A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.
Head of Army defends Britain’s role in Basra in open letter to his troops
Kim Sengupta, The Independent on Sunday
The head of the British Army has taken the unusual step of writing an open letter to his troops in which he defends Britain’s low-key role during an offensive against Shia militias in Basra.
The message from General Sir Richard Dannatt, made available to The Independent on Sunday, is intended to reassure troops in the face of claims that the British presence at Basra airport is increasingly untenable, and that the Iraqi government supposedly snubbed senior UK commanders during the recent operation.
The Chief of the General Staff, who has just returned from Basra, stated: “I cannot deny that there are many who said that they would rather be at the forefront of the operations (as CGS I think I would be worried if I headed an Army that did not express such views), but those same individuals were all mature enough to understand it is right that the Iraqis are now taking the lead.
“Indeed, these are exactly the nature of operations that we have been pressing for some months – an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem”.
Brown’s U-turn on terror
Shami Chakrabarti, The Sunday Times
It’s no secret that I met the prime minister several times and these conversations, combined with parallel discussions with senior Conservatives and Lib Dems, led some to believe in a golden opportunity. What if political heat could be turned down on terrorism policy? What if the authoritarian arms race of Michael Howard and Blair were to slow down? What if we could be more honest about risk and build public protection upon fundamental rights, freedoms and the rule of law?
The government could discard the self-destructive politics of the “war on terror” and continue the statesmanship of the summer. Opposition politicians could avoid the jibe of being “soft on terror”. Trust in politics as a whole would benefit from the sight of elected representatives uniting on a matter of importance. The government admitted that no case had required more than 28 days and began considering a range of more proportionate alternative measures supported by Liberty and opposition parties.
In return, it was recognised that in a genuine public emergency (described by a Home Office minister as “three 9/11s on one day”), extended detention might temporarily be sanctioned by parliament using existing or refined contingency legislation.
Then the talking stopped. Some time between Donorgate and Northern Rock last autumn, the Home Office published the almost friendless policy now to be found in the fifth counterterrorism bill since 2000.
UK is Europe’s top terror centre, arrests show
The Sunday Telegraph
Britain has become the main focus of Islamist terror in Europe, according to official figures.
More Muslim extremists were detained in Britain last year on terror-related charges than in the rest of Europe added together.
The number of arrests rose steeply and involved “young, radicalised British citizens”, sparking fears that the threat of an attack is growing.
The report by Europol, the European police force, said that terrorist plots linked to groups in Pakistan had been “almost exclusively focused on the UK”.
[NB: see this earlier IRG post for a link to the report]
Army weakened by recruitment failure
Mark Townsend, The Observer
The British army’s frontline fighting capability has been severely weakened by an acute manpower shortage that has left military commanders short of two infantry battalions. An internal Whitehall memo reveals that the British infantry is 1,280 men short of full fighting strength ahead of the fresh spring offensive in Afghanistan.
The Ministry of Defence memorandum revealed that even though it had spent more than £95m on recruitment in the last 12 months – a record amount, and up by almost £30m five years ago – the army has failed to attract the recruits it most desperately needs.
Already every battalion of 600 in Afghanistan is experiencing a shortfall of 100 men because of problems of recruitment and numbers leaving the army, the memo said. During the fierce fighting last year, the British army had three infantry battalions in Afghanistan at any one time.
Compensation boost for severely injured troops
Sean Rayment, The Sunday Telegraph
British troops who have suffered severe injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan are to receive much greater compensation, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.
The move follows mounting criticism over the decision to pay troops with life-changing injuries – such as brain damage or the loss of limbs – a fraction of the amounts awarded to civilians with similar injuries.
A private paralysed from the neck down is entitled currently to a maximum lump-sum payment of £285,000, together with an annual income of £20,000, under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme. A civilian who sustained similar injuries in a car accident could expect to be awarded at least £2 million.
Police in court over pictures at arms protest
Mark Townsend, The Observer
The power of the police to mount surveillance operations at peaceful protests will be challenged in court this week.
In a case seen as opposing Britain’s move towards a Big Brother-style society, the High Court will determine if police are legally entitled to take photographs and compile information on protesters even if they do not break the law.
Arms campaigner Andrew Wood from Oxford claims that his human rights were infringed after Scotland Yard took his details and images of him even though he was not arrested.
The two-day judicial review is likely to determine the legality of surveillance and whether ‘routine’ intelligence gathering is permissible under the Human Rights Act.
Girl, 17, killed in Iraq for loving a British soldier
Sadie Gray, The Independent on Sunday
A 17-year-old Iraqi girl was murdered by her father in an honour killing after falling in love with a British soldier she met while working on an aid programme in Basra, it has been claimed.
Rand Abdel-Qader was stamped upon, suffocated and stabbed by her father, then given an unceremonious burial to emphasise her disgrace. Police released her father without charge two hours after his arrest.
“Not much can be done when we have an honour killing case,” said Sergeant Ali Jabbar of Basra police. “You are in a Muslim society and women should live under religious laws. The father has very good contacts inside the Basra government and it wasn’t hard for him to be released and what he did to be forgotten.”
A total of 47 young women died in honour killings in the city last year, Basra Security Committee told an investigation into Ms Abdel-Qader’s case by The Observer. This is believed to be the only case of an honour killing involving a British soldier.