This week’s main security and defence news has been the bombing of a tube train at Parsons Green tube station in London on 15th September. The device apparently failed to fully detonate, but injured thirty people. Pictures taken of the train showed a white bucket on fire inside a supermarket bag, with wires trailing on to the carriage floor. The Islamic State quickly claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Guardian reports that following the bombing, the UK’s terrorism alert was raised from ‘severe’ to ‘critical’. Alongside the increased terror threat, phase one of Operation Temperer was activated, allowing for the option of deploying up to 5,000 troops to sensitive sites and events, transport hubs and other crowded public places to release armed police for other policing duties. MDP officers were deployed to a number of civilian sites across the UK to support their Home Office counterparts. However, the threat level was subsequently downgraded back to ‘severe’.
The FT reports that police have arrested a 17-year-old man in south London in connection with the attack, bringing the total number of arrests so far to six. The arrest follows three arrests in Newport on Tuesday and Wednesday and two arrests in Dover and west London on Saturday. All six men are being held at a south London police station. Commander Dean Haydon, head of the Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism command said: “This continues to be a fast-moving investigation. A significant amount of activity has taken place since the attack on Friday. We now have six males in custody and searches are continuing at five addresses. Detectives are carrying out extensive inquiries to determine the full facts behind the attack.”
· Anti-terrorism force faces £50m cut
· Report that Royal Marines facing cuts
· Force says it would struggle to respond to major terrorist attack
· Chief of the Defence Staff elected as senior NATO leader
· UK has ‘largest online audience’ for online jihadist propaganda
· Call for post-Brexit security treaty
· RAF strikes 'have killed more than 3,000 IS fighters'
Anti-terrorism force faces £50m cut
The Times reports that the Government is planning to cut £50m from the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism’s (OSCT) budget over the next two years – reducing its funding from £947m this year to £896m in 2019-20. The unit is responsible for Britain’s overall terrorism strategy, both domestic and international, liaising with MI5, MI6 and the police. It also funds the government’s Prevent programme.
The Home Office has claimed that the funding cut will primarily fall on efforts to counter organised crime, as opposed to counterterrorism. However, Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Labour’s shadow minister for security who unearthed the figures, described the funding cut as “deeply concerning” given the heightened terror threat. The Home Office said that the overall sum spent on anti-terrorism is increasing from £11.7bn in 2015 to £15.1bn in 2020.
Report that Royal Marines facing cuts
The Times reports that British military leaders are weighing up various options to make significant savings in defence spending, including reducing the Royal Marines by 1,000 personnel. Also being considered is scrapping at least one amphibious assault ship, holding off on the acquisition of F35 jets and retiring a fleet of C130 aircraft, the newspaper reported. Reducing the size of the 6,640-strong marines could save around £50m a year and mean more money for the other elements of the Royal Navy which is said to have a shortfall of around £300m.
This potential move comes after it was announced earlier this year that the Royal Marines were to be cut by 200 to allow the Royal Navy to recruit more sailors without violating the overall personnel cap. The MoD is due to submit a final set of options to Mark Sedwill, the national security adviser in charge of the mini defence review, on 28th November. His conclusions are due to be published in January.
Reports that key capabilities are to be cut typically appear in the press in advance of the publication of defence reviews, and this ‘mini-review’ appears to be no different. Nevertheless, the MoD continues to face major financial challenges that will likely necessitate economies. The DPF will be engaging with Mr Sedwill, who is leading the review, to highlight the vital nature of the capabilities the MDP provides.
Force says it would struggle to respond to major terrorist attack
The Guardian reports that Avon and Somerset constabulary has warned that it would struggle to provide the response to a terrorist attack that the public would expect because of cuts. The report says the force has reached a “tipping point” because of financial pressures and an increased workload. The paper states that: “In the aftermath of Manchester, Westminster, London Bridge and … Barcelona, the public have a heightened expectation of policing response that would be very difficult for us to deliver in significant provincial cities such as Bristol and Bath.” It adds “We now face a tipping point. We cannot sustain further funding cuts without extremely serious consequences.”
Since the Government’s first comprehensive spending review in 2010, the report says, the Avon and Somerset force has made savings of £65m, with 655 fewer police officers. It will have to find a further £17m by 2021-22 to balance its budget.
Chief of the Defence Staff elected as senior NATO leader
The Evening Standard reports that the military head of Britain's Armed Forces has been elected to one of the most senior roles in NATO. Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the Chief of the Defence staff, will take over as chairman of the military committee from June next year. The role involves chairing meetings of all the alliance's military chiefs as well as advising secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg. Sir Stuart was appointed to his current role, the UK's highest military position, in July 2016.
Prime Minister Theresa May said: “That Air Chief Marshal Peach has been elected to this position by his fellow chiefs of defence across NATO underlines the esteem in which he is held by his peers.” She added “While Sir Stuart's appointment is testament to his ability and achievements, it is also a demonstration of the leading role that the UK plays in NATO and the importance of the alliance to the UK.”
The UK is focusing much of its efforts to retain influence in Europe post-Brexit on its security role, and this appointment will be seen by many to demonstrate that this strategy is bearing fruit.
Further inquiry may be held into be held into death of Iraqi boy
The Daily Telegraph reports that British troops finally cleared of wrongdoing over the death of an Iraqi civilian 14 years ago may face a fresh inquiry ordered by the MoD. The men, two of whom are still serving, have been investigated at least three times already over the death, culminating in a three-year inquiry by the discredited Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), shut down by the Government after a public outcry. The men had recently been told that they will not face charges, but now must wait to discover if the Iraqi Fatality Investigations (IFI) unit wishes to pursue an investigation.
The alleged victim, 19-year-old Said Shabram, drowned in May 2003 amid claims he and another man were forced into the water at gunpoint as troops struggled to quell riots in Basra.
UK has ‘largest online audience’ for online jihadist propaganda
The BBC reports that online jihadist propaganda attracts more traffic in the UK than any other country in Europe, Britain is the fifth-biggest audience in the world for extremist content after Turkey, the US, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The study from the think-tank Policy Exchange which makes the claim argues that the UK public would support new laws criminalising reading content that glorifies terror. Its 130-page report found the Islamic State produces more than 100 new articles, videos and newspapers in a week – saying any decline of the terror group in the online space had been “significantly overstated”. It added “For at least a year, the production of content has continued despite the death of key figures, loss of territory and ongoing fighting,” it said.
The Guardian reports that Theresa May has called on major interned companies to remove extremist material within two hours of it being posted. The meeting comes amid growing concerns that groups such as Islamic State are able to produce and distribute videos and online magazines too readily. Home Office analysis shows that Isis shared 27,000 links to extremist content in the first five months of the 2017 and, once shared, the material remained available online for an average of 36 hours
Call for post-Brexit security treaty
The Guardian reports that the Government has said that British-European cooperation on tackling terrorism and crime will “fall well short of current capabilities”, increasing the risk for citizens across Europe, without a new security treaty post. The Government’s “future partnership paper” on security, law enforcement and criminal justice, published on Monday, outlines an “ambitious” model of cooperation outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
The British Government paper says it envisages a “comprehensive framework for future security, law enforcement and criminal justice cooperation” with a treaty that provides for the obligations on both sides and spelling out a mechanism to resolve disputes. This approach is preferred to a number of separate agreements covering each area of law enforcement.
RAF strikes 'have killed more than 3,000 IS fighters'
The BBC reports that RAF airstrikes in Syria and Iraq have killed more than 3,000 militants from so-called Islamic State, MoD figures suggest. Figures to the end of July show an estimated 2,684 fighters have been killed in Iraq since 2014. Another 410 have died in Syria since 2015, they suggest.
The MoD said there was “no credible evidence” that it had killed civilians but said: “That isn't the same as saying we have not or will not do so.” Airwars, a group which monitors civilian casualties from international airstrikes in the region, said it would be “statistically impossible” for the RAF to carry out hundreds of attacks without killing civilians.