)

A ten point agenda on Afghanistan

ANDREW MACKAY WHEN IN COMMAND OF TASK FORCE HELMAND

ANDREW MACKAY WHEN IN COMMAND OF TASK FORCE HELMAND

Exclusive: As David Cameron gathers experts and ministers for “secret” Afghan talks, former Helmand commander Andrew Mackay and Operation Snakebite author Stephen Grey set out 10 key points for the PM’s agenda.

As the new prime minister, David Cameron now has an historic opportunity to engage in a fresh and innovative reassessment of the mission in Afghanistan. Today he will hold a Chequers summit of his National Security Council about the UK’s strategy in Afghanistan. It comes as the United States takes control of about 8,000 British troops in Helmand Province as part of a Nato restructuring.

We believe success in Afghanistan will be dependant on a) a coherent relationship with the US b) an agreed strategy within Nato clearly communicated to the public, c) an agreed approach to address the weakness of government in Afghanistan and d) a root and branch re-examination over the coming months into the contribution made on the diplomatic, military and development fronts by the UK in support of the Afghanistan mission.

Officials, diplomats and generals have often made a habit of telling politicians what they want to hear, rather than the candid truth about why we have failed to make the necessary progress in Afghanistan and why we have betrayed thus far the great sacrifices made by Britain’s armed forces.

Ahead of Cameron’s Afghanistan “shura” at Chequers, we offer some suggestions in the following 10-point agenda. It is based on our own experiences and conversations with those at the frontline of this conflict, whether inside or outside the military.

If he exercises too much caution in altering course, it will be time to start planning Nato’s exit and preparing for the consequences.

A TEN POINT AGENDA:

1) Leadership and will

Without UK “political will” all is lost; with it everything is possible. It has been an absent commodity for too long and we have been content to muddle through. The country is at war and requires wartime strategic political leadership that unifies the diplomatic, military and development objectives.

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Operation Snakebite

OUT IN PAPERBACK updated edition, OPERATION SNAKEBITE (UK) and INTO THE VIPER's NEST (USA edition) is the story of British and American involvement in the conflict in Helmand, Afghanistan Frontline combat, strategic chaos, political intrigues, the truth about the enemy, and a tale of true heroes .... in the most dangerous place on earth.

The Latest Reviews

"Devastating … It explains why the world's most sophisticated armed forces are being defeated by the world's least sophisticated"- Simon Jenkins, Books of the Year 2009, The Times Literary Supplement

"One of the most courageous and important pieces of reporting of the Afghanistan campaign"- General Sir Richard Dannatt

"Grey tells the story with immediacy, drama and sometimes anger. A gripping and moving narrative"- Soldier Magazine

"magnificent ... a meticulously reconstructed account of the battle for Musa Qala ... frequently more vivid than any film .... confers immense authority ... "- Misha Glenny in the Mail on Sunday

"exemplary...an uncommonly vivid portrait of battle, matched by sharp investigation of purposes, intrigues and cock-ups... " - Max Hastings in the Sunday Times

"superb .... captures the grit and the gore, the exhaustion and emotion, the killing and the dying, the horrors and the heroism... a fine piece of war reporting ..."- Raymond Bonnner in the The Guardian.

"Excellent" - (Daily Telegraph)

"Exceptional"- (New Statesman)

"Fascinating"- (Financial Times)

"enthralling and unvarnished .... a persuasive and thoughtful account of an unwon war" -Glasgow Herald

Illustrated with 8 maps and 65 colour photos. Join the facebook page

Synopsis

In December, 2007, Stephen Grey, reporting for the Sunday Times, was under fire in Afghanistan, ambushed by the Taliban. He was amidst the biggest UK-led operation fought on Afghan soil since 9/11: the liberation of a Taliban stronghold called Musa Qala. Taking shelter behind an American armoured Humvee, Grey turned his head to witness scenes of carnage. Two cars were riddled with gunfire. Their occupants, including several children, had died. Taliban positions were pounded by bullets and bombs dropped on their compounds. A day later, as the operation continued, a mine exploded just yards from Grey, killing a British soldier.

Who, he wondered in the days that followed, was responsible for the bloodshed? And what purpose did it serve A compelling story of one military venture that lasted several days, Operation Snakebite draws on Grey's exclusive interviews with everyone from private soldiers to NATO commanders. The result is a thrilling and at times horrifying story of a war which has gone largely unnoticed back home.