A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.
We should stop fooling ourselves. Our armed forces are no longer world class
Max Hastings, The Guardian
The Ministry of Defence is plunged into a grim process described as a “mini defence review”…. Everybody knows that a major defence programme must be cancelled. The navy’s cherished aircraft carriers? These would be the first choices of most soldiers, but because the ships mean jobs in Labour constituencies, they are almost certainly safe…. The army is fearful about its next-generation armoured vehicle. Several headquarters will have to go. General Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the general staff, has failed in his attempt to persuade ministers to increase the army’s numbers.
Dannatt’s case is founded on the fact that his soldiers are attempting to fight one major war, in Afghanistan, with inadequate resources, while 4,000 troops are in another theatre, Iraq, to appease American sensitivities. The army also maintains a significant peacekeeping presence in the Balkans. It was announced last week that another infantry battalion is to be sent to Kosovo.
Yet the deep instinct of the government, and even more so of the parliamentary Labour party, is that Tony Blair’s wars have brought Britain only embarrassment and grief. The last thing they want is to throw good money after bad by recruiting more soldiers, never mind deploying them in combat.
The scepticism is understandable, but the conclusion is mistaken. Many people, myself included, are dismayed by the huge mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet it remains essential for Britain to possess a credible army. A strength of 100,000 is insufficient. Whether we like it or not, the 21st century will produce new conflicts in which we are obliged to participate or at least provide peacekeepers.
Queen leads support for injured troops
Andrew Pierce, The Telegraph
The Queen and other senior royals are to stage a public show of support for servicemen and women returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, reflecting their concern at the plight of some of the troops.
The Queen, the head of the Armed Forces, and the Prince of Wales are anxious about the number of servicemen returning from the two theatres of war who end up homeless, sleeping rough, or struggling to find work.
Prince Harry to receive campaign medal – The Telegraph
An airport security measure I can’t face
Philip Hensher, The Independent
The Government has announced that, from this summer, a trial will be put in place at UK ports and airports. In place of the old routine, in which an immigration officer looks at you, looks at your photograph, swipes the passport and lets you through, you will now have to gaze into the all-seeing lens of a machine. Face-recognition software is going to be put in place.
One might wonder a little bit about the logic, or the timing, of this move. After all, it’s only a matter of weeks since huge numbers of passengers were being held up by what were genteelly termed “teething problems” at Heathrow Terminal 5. I doubt whether all those travellers have now been, or ever will be, reunited with their baggage after it was entrusted to a similarly super-duper piece of technology. As time goes on, the demands of security, and the sudden collapse of all systems after an alert, will only increase in frequency and severity. Why, one might ask, are these changes being made now?
Why on earth are we doing any of this? What is wrong with a man at a desk, assessing the demeanour and features of a human being, and making a judgement? Well, in most cases, it will still come down to that. You wonder who, apart from people who are simply in love with technology, is in favour of a measure which will slow everything down and increase levels of error hitherto undreamt of.
Home Office looks for way out of 42-day terror suspect detention row
Greg Hurst, The Times
Ministers have paved the way for further concessions on plans to hold terrorist suspects for up to 42 days without charge in an attempt to avert another rebellion by Labour MPs.
A leaked paper suggested that the Home Office was considering giving judges the power to order that terrorism suspects be released with an electronic tag or on bail as an alternative to detention. Gordon Brown would be able to claim that this meets his aim of giving police up to 42 days between arresting a suspect and charging or releasing them. Further concessions are also expected, with an offer to shorten the period within which Parliament must debate the extended powers of precharge detention if they are invoked.
Downing Street sources said yesterday that there would be “no concessions on the fundamentals of 42 days”, although they conceded that there would be debate on the mechanics. The Home Office said that it had all along included “the option of increasing the involvement of judges in precharge detention”, which Lord Carlile of Berriew, the independent reviewer of antiterrorism legislation, had advocated.
Smith faces fresh pressure on 42-day terror detentions – The Independent