A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.
George Bush arrives in Britain with Bin Laden demand
Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times
President George W Bush has enlisted British special forces in a final attempt to capture Osama Bin Laden before he leaves the White House.
As Mr Bush arrived in Britain today on the final leg of his eight-day farewell tour of Europe, defence and intelligence sources in Washington and London confirmed that a renewed hunt was on for the leader of the September 11 attacks. “If he [Bush] can say he has killed Saddam Hussein and captured Bin Laden, he can claim to have left the world a safer place,” said a US intelligence source.
The Special Boat Service (SBS) and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment have been taking part in the US-led operations to capture Bin Laden in the wild frontier region of northern Pakistan. It is the first time they have operated across the Afghan border on a regular basis.
The hunt was “completely sanctioned” by the Pakistani government, according to a UK special forces source. It involves the use of Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles fitted with Hellfire missiles that can be used to take out specific terrorist targets.
Sooner or later, we have to talk to the Taliban
James Fergusson, The Independent on Sunday
The summer fighting season in southern Afghanistan is under way once again. Yesterday – as if to highlight the tenuousness of control exercised by the occupying forces – came news of 15 guards being killed in a prison breakout in Kandahar, when hundreds of Taliban supporters – and many others – escaped. Earlier in the week, five paratroopers were killed, bringing to 102 the number of British dead since 2001. The last two British deaths were noteworthy for being the first in nine months to be caused by bullets rather than bombs. Like one of the elusive djinns that superstitious locals say haunt the desert, the ever-adaptable Taliban insurgency continues to change shape.
Last week, the current Helmand Task Force commander, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, announced that the insurgency was on the back foot, and that its local leadership had been “decapitated” by British and Isaf (Nato’s International Security Assistance Force) operations. Yet the beast the British are trying to slay is like a hydra. So far, the Taliban has had little problem finding replacements for its martyred commanders. This hydra’s heart, moreover, is not in Helmand but safely out of reach in Pakistan, a country whose government has recently struck a peace deal with its militants – a development that even Isaf says has led directly to an increase in attacks on its troops in Afghanistan.
Is it not time for a new approach in Afghanistan? To scale down our ambitions there from what is desirable to something that might actually be achievable? The primary purpose of Britain’s military involvement – to help deny al-Qa’ida a base of operations – was achieved long ago. It is increasingly apparent that a secondary objective, the destruction of the Taliban, al Qa’ida’s erstwhile hosts, is beyond our means. Britain’s army is too small, and our Nato partners are unwilling to commit the forces necessary.
Notwithstanding episodes as gruesome as Friday’s prison breakout, it is time, surely, to start talking seriously to the Taliban. In any case, a negotiated settlement is the likeliest outcome of the struggle, as senior Army officers know full well. “The ultimate legacy will be a government in Afghanistan, in X years’ time, with Taliban representation,” said Brigadier Ed Butler, one of Carleton-Smith’s predecessors in Helmand, who announced his resignation a week ago. Historically, there are very few insurgencies that have not ended in negotiation; and even President Karzai – who, let it be remembered, supported the Taliban in the regime’s earliest days – is in favour of reconciliation with the movement’s more biddable elements.
Met officers to turn on each other at Charles de Menezes inquest
David Leppard, The Sunday Times
Scotland Yard is bracing itself for a “cutthroat” public showdown in which officers blame one another for the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian electrician, on a Tube train three years ago.
The Metropolitan police’s rival firearms and surveillance teams have hired separate lawyers to attack each other at the inquest into the shooting at Stockwell station in south London in July 2005.
Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner, fears that the hearing in September could turn into a month-long show of public infighting as his officers try to defend themselves under questioning by Michael Mansfield QC, the barrister for the de Menezes family.
One senior official said last week: “It’s going to be a right mess. You’ve got the surveillance teams and the firearms teams utterly opposed to each other. It’s going to be an unedifying spectacle.”
For almost two years, resentment has been simmering between the rival Met units involved in the disastrous surveillance operation that led to de Menezes, 27, being shot dead by two firearms officers.
Police had mistaken him for one of the four fugitive terrorists involved in the failed suicide bombings of July 21.
Army accused of human rights abuse in case of Iraqis held without trial for five years
Robert Verkaik, The Independent on Sunday
Britain is accused of holding Iraqi prisoners of war in a legal black hole after it emerged that two men accused of killing British soldiers have been detained without trial for more than five years.
The suspects, the last two Iraqis held in British custody, were arrested by UK forces at the end of the war and then moved between three different prison camps in southern Iraq. They claim to have been secretly detained without charge and refused legal representation.
In a letter smuggled out of Iraq, the two men call on the British government to release them or give them a fair trial.
Faisal Attiyah Nassar al-Saadoon, 56, and Khalaf Hussain Mufdhi, 58, are accused of being involved in the executions of two British soldiers captured during battles with Iraqi military forces in the first three days of the war in March 2003.
The men, both members of the Baath party government in Basra, deny any involvement in the fighting and claim they have been trapped in a legal black hole similar to the one created by the US at Guantanamo Bay to deal with so-called battlefield unlawful combatants.
Jacqui Smith faces Commons summons over secret government papers left on train
Rosa Prince, The Sunday Telegraph
Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, will be forced to appear before a Commons committee to explain the latest security breach over the loss of secret government papers.
It has emerged that Treasury papers relating to plans to tackle funding for global terrorism were found on a train and handed to a newspaper on the same day that the BBC received top-secret documents about the war on terror.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, revealed that Mrs Smith had been summoned to explain whether the latest loss had compromised national security.
It follows an investigation launched by the Cabinet Office last week into the loss of a bundle of papers including an assessment of the current threat from al-Qa’eda and the security situation in Iraq.
Exclusive: New batch of terror files left on train
Simon Evans and Margareta Pagano, The Independent on Sunday
Second batch of secret papers found on train
Dominic Tobin, The Sunday Times
In war and peace the Armed Forces are a credit to our country
The Prince of Wales, The Sunday Telegraph
But sometimes I think it is all too easy to forget that our Armed Forces’ role is so much wider. Military force is only one aspect of their work.
For instance, in both Iraq and Afghanistan there are countless examples of civil projects in which the military has been involved. They are building bridges and schools. They are repairing irrigation channels, making it possible for crops to be grown again.
They are providing medical care, fresh water and sanitation for a local population that has been without these basic services we often take for granted. That is what reconstruction is all about and it is what our Armed Forces are so skilled at providing.
This crucial work is enhancing security and stability, while delivering real improvements in day-to-day life for the local population. And, of course, staff from the Foreign Office and Department for International Development, working in partnership with our Armed Forces, have a vital role to play. I have been encouraged by recent discussions in parliament and elsewhere to refine civilian/military coordination on the ground.
This sort of work is not limited to Iraq and Afghanistan. At any given time, British Forces are involved in a wide range of missions throughout the world, maintaining peace and security, and helping to rebuild broken communities. Sometimes this is done on a long-term basis, such as in Cyprus, the Falklands and in Kosovo.
Dozens of names left off official list of British soldiers killed in Iraq
Mark Townsend, The Observer
Ministers were last night accused of ‘incompetence and insensitivity’ after it was revealed that a list of war dead compiled for MPs and Her Majesty’s coroner had missed out dozens of dead British soldiers.
Professor Sheila Bird, who discovered the ‘forgotten soldiers’ during a detailed study of the military inquest system for the Medical Research Council, said the government appeared to have lost track of the actual date of death of the fatally injured soldiers.
Families of troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq last night reacted with outrage amid calls for an inquiry into the ‘disappeared’ dead soldiers.
Corroborative analysis by Tory MP Patrick Mercer of ministerial statements concerning the death toll suggest that as many as 33 dead British soldiers literally vanished from the list of fatalities awaiting inquests given to parliament by defence and justice ministers.
First Bus has defended a bill believed to be for £125,000 sent to police for providing CCTV equipment to help a terrorism investigation in Bristol. First Bus said CCTV equipment removed from vehicles to be used as evidence had to be replaced for safety reasons.
A police spokesman said: “We have not made any payment to First Bus on the basis that conditions governing the use of CCTV footage include ensuring it’s readily available to law enforcement for the prevention and detection of crime. We have not come to any compromise with First Bus over the invoiced payment.”