UK CT & COIN Features – 12 April 2008

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A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.

Whose Side Are The Afghans On?
Con Coughlin, The Daily Telegraph

When British forces took control of Musa Qala last December, it was hailed as a major breakthrough in their mission to stabilise the security situation throughout Helmand. Ever since the military deployed to the province in the south of Afghanistan nearly two years ago, control of the town – a Taliban stronghold and an important trading outpost for the heroin trade – has been the focus of some of the heaviest fighting in the country, and has accounted for many of Britain’s 91 battlefield fatalities.

Having captured the town from the Taliban in the summer of 2006, the British handed control to tribal elders as part of a controversial deal brokered by the then commander of Nato’s forces, British general David Richards. Within months, the town had been reoccupied by the Taliban, and the British had to launch yet another offensive to reclaim it.

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The recapture and occupation of the town represented a key strategic breakthrough for British commanders in their attempts to bring stability and security to Helmand. But persuading the population to abandon their support for the Taliban is altogether more daunting.

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“The locals will never look you in the eye,” says a young officer coming off a patrol. “They walk past you with their eyes firmly fixed to the ground. They don’t exactly make you feel welcome, and you get the distinct impression that they are just waiting to see which way the wind blows – are we going to tough it out and stay here, or are the Taliban going to return? They don’t see any point in committing themselves until they see who is going to be in control.”

Jihadist Suspects on ‘Fact-Finding’ London Trip
Kim Sengupta, The Independent

Three men carried out a hostile reconnaissance of targets in London, including the London Eye, the Natural History Museum and the London Aquarium, for the suicide bombers who attacked the capital on 7 July 2005, a court was told yesterday.

British Accused of Appeasing Shia Militia in Basra
James Hider, The Times

When the British commanding officer visited the Prime Minister’s field headquarters during the fight he was left waiting outside by the Iraqi leader. The humiliating snub was believed to be payback for an alleged deal with the militias by British forces, who released several of their jailed leaders and agreed not to attack them if the British base was not hit.

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Even senior Iraqi officers admitted that the hands-off British approach to policing the city had given the militias free rein. Brigadier Alaa al-Ittabi, from the infantry command of the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, said that the British Army “was sometimes negatively lenient, like the way they dealt with the militias”. Mr Hadi was placing his hopes on the new Iraqi forces. “The presence of these foreign troops adds nothing to the situation, and even the Iraqi troops trained by the British Army proved to be infiltrated by the militias and to be corrupt.”

Iraq Snubbed Britain and Calls US Into Basra Battle
Deborah Haynes & Michael Evans, The Times

Relations between Britain and Iraq suffered “catastrophic failure” after Baghdad bypassed the British military and called in the American “cavalry” to help the recent offensive against Shia militia in Basra, The Times has learnt.

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A source familiar with the sequence of events said that Mr al-Maliki seemed to have it in for the British because of the alleged “deal” struck with the Shia militia last year under which they agreed not to attack Britain’s last battalion as it withdrew from Basra in return for the release of several of their leading members from prison.

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However, British troops are now back in Basra serving alongside Iraqi forces for the first time since withdrawing from the city in September. The Ministry of Defence confirmed that 150 British soldiers were now embedded with the Iraqis in Basra, serving as military transition teams.

Families Can Sue MoD Over Failings That Led to Deaths of Troops
Greg Hurst & Steve Bird, The Times

Families of British troops killed in war zones because of faulty equipment may be able to sue the Government for a breach of human rights after a landmark High Court ruling yesterday.

The court set out new grounds for legal action by stating that the Army’s duty to protect soldiers could extend to patrols outside a military base and even to a battlefield. After the judgment, some relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq — and who blame the Ministry of Defence for inadequate equipment, training or care — said they would consider bringing a group legal action.

Hundreds of Clubbers Escaped as Car Bombs Failed, Court Told
Severin Carrell & Aidan Jones, The Guardian

Hundreds of central London clubbers narrowly escaped death or serious injury after two car bombs designed to be detonated by mobile phone failed to explode, the Old Bailey has heard. The cars, packed with petrol and gas canisters, were primed to be triggered remotely by a mobile phone call but may have failed to explode because dense fuel vapours smothered the detonators, the court was told.

New Helmand Commander Sets Out the Challenges Ahead
UK MoD

The new Brigade Commander of Task Force Helmand in southern Afghanistan has been outlining the challenges he believes he and his troops face in the coming months as 16 Air Assault Brigade look to build on the progress made by their predecessors in 52 Infantry Brigade.

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Brig Carleton-Smith believes the coming months will test everybody within the Brigade as they set out creating the conditions for future stability and security in the region:

“Continuing to improve the sense of security for the people – not just physical security but their human security in the round: it’s all about effective governance, rule of law and the provision of the basic necessities of life,” he explained.

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