Sergeant says most detainees 'set free' in Afghanistan

  • 7 August 2015
  • From the section UK
A US Marine unloads ammunition from a rifle magazine into his helmet after arriving in Kandahar Image copyright Getty Images

The British campaign in Afghanistan was hampered by problems with the handling and prosecution of those it picked up on the battlefield - that much was clear to those of us who embedded with troops in Helmand province. But the scale of some of these issues has now been exposed by Colour Sergeant Trevor Coult who has made serious allegations to Newsnight.

Shockingly, he says that soldiers became so exasperated by seeing arrested insurgents returning quickly to their own communities that they became, "reluctant to detain" them, and, "in preference they would rather shoot them on the ground to save the taxpayer money and to save soldiers being killed".

Colour Sgt, was already a veteran of tours in Helmand and Iraq (where he was awarded the Military Cross) when he arrived at Camp Bastion in mid-2011 to do duty at the UK Temporary Holding Facility, a lock up usually housing a few dozen prisoners who had been taken on the battlefield. There were strict rules to prevent their mistreatment, particularly following the death of Baha Moussa in custody in Iraq in 2003.

Image caption Colour Sergeant Trevor Coult spoke to Newsnight

Detainees taken in Afghanistan were not meant to be held for more than 96 hours, though ministerial extensions of 28 days could be signed in special cases. After that, they were passed on to Afghan investigators and courts to deal with.

Colour Sgt Coult says that once sent on the local authorities, "the majority went free". In a statement on Friday's Newsnight, the Ministry of Defence argues "in recent years hundreds of detainees have been prosecuted and sentenced by the Afghans following transfer to them by British and other forces". The two statements are not inconsistent - since "hundreds" is a small proportion of approximately 4,000 Afghans detained during British operations in Afghanistan.

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Turkey: The erratic ally

A Turkish soldier stands guard at a border crossing with Syria Image copyright AFP

If you're sitting in the Pentagon or State Department there's good news and bad news.

The good news is that Turkey is embracing the struggle against the Islamic State group with a vigour it has never shown before; bombing them; allowing US aircraft to use Turkish air bases for the same purpose; arresting hundreds of suspects in Turkey, and tightening security on the Syrian border.

Read full article Turkey: The erratic ally

Iran nuclear deal: A 10-point primer

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Iran's president Hassan Rouhani

World powers have reached a deal with Iran on limiting Iranian nuclear activity in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions. What are the main takeaways? Here's a quick rundown.

1. It curbs Iran's nuclear programme, it doesn't stop it. They will still have nuclear plants, and the ability to re-process and enrich their own uranium fuel - the US gave up on the goal of stopping that two years ago.

Read full article Iran nuclear deal: A 10-point primer

Budget 2015: Defence breathes a sigh of relief

Merlin helicopter on the flight deck of HMS Illustrious Image copyright Getty Images

With hindsight you might say there were hints from Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, and briefings from those around George Osborne that defence would escape the worst effects of what was widely expected to be an austerity budget.

But even so, today's announcement - that the forces' budget would meet the 2% of GDP Nato target until 2020 - caught many Whitehall insiders by surprise.

Read full article Budget 2015: Defence breathes a sigh of relief

Virgin Galactic flight trials face delay after crash

Images of Virgin Galactic crash Image copyright AP
Image caption In an accident last year, the Virgin Galactic craft separated from the carrier aircraft and broke apart

Virgin Galactic's planned commercial space service may still be years away from taking flight, and its chief executive admits, "we've got work to do, that's for sure", in a Newsnight report on the project.

Flight testing suffered a tragic setback last October when Virgin's Enterprise spaceship broke up in flight over California's Mojave desert, killing one of its test pilots.

Read full article Virgin Galactic flight trials face delay after crash

Is the West losing its edge on defence?

  • 14 April 2015
  • From the section Europe
F/A-18F fighter landing on USS Carl Vinson

Speak to those who are in charge of the West's defence or have recently stepped down, as I did for Radio 4's programme The Edge, and you will find a very worried group of people.

They speak at length about the decline of their own forces, explain the growth of those of their challengers, and worry about the long term consequences for stability in many parts of the world.

Read full article Is the West losing its edge on defence?

How many Russians are fighting in Ukraine?

  • 10 March 2015
  • From the section Europe
Pro-Russian separatist fighters near Debaltseve Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pro-Russian separatist fighters have captured Debaltseve

Western arguments about how to counter President Vladimir Putin's support for east Ukraine separatists are leading to clashes over the question of how deeply involved Russia's military is in the conflict.

The latest salvo between Nato allies came in a German government briefing to Spiegel magazine that accuses the alliance's supreme commander (American Gen Philip Breedlove) of disseminating "dangerous propaganda" on the extent of Russian military involvement, trying to undermine a diplomatic solution to the war.

Read full article How many Russians are fighting in Ukraine?

Lobbyists 'delaying Apache contract'

  • 7 March 2015
  • From the section UK
A UK Apache attack helicopter taking part in a training exercise on Salisbury Plain

A £1bn Army contract to replace its Apache attack helicopters has been delayed due to lobbying by the firm AgustaWestland, Whitehall insiders say.

The BBC has learned the MoD wants to buy a replacement from US firm Boeing, which is offering a cheaper deal for a joint order with other countries.

Read full article Lobbyists 'delaying Apache contract'

On board with the US air crews fighting Islamic State

  • 15 January 2015
  • From the section UK

How is progress measured on board the US aircraft carrier which is playing a key role in the fight against Islamic State?

The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, plying the waters of the Gulf, represents a big slice of the coalition effort being used to pound the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria and Iraq - an onslaught that has been going on for the best part of five months now.

Read full article On board with the US air crews fighting Islamic State

CIA interrogation report: Just what did the UK know?

  • 18 December 2014
  • From the section UK
Mock-up of prisoner in handcuffs Image copyright Thinkstock

In March 2004, a Boeing 737, registration number N313P, lifted off from Baghdad International Airport with two prisoners on board - captured by the SAS after a shoot-out in the city.

They were on their way to Bagram prison, in Afghanistan.

Read full article CIA interrogation report: Just what did the UK know?