Among widespread reporting on Defence matters this weekend there was particular focus on EU Migration, the UK Government’s response to the Nepal earthquake and newspaper reports about nuclear safety and security in the Royal Navy.
Today there is broad coverage of the Defence Secretary’s attendance at EU discussions in Brussels aimed at tackling the migration problem in the Mediterranean, and reports from Iraq that ISIL has taken the strategically important city of Ramadi, some 70 miles from Baghdad.
Yesterday the Sunday Express reported that Britain is poised to send 200 Royal Marines to the Mediterranean to lead a blockade aimed at degrading Libya's people-trafficking gangs. The Times and The Independent followed-up the story today, speculating that Britain is poised to provide remotely piloted air systems, intelligence support and to help create a military headquarters to lead armed operations against people smugglers in Libya. It is reported that Foreign and Defence Secretaries Philip Hammond and Michael Fallon are set to offer a series of measures to help curb traffickers at today’s EU discussions on tackling the migrant crisis. There is speculation that one of Britain’s biggest warships HMS Bulwark - which hjas already saved hundreds of people at risk of drowning - could be switched into a combat role to help take on the smuggler networks. The Telegraph says Europe is to step up cooperation with countries that help with interception or take people back, while the Mail and the Express say ISIL jihadists are travelling to Europe on the boats by disguising themselves as refugees. A BBC Radio 5 investigation says that ISIL take half the profits from each boatload, which comes to tens of thousands of pounds. The Mail on Sunday also this weekend claimed that British Special Forces are poised to launch a series of daring operations along the Libyan coastline to destroy the ships used by traffickers.
Arriving at the discussions this morning, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:
The Royal Navy is already saving lives at sea, but we need to agree action today to get after the criminal gangs and to disrupt the trafficking networks. That means gathering much more intelligence on how these networks are organised and doing more to help the countries where the migrants come from.
Three RAF Chinook helicopters sent to Nepal are returning home after the country's government said they were not needed, reported the Times, Sun, Guardian and Daily Telegraph this weekend. The articles report that there is speculation that the Nepalese government feared the double rotor aircraft would damage already weakened buildings, although sources have said that the real reason is fears from India and China, whose countries border Nepal, about having British aircraft near their airspace. The Government’s position, carried in the articles, is below:
A Government spokesperson said:
The UK has been the biggest bilateral aid donor to Nepal in response to last month's devastating earthquake contributing over £23m, and we will continue to support the ongoing relief effort. We are disappointed that our Chinooks will not be supporting the World Food Programme's request for help in distributing aid but all decisions in relation to the relief effort are ultimately for the Government of Nepal to take.
An account by a Royal Navy submariner about his assessment of Trident nuclear submarines featured on the front page of the Sunday Herald this weekend and has been followed up by a range of national outlets throughout yesterday and today. The article states his views that Trident submarines are at risk from security lapses and safety issues. The paper reports that the whistleblower, named as William McNeilly, is on the run from police after publishing a document setting out his experience on HMS Victorious. The news articles include extracts of the document, including his assertions that Trident missiles are vulnerable to terrorist attack. Angus Robertson MP is quoted as saying that if the reports are true they are extremely concerning. The articles state that the Royal Navy has launched an investigation into the report, featuring background quotes that the criticisms in the report are “subjective and unsubstantiated”.
Responding to the coverage, a Royal Navy spokesperson said:
The Royal Navy takes security and nuclear safety extremely seriously and we are fully investigating both the issue of the unauthorised release of this document and its contents. The naval service operates its submarine fleet under the most stringent safety regime and submarines do not go to sea unless they are completely safe to do so.
It has been reported across all broadcast outlets this morning that Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar Province which is 70 miles from the Iraqi capital Baghdad, has been taken by ISIL. Iraq’s Prime Minister has called for troops to stand their ground. US officials have said they are aware of the reports of heavy fighting.
A Government spokesperson said:
We are following the situation in Ramadi closely. Coalition forces continue to provide targeted air support in ISIL-held and contested areas throughout Iraq, with the Coalition launching numerous air strikes in Ramadi over the weekend. We have long said that there would be ebb and flow in the fight against ISIL. As the Prime Minister has said, this will be a long process, but we will, working with the Government of Iraq and coalition partners, eventually be successful. The fighting at Ramadi again shows the complex and difficult security situation in Iraq. Our thoughts are with the families of the victims of these brutal attacks. The priority must now be security and welfare of civilians who have fled the fighting. We are working closely with the Iraqi government to establish what support may be needed.
Human Rights Claims
The Sun today says Britain’s first female Armed Forces Minister Penny Mordaunt has declared war on ‘tank-chasing lawyers’ making torture slurs against British troops. She says her top priority will be halt spurious human rights claims which cost the taxpayers millions - and give brave servicemen and women a bad name. The new Minister, a serving Royal Navy Reservist, said there was currently an excessive amount of unwarranted litigation.
Syrian Opposition Training
The Times reported on Saturday that Britain is expanding its efforts to train moderate Syrian opposition forces at military camps outside Syria. The piece says that about 85 British troops started to train Syrian rebels in Jordan last week as part of a joint programme led by the United States, and commanders want to expand the mission to training centres in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in an effort to build a local force capable of fighting ISIL. A Whitehall source is quoted in the piece, which explains that whilst there is a desire to galvanise the opposition forces and support them, there is no appetite for British forces to be deployed on the ground, and that no definitive options have been worked up.
Two Libyan soldiers who were stationed in Britain have been jailed for 12 years for the rape of a drunk and vulnerable man after a night out, report small articles in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Times and Daily Star, with larger articles appearing in the Guardian and the Daily Mail. The pieces include the fact that the men were based at Bassingbourn Barracks in Cambridgeshire as part of an agreement to help Libya after the 2011 collapse of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
A MOD spokesperson said:
As we have previously made clear, we condemn the incidents that took place in Cambridge and Bassingbourn. Following the conclusion of the training the Prime Minister tasked the MOD with producing a report on the programme and the Defence Secretary has now presented its findings to the House of Commons. We accept that communication with the local authorities and community was not good enough and we are now implementing the report’s recommendations. We have been clear that this training will not be repeated at Bassingbourn.
The Times, The Independent, The Guardian and Telegraph report that a British security contractor was among three people killed in Kabul on Sunday when a suicide bomber attacked a convoy belonging to the European Union police mission outside the Afghan capital’s airport. A spokesperson for the British embassy in Kabul confirmed that a British man had died but declined to give further details while next of kin were being informed. Two Afghan girls were also killed in the attack, which was the second in a matter of days claimed by the Taliban.
A number of publications including the Sunday Times report an interview with Prince Harry where he states that National Service should be reinstated. The Daily Mail says former military chiefs have backed his calls. Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander in Afghanistan, said National Service would not undermine the professionalism of the Armed Forces and that service encourages discipline, self-respect, team spirit and a good work ethic. The government has no plans to re-introduce national service.
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