A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.
Iraq hostage crisis: ‘No evidence’ that suicide claim is genuine
Damien McElroy, The Telegraph
The kidnappers of five British men in Iraq were condemned as “abhorrent” by Gordon Brown yesterday after the release of a video claiming that one of the captives had committed suicide.
No proof was provided that the security guard, known only as Jason, was dead and experts said that the announcement could be a “terror tactic” to increase pressure on the British Government to negotiate.
There were claims in Baghdad yesterday that the hostages’ health had broken down. An Iraqi official said the kidnappers had moved the men between safe houses as frequently as every five hours. Frequent movement would compound the stress on the men and deprive them of sleep.
The video was made public hours after Mr Brown completed a flying visit to Baghdad but diplomats dismissed any links between the two events.
So close to rescue: Coalition forces ‘nearly saved British hostages in Iraq’
Kim Sengupta, The Independent
Brown urges Iraqi kidnappers to release Britons as one hostage is reported to have killed himself
Steven Morris, The Guardian
British officials: No contact with kidnappers
Francis Elliott and David Lister, The Times
We’re making headway in Iraq and need to stay there
Bernard Jenkin, The Independent
Good news from Iraq has been in short supply, but the House of Commons Defence Committee recently returned from Basra considerably cheered. The logic now is that the UK should maintain a substantial force in Basra for some time yet.
This may not be what the Prime Minister wants to hear, but as he returns from Iraq, he should come to the same conclusion. We should plan to stay to build a positive military footprint of our own in part of what will become one of the richest and most powerful countries in the Gulf region. A pre-election rush for the exit will underline how the UK lacks political willpower and is deficient in the necessary military capacity to exploit recent success. Having taken a fair proportion of the effort, including battle casualties, why hand all the upside to the Americans?
German Shepherds trained to parachute with SAS troops
Laura Clout, The Telegraph
A team of dogs is being trained to accompany SAS troops on parachute missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has been reported. It is thought the German Shepherds are being taught to jump from aircraft at 25,000ft, strapped to members of special forces assault teams.
With tiny cameras fixed to their heads, the animals will be sent in before their human partners to hunt for Taliban or insurgent hideouts. The cameras will beam live images back to the troops as the dogs penetrate behind enemy lines and warn of ambushes.
According to The Sun, the dogs will be trained to accompany soldiers on what are called ‘High Altitude High Opening’ parachute jumps, after which they may have to travel 20 miles to their targets.
It is hoped the technique will reduce the level of danger to SAS soldiers, three of whom have been shot dead during raids in Iraq in two years.
Over and out: former para on why he quit the Army after Afghanistan
Christina Lamb, The Times
It was supposed to be a straightforward operation. A Taliban commander was apparently holed up in a mudwalled compound just outside Naw Zad in northern Helmand province, and about 100 paras and Gurkhas were sent in to cordon it off and seize him. The plan was for the Gurkhas and Patrols Platoon to drive in from opposite sides and secure the outer perimeter, then A Company would be dropped in by helicopter, search the compound, grab him and get away.
Supervising from the air was Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart Tootal, commander of 3 Para, the first British battle group to go into Helmand in southwest Afghanistan. As he peered from his helicopter to see the three Chinooks bringing in A Company, he felt a glow of satisfaction.
“I thought, it’s all going like clockwork,” he recalled. “We’re going to move in, surprise the guy, might even catch him. Then I heard, ‘Contact, contact, contact!’”
The Gurkhas had been ambushed in a wadi, or desert valley, as they drove in from the north. At the same time Patrols Platoon had come under attack in the south. Vicious firefights were under way.
“The plan had all gone to rats,” said Tootal. “We thought there might be one or two Taliban. In fact there were 70. We were being attacked on three sides and all my vehicles had been ambushed.”
Forces face training cuts as fuel bill rockets
David Robertson and Siobhan Kennedy, The Times
The cost of fuelling Britain’s Armed Forces is due to rise by more than £500 million next year as a result of soaring oil prices, forcing military chiefs to consider broad cuts to air force and combat training.
Ministry of Defence calculations of projected fuel bills, seen byThe Times, show a dramatic increase in operating costs, with fuel for aircraft, naval and ground vehicles up by more than 20 per cent on last year.
With the Armed Forces’ budget set to rise by just 3 per cent – and the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, warning government departments last week of no additional increases – defence and industry analysts said that major cuts to training programmes such as fighter plane exercises would be inevitable.
MPs seek answers on torture ‘outsourcing’
Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian
Allegations in the Guardian that the government has “outsourced” interrogation techniques involving the torture of British nationals in Pakistan must be investigated immediately, a cross-party group of backbench MPs said yesterday. In a highly critical report, the Commons foreign affairs committee also accuses the government of watering down its “anti-torture commitments”.
It says the government has failed to get from Washington a full account of America’s use of British airspace and airports in the “rendition circuit” – flights involved in secretly transporting detainees to places where they risked being tortured – and it says that Britain can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture.
The Foreign Office minister, Lord Malloch-Brown, told the committee that the government “absolutely deny” allegations that it had outsourced torture to Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence, adding that the government was “extremely concerned” about the ISI’s methods.
British Panel Doubts U.S. on Torture
Reuters / New York Times
Britain should no longer rely on assurances by the United States that it does not torture terrorism suspects, an influential parliamentary committee said in a report released Sunday.
Britain had previously taken those assurances at face value, but after the C.I.A. acknowledged using waterboarding techniques on three detainees, Britain should change its stance, according to the report, by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons.