UK CT & COIN Features – 16 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.

UK shame and US pride
Marcel Berlins, The Guardian

I was struck by the symbolism of the coincidence. Within a day, the House of Commons passed the 42-day detention clause and the US supreme court decided that Guantánamo detainees did have the right to apply to the federal courts to challenge their detention under habeas corpus. A source of shame followed by a source of pride. On the surface, 42 days without charge is minuscule compared with the six years spent in Guantánamo Bay by hundreds of equally uncharged detainees. I do not believe that anyone in British detention would be subjected to anything like the kind of interrogation and treatment – whether you call it torture or not – dished out to the Guantánamo captives.

So why are you getting so excited about 42 days, I was asked? If it were just that, I would not be. But whereas the Americans’ behaviour was one, admittedly hugely exaggerated, reaction to the events of 9/11, the British legislation is part of a systematic erosion of our civil liberties. Guantánamo, however grotesque, is a one-off, which may soon end; but 42 days is part of a pattern which includes ID cards, CCTV cameras, and a host of other measures whittling away our rights and the rule of law. Unlike Guantánamo, the British laws are meant to last.

Two officers hurt in Northern Ireland landmine attack
Henry McDonald, The Guardian

The Police Service of Northern Ireland revealed today that a number of their officers narrowly escaped being killed in a landmine attack at the weekend.

A device containing a substantial amount of homemade explosives was planted under a bridge near the village of Rosslea, in Co Fermanagh, close to the border with the Irish Republic, a PSNI spokesman said.

Two officers sustained minor injuries when part of the device exploded on Saturday. The remainder was defused by British army bomb experts.

The attack is being blamed on dissident republicans who have for months been trying to assassinate police officers as part of a campaign to destablilise the peace process.

Dead troops flown home as Brown commits more
James Tapsfield and Ben Padley, The Independent

Gordon Brown pledged more troops for Afghanistan today – as the latest British casualties were brought home.

The Prime Minister said the UK military presence would be pushed to its “highest level” of more than 8,000 in order to keep up pressure on the Taliban.

Despite repeated warnings that Britain’s armed forces are stretched to the limit, Mr Brown also rejected the idea that there should be a “trade-off” reduction in troops in Iraq.

The Independent

The announcement came at a joint press conference with George Bush during what is expected to be the US President’s last formal visit to London.

British troop commitment in Afghanistan will top 8,000 next spring
Chris Smyth, The Times

The British military presence in Afghanistan will top 8,000 by next spring with the commitment of 630 specialist troops to the country, the Defence Secretary announced today.

The move is part of a plan to refocus British efforts on reconstruction and the training of the Afghan police and army, Des Browne said. His announcement came on the day that the bodies of five British soldiers killed in Afghanistan last week arrived back in Britain.

The Times

Mr Browne said that an improving security situation, with Taleban operations confined to limited parts of the country, was cause for “adjustments to the profile of our forces in Afghanistan”. The commitment will take troops numbers to the record level of 8,030; with the withdrawal of 400 troops, this represents a net increase of 230.

“My announcement today of a net uplift of 230 additional troops does not in proportionate terms represent a very significant increase. It does not mean our mission is expanding. It means we are taking the steps necessary to take our mission forward as effectively as we can,” Mr Browne said.

Also:

Britain is to send more key-skill troops to southern Afghan provinces
Michael Evans, The Times

Downing Street denies rift with Bush over withdrawal of troops from Iraq
Andrew Sparrow, The Guardian

Downing Street yesterday rejected any suggestion of a rift between Gordon Brown and George Bush over troop withdrawals from Iraq, as the US president arrived in the UK for what is expected to be his final visit to the country before he leaves office.

A spokeswoman for the prime minister said there was “absolutely no disagreement” between the two countries over the approach to troop withdrawal. She also played down the significance of comments in which Bush appeared to disparage a conference in Saudi Arabia next week about oil prices, which Brown is attending.

Bush began his UK tour with tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle and a Downing Street dinner hosted by Brown and attended by Rupert Murdoch. But just as during his previous trips to Britain since 2003, Bush’s visit drew large crowds of protesters angry at his foreign policy adventures.

Government determined to stay the course in Afghanistan
Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian

The government’s announcement today that more than 200 extra British troops are to be sent to southern Afghanistan is a clear signal that it is determined – for the forseeable future at least – to stay the course there.

While ministers and British commanders are itching to get out of Iraq – but cannot, not least because of American political pressure – they have said that Afghanistan is vital to Britain’s national security, the “front line” against al-Qaida and Taliban-inspired terrorism.

But the announcement, by Des Browne, the defence secretary, to MPs in the Commons this afternoon, is significant for a specific reason. The 230 or so extra British troops who will join the 7,800 already there will be specialists, including engineers and training instructors, who can help build up Afghanistan’s civil infrastructure and train the Afghan army and police forces. As in Iraq, progress in these two areas has been extremely slow and has exasperated the security situation.

British military commanders have realised that, despite their efforts, civil agencies cannot do the job, not yet anyway. General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the army, revealed in a speech last Thursday that he disclosed he had directed the army to draw up plans for “permanent cadres of stabilisation specialists”. He envisaged a “multi-disciplined and inter-agency organisation that would be capable of both fighting alongside local forces and delivering tasks in areas where the civil agencies cannot operate”.

Seeing the bigger picture in Afghanistan
Robert Fox, The Guardian

The dispatch of hundreds of extra British troops to help train Afghan soldiers and police the vital border territory around Garmser wrested from the Taliban, is an understandable tactical decision. But now we need to be told of some serious strategic thinking and decision-making.

The government now needs to set a realistic timetable and list of aims for Iraq, Afghanistan and the future of the armed forces. Airy rhetoric about Afghanistan being “a noble cause” has had its day.

For the past five years the forces have been committed to action on two fronts, under a bewildering multiple of commands and with an even more bewildering multiple of aims. In Iraq they’ve been under orders from Americans and the Iraqi government. In Basra they tried a softly-softly approach which has led to warlords and militias running their own regime on the streets of the city on an escalating scale of violence and intolerance.

….

In Afghanistan things are getting even more complicated. Britain will have about 9,000 troops all told in the country – and in a war that has run on a year longer than the second world war. The first main job will be keeping the Taliban out of the areas they’ve just been thrown out of in southern Helmand. Many of the new troops will be trainers and “mentors” to the Afghan army – which means they will fight alongside them if they are attacked or need to go out on operations.

Army secures its gains after Taliban supply route seized
Tom Coghlan, The Telegraph

Soldiers from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders laboured over the weekend to construct strongpoints and check posts in an area of southern Afghanistan newly liberated from Taliban control.

South of the town of Garmser, where the desert horizon is an undulating blur of heat haze, British forces had faced the Taliban in a largely static war for two years. But in a month of fighting, with more than 100 separate engagements, the Taliban have been successfully pushed back after suffering about 200 dead.

The offensive involved around 2,300 American Marines and 200 men from 5th Bn, Royal Regiment of Scotland (The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders). These gains cost only one American life with another dozen injured.

The Garmser area, described by Lt-Col Nick Borton, the commander of British forces in southern Helmand, as “an iconic piece of ground for both sides”, was the key supply route for all Taliban fighters in Helmand province.

But having won the area, British forces must hold it against Taliban infiltration. They are racing to fill the security void created by the territorial gains. “The problem is that the more successful you are in counter-insurgency, the more troops you need to police the ground you’ve won,” said one British officer.

Forest Gate anti-terror raid brothers to get £60,000 compensation
The Telegraph

The two brothers at the centre of the Forest Gate anti-terror raid will receive £60,000 in compensation from Scotland Yard, it emerged last night.

Mohammed Abdul Kahar, 25, and Abul Koyair, 23, have been in negotiations with the police for six months. They originally demanded £125,000 in damages for assault and negligence, but it has been reported they will now receive a total of £60,000 in a deal due to be signed in the next two weeks. The police will also compensate four close relatives and two neighbours inconvenienced by the raid.

The brothers were arrested in June 2006 by officers searching for a chemical device in their East London home. Mr Kahar was mistakenly shot in the shoulder by police during the raid and their house, at 46 Lansdown Road, was partially destroyed. They were released without charge after spending a week in custody.

British Army: Dannatt won’t be armed forces chief
Duncan Gardham, The Telegraph

Sir Richard has incurred the wrath of ministers after commenting that soldiers are paid less than traffic wardens and their families in Britain are living in “appalling” housing.

He could have moved from his current post of Chief of the General Staff to Chief of the Defence Staff on the retirement of Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, but Sir Jock has been asked to stay on until a suitable replacement is found.

He was expected to stand down in April but a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: “There is no end-of-tour date for Sir Jock Stirrup. We are not prepared to discuss this further.”

£100,000 police hunt for ‘terror’ suit to fit over turban
The Telegraph

A police project that involved spending £100,000 helping a Sikh officer find a chemical and biological attack suit to fit over his turban and beard has been described as “ridiculous”.

The junior officer, who has not been named, encountered problems trying to join West Midlands Police’s counter-terrorist operation support unit because he could not fit protective gear over his religious headwear and beard.

The Telegraph

Police chiefs decided to let him spend 18 months trying to find new respirators and helmets suitable for Sikhs.

But after failing to come up with an alternative he was restored to his regular role – only to go on long-term sick leave for stress.

Troops pay tribute to soldiers killed in ambushes
Tom Coghlan, The Telegraph

A piper’s lament and the fragile notes of The Last Post hung in the desert air as five British soldiers began their final journey home from Afghanistan.

All were members of 2nd Bn, The Parachute Regiment, who died in two separate attacks last week. They returned home aboard an RAF Hercules transport aircraft in coffins draped with the Union flag and bearing their maroon regimental berets.

The Telegraph

At least 1,000 soldiers gathered by the runway at Camp Bastion in Helmand province, standing to attention in a horseshoe formation around the five coffins as the intense heat subsided and the sun sank into the desert haze.

They represented every nation with soldiers in this desolate part of Afghanistan: British, Irish, Czech, Australian, American, Danes, Swedes, and almost every man who could be spared from the essential work of running the base.

Iraq veteran to join Davis campaign
Colin Brown, The Independent

Colonel Tim Collins, the British officer who was praised for his speech before the invasion of Iraq, is backing David Davis’s by-election campaign against Big Brother anti-terror laws. Mr Davis, who has resigned as shadow home secretary to fight the by-election in his East Yorkshire seat over the extension of pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects to 42 days, said the retired colonel was a hero who would campaign with him.

“He is going to come and talk about how you defeat terrorism without using repression,” Mr Davis said. Col Collins is best known for his address to the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment, as they prepared for battle.

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