Richard Norton-Taylor

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The Taliban is experiencing a renaissance and now has a permanent presence in more than 70% of Afghanistan: so claimed a report published yesterday by an independent thinktank, the International Council on Security and Development. Some of its conclusions appeared exaggerated, enabling the government to rubbish the lot. But few would quarrel with the underlying message, not least Britain's top brass.

They are on the warpath. Not against an enemy on the battlefield. Not against any military force. Their anger is directed at civilians - on their side.

Let us read remarks made by Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of the defence staff, earlier this month.…  Seguir leyendo »

Lawyers acting for Binyam Mohamed, a British resident incarcerated in Guantánamo Bay, are asking the high court to order the government to disclose information that, they say, would show the evidence against him was obtained by torture.

The government is fighting the case. Of course, it does not want to reveal what Britain's security and intelligence agencies knew about the US secretly transporting "enemy combatants" to places where they were likely to be tortured, the practice known as extraordinary rendition. To bolster its case, it has used its last resort, hoisting the flag of "national security". We have seen it before, most recently over the decision to stop the Serious Fraud Office inquiry into allegations of bribery in the sale of warplanes to Saudi Arabia, and we will no doubt hear it again.…  Seguir leyendo »

Today the government will officially announce the go-ahead to build the Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales, two new aircraft carriers, the biggest and most expensive ships in the long history of the Royal Navy. They are due to enter service in 2014 and 2016, and are estimated to cost £3.9bn. That does not include the multibillion cost of equipping the ships with US Joint Strike Fighters. But, as ministers will doubtless point out, the deal should guarantee thousands of jobs at English and Scottish shipyards for years to come.

While the navy is purring over the prospect of sailing large new carriers, a new fleet of destroyers, and nuclear-armed Trident submarines, and the RAF gets 144 long-delayed and increasingly costly Eurofighter/Typhoon jets, with the prospect of 88 more, the army is desperate.…  Seguir leyendo »

Sunday's handover of Basra province, the last of four controlled by UK forces since the 2003 invasion, was heralded by the British and Iraqi governments as a great step forward. Local forces were now capable of looking after the security of the entire south-east of their country, potentially one of the Middle East's richest regions.In truth, the decision was dictated by British domestic politics and by the demands of British military commanders. Britain's continuing presence in Iraq was becoming increasingly unpopular and counterproductive. More than a year ago, General Sir Richard Dannatt, newly appointed head of the army, said that Britain should withdraw from Iraq "soon" because its troops were regarded with growing hostility, with their presence exacerbating the difficulties Britain was experiencing around the world.…  Seguir leyendo »

Yesterday's suicide bomb in northern Afghanistan, the country's deadliest attack since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, is a huge blow to Nato, as well as President Hamid Karzai's rickety government. The credibility of Nato, established to deter the mass battalions of the Soviet Union and its satellites at the start of the cold war, is in danger of crumbling in the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan.In its first ground combat mission since the US-dominated alliance was set up in 1949, its members have not deployed enough troops and equipment to defeat an enemy driving around in pick-up trucks, armed with rockets and small arms.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the run-up to war, senior British security and intelligence officials as well as diplomats made it clear that they were strongly opposed to the invasion of Iraq - though not clear enough. Why now, why Iraq, they asked; it would merely increase the terrorist threat, as the joint intelligence committee warned ministers less than a month before British troops and bombers joined the US attack on the country. Concern in Whitehall was shared by some perspicacious Americans, including General Tony Zinni, the former head of US central command, which is responsible for operations throughout the Middle East. He called it the wrong war, fought in the wrong place, at the wrong time.…  Seguir leyendo »

Senior military officers, defence officials and even ministers are making no secret of their view that British forces in Iraq are on a hiding to nothing, that their very presence is counterproductive. The army would like to sneak out without anyone noticing, leaving the south in the hands of Iranian-backed Shia militia.Afghanistan, they say, is different. There, British troops are fighting for what ministers call a "noble cause". But the problem, they now privately admit, is that the spiral of violence in Iraq is plainly being repeated in Afghanistan, albeit without the sectarian violence.

In one of the bloodiest days since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, at least 24 people were killed on Sunday by a suspected suicide bomber in the centre of Kabul and at least seven children were killed by US air strikes on a school near the Pakistan border.…  Seguir leyendo »

Not since the second world war have Britain's forces been under such sustained pressure. They are the ones fighting Britain's new enemies. They are at the sharp end, facing the consequences of Tony Blair's interventionist policies.In Iraq, British soldiers are acting as police officers, politicians, diplomats and providers of aid. They were sent to Afghanistan last year, as the then defence secretary John Reid famously said, to rebuild the country, not to seek and destroy the enemy. Their role has expanded exponentially as that of ambassadors and diplomats has declined, yet never before have senior military figures been so shut out of policy making.…  Seguir leyendo »

The cabinet is expected to have its first discussion today on a decision that will have momentous consequences, of the kind that surfaces once in a generation. We could be forgiven for assuming it is a forgone conclusion. But is it? The issue is the future of Britain's nuclear deterrent, now in the form of four submarines, each able to carry 16 US Trident missiles, each of which can carry 12 warheads. In the Commons yesterday Tony Blair repeated his well-worn, indeed predictable, view that Britain should retain an "independent" nuclear deterrent, a position echoed by Gordon Brown in the summer as he began to dress up in prime ministerial clothes.…  Seguir leyendo »