UK CT & COIN Features – 29 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.

Constant tours of duty leading to exodus of officers
Kim Sengupta, The Independent

Continuous deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq are leading to an exodus of experienced personnel from the military, with the danger that it may be losing its next generation of commanders, an official report is expected to warn this week.

A number of senior officers who were due to form the future leadership of the Army have left, leading to worries about a vacuum in strategic posts. The report by the Commons Defence Committee is due to state that more than 20,000 people left the armed forces last year and that action must be taken to halt the trend.

The MPs suggest that the Government should take action to reverse the trend, in particular by offering wages that are competitive with the private sector. They also suggest that the erosion of gaps between tours, in breach of the Ministry of Defence’s own guidelines, needs urgent attention.

As well as a potentially severe shortfall in the number of officers of a certain rank in two to three years’ time, the report will point out that a number of “pinch-point” positions such as mechanics and nurses are under intense pressure. Those leaving the services cite extended tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving them little time with their families, combined with poor pay, for their decision to seek jobs elsewhere.

Irish terror threat: ‘A mishmash of different factions in different areas’
Henry McDonald, The Guardian

AUDIO (4 mins): The threat posed by dissidents in Northern Ireland is more severe than any extremist threat on the British mainland.

British soldier killed in Afghanistan
The Guardian

A British soldier was shot dead while on foot patrol in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, according to the Ministry of Defence.

It takes the number of British troops killed in Afghanistan this year to 27.

The MoD said: “The patrol received reports from locals that the Taliban were in the area but before they could take up defensive positions they received incoming fire, and the soldier sustained a single gunshot wound.”

The soldier belonged to the 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland. The next of kin have been informed.

July 7 plot jury allowed majority verdict
Haroon Siddique, The Guardian

The jurors in the trial of three men accused of helping the 7/7 suicide bombers to pick their targets for the 2005 attacks that killed 52 innocent people were today told they could return a majority verdict.

Mr Justice Gross gave the direction, which means agreement by 10 out of the 12 jurors would be acceptable for a verdict, after more than 10 days of deliberations by the jury failed to produce a decision.

The jury retired to consider its verdict on July 14 following a three-month trial at Kingston crown court.

Waheed Ali, Sadeer Saleem and Mohammed Shakil are accused of accompanying two of the 7/7 bombers on an alleged “hostile” reconnaissance of potential targets in London in December 2004.

During the trip they visited the London Eye, the Natural History Museum and the London Aquarium.

Seven months later Mohammed Sidique Khan, Shezhad Tanweer, Hasib Hussain and Jermaine Lindsay detonated rucksack devices packed with explosives on three Tube trains and a bus.

Also:

7 July plot: Jury given majority direction
PA / The Independent

Jurors in airline bomb plot trial consider verdicts
Haroon Siddique, The Guardian

The jury in the trial of eight men accused of plotting to kill more than 1,500 people by detonating liquid explosives aboard transatlantic flights from Heathrow began considering its verdicts today.

Each of the men faces two charges of conspiracy to murder between January 1 and August 11 2006.

Prosecutors allege that the men, all British Muslims, planned to smuggle the homemade explosives aboard the planes, departing from Heathrow terminal three, in soft drinks bottles.

Six of the eight men on trial recorded “martyrdom” videos.

Three of the defendants – Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, Assad Sarwar, 28 and 27-year-old Tanvir Hussain – have admitted conspiracy to cause explosions.

They admitted plotting to explode a device at the Houses of Parliament as part of what they said was a “publicity stunt”.

Ali told the court the blast would not have been intended to harm anyone but to draw attention to an internet documentary, including footage from the “martyrdom” videos, designed as a protest against western foreign policy.

Kenyan troops accused of torture ‘were trained by SAS’
Thomas Harding and Mike Pflanz, The Telegraph

Scores of elite Kenyan soldiers have been trained by British Special Forces as part of the government’s global counter-terrorism campaign.

But it has now been alleged that troops from 20 Para, who were specifically trained by the British Army, carried out a number of human rights abuses in Kenya’s far western Mt Elgon region.

“A small number of soldiers from the unit have previously received very specific training on border security from the UK,” the MoD said in a statement.

“We are urgently seeking further details from the Kenyan authorities.

Were the allegations proved to be true the UK would not resume training until we were satisfied that these had been properly addressed.” There is no training currently ongoing between Britain and 20 Para, the MoD added.

But Kenya’s elite 20 Para, trained by British special forces, are believed to have been involved in a strong-arm sweep against an insurgent group which has been fighting in the country’s west for two years.

Careful science can help to fight terrorism
Richard Mottram and Clive Cookson, The Financial Times

Science and technology are usually seen as western strengths in fighting terrorism. Counterterrorism depends on science – but, at the same time, science generates terrorist risks and could compound the problems terrorism creates.

For a start, scientists, engineers and doctors have played a considerable role as terrorists since the mid-20th century. The high status of these professions may be partly responsible, as modern terrorists are drawn disproportionately from the better-educated sections of societies. But something about the certainties enshrined in many scientific disciplines may also chime with the inflexible philosophy of some terrorist groups. These are professions with ways of thinking that, for a very small minority of their members, seem to help point them towards terrorism.

In addition, inadequately regulated scientific activity and the unconstrained dissemination of scientific knowledge may enhance the terrorist threat in its most severe forms, such as bioterrorism. Balancing traditional scientific freedom and openness with regulatory regimes that are effective on a global basis will be both increasingly important and extremely difficult.

The third problem is that the unconstrained use of scientific and technological solutions in countering terrorism – for example, exploiting developments in sensors and in biometrics, information-handling and communications – could themselves damage the free society we are seeking to sustain. However, a modern society would be negligent if it did not use all the resources of science and technology to counter terrorism. As well as contributing to more effective surveillance and intelligence-gathering, science can help strengthen infrastructure and mitigate the effects of an attack, particularly if a nuclear or biological weapon were to be used. And we can expect disciplines such as psychology and the social sciences to contribute more to our understanding of what drives terrorism – and therefore how best to prevent it.

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