Category: Published Articles

Open Source Intelligence and the Syrian Conflict

Syrian Soldiers - 2016

Syria is perhaps the most “reported on” conflict in the modern era. There is just a “torrent” of news reports, video, still pictures, social media posts, Skype interviews coming out of the country.

Every Syrian soldier and fighter has a smart phone to film their exploits ‐ but there are few “independent international journalists” on the ground. The only other places that is comparable is Yemen. How do you make sense of all this information when every faction or international player puts its own spin on events?

Read my Syrian Conflict Briefing – April 2017 (PDF)

The Syrian Air Force has been an independent service in the Syrian armed forces since its formation in 1948 but is distinct from the Air Defence Force, which controls Syria’s network of air defence radars and surface‐to‐air missile batteries.

Briefing April 2017: Assad’s Air Force (PDF)

British soldier so brave ‘it was a shame to kill him’

John Llewellyn Evans was shot dead as he led a raid on Vimy Ridge amid a barrage of poison gas

John Llewellyn Evans was shot dead as he led a raid on Vimy Ridge amid a barrage of poison gas


The young Welshman was the bravest soldier the Germans had seen. But his courage went unrecognised because his commanding officers were dead.

Now his great-great-nephew, a lieutenant in the Welsh Guards, has discovered the remarkable story of John Llewellyn Evans after a two-year quest to learn the details of his death in the First World War.

The 23-year-old officer’s bravery leading his men on a doomed raid on enemy lines emerged only when his body was recovered during a truce. He had reached the third line of enemy trenches in a precursor to the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which is being commemorated in France this weekend — but was then shot dead.

Read my article in full on The Times web site (subscription required)

Revealed: the huge gaps in UK defences

A flare firing over a Type 45 destroyer in 2013. The British ships have been beset by engine problems. DAVE JENKINS/CROWN COPYRIGHT/PA

A flare firing over a Type 45 destroyer in 2013. The British ships have been beset by engine problems. DAVE JENKINS/CROWN COPYRIGHT/PA


Britain has been left with gaping holes in its defences, with warships so noisy that Russian submarines can hear them 100 miles away, drones costing £1bn that have not entered frontline service 12 years after being ordered and light tanks that are too big to fit into transport aircraft.

A Sunday Times investigation has uncovered equipment failures and bungled procurement deals as concerns grow that the armed forces would be unable to defend Britain against a serious military attack.

Read my article on The Times web site (written with Mark Hookham and John Collingridge) – Subscription Required

Shrunken army fears Russia could destroy it in an afternoon

Experts believe Britain could now deploy little more than a brigade of 5,000-10,000 troops

Experts believe Britain could now deploy little more than a brigade of 5,000-10,000 troops. Photo: David Moir


Defence cuts have “effectively removed” Britain’s ability to “deliver and sustain” an effective fighting force against a “competent” enemy such as Russia, according to the army’s think tank.

Years of squeezed budgets have resulted in the “hollowing out or deletion of the army’s deployed capabilities”, a paper from the Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research (CHACR) says. It warns that the risk of the army’s one remaining fighting division being wiped out in an afternoon will “weigh heavily” on commanders.

Read my article on The Times web site (written with Mark Hookham) – Subscription Required

Choir of Heroes has a gig with Harry

The choirmaster Gareth Malone is planning to recruit wounded military veterans to sing at Prince Harry’s Invictus Games in Florida.

The progress of the Choir for Heroes will be followed in two BBC television programmes to coincide with the games in May.

This is expected to be the biggest international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick military personnel, attracting more than 500 competitors in 10 sports including archery and wheelchair rugby.

Read my story on the Sunday Times web site (subscription required to read the full story)

Britain plots bombing of Isis in Libya


A team of British military and intelligence officers last week undertook a secret reconnaissance mission to Libya to plan RAF airstrikes against Isis militants in the strife-torn north African state.

Six RAF officers flew to an airbase in eastern Libya, controlled by pro-western militia forces, along with a group of MI6 operatives, diplomats from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and US and French military personnel.

Their mission, near the coastal city of Tobruk, was to build up intelligence on the location of Isis fighters and draw up potential targets for possible British and coalition airstrikes.

Read my full story (written with Mark Hookham) on the Sunday Times web site (subscription required)

RAF to launch Top Gun unit

Art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo

Art by Giancarlo Caracuzzo

The RAF is to set up an elite Top Gun-style squadron to hone the dogfighting skills of its fighter pilots.

After two decades of mainly carrying out bombing missions against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, commanders have decided pilots need to boost their aerial combat skills to counter any potential threat from new Russian fighters that patrol Syria and eastern Europe.

The move is part of the expansion of the RAF’s fleet of Typhoon jets, from five to seven squadrons, announced last November.

Read my article in full on the Sunday Times web site (subscription required for full story)

Key British role in Iraqi victory

Royal Artillery has joined the ground war against Isis by directing strikes against the terror group in Iraq as it emerges that a forward operating base has been built for the SAS and other troops.

British army personnel played a key role in the recent battle to recapture Ramadi, identifying Isis targets and directing devastating airstrikes.

The details of Britain’s deepening involvement in the conflict emerged as Brigadier James Learmont, a UK artillery officer and deputy commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq, declared that Isis had been “significantly and seriously weakened” by its defence of Ramadi.

The city was largely recaptured by Iraqi forces last week, although large areas were reduced to rubble and pockets of Isis fighters remain on the outskirts.

Read my article (written with Mark Hookham) on the Sunday Times web site (subscription required for full article)

Drone jammers to guard top events

Sophisticated drone-jamming technology is to be deployed at major public and sporting events in the UK following a successful trial at last month’s Remembrance Sunday parade.

In the first example of such technology being used to police a public event in the UK, a radar device was installed on the roof of New Scotland Yard, headquarters of the Metropolitan police, close to Whitehall, where the commemoration took place.

The equipment, made by a consortium of British firms and a more advanced version of the kit used by some celebrities to protect their privacy, is capable of detecting, tracking and disrupting the controls of any rogue drones flown remotely by terrorists as airborne weapons.

• Read my article (written with John Harlow and Mark Hookham) on the Sunday Times web site (subscription required for full story)

Ministry of Defence warns Enemies will outgun UK within 20 years

MoD Take Advice from Dalek CartoonBritain’s military may be unable to cope with the weaponry of foreign powers and even terrorist groups within 20 years, a report by the Ministry of Defence (has warned.

The study, written by the MoD’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, an internal think tank based at Shrivenham, Oxfordshire, admits that “our key [weapons] systems may be vulnerable to technical exploitation or capability overmatch”.

The conclusions in the paper, which was quietly published on the MoD website earlier this month, may raise questions about the long-term effectiveness of the UK’s military technology, including its two new aircraft carriers and a planned new generation of nuclear submarines, as well as its ability to engage in a “full spectrum” of operations, from counter- insurgency to conventional battles.

• Read my article on the Sunday Times web site (subscription required for full story)