A chauffeur told me last week that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles KCMG, LVO (52) will take up his appointment as Her Majesty's Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in May in succession to Mr Stephen Evans CMG, OBE who will moving to another Diplomatic Service appointment. Sherard is currently Ambasador in Riyadh and before then in Tel Aviv and before that PPS to the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook .
A colourful charcater whocreated a stir in Tel Aviv by becoming one of a tiny number of diplomats posted to the city to learn Hebrew. Typically he would arrive for interviews on Israeli television talk shows driving himself in a London black cab and sporting a bowler hat and furled umbrella. He went on to Riyadh in 2003 and would normally expect to remain there for 2 more years... there are stories that when the Dear Leader visited Kabul inNovember he expressed strong dissatisfaction with the diplomatic effort.
He was educated at Tonbridge and then read Classics at Hertford College, Oxford, from 1973 to 1977. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of the College in 2002.
The immensely lively and fun-loving Lady Bridget Cowper-Coles read Arabic at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and has worked in Sana’a and Cairo. They met and married in London in 1982 and she enkoys nothing more than feeding her falcons on live quail every day.
Mr Slinn headed the British diplomatic mission in Pristina in the two years after the Nato invasion of Kosovo. He will take over leadership of the British mission in Helmand from Nick Kay, who finishes his tour of duty on Feb 1.
The US Embasy faces a shake up also, Ronald Neumann, who has headed the US embassy since July 2005, is also to be unexpectedly replaced by the the current US ambassador to Colombia, William Wood.
In December Sherard announced UK visas would be issued on the day of issue - there are 13,000 SA students in the UK and 40,000 visitors arrive each year.
Sir Sherard received some unwelcome publicity when he was in Saudi and addressing a reception for the Queen's birthday (April 2005 - QBP in FO speak) in the remote eastern Saudi city of al-Khobar, when his remarks were reported in the UK and enraged the stout yeoman of Nottinghamshire.
Describing a UK expatriates view of Saudi safety he remarked "He was saying he felt completely ridiculous having to give British businessmen from Nottingham assurances about the security here when Nottingham is the murder capital of the UK at the moment.
"It is far more dangerous, statistically, to be in Nottingham, than to be in al-Khobar, Dammam or Riyadh."
Jon Collins, the leader of Nottingham City Council, where Nottinghamshire Constabulary Chief Constable Steve Green had just suggested the force may have to "farm out" murder cases to other forces, said the city had been unfairly stereotyped . Prince Turki al-Faisal, the (then) Saudi Ambassador to London, seemed convinced by the notion put forward by Sir Sherard.
This Prince of Arabee remarked to the BBC that, "for London alone the figures for one year far exceed the number of people killed in Saudi Arabia over the past two years".
Sounds just the sort of chap to ask President Kharzai about his drug dealing brother, and colleague Ministers like Mr Dostum and the container loads of acetic anhydride for heroin production that floods the country from over the Uzbek border over the Friendship Bridge at Termez.
"At Termez , where the Friendship Bridge crosses into Afghanistan , they (UN) have provided Uzbek customs with very modern facility from sniffer dogs to giant X -rays to X-ray and entire container.
....if you stand around there for a little while , you will start to notice convoys of Mercedes with black windows and of six ton military trucks which are waved onto a track around the customs facilities and never stopped."
Murder in Samarkand Page 249
Which was of course written by Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles' ex colleague at the Foreign and Commonwealth office Craig Murray ... perhaps Craig could give him a few helpful pointers about the Afghan / Uzbek drug trade before he sets off ?
Pic is snap Lord P took at this year's QBP (Queen's 80th!) at the Ambassador's Residence in Riyadh. Sherard and Bridget with US Ambassador James C. Oberwetter and his glamorous wife Anita (an anaesthatist). It was just after this when the excellent Ed Stourton of the BBC interviewed Sherard for the BBC 4 programme Struggle for Saudi Arabia's Soul which went out Tuesday 23 January 2007 20:00-20:40 (Radio 4 FM)and again last Sunday - which means you can't acth it now.
Ambassador Oberwetter was an exciting choice because prior to appointment he had never been to Saudi although he was a VP of Texan oilco Hunt Consolidated Inc., which donated $250,000 to the President’s second inaugural committee. He had worked as the press secretaryin the 1970's for George H.W. Bush , then a Texan Congressman. In 2000 Oberwetter served on President Bush’s "transition" team.
Previous US Ambassador in Riyadh was attorney Robert W. Jordan, a founding partner in the Houston-based law firm Baker & Botts, (In the the launch of Energy Law360 last week, the publication's editors conducted a survey that determined "Baker Botts is the most sought after firm for major energy litigation." ) - who represented Bush during an exciting and interesting 1990 Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into possible (Enron style) insider trading at Bush’s now-defunct oil company, Harkin Energy Corp(Wapo Oct 11th 2002) which Harvard ended up owning 33% at one time.
Baker & Botts are an interesting company for Sherard to keep in touch with if only because they were one of the top ten contributors to the last Bush campaign. They also act for Halliburton and Abdul Aziz the Saudi Defense Minister (and close friend of the delightful Mr Adnan Kashoggi) who was so anxious that the BAe investigation was stopped in its tracks when Swiss Bank Accounts started to be revealed. His son Prince Bandar bin Abdul Aziz is of course Saudi Ambassador to the US and VERY friendly with Dubya. (Payments to Swiss Banks in the name of anonymous Panama entities in the BAe bribery case were believed to be linked to two prominent middlemen - a Lebanese politician, Mohammed Safadi, and Wafic Said, a business manager for Prince Bandar.
Baker & Botts were of course up to their neck in negotiations ( along with Henry Kissinger beautiful piano playing Condileezza Rice and PNAC members Mr Zalmay Khalilzad, Mr Richard Armitage, and now US Ambassador in Baghdead Mr Zalmay Khalilzad,) when Unocal were negotiating (ie offering them lots of money) with the Taliban in trying to push a 875-mile pipeline across Aghanistan which was rudely (and abruptly) interrupted by President Clinton loosing off 75 Tomahawk missiles at a "training camp" at Khost, Afghanistan 90 odd Kms from Kabul on August 20th 1998.
Those with a long memory will recall that On Aug. 19th, 1998: Word that Prosecutor Starr had requested and received a sample of Clinton's DNA became public.
There are stories circulating in the Officers Mess that 30 odd more "Diplomatic Staff" are being sent along with Sherard and his wife's falcons. With the boost to troops being got ready for the slaughter in Helmand it looks like the Empire is getting ready for the long haul. Des Browne described as the Minister Of Defence made a written Parliamentary Statement yesterday
..."These (troop movements) build on the progress we have made in Helmand in the six months since 10 July 2006 " Ho.Ho.Ho.
"As with previous deployments to Afghanistan, there will be a requirement to deploy reservists to serve in theatre. Current plans indicate that around 600 Call Out Notices are to be served on individual reservists in order to fill approximately 420 posts (including nine Sponsored Reserve)."Sounds pretty serious ...
In the South, 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, will complete their tour in April 2007. They will be replaced by units drawn principally from 12 Mechanised Brigade. We have also decided to maintain until April 2009 some capabilities already deployed, including the Harrier GR7/GR9s, the Apache Attack Helicopters, Viking all-terrain vehicles, and Royal Engineers to support reconstruction activities. By the late summer, personnel numbers in Southern Afghanistan should settle at around 5,800.
The principal units to deploy are: the Brigade Headquarters and its Signal Squadron, the Light Dragoons, the 1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards, the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, The 1st Battalion The Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters, 26 Engineer Regiment Royal Engineers, 19 Regiment Royal Artillery, 2 Signal Regiment Royal Signals, 4 Logistic Support Regiment Royal Logistic Corps, and 4 General Support Medical Regiment Royal Army Medical Corps.
Elements of other units are also deploying to provide niche capabilities. These include: the Armoured Support Group of the Royal Marines, the Light Dragoons, the Second Royal Tank Regiment; 3 Regiment, Army Air Corps; 9 Regiment, Army Air Corps; 1 (Fighter), IV (Army Co-Operation), 18, 24, 27, 30, 47 and 70 Squadrons of the Royal Air Force, 3, 5 and 7 Force Protection Wing Headquarters, Royal Air Force, and 2, 51 and 15 Squadrons of the Royal Air Force Regiment.Watch out for a lot more blood spilt in the sand for dubious, unclearly stated, ephemeral, fast moving, but nonetheless aggressively pursued objectives - Tanks are going in this time .... to help the Afghans win the Hearts and Minds of the poppy growers no doubt.
Through Mud, and Blood to the Poppy Fields beyond.