UK CT & COIN Features – 30 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.


Hanging on the telephone
Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian

It seems that some terror suspects can’t help using their mobiles, despite knowing they’re being listened in on. Britain’s security services are picking up more suspicious activity from Northern Ireland dissident republicans than from any other radical group, including extreme Islamist-inspired plotters regarded by MI5 as the biggest threat to Britain’s security, the Guardian’s Ireland correspondent reported this week.

There are six times as many intercept warrants allowing the tapping of phones in Northern Ireland than in any other part of the UK, according to intelligence sources.

This may seem surprising given the relative peace in the north of Ireland and MI5’s claims that it has identified 2,000 individuals – far more than the estimated number of active dissidents in Northern Ireland – in the UK inspired by al-Qaida and extreme Islamist ideology who posed a direct threat to the UK’s national security.

The intercept figures can be explained by the many years during which the security services have infiltrated republican groups in Northern Ireland and identified suspects, and the ease with which they could place taps. It has been said that GCHQ could hoover up every call coming from and going into Northern Ireland, let alone conversations within the territory, with no strain at all on its electronic eavesdropping capacity.

The figures also suggest that despite the large number of Islamist-related individuals in its sights, MI5 does not have sufficient evidence to obtain ministerial tapping warrants to target the suspects. It is also possible that these people have taken rigorous counter-intelligence steps, avoiding using the phone precisely because they suspect they are being bugged.

But not everyone is so careful. Indeed, security and intelligence officials around the world say they are constantly surprised by the way plotters who know they are likely to be targets still cannot resist using the telephone.

Pressure on armed forces unprecedented, say MPs
Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian

Britain’s armed forces are operating at an unprecedented pace and lack the resources needed to carry out the commitments demanded of them, a cross-party committee of senior backbench MPs warn in a report published today.

The number of trained military personnel joining the frontline is falling while the number leaving the armed forces early is increasing, it says.

Service personnel spend increasingly long periods away from their families and gaps between operational deployments are narrowing.

The armed forces and their families are “under intense pressure”, warns the report by the Commons defence committee. Moreover, the armed forces will not be able to meet effectively any future, as yet unknown, obligations, it adds. The MPs say they question the purpose of targets which, “given recent operational tempo, the MoD has no chance of meeting”.

This bleak assessment of the state of Britain’s armed forces comes after the government has introduced measures designed to improve their lot. In today’s report, the MPs make it clear they believe the government still has not done enough, though they say that some of the problems, notably the poor state of many married quarters, are longstanding. Some of the recruitment problems are the result of deep cuts in manpower made by the Conservative government in the early 1990s after the end of the cold war, they say.

SAS squad tried to save doomed pair in Baghdad helicopter crash
Stephen Adams, The Telegraph

SAS soldiers in Iraq desperately tried to rescue two injured comrades from a crashed helicopter before it exploded in a deadly fireball, it has been revealed.

They tried to drag out Trooper Lee Fitzsimmons and Sergeant John Battersby, who were trapped in the wreckage of a Puma which crashed in Salman Pak, on the outskirts of Baghdad, last November.

But while battling to release the men, they realised they had to pull back because the aircraft was leaking fuel.

Moments later the helicopter exploded, killing the pair. Twelve others were injured in the crash.

Despite seeing their friends killed the highly-trained soldiers, from 22 SAS’s A Squadron, pressed on with their mission to launch an attack on an enemy compound and capture two insurgents.

The helicopter crashed because the pilot lost control when the rotor blades kicked up a dust cloud as it was landing, an inquiry has heard.

The identities of Tpr Fitzsimmons, 26, a former Royal Marine, and Sgt Battersby, 31, formerly of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, were finally revealed on Monday after a seven-month ban was overturned following media applications.

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