UK CT & COIN Features – 5 May 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.

In ghost town where Afghan war begins, UK fights losing battle
Declan Walsh, The Guardian

There is only silence in Garmser, a ghost town on the edge of the desert in southern Afghanistan. The bazaar is a lonely line of abandoned shops and debris-strewn streets. There is just one trader – a baker – whose sole customers are British soldiers and Afghan police.

Further out, giant bomb craters dot the broken gardens and shredded fruit orchards of empty houses. Now they are inhabited by the British.

Squatting on a rickety rooftop, Corporal Lachlan MacNeil pointed to a cluster of long, low buildings. “That’s the madrasa [Islamic school]. It’s a training camp for the Taliban,” he said, his face glistening from the morning heat. “Mostly foreigners inside, we hear – central Asians and Arabs, but especially Pakistanis.”

For many Taliban fighters, this deserted, dog-eared town is where the war starts. Garmser is the gateway to Afghanistan for insurgents who stream across the border from Pakistan, 120 miles to the south. The British base here is their first encounter with the “infidels”.

“They blood themselves against UK forces here, then graduate into the upper valleys,” said Major Neil Den-McKay, officer commanding of a Scottish infantry company stationed at Garmser’s agricultural college.

The fighters that pass before the British doorstep are as diverse as the Taliban has become. There are hard-bitten ideologues from the original Taliban movement of the 1990s, hired local fighters known as “$10 Taliban”, Baluch drug smugglers and al-Qaida- linked Arabs.

But most, Afghan and British officials say, are Pakistani – ideologically driven young men who consider the war as a religious obligation of struggle, or jihad.

….

A wall-sized map in the British base shows the balance of forces. The British control the town centre; the Taliban a sprawl of mud-walled farmhouses that spills south and east. With its irrigation canals, world war one-style trenches and thick vegetation, the area makes for fine guerrilla ground. “This is one of the few places in Afghanistan where there is a visible frontline,” said Captain Ross Boyd, sitting in an outpost surrounded by barbed wire.

Last week US marines joined the battle, sending more than 1,000 troops to punch through the Taliban lines around Garmser. Their mission is to disrupt the two-way traffic of fighters scooting north and opium shipments headed south. The Americans met with sporadic, but dogged resistance. Black-clad fighters ambushed them with small arms and rocket propelled grenades, drawing deadly ripostes from helicopter gunships and fighter jets.

Betrayed: The Iraqis who risked all for Britain
Robert Verkaik, The Independent

Sami Faleh Mohammed was one of thousands of exiled Iraqis who after the invasion of Iraq decided to give his country another chance.

In September 2004 he led his wife and three children from the safety of Jordan to Basra, where he found work as a translator for the British Army. Two years later he was dead, murdered by members of the Shia militias who have targeted Iraqis who risk their own lives to help the British try to bring stability to the region.

His case is now one of 12 test claims being brought in the High Court by Iraqi translators and other workers who believe they have been betrayed by Britain. Many more are still in hiding, under sentence of death after being branded “collaborators and spies” by the militias.

Warships guard Iraq’s economic lifeblood
Stephen Fidler, The Financial Times

Up here, it is about oil. From two terminals stretching almost 20km (12 miles) out to sea in the northern Gulf, Iraq’s economic lifeblood – up to 1.8m barrels per day of it – flows into giant tankers that sit ever lower on the sea as they take on more crude oil.

….

The force is training Iraqi naval units to take over their role at some undetermined point. Until then, he says, the force’s job is “to try to achieve normalisation of maritime activity up there”.

With the world oil market sensitive to every small shift in oil supply and Iraq’s economy so heavily dependent on it, that means keeping the terminals open and averting the sort of attack that shut the 1.6m bpd al-Basra oil terminal for a day in April 2004.

These waters are, says one British naval officer, confined, hectic and crowded. It is an area of shallows, strong currents and sandstorms that blow fine choking dust and sharply reduce visibility, as they did last week.

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