UK CT & COIN Features – 10 July 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 two separate wars takes Army close to breaking point
Michael Evans, The Times

How much longer can the Armed Forces go on fighting two wars at the same time? The Government faces a dilemma. For political reasons it is impossible for ministers to revert to the original plan to reduce the troops in Iraq from 4,000 to 2,500 this year; and in Afghanistan the figures have been rising steadily, from 3,300 in 2006 to 7,800 today and more than 8,000 by the end of the year.

Gordon Brown is due to make a statement to the Commons on Iraq before the parliamentary summer recess but there will be no promises on troop cuts.

The sense of foreboding within the Armed Forces is spreading. As one senior defence source told The Times, the bottom line is that “if these two campaigns continue on this scale, it could break the Army”.

The source, who was intimately involved in planning the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, added: “The original design was to draw down in Iraq in order to build up in Afghanistan. This was at the heart of the strategy but it simply hasn’t happened, which is why the Forces are overstretched, not so much on the bayonets [combat troops] side but in all the support areas, such as engineers and signals and logistics.”

Also:

Armed forces survey reveals morale crisis
PA, The Independent

Armed forces survey reveals poor equipment and morale
Thomas Harding, The Telegraph

Nearly half of service personnel consider quitting, survey finds
Sarah Knapton, The Guardian

Half of all British servicemen say they want to quit
Michael Evans, The Times

All ranks in Armed Forces blow whistle on web over poor conditions and pay
Chris Smyth, The Times

Army, Navy and RAF say their lives are at risk from poor equipment
Michael Evans, The Times

British ‘friendly fire’ incident leaves nine casualties in Afghanistan
Michael Evans, The Times

A ‘friendly fire’ incident in Afghanistan has claimed nine British casualties, the Ministry of Defence confirmed tonight. A British Apache helicopter opened fire on troops on the ground during an operation in Helmand province.

Three of the men were seriously injured with one being flown back to the UK for treatment. The two other seriously wounded men are being cared for in the medical centre at the British base Camp Bastion. The six others have been discharged and have returned to their duties. Next of kin have been informed.

A statement from the MoD said: “On July 9 at 12.27pm, a routine British patrol requested fire support from a British Apache when they encountered enemy forces near Forward Operating Base Gibraltar.

“After successfully engaging one enemy position, the Apache fired upon another position which the crew believed to be held by enemy forces. However, in the confusion of a rapidly changing situation and, in what is a challenging environment, it would appear that friendly forces were mistaken for the enemy and as a result three members of the patrol were seriously wounded and six more were classified as walking wounded.

Also:

Soldiers injured in ‘friendly fire’ attack
The Independent

Nine Paras wounded in Afghanistan ‘friendly fire’ incident
The Telegraph

British troops in Afghanistan injured by friendly fire

James Sturcke, The Guardian

MoD to pay £3m to Iraqis tortured by British troops
Matthew Weaver and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian

The government has agreed to pay almost £3m to the family of Baha Mousa and nine other Iraqis tortured by British troops and issued a full apology for the “appalling abuse” they suffered. The group’s lawyers, Leigh Day & Co, said the Treasury solicitors had agreed to pay £2.83m in damages after two days of talks in London.

General Freddie Viggers, the officer dealing with the mediation, issued a full apology to the nine men and Mousa’s family. It said: “The British army apologises for the appalling treatment that you suffered at the hands of the British army. The appalling behaviour of British soldiers made us feel disgusted.”

Mousa, a 26-year-old hotel receptionist, died in September 2003 after being detained in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, along with a group of other Iraqis, on suspicion of being insurgents. A postmortem found Mousa suffered 93 different injuries, including a broken nose and fractured ribs. It said he died of asphyxia, caused by a stress position that soldiers forced him to maintain.

Also:

MOD in £3m abuse pay-out to Baha Mousa and nine other Iraqi ‘torture’ victims
Duncan Gardham, The Telegraph

MoD paying out £2.8m to abused Iraqis
The Independent

MoD to pay £3 million in compensation to Iraqi torture victims
Philippe Naughton, The Times

The West still isn’t taking the Iraqis into account
Adrian Hamilton, The Independent

Within the next week – or so we are told – the Prime Minister will be delivering a statement of firm intent about the future of our troops in Iraq. The ground has been prepared, the journalists invited out to see the security progress made in Basra. Interviews have been conducted with the soldiers on the ground and the generals up above. The time has come to declare victory and start withdrawal

Not that Gordon Brown can be expected to use the language of exit, of course. He might like to. Indeed, he wanted to when he took over last year. But the US put a stop to that. The UK may feel pretty divorced from US policy in Iraq, and even from the “surge” (the Americans had to come down to Basra themselves when they wanted to extend the surge to the south), but we are still partners in this venture and must obey the imperatives of US policy towards drawing down troops.

But there is enough good news coming out of Basra and the training of Iraqi forces to claim that the troop reduction postponed at US request will be able to go ahead at the end of this year and that, over the following year or so, we will be able to pull out most of our forces. Not a retreat, you understand, not a final exit. But it will be cast as a recognition of what Iraqi forces can now do. And it will be accompanied by a long-term commitment to help the Iraqis with training and civil reconstruction. We will go in force, but remain in spirit.

And why not? One of the bugbears of any rational debate on Iraq (or, for that matter, Afghanistan) is the way that everything always has to be distorted by the question of whether the war has been a success or not. Opponents of the war are no more right to wish it go all wrong – and thus constantly play up the negatives – than proponents are to proclaim the undoubted improvement in security in Iraq as justification for the invasion and occupation.

Let Afghans set local law, says UK minister
Alex Barker and Daniel Dombey, The Financial Times

Afghans must be free to set laws that clash with western values and legal principles if order is to be established in the country, Des Browne, the UK defence secretary, said on Thursday.

In an address to the Brookings Institution in Washington, Mr Browne said policymakers must drop any illusions of “imposing a Jeffersonian democracy” and press forward with “Afghanisation” of the justice and police systems. This would mean, where necessary, supporting laws and structures that “may not sit easily with our culture and norms but do so with theirs”, he said.

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