UK CT & COIN Features – 22 June 2008


A round-up of today’s newspaper articles covering the UK’s involvement in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations at home and abroad.

US officials ‘despair’ at Nato allies’ failings in Afghanistan
Tim Shipman, The Sunday Telegraph

American officials are in a state of near despair about the failure of Britain’s European allies to do more to beef up Nato combat power in Afghanistan. A Pentagon adviser told The Telegraph that US commanders wish they had never agreed to Nato taking charge of major combat operations against the Taliban in the lawless south of the country.

They believe that different military rules of engagement and different approaches to reconstruction have made it impossible to devise a unified strategy for fighting and nation building, leaving the way open for the resurgence of the Taliban.

There is still a division of responsibility in Afghanistan between forces operating under Nato’s International Security Assistance Force and those that are part of the US’s Operation Enduring Freedom, the original US military operation in Afghanistan.

Wars cost money. False economies cost lives
Patrick Mercer, The Independent on Sunday

After nine deaths in 10 days in Afghanistan we need to apply some of the lessons learned the hard way in Northern Ireland. To make our troops less vulnerable we need more of them, and they need to be properly equipped with armoured vehicles and helicopters

Whatever your stance on the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one can doubt the courage of our young soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen who fight there. Thank God that we have got youngsters like these who are prepared to do the brutal and bloody work that ultimately keeps us safe in our beds.

In February 2006 the Government announced the deployment of troops to Helmand province – an area of Afghanistan in which there had been very little fighting and which seemed benign. But it was benign because no one was challenging the Taliban in that area and they, in their turn, were using it as a staging post for operations further into the interior of the country. A cursory glance at history showed that fighting was likely to be severe if troops were deployed here in any numbers and some of us pointed this out to the Government. John Reid was Defence Secretary at the time and his hope that no shots would have to be fired in anger was thought by many of us to be ludicrously optimistic.

So it has proved, and two years later, the single battle group that was first deployed has had to be expanded to a force five times that size. After the initial fighting, when the Taliban used relatively conventional tactics and lost many men, they have adopted terrorist tactics that kill our soldiers but make our enemies less vulnerable. So, how can we deal with this?

Young Muslims ‘are turning to extremism’
Patrick Sawer, The Sunday Telegraph

Extremists are winning the battle for the hearts and minds of Britain’s young Muslims, a disturbing police report warns. Increasing numbers have become so alienated from mainstream society that they could even lend their support to jihadi terrorism, the study claims.

While most reject violence, many distrust police and are reluctant to inform on extremists. The report was commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) after last year’s failed bomb attacks in London’s West End and at Glasgow Airport. It is to be discussed at Acpo’s annual conference this week.

In the most comprehensive research of its kind to date, Prof Martin Innes, of the Universities’ Police Science Institute in Cardiff, led a team of researchers which carried out face-to-face and telephone interviews with more than 600 Muslims in London, Birmingham and Oldham.

They found that the radicalisation of young British Muslims was more widespread than previously feared, with “a disturbing proportion” expressing support for extremist elements.

General Sir Michael Jackson: We must maintain our will in Afghanistan
General Sir Michael Jackson, The Sunday Telegraph

Our opponents are, in all probability, of the view that the West has not got the stomach for a long campaign – we must have the strategic endurance to more than match them.

If we were not to do so, I believe that the Taliban would again impose itself by violence on Afghanistan; we would be back to square one, or worse, with the Taliban harbouring international terrorists and imposing terror internally. We must not allow this to happen, and so we must maintain our will and accept the cost in blood and treasure, remembering that risk-free soldiering is a contradiction in terms.

The question of when the campaign will successfully conclude is not, therefore, one of dates, but one of achieving the right conditions for Afghanistan to stand alone without international assistance. It is of strategic importance that the international community holds its nerve, with Pakistan having a particularly crucial role in handling terrorism in that country.


Tactics in Afghanistan: right or wrong?
The Sunday Telegraph

David Miliband: British troops have a clear mission in Afghanistan
David Miliband, The Sunday Telegraph

Stop killing the Taliban – they offer the best hope of beating Al-Qaeda
Simon Jenkins, The Sunday Times

The British expedition to Afghanistan is on the brink of something worse than defeat: a long, low-intensity war from which no government will dare to extricate itself. With the death toll mounting, battle is reportedly joined with the Taliban at the very gates of the second city, Kandahar. There is no justification for ministerial bombast that “we are winning the war, really”.

What is to be done? In 2001 the West waged a punitive retaliatory strike against the hosts of the perpetrators of 9/11. The strike has since followed every law of mission creep, now reduced in London to a great war of despair, in which the cabinet can do nothing but send even more men to their deaths.

In seven years in Afghanistan, America, Britain and their Nato allies have made every mistake in the intervention book. They sent too few troops to assert an emphatic presence. They failed to “hit hard and get out”, as advocated by Donald Rumsfeld, the American defence secretary. They tried to destroy the staple crop, poppies, and then let it go to warlords who now use it to finance suicide bombers, among others.

They allowed a corrupt regime to establish itself in the capital, Kabul, while failing to promote honest administration in the provinces.

They pretended that an international coalition (Nato) would be better than a unitary command (America), which it is not. They killed civilians and alienated tribes with crude air power. Finally, they disobeyed the iron law of postimperial intervention: don’t stay too long. The British ambassador threatens “to stay for 30 years”, rallying every nationalist to the insurgents’ cause.

The catalogue of western folly in Afghanistan is breathtaking.

The Taleban can’t win in Afghanistan – but nor can we
Matthew Parris, The Sunday Times

History teaches us that British defiance always turns to compromise. Why should it be different in Afghanistan?

It has been hard over the past fortnight to avert our eyes for long from Helmand, and from the task facing the British Forces in Afghanistan. As I write there have been nine deaths in the past nine days, and – although perhaps it shouldn’t – the fact that one was a woman has only sharpened the media spotlight. Sadly, the battle for Helmand is a good story. The plot is simple, the human tragedies poignant, the pride in victories real, and the photography amazing.

And yet an insistent voice within whispers that we needn’t bother about Helmand. I mean this literally: not that Helmand doesn’t matter but that we can be fairly confident of holding the line there. We can hold Helmand for as long as we try hard to. As an issue we can forget the ebb and flow of military fortune in southern Afghanistan because, though military fortune will always ebb and flow, there is no way our troops are going to sink.

British commanders in the field are right to say that the Taleban’s resort to crude terrorism marks a retreat of a kind: an acknowledgement that it cannot gain victory in set-piece battle. And nor can we. And nor can the Taleban gain victory by terrorism. And nor can we gain victory over terrorism. And nor need the cost in blood deter us: the Boer War took a much crueller toll. And nor need the cost in treasure dismay us; it’s a hefty whack we’re paying for this but it isn’t going to ruin the British economy.

It isn’t, in the end, the way each day’s skirmish goes that should preoccupy British policymakers. It’s what the skirmishing is for, and whether this is achievable, that should trouble British minds, even as we mourn each loss and celebrate each victory.

Army crisis as 10,000 troops are unfit to fight
Sean Rayment, The Sunday Telegraph

Senior officers fear that the cumulative effect of “tour fatigue” – the pressure of supplying troops to combat zones continuously for over five years – is beginning to take its toll on the Army.

One in 10 soldiers are now classified as unfit for operations, a higher proportion than at any time since the start of the Iraq war in 2003.

The Ministry of Defence figures can be disclosed just days after the Prime Minister extended the Army’s commitments by sending an extra 230 troops to Afghanistan.

Special forces find proof of Iran supplying Taliban with equipment to fight British
Mark Townsend, The Observer

British special forces operating on the border between Afghanistan and Iran have uncovered fresh evidence that Tehran is actively backing insurgents fighting UK troops.

Documented proof that Iran is supplying the Taliban with devastating roadside bomb-making equipment has been passed by British officials to Tehran, prompting fears that the war in Afghanistan may escalate into a regional armed conflict.

Days after Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Britain would freeze the assets of Iran’s largest bank to discourage Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, Whitehall sources revealed that they had forwarded ‘documentation’ that the Iranian authorities were supplying enemy forces in Afghanistan.

‘We have given Tehran documentation of things that we are concerned about, but of course they have denied it,’ a Whitehall source said.

Police boost in war on terror
Paul Kelbie, The Observer

Police forces across Scotland are to get an extra £3.8m to improve anti-terrorism training and raise public awareness.

More than 50 new counter-terrorism posts to improve ports and airport security will be created as part of a joint initiative by the Scottish and UK governments. Part of the money will be used to develop better emergency planning for terrorist attacks and improve the delivery of terrorism awareness messages in the wake of the Glasgow airport attack.

‘All in Scotland, regardless of background, are united by their common humanity, and Scotland came together a year ago to stand united as a nation against terrorism,’ said Kenny MacAskill, Justice Secretary.

He said: ‘The Scottish government is fully committed to the fight against terrorism and that is why we are equipping our police forces to tackle this menace. These additional counter-terrorism officers will help to make our ports and airports more secure and allow the police to work with communities to raise awareness of terrorism and related issues to make Scotland a safer place.’

Right or wrong, we must let mothers go to war
Minette Marrin, The Sunday Times

Everyone in the country must have been touched and saddened last week after Corporal Sarah Bryant’s death on duty in Afghanistan by photographs all over the media of her wedding day three years ago. She looked luminously young and pretty, in a fairy story wedding dress, with her handsome soldier husband beside her and her life ahead of her.

The death of any soldier is a terrible loss; all the massed photographs of the young men and women who have died have been painful to look at, as has the news footage of coffins coming home and families struggling with their grief at funerals all over the country.

In one sense the loss of Bryant is a loss like all the others – different in countless private and personal ways to those close to her, no doubt, but the same in its heroism and self-sacrifice and in the sorrow it causes.

Yet somehow it did seem rather different to me and I suspect that the same vague sense of a difference might be what underlies the massive coverage that has been given to her death in particular, although three young men died with her.


Women at war: equal before the enemy
Michael Smith, The Sunday Times

War in Afghanistan: ‘She was a truly special person who died a hero’
Andrew Johnson, The Independent on Sunday

Remove us from the front at your peril, say women soldiers
Mark Townsend, The Observer

Warlord: My encounter with Taliban mastermind
Raymond Whitaker, The Independent on Sunday

In a month when Britain has lost nine soldiers in Afghanistan, including the first woman, and hundreds of Taliban fighters were freed by a daring bomb attack on Kandahar’s main jail, the British public is only just becoming aware of the malevolent power of Jalaluddin Haqqani.

A man once known only to old Afghan hands is being credited with the resurgence of the Taliban since 2006. He is said to have introduced Iraqi-style suicide bombings to a country where they were unknown and are still considered by many to be un-Islamic. Wily and well connected, he is emerging as the biggest threat to Britain and its Nato allies in Afghanistan, where last month more Western troops were killed than in Iraq for the first time since 2003. He has experienced a comeback as spectacular as that of the movement he is now serving as principal military commander.


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