UK CT & COIN Features – 31 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.

Hassan Tabbakh found guilty of making homemade bombs
Joanna Sugden, The Times

A former chemistry student who made bombs in his home was jailed for seven years today under the Terrorism Act.

Hassan Tabbakh, a 38-year-old Syrian, was found with three bottles of liquid chemicals along with speeches by Osama bin Laden when he was arrested at his home in Birmingham in December last year.

Tabbakh, who claims he was tortured in his homeland, said he was making fireworks for a religious festival.

After the guilty verdict was returned, it emerged that Tabbakh was given indefinite leave to remain in the UK in 2005 after lodging an application for asylum. He had arrived in Britain in either 1999 or 2000, initially living in Hull.

Prosecutor Max Hill QC told the jury at the start of the trial that the evidence against Tabbakh was straightforward and compelling.

Mr Hill said police found numerous items following Tabbakh’s arrest on December 18 last year which showed that he was preparing to wage “al Qaida-style” jihad.

….

Also:

Terrorist bomb maker Hassan Tabbakh jailed for seven years
Duncan Gardham, The Telegraph

Graduate jailed for making bombs
PA / The Independent

Forces may have to rent helicopters
Kim Sengupta, The Independent

British forces are so short of helicopters in Afghanistan and Iraq that they are considering renting them from other countries, or even from the controversial US security contractor Blackwater.

As a roadside bomb in Afghanistan’s Helmand province claimed the life of another UK paratrooper, The Independent has learnt that the Ministry of Defence will hold a crisis meeting at 5pm today to discuss leasing helicopters from former Warsaw Pact countries as well as commercial companies.

Chaired by the Defence Secretary Des Browne, the summit will be attended by senior military and government personnel who will be expected to solve the acute helicopter shortage.

Nato, but not Britain directly, is believed to be negotiating with Blackwater, which has come under fierce criticism from the Iraqi government and the US Congress after 17 civilians were shot dead in Baghdad last year. Another option being explored by the MoD is leasing Cougar helicopters from oil companies involved in offshore production.

….

Troop shortages force Navy to plug gaps in Afghanistan
Thomas Harding, The Telegraph

The shortage of troops for operations in the Armed Forces has forced the military to turn sailors into truck drivers to fill the gaps in the front line in Afghanistan. The biggest Royal Navy deployment on land for half-a-century will happen this autumn when up to a 1,000 sailors will be used in Helmand province to help fight the Taliban.

Naval ratings have been retrained as radio operators, drivers, medics and in numerous other posts to make up the 8,000 strong force that deploys for the six month tour in September.

Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, Commander in Chief Fleet, speaking at the end of a gruelling exercise for the sailors on Salisbury Plain, said: “Clearly this is an indication of how taut our business is across defence at the moment.”

But the Navy was proving that “if you are short” in specialist areas then “I can make a driver out of a an Able Seaman.”

But some of the training has still been hampered by a lack of equipment in Britain to train with, the Navy said.

Brig Buster Howes, the commander of 3 Commando Brigade which is leading the deployment, said his men were ready to embark on operations in what he expected to be lethal environment.

“The casualty figures bear testament to the fact that is a dangerous environment but we are well trained and well equipped for that.”

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Restoring healthcare in Basra
Shell Daruwala, MoD

One of the key tasks for the multi-national reconstruction effort in Iraq has been the rehabilitation of the country’s beleaguered healthcare system. In Basra, UK teams have been helping the Iraqis breathe new life into their local medical services.

British Army doctor Lieutenant Colonel Martin Bell, Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), has recently returned from a tour in Basra as the Officer Commanding the UK Medical Group under 4th Mechanized Brigade. Working closely with the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) teams, part of the work of the Medical Group is to provide clinical training and logistic support for the staff of local Iraqi hospitals and clinics.

Lieutenant Colonel Bell says that the improving security situation has seen Iraqi doctors return in their droves from ‘exile’ overseas while international aid has pumped money, medicines and new equipment into the healthcare system’s veins. But getting life-saving supplies quickly to where they are most needed is still a huge challenge for the hospital administrators.

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