This week’s main security and defence news has focussed on military activity in the Middle East, including the offense to recapture the city of Mosul in Iraq. The city has been under the control of Daesh since 2014. Coalition forces, including UK troops, have advanced on the city and are currently engaged in intense combat with Daesh fighters to regain the group’s remaining stronghold in the region. Further details can be found in this week’s document.
Elsewhere, the aerial bombardment of the Syrian city of Aleppo continued as hopes of a political settlement to pause the violence stalled over deteriorating relations between the two main international actors in the civil war, America and Russia. International condemnation of Russia’s support for the Syrian Government’s continued assault on the city grew this week. Britain’s own Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has previously suggested Russia’s actions amounted to war crimes and demonstrates the polarised relations between Russia and western allies. It has been reported this week that the US and UK Governments were considering fresh economic sanctions against Russia and the Syrian Government, signalling military intervention is not an imminent option.
A travelling delegation from northern Scotland held talks this week with Defence Minister Mark Lancaster over the future of the Fort George barracks near Inverness. The Ministry of Defence is currently undertaking a footprint review which could see the Army move out of the 250-year old barracks. The delegation, which included local MPs and council leaders, sought assurances that base was not under threat of closure. Fort George contributes 750 jobs and £16m to local economy, and has been the home of the Black Watch battalion since 2007. The barracks also house the recently renovated museum for The Highlanders, and has undergone £30m of investment over the last three years. The delegation highlighted that this made the financial case for closure incoherent. Official MOD figures have shown that Fort George is the cheapest army base to run in Scotland.
Finally, it has been announced that Britain’s newest Trident nuclear submarine will be called HMS Dreadnought. The name was announced to coincide with Trafalgar Day, and is the first of four submarines that will be built under the £31bn programme. Dreadnought has a long naval history, the new submarine being the tenth ship to carry the name, which dates back to 1553.
· Former SAS solider investigated over Iraq ‘mercy killings’
· Attorney-General labels abuse claims ‘baseless’
· Coalition forces advance on Mosul
· Parliamentary question on defence service pensions
· Young army recruits face greater risk of death, injury and mental illness
Former SAS solider investigated over Iraq ‘mercy killings’
A former SAS sergeant who served in Iraq is being investigated over the killing of several mortally wounded enemy combatants during a military exercise in 2003. Sgt Colin Maclachlan, who left the SAS in 2006, recounted in a recently published memoir how he had killed three Iraqi soldiers on the Syria border, two of which had been disembowelled and another who had lost three limbs following SAS rocket attacks, after they had “pleaded” with him to do so. Killing mortally wounded soldiers contravenes British law and the Geneva convention. As such, Sgt Maclachlan is now being investigated for criminal behavior. It is believed the investigation will be carried out by the Special Investigation Branch of the Royal Military Police, however the MOD has chosen not to comment on the case.
Writing in his book SAS Who Dares Wins: Leadership Secrets From The Special Forces, Maclachlan said that special forces had acted quickly to put the soldiers out of their misery, rather than leave them in agony. Content from the book was shared six weeks ago with the MOD, following which an inquiry was launched after notifying a senior legal official, Lieutenant Colonel Alan Nurse. Sgt Maclachlan defended his actions and said he believed he had made the right moral judgement and was willing to appear in court to show he had done nothing wrong.
Prime Minister Theresa May has recently called for greater protection for British forces who served in Iraq, after 1,500 allegations of murder, abuse and torture were made against troops involved in the war. Sgt Maclachan’s own admission of his actions means his investigation will be open to the full scrutiny of a police investigation.
Attorney-General labels abuse claims ‘baseless’
Speaking at a hearing of the Defense Select Committee, the Attorney-General Jeremy Wright QC MP has conceded that the majority of claims against British soldiers in Iraq were “baseless” and did not “have any merit whatsoever”. The Attorney-General was referring to the 1,500 complaints that are being investigated by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), which date back to the conflict in 2003. He said that the sheer volume of complaints indicated that the vast majority were spurious.
The MOD set up IHAT in 2010 following a series of adverse legal rulings against British soldiers, which threatened to open further proceedings into allegations of war crimes at the International Criminal Court. Defense Committee member Johnny Mercer MP said that the Attorney-General’s comments confirmed that the Government should close IHAT immediately, to save war veterans from the stress of criminal investigation and significant cost to the tax payer.
Elsewhere, a claim for damages was heard in the High Court in London in which an Iraqi citizen claimed his human rights had been breached whilst being held captive by British troops. The claimant said he had suffered from respiratory problems, a broken tooth and varicose veins as a result of his detention. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said a “pernicious industry trying to profit from dubious claims” had arisen and that “defence spending should go on defence, not into lawyers’ pockets”.
Coalition forces advance on Mosul
The battle for Mosul unfolded throughout the week, as coalition partners, including British forces, attempted to re-capture the city after being held for two years by Daesh. Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi special forces led the operation, and consolidated their position after a series of quick gains. By Thursday evening the coalition had advanced to within six miles of the city, as a large armoured convoy attempted to take control of a series of villages north of the city.
Daesh responded by flying two drones over the coalition forces, one of which was successfully shot down. As forces continued to advance on Mosul, Daesh has launched a series of counter attacks on the city of Kirkuk. It has been reported that at least nine suicide truck bombs have targeted the coalition, one of which destroyed an armoured Humvee. Many Daesh leaders are believed to be fleeing the city for neighbouring Raqqa, however aerial strikes have been targeting the fighters as they flee. A total of 25,000 forces are taking part in the Mosul offensive, as they hope to make a swift capture of the last remaining stronghold of Daesh in the region.
Parliamentary question on defence service pensions
The SNP MP for East Renfrewshire, Kirsten Oswald, has asked a parliamentary question this week on what progress has been made on the MOD’s discussions on Defence Fire and Rescue Service pensions, following talks with trade unions. Defence Minister Mark Lancaster responded by saying that HM Treasury is currently reviewing the Enhanced Effective Pension Age for Ministry of Defence Police Officers, and that this review would be extended to Defence Fire and Rescue Service personnel also.
The Minister added that the Government were anticipating that a decision would be made by 30 November 2016, which meant that discussions with trade unions were currently on hold until after the review had concluded.
The Federation is continuing to engage with officials on MDP pensions and will keep members updated.
Young army recruits face greater risk of injury, death and mental illness
A report by the public health charity Medact has suggested Army recruits under the age of 18 are at increased risk of death, injury or long-term mental-illness, compared to those who are recruited as adults. Research by the charity found that younger recruits were more likely to be recruited to the frontline. Examining the conflict in Afghanistan, the report found that British soldiers who were enlisted at the age of 16 were twice as likely to die as though who enlisted when they were over 18.
The report suggested that younger recruits were also more vulnerable to suicide and self-harm. As such, the charity is calling for the recruitment age of the British Army to be raised to 18. The UK is the only country in Europe that allows recruitment below the age of 18. Several parliamentary bodies have criticised the Army’s recruitment policy, however an MOD spokesperson defended the policy by saying the Armed Forces offered opportunities to young people that might not otherwise be there.