UK CT & COIN Features – 18 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.

First female British soldier killed in Afghanistan
Matthew Weaver, The Guardian

A female member of the Intelligence Corps has become the first British woman killed in the conflict in Afghanistan, it was confirmed today. Her convoy was caught in an explosion yesterday afternoon which killed three other British troops.

The deaths take the number of British troops killed in the region to 106 since the conflict began in November 2001. The defence secretary, Des Browne, admitted that the last ten days in Afghanistan had been “extraordinarily difficult”.

Yesterday’s blast occurred east of Lashkar Gah, in the volatile Helmand province. Three were killed in the explosion and another was pronounced dead on arrival at Camp Bastion.

Also:

SAS reservists and servicewoman killed in secret Afghan mission
Michael Evans and Jenny Booth, The Times

First British woman and three special forces soldiers killed in Afghanistan
Tom Coghlan in Kabul, Nick Allen and Caroline Gammell, The Telegraph

Four soldiers killed in Afghan blast
Sam Marsden, PA / The Independent

Terror chief next to be released on bail
Duncan Gardham, The Telegraph

A man who was once called one of the world’s most wanted terrorists is to be freed under similar bail conditions which led to the release of al-Qa’eda preacher Abu Qatada. The man, referred to only as “U” in court papers, cannot be named under the terms of a court order but will be released as soon as his bail conditions have been agreed, the Daily Telegraph has learned.

He was implicated in separate plots to blow up Los Angeles airport and the Christmas market in Strasbourg and is said to have “direct links to Osama bin Laden and other senior al-Qa’eda figures.” The Home Office claims he was a “leading organiser and facilitator of terrorist activity.”

U has had his bail agreed “in principle” along with another man, cleared of an alleged terrorist plot to use the poison ricin.

The other man, known only as “Y” in court papers, also cannot be named. His fingerprints were allegedly found on a photocopy of a poison recipe along with those of police killer Kamel Bourgass and on a plastic bag containing an imitation handgun found at Finsbury Park mosque.

They are the last of the 14 men detained under the Special Immigration Appeals Commission to be released.

Abu Qatada release will be appealed
Duncan Gardham and Gordon Rayner, The Telegraph

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is vowing to continue the Government’s fight to deport Abu Qatada, the radical cleric described as Osama bin Laden’s “right-hand man in Europe”, after his release from jail.

She said she was “extremely disappointed” at a court’s decision to bail him and insisted the Home Office would press on with a last-ditch attempt in the House of Lords to send him back to Jordan to face terror charges.

Qatada was released on strict bail conditions after a judge ruled that there were no grounds to keep him in prison.

The decision to allow him to return to his home in London – where he will receive around £1,000 per month in state benefits – made a mockery of the government’s promise to crack down on terror suspects, and embarrassed the Home Office, which had pledged to deport Qatada to Jordan.

Also:

Qatada sent home with electronic tag after six years in jail
Robert Verkaik, The Independent

Abu Qatada: What they said
Martin Beckford, The Telegraph

Abu Qatada: Key dates
By Martin Beckford, The Telegraph

Speechless with fear: on reconnaissance in Taleban-controlled Helmand
Stuart Ramsay, The Times

The soldiers had taken to calling it “Death Valley” and, looking down from a high mountain pass, I could see why. The village below, nestled between sheer Afghan mountain ranges, seemed peaceful enough but the final three-mile stretch snaked through a narrow pass flanked by sheer rock.

I have been with the Parachute Regiment’s elite Pathfinder reconnaissance unit for the past two weeks. They have been working with no support deep in the north of Helmand province in Afghanistan. This is Taleban and drug-producing territory. No foreign troops have been here for the best part of two years, leaving the Taleban well-entrenched and armed.

Dangerous man or dangerous policy?
Inayat Bunglawala, The Guardian

Last week, in his resignation statement, the former Tory shadow home secretary David Davis rightly described the 42-day pre-charge detention period for terror suspects that parliament had just authorised as “a monstrosity of a law”.

Yesterday, Abu Qatada, a controversial Muslim preacher, was released from the maximum security Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire after having spent almost six years behind bars despite never having been charged here with having committed an actual crime let alone been convicted of one. The main reason that the government was able to keep him behind bars for more than 28 days (or the new 42-day limit) without bringing any evidence of wrongdoing is that he was a foreign national.

Abu Qatada was released under conditions which were to all intents and purposes tantamount to a form of house arrest and has to remain at home for 22 hours a day. Another of the conditions imposed on him is the prohibition from attending any mosque. This is a wholly counterproductive requirement given the fact that performing prayers in a mosque is a highly recommended practice of the Prophet Muhammad and adult male Muslims are obligated to perform the Friday jumu’ah prayer in congregation in a mosque. It certainly appears to be a strange way to “win the hearts and minds” of young British Muslims.

If Abu Qatada really was a “truly dangerous individual” and “heavily involved, indeed at the centre of terrorist activities associated with al-Qaida”, as the Home Office claimed in a 127-page dossier then surely the police should have placed him under surveillance until they had accumulated the necessary evidence to charge him with a crime. Instead, the government ordered him to be locked up and just threw away the key. Just imagine, six years of your life taken away by a government that at every opportunity claims that it is waging wars overseas in order to better defend our freedoms.

Technology can protect liberty and security, argues Brown
Alan Travis, The Guardian

Gordon Brown yesterday took up David Davis’s challenge of launching a national debate over the future of civil liberties by arguing that new technologies such as DNA and CCTV had to be adopted, as long as they came with safeguards and more transparency and scrutiny.

In a London speech with some of his fiercest civil liberties critics in the audience, the prime minister promised that the information commissioner would be asked to produce an annual report to parliament on the state of surveillance in Britain.

Although Labour will not field a candidate in the forthcoming Haltemprice and Howden byelection, Brown delivered a point by point refutation of the resignation claim made by the ex-shadow home secretary that the government was slowly strangling civil liberties in Britain.

The prime minister delivered a defence of the 42 days limit on pre-charge detention for terror suspects, the introduction of ID cards, and the growing use of DNA evidence and CCTV cameras, saying it was time to write a new chapter in Britain’s history that would protect citizens’ security and individual liberties.

He told an Institute for Public Policy Research conference that there was a British way of meeting the challenge of dealing with terrorism and organised crime while advancing the civil liberties society was founded upon. “The British way cannot be a head-in-the-sand approach that ignores the fact that the world has changed, with the advent of terrorism which aims for civilian casualties on a massive scale and which respects not only no law, but also no recognisable moral framework.”

British Army gunners pack a punch in Iraq
Karen Thomas, UK MoD

Packed off from the gun lines on the Contingency Operating Base (COB) in Basra, a team from D Battery, 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, deployed north to Tallil. As well as delivering munitions back at the insurgents’ door, the Gunners’ 155mm self-propelled weapon,capable of firing 96lb (43.5kg) Nato HL15 projectiles over a range of 25km, also rapidly caught the attention of their coalition comrades.

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