UK CT & COIN Features – 20 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.

Bomb suspect ‘may be part of terror group’
Patrick Sawer and Ben Leach, The Telegraph

Detectives are investigating whether a teenage terror suspect held in connection with possessing suspected explosives might be part of a wider group operating in the West Country.

An Army bomb disposal team carried out two more controlled explosions at the Bristol home of Andrew Ibrahim. Two suspect packages were taken from the property to a nearby alley for detonation, as the 19-year-old continued to be questioned by anti-terrorism officers.

….

Avon and Somerset Police, which has not ruled out further arrests, said that the teenager had previously come into contact with its officers, but would not give details.

….

Sources who claimed to have worked with Mr Ibrahim said he had endured a “difficult few years” and was “unsettled”.

One, who said he believed Mr Ibrahim had recently enrolled on a course at the University of the West of England, said: “He was struggling in life but I had no idea he had become a Muslim before I saw him two weeks ago. I could not believe my eyes. He was dressed in full robes and had a beard. He must have undergone a massive change in identity.”

Battle to retake Basra was ‘complete disaster’
Sean Rayment, The Telegraph

The British-trained Iraqi Army’s attempt to retake Basra from militiamen was an “unmitigated disaster at every level”, British commanders have disclosed.

Senior sources have said that the mission was undermined by incompetent officers and untrained troops who were sent into battle with inadequate supplies of food, water and ammunition.

They said the failure had delayed the British withdrawal by “many months”.

Their comments came as the Iraqi army, this time directly supported by American and British forces, began a second operation in Basra in an attempt to find insurgent weapons caches.

Analysis: why British troops should stay in Iraq
Sean Rayment, The Telegraph

The British in the more benign south developed a strategy of “transition”, in which regions under their control were handed back to the Iraqi government once its police and army were capable of upholding a form of law and order.

It was no small under-taking but the process initially worked well, albeit at a price.

Bloody and prolonged battles were fought in Maysan Province and most notably in the town of Al-Amarah, and many British troops were killed and maimed.

As the British gradually handed back provinces to Iraqi control, the number of insurgent attacks against them increased.

….

In the last few weeks of UK’s presence in Basra, British troops were being killed at the rate of one every three days. The situation simply could not continue and the British eventually pulled out.

Senior officers declared that it was neither a retreat or a withdrawal but that it was part of the strategy of transition, which had been set in motion several years earlier. It was now time for the Iraqi security forces to face down the militias.

While British commanders had some confidence in the Army, the police, which had been infiltrated by the various militia death squads, were largely regarded as a liability.

With the absence of the British military in Basra, the militias grew even more powerful. The murder rate soared and women were targeted by Shia fundamentalist death squads.

British-backed Iraqi forces take militant stronghold
Hala Jaber and Michael Smith, The Sunday Times

IRAQI forces backed by British troops and artillery seized the main stronghold of the radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the southern port city of Basra yesterday.

The operation, which also involved RAF and American aircraft, forced the cleric’s Mahdi army militants to cede control of a district where they had fought off an Iraqi onslaught last month.

A senior Mahdi source in Basra said British soldiers – believed to be SAS troops directing attacks – had accompanied the Iraqis as they moved into the district of Hayaniya.

British officials said only that “liaison teams” were advising Iraqi commanders on the ground, after US criticism during Gordon Brown’s visit to Washington of earlier failures to clear militants from the city.

European Officials Agree on Framework for Outlawing Online Terror Recruiting
Elaine Sciolino and Stephen Castle, The New York Times

European Union justice ministers agreed Friday to toughen laws across their 27-nation bloc to punish those who promote violence and recruit people for terrorist attacks.

Reflecting mounting anxiety that the Internet has become a crucial tool for would-be terrorists, the agreement will make it a crime to disseminate terrorist propaganda through the Internet for recruiting, training and bomb-making purposes.

European Union officials described the agreement as a framework that member countries would have to incorporate into their own laws.

Countries that already have strong antiterrorism laws, like Spain and Britain, which have suffered terrorist attacks and give sweeping powers to the police and investigators in terrorism cases, will not need to make significant changes. But countries with more lenient rules, like Sweden and Denmark, may need to adopt new, tougher legislation.

The new rules, aimed at codifying terrorist crimes among countries with very different histories and experiences with terrorism, underscore a growing consensus that in the campaign against terrorism, the mere transmission of information and ideas could be considered a criminal act.

Bullets, blood and bravery on the 999 run in Afghanistan
Stuart Webb, The Sunday Times

There’s a battle under way in the Helmand desert and we are flying straight into it. I would normally worry about hitting turbulence; now I’m worried about being hit by ground fire. An injured American special forces soldier needs rescuing urgently, but he is stuck in the middle of the firefight.

“We’d fly in under fire to save one of the guys,” says RAF pilot Dan Padbury. But as we approach he is told to hold his Chinook helicopter close by while US special forces fight the Taliban on the ground and clear the airspace for an assault by “fast air” – military slang for the jet fighters that are about to attack.

The battle rages on. Meanwhile, we are kept in an extreme holding pattern. In fact, the Chinook is circling so low that you could almost stick your hand out of the open windows and touch the ground. There are 16 people in here with me – members of the forces’ medical emergency response team (MERT) – risking their lives in the hope of saving one.

Five Chilean officers indicted for killing of British priest in 1973
Eduardo Gallardo, The Independent

Five high-ranking retired navy officers were accused today of abducting, torturing and killing a British priest and other dissidents on floating detention centres in the days following Chile’s 1973 military coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power.

Fr Michael Woodward, who held British and Chilean citizenship, was seized by security forces in the port city of Valparaiso on 16 September 1973, five days after the coup. Fr Woodward, 42, was allegedly tortured with other detainees on at least two navy ships used as detention centres and died six days later.

He was buried in a mass grave, and his family was provided with a certificate saying he died of cardio-respiratory problems. But prosecutors believe he died from injuries sustained under torture.

Meet the dinner party anti-terror squad
Joanna Moorhead, The Independent

With a roomful of guests chatting animatedly, ripples of occasional laughter and the sound of clinking glasses, this could be just another weekend dinner party.

But the 10 or so people gathered in Anthea Hickman’s sitting room in High Wycombe had loftier ambitions than merely to eat, drink and be merry. Against the backdrop of the terror trial that has cut into the heart of the Buckinghamshire town, their get-together represented a grassroots effort to heal the racial divide that slices through their community.

The gathering was part of a series of dinner parties to bring together complete strangers from both the majority white British and the minority Asian communities. “It’s shocking, but we don’t really have any friends in the Asian community,” said Jade Blades, 36, one of the guests at Mrs Hickman’s dinner. Shakeela Khan, 30, sitting next to her, agreed. “I only know white English people through work, and we don’t socialise,” she said.

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