This week’s main security and defence news has been the report by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee into the war in Libya. The Guardian reports that the Committee concluded former Prime Minister David Cameron’s intervention in Libya was carried out with no proper intelligence analysis, drifted into an unannounced goal of regime change and shirked its moral responsibility to help reconstruct the country following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. The failures led to the country becoming a failed a state on the verge of all-out civil war, the report adds. The report, the product of a parliamentary equivalent of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, closely echoes the criticisms widely made of Tony Blair’s intervention in Iraq.
Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, who chairs the Select Committee, said the original aim of the military intervention to protect Benghazi was achieved within 24 hours. “There is a debate about whether that intervention was necessary and on what basis it was taken, but having been achieved, the whole business then elided into regime change and then we had no proper appreciation of what was going to happen in the event of regime change, no proper understanding of Libya, and no proper plan for the consequences,” he said. Notably, Mr Blunt criticised the British government for not taking advantage of connections with Saif Gaddafi, who had studied at LSE, and Tony Blair’s relationship with Muammar Gaddafi. “No one then said ‘let’s run this, let’s keep this line of communication open’,” said Mr Blunt.
In response to the report, a Foreign Office spokesman said: “The decision to intervene was an international one, called for by the Arab League and authorised by the United Nations Security Council.”
The report is sometimes selective in the evidence it cites and contains a number of questionable lines of speculation, but highlights the very real major problems with both the conduct of the war and its aftermath.
MoD issues apology over Iraq drowning death
The Independent reports that an apology has been issued by the MoD after a report found that a group of British soldiers forced a 15 year old Iraqi into a river in which he subsequently drowned. A judicial investigation said that Ahmed Jabbar Kareem Ali, 15, was “left alone to flounder and drown” in Basra in May 2003. Sir George Newman, a former High Court judge, found the teenager had “unlawfully treated” by soldiers struggling to deal with chaos engulfing the city.
After reviewing evidence from dozens of commanders, troops and civilian witnesses, he concluded that the circumstances in which Ahmed died “should never have occurred”. The boy was detained with three other suspected looters near Basra General Hospital and driven in an armoured vehicle to the Shatt al-Basra canal. “The soldiers, having detained him for looting, forced him to enter the canal and left him floundering,” Sir George’s report said. Like many Iraqis, he was unable to swim, and soldiers failed to rescue the teenager after watching him go under the surface – the “plain and certain” cause of the boy's death. The soldiers involved in Ahmed's death were tried in a British court for manslaughter and acquitted in 2006.
A spokesperson for the MoD said the Department had established a team to review the Chilcot report that would also have responsibility for taking Sir George’s findings into account. “This was a grave incident for which we are extremely sorry,” he added.
Whilst the vast majority of claims against British soldiers have been found to be without foundation, it has been long been clear that there were a number of incidents in which individuals and groups were responsible of the deaths of Iraqi civilians – often the result of a breakdown in unit leadership or discipline.
Question on the Service Police answered in the House of Commons
Karl Turner, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull East, has had his question to the Defence Secretary, asking what plans he has to introduce independent oversight of the Service Police, answered in the House of Commons.
Defence Minister Mark Lancaster said that the Service Police are already subject to independent oversight by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabularies and their reports are placed in the public domain. He added that the Government remain committed to the introduction of independent oversight of complaints made against the Service Police and work continues in order to identify the most appropriate means of achieving that.
Whilst it is unclear what prompted Mr Turner’s question, issues over the accountability of the police units within the Armed Forces branches – specifically with regards to how they can independently investigate their own service – have been raised by a number of MP in recent years. We will be contacting Mr Turner’s office to brief him where appropriate.
Nineteen-year-old London man charged with terrorism offence
The Guardian reports that a 19-year-old man from west London has appeared in court accused of plotting a terror attack in the UK. Haroon Ali-Syed, from Hounslow, has been charged with preparing to commit acts of terrorism between 12 April and 9 September, Westminster magistrates court heard. Prosecutor Thomas Halpin told the court: “The allegation in summary is he was plotting a terrorist attack in the UK.” Syed, who was arrested last week, spoke only to confirm his name, date of birth and address. Two other men, aged 19 and 20, were arrested at the same time on suspicion of preparing an act of terrorism and a religiously aggravated offence respectively. They were later released on bail.
Separately, for an unrelated matter, a 61-year-old man was arrested in west London on suspicion of possessing an article for the purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism. Scotland Yard counter-terror police arrested the man at 4.10pm on Monday in Kensington.
Nuclear accident training exercise takes place in Plymouth
The Plymouth Herald reports that this week saw Plymouth's nuclear incident alert warning sound and personnel go door to door delivering letters as 27 agencies co-ordinated an exercise to test the city's response to a reactor emergency. The MoD, police, Dockyard operator Babcock and Plymouth City Council were among those working together to put Plymouth's nuclear reactor emergency plan to the test. Codenamed Exercise Short Sermon 16, the day was designed to test the procedures in place for dealing with a nuclear reactor emergency involving a nuclear-powered submarine at Devonport.
As part of the exercise, personnel working at Devonport Dockyard and the Naval Base were required to take shelter or be evacuated to pre-designated shelter stations on the Devonport site. Potassium iodate tablets were distributed in selected areas outside the Devonport site via teams of Royal Navy personnel delivering notices through letter boxes.
Naval Base Commander, Commodore Ian Shipperley, stressed: “The Devonport site has a very good nuclear safety record and in over 50 years of operations there has never been a reactor accident at Devonport or one involving a Royal Navy nuclear-powered submarine which has required these emergency arrangements to be put into action.
MoD pays £80m per year in school fees
The Plymouth Herald reports that taxpayers spent more than £80 million last year paying for the children of military personnel to attend fee-paying schools – including Eton. The payments of up to £30,250-a-year are designed to allow sailors, soldiers and airmen to ensure their children’s education is not disrupted when they move around. In the last financial year £80,900,000 was spent subsidising the fees of 5,520 children of parents serving in the Armed Forces.
The Continuity of Education Allowance is open to all those serving in the UK as well as troops posted abroad. But just a third (34%) of the families benefiting from the payments are lower ranking servicemen and women, with 3,630 payments going to officers’ children. The amount which can be claimed depends on the age of the children and whether they attend a day or boarding school, with the highest payment only available to children with special need. The MoD said rules had been tightened so it was now spending £30 million less on the programme than five years ago.
Government urged to press ahead with warship construction
The Herald Scotland reports that an influential MP has urged the Government to get a move on with a multi-billion pound plan to build new warships. Dr Julian Lewis, who chairs the House of Commons Defence Committee, claimed contractors BAE Systems were ready to start work on the Ministry of Defence's new Type 26 frigates, known as global combat ships. The project has already been cut from 13 to eight new ships, while a target to start cutting steel in May has been delayed indefinitely.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon told MPs he would not sign the contract until he was “absolutely persuaded that it is in the best interests and value for money for the taxpayer”. Dr Lewis said delays to the project were the responsibility of the MoD. “Isn't it a fact that BAE Systems are ready to start cutting steel right now, and the only thing that's holding things up is a lack of funds in the MoD's budget?” he asked.
The project was promised by David Cameron in the run-up to the 2014 Scottish referendum. Chris Stephens, MP for Glasgow South West, has the BAE Systems base in Govan in his constituency. “The clear message from the workforce can perhaps be best paraphrased by Darth Vader – we want these ships, not excuses,” he said.