UK CT & COIN Features – 05 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.

Six days on the sidelines left Britain facing wrath of allies in Basra
Deborah Haynes, The Times

The Basra offensive, started unexpectedly by Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, on March 25 to rid the oil-rich port city of armed gangs, was the first real test of the Government’s ability to impose its authority on one of the most lawless parts of the country. It also demonstrated a growing distrust of the British military, which was kept unaware of the plan until the last moment after Mr al-Maliki discovered that Britain had been negotiating with the very militia he was trying to expel.

Even after the offensive had started, the 4,000 British troops based at Basra airport were unable to join the fight because of a deal with al-Mahdi Army not to enter the city. It would take six days before the permission was granted by Des Browne, the Defence Secretary.

Details of the “accommodation” between British intelligence officers and elements of al-Mahdi Army, which has been blamed for murders and other atrocities in Basra for the past four years, shocked US and Iraqi officers, who have expressed a sense of betrayal. All parties involved agree that Britain’s reputation in Iraq has been badly, possibly irrevocably, damaged by the episode.

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Also:

‘Secret deal with local militia kept British Forces out of battle for Basra’
Damien McElroy, The Telegraph

Secret deal kept British Army out of battle for Basra
Deborah Haynes and Michael Evans, The Times

‘This was a bad time for Army. But the city is now safer’
Michael Evans, The Times

Radical Islamic cleric Abu Hamza has extradition to US postponed
Jessica Salter, The Telegraph

The British Government has been told to postpone extradition of Abu Hamza until a ruling on whether sending him to a maximum security US jail would breach his human rights. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg gave the order as the 48-year-old’s lawyers claimed he would be kept in inhuman conditions.

US authorities want to jail Hamza in America’s most secure jail, the Supermax ADX Florence in Colorado, which houses 38 convicted international terrorists. His lawyers claim that prisoners live in boxes, there is only two hours exercise per week, there are no family visits and every correspondence is intercepted.

The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has already approved Hamza’s extradition and last month Hamza was refused leave to appeal to the Law Lords, the highest court in England and Wales.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The decision is a matter for the European Court. We shall seek to have his case expedited so it is heard as soon as possible.”

Hamza is currently serving seven years in Britain for soliciting murder and stirring up racial hatred.

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Peers sound warning over 42-day detention
Nigel Morris, The Independent

Moves to hold terrorist suspects for up to 42 days without charge could lead to the collapse of trials and put judges and MPs at loggerheads, an all-party group of peers warns today.

The plans, which only just scraped through the Commons, are now heading for certain defeat in the Lords by an overwhelming majority. In a foretaste of the battle to come, the Lords constitution select committee protested that the proposed extension from 28 days to 42 days was “ill-advised” and a “recipe for confusion”.

Ministers responded to widespread criticism of the proposals by setting up a complex system of safeguards. The Home Office is promising that any decision to hold a suspect beyond 28 days would have to be approved by parliament, as well as the courts.

But in a withering assessment of the plans, the committee said the “elaborate” decision-making process was a weakness, rather than strength, of the Counter-Terrorism Bill. It said: “It is likely to lead to high-profile litigation during a time when the response to terrorism will be a matter of high controversy.”

The peers warned that it might be impossible to give MPs and peers detailed enough information about investigations without prejudicing trials. “We are concerned that parliament would be asked … to make decisions that … it is institutionally ill-equipped to determine,” they said.

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Also:

Terrorism: Lords say 42-day law will put fair trials at risk
Alan Travis, The Guardian

MoD ‘slow to appreciate’ potential of drone aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan, MPs say
Thomas Harding, The Telegraph

The Ministry of Defence has been accused of being “slow to appreciate” the potential that unmanned drones had in beating the insurgencies faced by the military in Afghanistan and Iraq, a report by MPs says.

With the ability to lurk unseen for hours over enemy positions and destroy them with missiles the “battle winning capabilities” of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) were not being realised, the Commons Defence Committee said in a report.

While the American military very rapidly took on UAV technology with hundreds of aircrafts now being used the British still only have a handful on operations.

British commanders have praised the American-made Reaper drone as a major asset in “decapitating” Taliban commanders in surgical strikes but the RAF only have three of the aircraft and one of those crashed earlier this year.

Troops were also being handicapped by a major shortfall of 48 per cent of UAV operators although the MoD insisted this had no impact on operational theatres.

“The MoD must address the manning deficits in these areas in order to gain the maximum value from its current and future UAV systems,” the MPs said.

The drones were highly effective on operations but “there are a wide range of challenges…. which have to be addressed in order to exploit fully the benefits offered.” While the aircraft were collecting vast amounts of information on the enemy more need to be done in passing on the intelligence to those who most needed it.

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Diego Garcia: the UK’s shame
Andy Worthington, The Guardian

The ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus wrote: “In war, truth is the first casualty.” These words are particularly apt in relation to the British Overseas Territory of Diego Garcia, leased to the United States in 1971, where the truth – that a secret “War on Terror” prison existed from 2002 until as recently as 2006 – has been persistently denied by both the British and American governments.

Yesterday, Time magazine reported that a “senior American official” (now retired), who was “a frequent participant in White House Situation Room meetings” after the 9/11 attacks, stated that “a CIA counter-terrorism official twice said that a high-value prisoner or prisoners were being interrogated on the island” in 2002, and possibly 2003. This is the highest-level admission to date that a secret prison existed on Diego Garcia, but it is by no means the first time that the prison’s existence has been revealed.

In 2003, Time reported that Hambali, an Indonesian “high-value detainee”, who was transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006, was being held on Diego Garcia, and in May this year, El Pais [in Spanish] reported that Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, a joint Syrian-Spanish national who was seized in Pakistan in October 2005, was held on the island in the months after his capture. Unlike Hambali, Nasar’s current whereabouts are completely unknown; he is, in effect, one of “America’s disappeared.”

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