UK CT & COIN Features – 16 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.

Afghan death squads ‘acting on foreign orders’
Jerome Starkey, The Independent

Secret Afghan death squads are acting on the orders of foreign spies and killing civilians inside Afghanistan with impunity, a senior UN envoy has claimed. Professor Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on illegal killings, said “foreign intelligence agencies” had used illegal groups of heavily armed Afghans in raids against suspected insurgents.

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He refused to name the spies behind the secret units, or their nationality, but most of the provinces he identified where these raids have been mounted fall under American command. He also refused to rule out the possibility that raids may have been made in Helmand, where British troops are in command.

A Western official close to the investigation said the secret units are still known as Campaign Forces, from the time when American Special Forces and CIA spies recruited Afghan troops to help overthrow the Taliban during the US-led invasion in 2001. “The brightest, smartest guys in these militias were kept on,” the official said. “They were trained and rearmed and they are still being used.”

A British embassy spokesman in Kabul said UK officials were “examining the independent expert’s report closely”. But they refused to comment on whether MI6 was involved.

Maze prison was as bad as Guantanamo, say producers
Arifa Akbar, The Independent

A film documenting the final weeks of the IRA gunman Bobby Sands has been defended by its makers at the Cannes Film Festival as a useful insight into the mindset of modern suicide bombers.

Hunger, a 96-minute film by the artist Steve McQueen, in competition at Cannes and part-funded by Film4, tells the story of Sands who died on hunger strike at the Maze prison; some critics say it is creating a hero out of a terrorist.

The Independent

But Jan Younghusband, the executive producer of the film and commissioning editor of arts at Channel 4, said the harrowing story merely exposed the mentality of someone ready to die for a cause, such as the London suicide bombers. “You look at suicide bombers and wonder what it is that drives them to kill themselves in their attempt to make the world better,” she said.

“This is a very contemporary issue, destroying your body for something you believe in. We look at terrorists and we think, ‘Aren’t they horrible; they are blowing us up’. But we have to ask what is our role in that? We are not without responsibility.”

Brown signals retreat on 42 day detention
Patrick Wintour, The Guardian

Gordon Brown has sanctioned a last-ditch move to secure a deal over the proposed increase in the period of detention without charge to 42 days after deciding he would rather compromise with Labour’s rebels than risk a further loss of authority by being defeated on the issue.

Despite repeated claims that he is willing to lose and be right, the prime minister has despatched his chief whip, Geoff Hoon, to broker an agreement that would prevent a damaging split inside his party.

Hoon, a lawyer, is working alongside the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, and Home Office minister Tony McNulty to secure a deal. He is understood to have the support of the justice secretary, Jack Straw.

An outline of the deal being discussed centres on the parliamentary trigger before the power to detain for as long as 42 days comes into force.

A version being talked about in the senior echelons of the cabinet includes:

· The government would have to declare that there is an “exceptional need” to use the power. Although that has not been defined, the circumstances could include the discovery of multiple terrorist plots, or in the aftermath of an atrocity.

· Authorisation by parliament within a short period, possibly seven days.

· Judicial review of the use of the power.

Mole who infiltrated IRA attacks biopic
Henry McDonald and Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian

One of the most important agents to infiltrate the IRA has publicly distanced himself from a biopic of his life which is being marketed at this year’s Cannes film festival.

Fifty Dead Men Walking, starring Sir Ben Kingsley as the mole’s Royal Ulster Constabulary handler, is based on the autobiographical book of the same name by Martin McGartland. As “agent Carol”, McGartland undermined the IRA in Belfast during the later years of the Troubles, foiling dozens of murders and bombings.

The west Belfast man, who jumped through a bathroom window to escape his IRA interrogators after he was discovered, has told the Guardian the script “totally distorted” his story, and he plans to take legal action unless radical changes are made to the film before it is released.

Irish unit takes over security at Bastion
United Press International

British defense officials say that Royal Irish soldiers have taken over security at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand province.

Troops from Imajin Company, Second Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment have taken over security operations for the key British base in Helmand province on a six-month deployment. Officials say the 140-soldier unit from the Irish Regiment will be responsible for the safety of thousands of personnel working at Bastion, the British Ministry of Defense reported.

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