UK CT & COIN Features – 22 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.

UK armed forces miss defence targets
Stephen Fidler, The Financial Times

The ability of Britain’s military to respond to challenges beyond Iraq and Afghanistan has deteriorated over the past year, rendering the armed forces unable to meet the government’s strategic objectives, the Ministry of Defence admitted on Monday.

Almost 60 per cent of the military reports serious or critical obstacles to reasonably rapid deployment on any new missions, the MoD’s annual report says.

The admission shows the extent to which current operations in the two countries are compromising the ability of the armed forces to deal with other contingencies.

The government deems Afghanistan and Iraq to be its “overriding defence priority”. But the military has neither the resources nor the structure to sustain these operations indefinitely and fighting them has come at the expense of the military’s readiness to do other things, including training for large-scale war fighting, the report says.

It concludes that “the overall readiness of the force structure continued to deteriorate throughout the year”, meaning it was impossible to meet defence targets set as part of the 2004 three-year government spending review.

Also:

Armed Forces less ready for war than ever, MoD figures show
Thomas Harding, The Telegraph

Defence spending ‘masked’ by MoD
BBC

The Ministry of Defence has been accused by MPs of masking the true costs of military spending.

The cross-party Public Accounts Committee says transferring costs of major projects between budgets makes it impossible to assess value for money.

The MoD moved £1 billion off the bill for major equipment projects over the past two years by reallocating the sums on to other budgets, the report found.

The government said it was “determined” forces got the equipment they needed.

The Public Accounts Committee said that as a result of the practice, parliament was not being given a full picture of the expense incurred by massive purchases.

This, it said, may force other defence areas to cut back on their activities to balance their books.

The MPs also said the MoD was “juggling its budgets” because it is struggling to afford all the equipment it wants to buy.

Two more plead guilty in airline bomb plot trial
Haroon Siddique, The Guardian

Two more defendants accused of plotting to blow up at least seven transatlantic aircraft in midair today pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit public nuisance.

Arafat Waheed Khan, 27, and Waheed Zaman, 24, still deny conspiracy to murder, along with six other Britons.

Last week, five other defendants at Woolwich crown court – Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, Assad Sarwar, 28, Tanvir Hussain, 27, Ibrahim Savant, 27, and Umar Islam, 30 – admitted the same charge: of conspiring to cause public nuisance by distributing al-Qaida-style videos threatening suicide bomb attacks in Britain.

Ali, Sarwar and Hussain additionally pleaded guilty to conspiracy to cause explosions. The trio admitted plotting to explode a homemade bomb at the Houses of Parliament, in what they said would have been a “publicity stunt” in protest at British foreign policy.

Down but not out
Anton La Guardia, The Guardian

In cyberspace, at least, al-Qaida is triumphant. Its followers are producing more internet messages and videos than ever: clips of American Humvees being blown up; tutorials on how to use to make cleverer bombs; a whole ideological curriculum that amounts to an open university for jihad; and even a long “press conference” with Ayman al-Zawahiri, its co-founder, who replied to countless questions put by internet surfers.

Jihadists’ mastery of the internet drives western officials to despair. As Robert Gates, the American defence secretary put it earlier this year: “How has one man in a cave managed to out-communicate the world’s greatest communication society?”

Of late, though, al-Qaida’s video productions have lost some of their swagger. They have become defensive, seeking to justify the killing of ordinary Muslims and denouncing the treachery of a growing number of enemies.

Al-Qaida has not had a good year. Its bloody campaign in Iraq is fizzling, thanks to a Sunni tribal “awakening”, America’s “surge” and jihadists’ murderous excesses. In Saudi Arabia, al-Qaida’s campaign has been largely suppressed by a combination of tough policing and softly-softly deradicalisation and social reintegration.

….

Might America actually be winning its “war on terror”? Don’t get too hopeful. It may have stopped losing, but it is not yet winning.

RIR troops hurt in Taleban attack
BBC

Six Royal Irish Regiment soldiers have been injured in an attack by the Taleban in Afghanistan.

An Army spokesperson said the soldiers were in Helmand province at the time of the attack. The extent of their injuries has not been released, but all the injured men’s families have been informed.

British troops in Iraq are set for smooth withdrawal
Siobhan Kennedy, The Times

Iraq could soon be ready for the complete withdrawal of British Forces, a senior British army commander said yesterday. Brigadier Julian Free said that security in the country had “transformed” as he led the 4th Mechanised Brigade on a homecoming march to the Houses of Parliament.

He said: “Security there has taken a massive turn for the better. The Iraq Army have helped us along.”

Asked if he thought that British troops could pull out soon, he added: “It will be a smooth and steady programme. The Iraqis are keen to do more for themselves and I think they will soon be in a position when they can take over.”

The brigadier’s comments come as Gordon Brown is set to make a statement today to the Commons updating MPs on British commitment in Iraq. Mr Brown, who visited Iraq last weekend and told troops that they were on their last leg of duty, has said that he does not want to give an artificial timetable for the withdrawal of forces.

Also:

Iraq ‘ready for UK pull-out soon’
BBC

UK ‘must uphold’ Iraq commitment
BBC

The UK must maintain its commitment to training and supporting Iraqi forces, MPs have said – ahead of a statement on the same subject by Gordon Brown.

The Commons defence committee said the security situation in the country had been “transformed”. But UK training of Iraqi forces in Basra must be a “medium-to-long-term project”, it added.

The prime minister is expected to signal his intention to cut troop levels in Iraq in a statement to MPs.

There are 4,000 British soldiers based in Basra. The committee said maintaining a sizeable training commitment was important to ensuring Britain remained an influential player in Iraq, as the country – potentially one of the biggest oil-producers in the Middle East – recovered its power and prosperity.

This muddled terror law limits free speech and wrecks innocent lives
David Edgar, The Guardian

A student downloads an al-Qaida document from a US government website and is held in custody for six days. A shop assistant writes poems about cutting people’s heads off and is tried for being a terrorist. An opera composer is accused of promoting terrorism, objects, and is bankrupted by a national newspaper.

What do these cases have in common? First, none of these people was successfully convicted of any crime. Second, none of them faced charges under the glorification clause of the Terrorism Act 2006. Third, they would not have been arrested and/or tried and/or bankrupted had it not been a climate of opinion created by that clause.

During the long battle between the Lords and Commons over its wording, ministers pooh-poohed critics’ concerns that works of fact or fiction might be vulnerable to prosecution, assuring them that the good sense of British juries would prevent prosecutions of histories of the Stern gang, biographies of Nelson Mandela or novels, plays or poems about terrorists today.

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