UK CT & COIN Features – 14 June 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.

Fighting the ‘shoot-and-scoot’ Taleban
Andrew Wilson, The Times

At midday it’s more than 45C in the Sangin valley – an added burden for a soldier carrying a weapon, ammunition, body armour and three litres of water on his back.

Foot patrols can last four hours or they can be planned to go on for days. However long it lasts, though, the troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade have to remain on high alert for the duration.

They wade through irrigation ditches and cover each other as they cross parched open farmland and peer through the doorways of the mud-walled compounds scattered throughout the green zone – so-called because of the lush irrigation that follows the course of Helmand river.

Whenever a patrol pauses, the soldiers find shade, drop to one knee, and snatch gulps of water that is lukewarm and getting hotter by the minute.

The all-out firefights of previous years have all but ceased. “Shoot-and-scoot” is the new small-arms tactic of the Taliban. A couple of men will fire at a patrol – just a few bursts, including perhaps a rocket-propelled grenade – and then disappear sharpish on a motorbike, joining the hundreds that buzz through the countryside.

Every soldier is aware that the choking dust on the trails can cloak the presence of an IED (improvised explosive device), which can be triggered by radio, by phone or pressure plate. Many patrols carry metal detectors.

In the bazaars, the locals – some old and some of fighting age – stare at the soldiers impassively. Here the threat is from suicide bombers: a smiling face approaching a patrol, a car parked on the road.

Recently the suicide bombers appear to have changed their tactics. It’s thought now that they’re working with the Taliban units; shadowing the firefights, picking a moment to approach, sometimes holding back to strike another day. In other words their deployment is strategic – unlike the impulsive one-stop dashes of old.

A bloody risky way to beat the Taliban
Stephen Grey, The Times

The deaths of five paras last week in Afghanistan’s Helmand province made it the bloodiest week for the regiment since the Falklands war in 1982. And the casualties may be a symptom of a riskier approach being pursued by British troops. It is an investment of blood – and we don’t know yet what the return will be.

Privates Daniel Gamble, 22, Nathan Cuthbertson, 19, and David Murray, 19, died in the Upper Sangin Valley at the beginning of last week (their deaths brought the total killed in Afghanistan to 100); their loss illustrates how dangerous the British strategy is. Gamble had spent nine months learning Pashto and was on a “hearts and minds” patrol. He died when he went to speak to an Afghan man who turned out to be a suicide bomber.

As the set-piece battles become fewer and the troops move about among the population, deaths such as Gamble’s will become more common. On Thursday two more paras, Lance-Corporal James Bateman and Private Jeff Doherty, were killed on a routine foot patrol.

….

With thinking derived from the counter-insurgency campaign in Malaya in the 1950s, a careful and modest British plan was in place in 2006 to secure a development zone in the centre of the province to create an “ink-spot” of security within which development – rebuilding schools, roads, hospitals, etc – could take place and from which government influence could spread.

Unfortunately this was not how it happened. Soldiers told me how they were instead sent to remote “platoon houses” across the province. Initially they had only the fighting strength of nine platoons, which was completely inadequate for the fierce onslaught they faced from the Taliban. The ill-equipped British force ended up scattered and pinned down in fixed town-centre locations, living in sometimes unbearable conditions and fighting fiercely.

….

There is room for optimism, however, and from what I have seen the lessons are being learnt. Last October, when a new British brigade took command in Helmand, its commander, Brigadier Andrew Mackay, declared “a concept of operations” where the death of enemy soldiers was no longer a measure of success. “The population is the prize,” Mackay wrote.

A campaign based on counter-insurgency principles, he said, needed operations designed not so much for “kinetic effect” (inflicting physical damage on the enemy) but calibrated to “influence” the population: decreasing support for the enemy and increasing the standing of the Afghan government.

Britain sends 200 extra troops to Afghanistan
James Kirkup, The Telegraph

More British troops are to be sent to Afghanistan, the Government will announce next week.

The Daily Telegraph has learned that reinforcements are being deployed as British forces face fierce resistance from the Taliban and doubts grow about the West’s strategy in Afghanistan.

Five men from the Parachute Regiment have been killed in Afghanistan this week, taking the British death toll in the country to 102.

Britain has 7,800 troops in Afghanistan and Des Browne, the defence secretary, will tell MPs on Monday that at least 200 more are being deployed.

Tories consider terror arrest limit below 28 days
James Kirkup, The Telegraph

A Conservative government could reduce the legal limit on pre-charge detention to less than 28 days, the new shadow home secretary has said.

Dominic Grieve told The Daily Telegraph that once in office, the Conservatives would not stop at repealing any law giving police the power to hold terror suspects for 42 days.

Instead, the party would review the existing limit of 28 days, a period Mr Grieve described as “much longer” than it should be.

Mr Grieve’s pledge represents continuity with his predecessor, David Davis, who dramatically stepped down on Thursday to fight a by-election on a civil rights platform, a symbolic challenge to Labour’s “intrusive” security legislation.

Paras sieze Taliban bomb-maker in daring Afghanistan raid
Thomas Harding, The Telegraph

Paras seized a suspected Taliban bomb-maker yesterday in a daring raid on a mosque in Afghanistan.

A small group of a dozen paratroopers and a Pashtun interpreter, accompanied by The Daily Telegraph, embarked on the mission after learning that a “high value target”, believed to be responsible for dozens of roadside bombs, was hiding in a village they had visited earlier in the day.

Having turned back, they found the scene transformed.

The villagers they had met only hours before had disappeared or were in hiding. The quiet was what the Army call a “combat indicator” in that the “absence of the normal suggests the presence of the abnormal”.

More secret anti-terror government files found on train
The Guardian

A further batch of secret government files have been found on a train, it was reported tonight.

The Independent on Sunday newspaper said that the papers, which were handed in to it, covered the UK’s policies on fighting global terrorist funding, drugs trafficking and money laundering.

The paper said that they were discovered on a train bound for London’s Waterloo station on Wednesday.

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