UK CT & COIN Features – 04 August 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.

British Muslims aid Taliban in attacks on UK soldiers in Afghanistan
Kevin Dowling, The Times

British Muslims are actively supporting the Taliban and al Qaida in attacks on UK soldiers, the former commander of Britain’s forces in Afghanistan said today.

Brigadier Ed Butler, 46, claimed his troops also uncovered evidence that militant Islamic groups in Helmand Province are suspected of assisting terrorist plots in the UK.

Earlier this year suspicions were raised that the Taliban were recruiting an increasing number of fighters from Britain after RAF experts overheard secret transmissions spoken in broad Midlands and Yorkshire accents.

At the end of the week that saw the toll of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan reach 114, Brig Butler said a growing number of British-born Muslims were assisting the Taliban.

He said: “There are British passport holders who live in the UK who are being found in places like Kandahar.

“There is a link between Kandahar and urban conurbations in the UK. This is something the military understands, but the British public does not.”

….

Deal with Shia prisoner left Basra at mercy of gangs, colonel admits
James Hanning, The Independent

British commanders in Iraq made an astonishing secret deal with a Shia prisoner to withdraw from Basra which left the city at the mercy of criminal gangs, one of the UK’s senior military officers serving in Iraq has said.

Colonel Richard Iron said the “understandable but inexcusable” deal was one of several “terrible mistakes” the British have made during their occupation of the south of the country.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent on Sunday, Col Iron, who leads the teams mentoring the Iraqi army in central Basra, said the deal had included the release of 120 prisoners and had the effect of leaving the city in a lawless state.

“We have made some terrible mistakes in Iraq and it is only by talking about them that we will learn from them,” said Col Iron, an expert on anti-insurgency. “Last autumn we made a mistake which was understandable but not excusable. A Shia prisoner, Ahmed al-Fartusi, said he could put a stop to the killings. We released 120 of their prisoners and withdrew out of town, but when we moved out, lawlessness took over. As 90 per cent of the attacks were against us, we thought if we moved out we would remove the source of the problem. But actually the Jaish al-Mahdi [the Mahdi army, known to British troops as the Jam] had been fighting us because we were the only obstacle to their total control.”

Col Iron, a veteran of Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Kosovo, added that Basra’s problems had not been properly understood.

“We have treated Basra more like Palermo than Beirut,” he said, “as if the problems were more about a few criminal tribes and families than religious groups. Baghdad thought Basra was easy to solve and didn’t fully understand the extent of the problem, plus the Americans, with their obligations in Mosul and elsewhere, believed Basra could look after itself. It was compounded by having little guidance from above as to whether we were right to accept the deal.”

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Police prepare terror attack warning for restaurants and cinemas
James Kirkup, The Telegraph

Restaurants, cinemas and theatres will get police warnings to prepare for terrorist bombings amid fears of “mass casualty” attacks in British town centres.

The Daily Telegraph has learned that the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, a specialist police unit, is drawing up guidance for hospitality and entertainment sites as part of a drive to prepare for terrorist attacks on crowded public places.

Big hotels will also be covered by the new “protective security guidance” to prepare for attacks including car bombs and suicide bombs.

Owners and managers of hospitality and entertainment firms will be told to assess their businesses’ likely vulnerabilities to attack and prepare contingency plans for staff in the event of an attack.

The police-led security office will this month start running counter-terrorism training exercises for businesses in the “night-time economy”. Known as ARGUS courses, the exercises will present staff and managers in restaurants, cinemas, theatres and hotels with a simulated terrorist attack.

There is no specific intelligence pointing to attacks on town centres and the NCTSO says its guidance documents and training exercises are intended to prepare businesses for the worst.

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US ‘held suspects on British territory in 2006’
Jamie Doward, The Guardian

Terrorist suspects were held by the United States on the British territory of Diego Garcia as recently as 2006, according to senior intelligence sources. The claims, which undermine Foreign Office denials that the archipelago in the Indian Ocean has been used as a so-called ‘black site’ to facilitate extraordinary rendition, threaten to cause a diplomatic incident.

The government has repeatedly accepted US assurances that Diego Garcia has not been used to hold high-ranking members of al-Qaeda who have been flown to secret interrogation centres around the world in ‘ghost’ planes hired by the CIA. Interrogation techniques used on suspects are said to include ‘waterboarding’, a simulated drowning that Amnesty International claims is a form of torture. But now the government’s denials over Diego Garcia’s role in extraordinary rendition are crumbling. Senior American intelligence sources have claimed that the US has been holding terrorist suspects on the British territory as recently as two years ago.

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RAF to send fifth of rescue crews to Afghanistan
The Telegraph

The RAF is cutting a fifth of its helicopter crews from Britain’s search and rescue service to send them to Afghanistan.

The crews are being sent to Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan to fly British troops, the Ministry of Defence confirmed yesterday.

Helicopters have become the preferred mode of transporting troops because there is less risk of roadside bombs.

Many of Britain’s 114 deaths in Afghanistan have been caused by mines, IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and suicide bombs directed at troops travelling by land.

It is also hoped the extra support will prevent pilots being run into the ground.

But the move will see the number of crews available at each of Britain’s six RAF search and rescue stations reduced from five to four.

And it is feared the current ability to respond to emergencies within 15 minutes will be put at risk.

….

Also:

RAF sends air rescue crews to Afghanistan
Michael Smith, The Times

British hostages in Iraq have been separated
Damien McElroy, The Telegraph

A group of British hostages in Iraq is being held individually in separate compounds across Baghdad, according to officials in the city.

An intensive series of raids by coalition forces has uncovered four sites that have been used to hold some of the five men for over a year.

Security officials in Baghdad said evidence was found that some of the five men had been recently moved from at least one of the compounds raided by special forces in the operations. Samples of DNA were retrieved.

Up to 30 hiding places were targeted during the raids, many of which took place in the lead up to the first anniversary of their capture in May, officials said.

The SAS and other elite British units were involved alongside American and Iraqi counterparts in the majority of the rescue attempts.

The conditions under which the men were held in Shia districts around Sadr City and New Baghdad were described as spartan but relatively comfortable. The men are believed to have access to satellite television and were allowed to exercise with gym equipment and weights. The group had access to showers and plenty of bedding at all the locations. When they were moved in convoys they were also wrapped in carpets, according to an informant.

The five men were seized from Iraq’s finance ministry last year by a well-organised squad of up to 40 armed men.

….

Spy chief Sir David Pepper goes public about the secret life of GCHQ
Michael Evans, The Times

A former spy chief who has held the most secret role in Britain’s intelligence community has provided a unique insight into life as the director of GCHQ.

Sir David Pepper, 60, who retired after five years running the Government’s signals intelligence centre, took the unusual step of describing GCHQ to a local newspaper, admitting that it was a “pretty mysterious” place for people who had never worked there. Its staff are responsible for gathering intelligence from intercepted telecommunications to help in the fight against terrorism and to assist British troops overseas.

Musing about his experiences, Sir David recalled how he had to rush to London, “blue lights flashing”, on July 7, 2005, to attend an emergency meeting called by Tony Blair after the London suicide bombings.

He told the Gloucestershire Media Group of local newspapers of “flying over Afghanistan in an RAF helicopter that had once belonged to the Soviet Air Force, ducking for cover in Basra and Baghdad as rockets landed not far away”.

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