UK CT & COIN Features – 14 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.

Three plead guilty in airline terror bomb case
Duncan Gardham, The Telegraph

Three of the alleged leaders of a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to cause explosions. Ahmed Ali, the self-proclaimed “leader of this blessed operation,” and two men who stock-piled the components for the bombs, have accepted they were planning to attack Heathrow’s Terminal Three.

Ali, along with Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain, still maintain that they were only planning a “demonstration” against British foreign policy and did not plan to kill anyone. The jury in the trial will still have to consider verdicts of conspiracy to murder by detonating bombs on board aircraft.

The three men, along with two others, Ibrahim Savant and Umar Islam, have also accepted that they made “suicide videos” with the intention of causing a public nuisance. They claim that they never planned to kill themselves and the videos were part of a mock “al-Qa’eda-style documentary” they were planning to release on the video-sharing website Youtube. The jury will still have to consider whether they were also part of the plot to bring down aircraft over North American cities.

Two other men, Waheed Zaman and Arafat Khan, deny all charges.

Also:

5 Plead Guilty in Plot at Heathrow
John F Burns, The New York Times

Three Plead Guilty in British Terrorism Trial
Kevin Sullivan, The Washington Post

Three men admit terror bomb plot
PA / The Independent

Three admit airline bomb plot charges
Katie Cooksey, The Guardian

Royal Navy seizes massive drugs haul in the Gulf
MoD

Plymouth-based Royal Navy warships operating in the Gulf region have seized a massive 23 tonnes of narcotics, which could have been used to fund the insurgency fighting British forces in Afghanistan.

The British warships involved were Devonport-based frigates HMS Chatham and HMS Montrose, and the Portsmouth-based destroyer HMS Edinburgh. They were supported by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary helicopter support ship Argus and her embarked Sea King aircraft.

Sailors and Royal Marines from the ships discovered hidden drugs in vessels along the so-called ‘Hash Highway’, and often operated in the most unpleasant of conditions. The narcotics they seized included hashish, opiates, cocaine and amphetamines.

Speaking from the Combined Maritime Forces headquarters in Bahrain, the Commander of Royal Navy forces in the region, Commodore Keith Winstanley, said:

“The scourge of illegal drugs is one of the gravest threats to the long term security of Afghanistan, and a vital source of funding for the Taliban warlords who seek violence against Afghan, British and NATO forces. Our mission in Afghanistan is one of absolute importance and by seizing these drugs we have dealt a significant blow to the illegal trade. News of these successes has been kept quiet for operational reasons, but I am delighted that the tremendous efforts can now be recognised.”

American and British troops face a switch from Iraq to Afghanistan
Michael Evans, The Times

Both the United States and Britain are hoping to reduce their military commitment in Iraq to focus on Afghanistan.

The US is considering cutting American troop numbers to below 120,000, compared with 170,000 last year. Up to three combat brigades could be withdrawn in September.

Britain is also looking to cut troop numbers by almost a half in Iraq, from 4,000 to about 2,500, although not until next year. This would give the Government the option of deploying more units to Helmand province, where the Taleban has intensified its operations, using suicide attacks, roadside bombs and mines.

More American and British troops are now dying in Afghanistan than in Iraq, and with both countries committed to supporting the Kabul Government, the availability of additional troops to fight the Taleban is becoming an increasingly pressing issue.

Major-General Barney White-Spunner: troops to have long-term Iraq role
Deborah Haynes, The Times

The British military is likely to have a long-term role in Iraq, a top commander said today. Major-General Barney White-Spunner, who is in charge of British forces in southern Iraq, said current troop levels will only be reassessed once the job of training Iraqi soldiers and setting up a new security framework in Basra is complete.

But he said that the transformation of Iraq’s second city, which was wrested from militia control by the Iraqi security forces in April, had vindicated Britain’s often-criticised military approach in the south.

The focus for Britain’s 4,000-strong force, based at an airport outside the oil-rich, port city, is to conclude the training of the 14th Iraqi Army division, he added.

He said: “We are setting up a structure in Basra that is as future proof as it can be so that if bad people, violent extremists, do try to come back into Basra – and they will – that the Iraqi security forces have got as much help in dealing with them as they need.

“When those conditions are filled then we will make recommendations on numbers.

“What we all hope is in the future, and when the future starts I don’t know yet, there will be a long-term bilateral relationship between the UK and Iraq… which will be economic and cultural and probably have a military element.”

The pressing logic of Anglo-French defence
Philip Stephens, The Financial Times

Britain’s armed forces are badly overstretched. Iraq and Afghanistan have extracted a heavy toll. The army needs more infantry and new equipment. Morale across the services is low. A pressing task for the next government, whatever its political stripe, will be to realign capabilities with commitments. Or vice versa.

That much should be common ground at Westminster. A strategic review must ask deeper questions than whether the army can, or should, be expected to sustain two medium-sized operations such as those in Basra and Helmand. The order for two new aircraft carriers, and the consequential cutbacks elsewhere, raises fundamental issues about the configuration of the three services.

For all the deserved admiration for the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq – and justified disquiet about the speed of troop rotations, equipment and living conditions – no one is proposing a big increase in the defence budget. Recognising courage is one thing; raising taxes or spending less on schools and hospitals another.

….

Britain and France confront the same problem – they want to retain the capacity to project military power well beyond Europe’s borders, but to do so within present budgetary constraints. Part of the answer lies in working more closely together.

The US agrees. Until quite recently Washington had opposed France’s efforts to build a more coherent European defence identity. Mindful of the special relationship, Britain took the same tack. But the mood in the US has shifted.

Mr Sarkozy’s willingness to bring France back into Nato’s military structure has soothed American fears that a distinctly European capability would be an excuse to undermine the alliance. US overstretch in the Middle East leads it to expect Europe to do more to provide security in its own backyard, notably the Balkans. And, of course, politicians on both sides of the aisle in Washington want Europeans do do more in Afghanistan.

MoD faces legal action after teenage Iraqi claims sexual humiliation by soldiers
Richard Norton-Taylor and Audrey Gillan, The Guardian

The Ministry of Defence is facing fresh court action over as many as 11 cases of alleged abuse of Iraqis, including the alleged sexual humiliation of a teenage boy by British soldiers at a base near Basra in 2003, it emerged yesterday.

One allegation is that a boy of 14 was forced to carry out oral sex on another male detainee at Camp Breadbasket, a British-run camp near Basra. He has been identified only as Hassan.

Now aged 19, Hassan told of being beaten, stripped naked and forced to engage in oral sex with a close friend. He claimed that he fled Basra in shame and cannot ever see his friend again. While events at Breadbasket have been investigated by the Royal Military police, the claim made by Hassan is a new one and has prompted a fresh inquiry.

Also:

MoD inquiry into Iraqi boy’s sex abuse claim
The Independent

British army in new Iraq inquiry after boy claims sexual abuse
Michael Evans, The Times

Star Wars-style laser technology to reach battlefield
Thomas Harding, The Telegraph

Star Wars-style technology is about to take to the battlefield for the first time with the launch of a laser system to shoot down enemy missiles and mortars.

Laser beam technology is being rushed into service to combat the threat of insurgent missiles and mortars raining down on British and American military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After decades of delay and billions of pounds spent, it will be simple commercial lasers rather than the hugely expensive US Department of Defence technology that could be used to save hundreds of troops’ lives.

In just 18 months the American defence firm Raytheon has turned a laser used in the car manufacturing industry into a weapon that can hit incoming rounds at the speed of light, melting the outer casing and detonating the explosive inside.

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