This week’s main UK defence news has been the announcement that Britain is sending military personnel to Baghdad to support the US-led mission to help the Iraqi security forces fight the Islamic State. After news of the move was initially reported in The Daily Telegraph, a formal statement was made to the House of Commons by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP. The initiative, although small in scale, marks the first enduring British mission to Iraq since all UK forces pulled out of the country in 2011, eight years after the invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein. More British training teams could also be sent to the semi-autonomous Kurdish north of the country.
Elsewhere in the region, the Daily Mirror reported that members of the SAS have been sent to Syria to aid in the identification of targets for US air strikes. Stories regarding the exploits of the SAS by tabloid newspapers must be taken with a proverbial pinch of salt. However, their deployment would mark a logical avenue of escalation, given that the British government’s long standing policy of offering “no comment” on the activities of its Special Forces allows such units to be utilised without the usual public scrutiny (and parliamentary votes) that accompany the use of conventional forces.
Also this week, the first British Ebola treatment facility opened in Sierra Leone. The RAF intercepted a Russian bomber over the North Sea for the second time within a week. A £120 million Anglo-French defence contract to develop the next generation of unmanned aerial combat vehicles was awarded. And the Ministry of Defence Police in Plymouth had to launch a rescue mission after a man in a dingy was spotted floating at sea with no oars and nothing but a waterproof jacket.
Reports of sex attacks force early departure of Libyan Army trainees from UK
The Guardian reports that a group of Libyan soldiers is to leave the UK within the next few days after a number of them were charged with committing a series of sexual assaults against local civilians. So serious have the problems in and around the Bassingbourn training facility in which the Libyans lived become, that the base has been reinforced with troops from 2 Scots, the Royal Highland Fusiliers, who were, according to the MoD, drafted in “to bolster security and reassure the local population”. The former Conservative health secretary Andrew Lansley, who is MP for the area, said the security problems represented a serious failure by the MoD, which must be held accountable. The sex attacks come in the wake of a number of more minor incidents at the facility earlier this year – including a number of Libyans leaving the base without authorisation. The Libyan training scheme has been beset with problems since it began in June and the MoD has admitted that 90 recruits – almost a third of the 325 who were selected to take part in the programme – have withdrawn. According to the BBC, several of the cadets have made allegations of mistreatment against the Army.
The MoD’s apparent inability to keep the trainees on base and protect the local population represents a major embarrassment which may have far broader policy implications. Training foreign forces is intended to become an increasingly important role for the Armed Forces post-Afghanistan. However, unless the MoD is able to address the shortcomings that became apparent at Bassingbourn, it may not be politically possible for such training to take place in the UK.
MoD awards contracts to improve procurement performance
Defencenews.com reports that Bechtel, CH2M Hill and PwC have been awarded contracts with the Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) organisation to help improve acquisition performance. As has previously been reported in the DPF’s weekly monitoring, the deal is controversial, given lingering questions over whether bringing the notionally more efficient private sector into the MoD’s procurement process is likely to actually result in savings to the defence budget. The combined value of the contracts awarded is thought to be just under £300m. The government had been hoping to transform DE&S into a government-owned, contractor-operated organisation, but the controversial proposals were axed in December when Bechtel was left as the only contractor bidding for the work after CH2M withdrew at the last minute.
Armed police presence on Horse Guards Parade
Following the deployment of armed soldiers to Horse Guards Parade to provide protection for ceremonial troops last week, this week has seen The Daily Mail report that armed police have been seen patrolling the area. It is unclear if this represents an intentional escalation of civilian armed security or is simply a misinterpretation of routine patrols. However, their appearance has served as a reminder of new fears that military personnel on ceremonial duty may face attack by Islamic terrorists. Last month, a Canadian soldier was shot dead whilst guarding a war memorial in Ottawa.
Scottish Police Federation proposes devolution of counterterrorism policing and policy
The Scotsman reports that the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) has submitted proposals to the Smith Commission, a body which is considering further devolutionary powers for the Scottish Parliament, which suggest that all responsibility for counter-terrorism policing in Scotland should ultimately rest with the chief constable of Police Scotland. Furthermore, the SPF also says that the Scottish Parliament should have full policy and legislative responsibility on all matters enforceable through the courts in Scotland.
Police cautions ‘to be scrapped’ in England and Wales
The Guardian reports that the Government is planning to scrap the use of police cautions – where those who commit minor offences are given a formal warning – in England and Wales. Initially, they have been abolished in three parts of the country from this week under a pilot project aimed at replacing them with more punitive sanctions. If successful, it is intended that the new system of community resolutions and suspended prosecutions will eventually replace the almost 400,000 cautions delivered by officers in England and Wales every year. Under the new system, offenders would repair any damage they have done or pay compensation for less serious crimes. The Ministry of Justice said the reform would bring “an end to soft cautions” following criticisms that too many offenders were escaping any form of punishment.
Police watchdog to hold inquiry into death of suspect during police chase
The Plymouth Herald reports that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPPC) is to launch an investigation into Devon and Cornwall Police and the MoD following the death of a man who jumped into Sutton Harbour after being chased by police who suspected he had stolen a bicycle. The investigation was mandatorily referred to the IPCC by Devon and Cornwall and MoD police under statutory guidance regarding a death following police contact.