Medal News

Volume 40, Number 5, May 2002

Another case for medallic recognition

Volume 40, Number 5, May 2002

For the first time in twenty years the Royal Marines are seeing combat action; they, along with other British troops totalling over 1,700, have been set the task of rooting out the remaining pockets of Taliban and Al-Quaeda resistance in the mountains of Afghanistan. This is not an International peace-keeping mission along the lines of Bosnia nor is it a unilateral one in the same vein as Sierra Leone rather this is full blown, full bodied combat, on the ground soldiers fighting on the ground battles. Not since the Gulf War of 1991 have British Soldiers been put in to such a situation and even then, with the high tech weaponry, constant bombardment before ground troops went in and relative swiftness of the campaign the task then seemed easier than it does now. This campaign has more in common, particularly in the eyes of the press, with the Falklands conflict and comparisons are not so far fetched, however it is inevitable that other comparisons are drawn, particularly by our readers and others like them, to another conflict 50 years ago - I am referring, of course, to the Suez Crisis, a topic that has been covered in this Editorial before and will undoubtedly be again, at least until the matter is favourably resolved, and a topic that has direct parallels with the situation facing troops today. Then, as today, we hadn’t declared ourselves on a war footing but nor were peace keepers, we were not fighting a state, country or government, nor are we today (Britain has never recognised the Taliban regime as the legitimate Afghan rulers) and then, just as now, British troops were seen to be fighting “terrorists”. The similarities between the two situations are startling with the main difference being that today’s fighters are trained professionals whereas many who fought in Egypt were of course National Servicemen. So the question that has to be asked is a simple one, when this is all over, when the last Al-Quaeda cave has been cleared, when the network has been broken and the Taliban are no longer a coherent fighting force; when our soldiers are welcomed home and the horrors of Afghanistan are put behind them, how will their time in that unforgiving, hostile land be remembered? We already know that medals for gallantry during this “war on terror” are to be awarded, with a VC apparently going “incognito” to a corporal in the SAS and others possibly on the cards, but what about those who do not receive such awards? Are they to have no medallic recognition at all? They won’t receive a UN medal, this is not a UN exercise, similarly with the NATO award, nor will they be entitled to the Humanitarian Peacekeeping Medal, as has been said this is not a peacekeeping operation, so that only leaves the Operational Service Medal, the award brought in to replace the GSM 1962 (except for Air Operations Iraq and Northern Ireland) or a separate medal struck specifically for this “war”. The latter seems unlikely unless this conflict escalates and more troops are drafted in but the former seems ideally suited, however there is a dilemma – it seems inconceivable that they will get nothing to mark their service but if either a new medal is struck, or the Operational Service Medal is awarded, for fighting terrorists on foreign soil in a non-peacekeeping situation where a war has not been declared and no government or country is the “official” enemy then our Government will have absolutely no excuse at all for avoiding the Suez Medal/bar to GSM issue any more– a precedent will have been set and it will very interesting to see what happens next.

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