Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Islam4UK Issues Challenge to PM

An Islamist group organising a demo in Wootton Bassett has agreed to call it off - if the Prime Minister agrees to a debate on Afghanistan.

Islam4UK has said it would apply to police "in the next few days" for permission to protest in the Wiltshire town famous for honouring repatriated British troops.

The plan for the demonstration, which would see dozens of symbolic coffins representing Afghan civilians killed in the conflict, has caused widespread public anger.

More than 250,000 people have signed an online petition calling for it to be banned.

Now, Islam4UK leader Anjem Choudary has said it could be called off - as long as Gordon Brown or any of his ministers agrees to take part in a televised debate on the war.

He added that controversial cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed should be allowed to take part.

A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Brown had already made known his views on the planned march, which he described as "abhorrent and offensive".
The spokesman declined to comment on Mr Choudary's offer to call off the protest if the Prime Minister agreed to a debate.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said he would have "no hesitation" in supporting a ban on the march if police or the council requested one.

The Wiltshire Islamic Cultural Centre has asked Wiltshire Police not to allow the march.

A statement on the group's website said: "We, along with all other Muslim community groups in Wiltshire and the surrounding area... unreservedly condemn this march and call on the organisers, Islam4UK, to not go ahead with it in the interests of public safety and the Muslims they claim to represent as well as to respect the rights of the people of Wootton Bassett and Wiltshire.

"We will hold Anjem Choudary and al-Muhajiroun responsible for any backlash against any Muslim in Wiltshire or elsewhere as a result of their proposed irresponsible and irrational actions and any insecurity brought upon the majority peaceful Muslim population."

The groups said they were willing to stage their own rally to "peacefully counter-demonstrate against Islam4UK" should the march be permitted to go ahead.

Hundreds of people are set to line the streets to pay their respects as the bodies of Rifleman Aiden Howell and Sapper David Watson are driven along Wootton Bassett's High Street.

Sapper Watson, 23, of 33 Engineer Regiment - a bomb disposal expert - and Rifleman Howell, 19, of 3rd Battalion the Rifles, were killed in Afghanistan in the last week of December.

The men have been flown in to nearby RAF Lyneham in advance of the funeral procession through Wootton watched by civic leaders, relatives and British Legion members.

Don't let them demonstarte through Wootton Bassett. Please sign the online petition


Ambitious Hero Named

A British soldier who became the first to be killed in Afghanistan this year had always longed to be in the Army, say his family.

Private Robert Hayes, 19, of 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment, was killed by an improvised explosive device while on a foot patrol in the Nad-e-Ali area of Helmand Province on Sunday afternoon.

Pte Hayes's family said becoming a soldier was his one ambition from childhood.

"Trying to express the true measure of our sorrow - and our sense of loss - at this time, is impossible," they said in a statement from the family home in Burnwell, Cambridgeshire.

"We are still coming to terms with this devastating news.

"However, we are strengthened by the thought that he was with his comrades, doing the job he so dearly loved, when his life was taken...

"Although he had an enthusiastic and energetic personality, our son could just as easily behave with the manners of a gentle, reflective, caring person.

"As a grieving family, we would ask that our privacy be respected. We also ask that our brave son's memory be duly honoured."

Pte Hayes also leaves his girlfriend, Gemma.

He had been in the Army for just over a year but his senior officers said he had already made a "real difference".

The young soldier deployed to one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan in October as part of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards Battle Group.

Lieutenant Colonel James Woodham, commanding officer of 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment, known as the Vikings, said he was "shocked and saddened to the core".

"Robert's death leaves a huge hole in the Vikings' ranks," he said. "He will be remembered as a trusted member of the team, a young man whose energy for life was contagious, for his bravery and sense of humour.

"Robert was a young man who made a real difference in his short time with the battalion - he has been taken from us and we are all the poorer for his passing."

Major Christopher Davies, Pte Hayes's company commander, said he had become known across the battalion as "an extremely capable soldier, brave comrade and talented boxer".

"For over two months he was involved in heavy and relentless fighting against insurgents and always acted in a courageous, decisive and selfless manner," he said.

"The considerate way in which he interacted with the local population was synonymous with someone who was genuinely decent and wanted betterment for those less fortunate than himself."


Saturday, 2 January 2010

Soldier killed on New Year's Eve

The Army bomb disposal expert who died after an explosion in Afghanistan on New Year's Eve has been named by the Ministry of Defence.

Sapper David Watson, from 33 Engineer Regiment, was killed while helping to clear improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

It happened near the British Patrol Base Blenheim in the Sangin region of Helmand province.

In a statement, the 23 year old's family said he was a "true hero" who had "lived his dream" as a soldier.

"The Army was his career which he loved the most and his achievements whilst serving in the Army show his genuine commitment and determination to serve his country proud," they said.

"He always managed to achieve above and beyond the goals that he set for himself, often going that extra mile to achieve beyond the bounds of what was expected of him."

His commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Gareth Bex described him as "fearless, ruthlessly determined and a great team player".

"I am humbled and inspired by the courage and resolve men like him show every day in ridding Afghanistan of the threat from IEDs," he said.

"The counter IED battle is tough and ongoing, but he knew that we are making steady progress.

"This success is due to the courage and deeds of men like Sapper Watson."

Improvised explosive devices are one of the greatest threats to British troops in Afghanistan.

They are thought to have caused about three-quarters of the UK deaths in the country last year.

Sapper Watson's loss takes the number of British service personnel who have died since the start of operations in Afghanistan in 2001 to 245, including 108 in 2009


Wednesday, 30 December 2009

British Hostage Peter Moore Freed In Iraq

A British hostage has been freed after being held in Iraq for more than two-and-a-half years.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he had just had a "very moving" conversation with Peter Moore, who is now at the British Embassy in Baghdad.

The 36-year-old is in "good health", he said, but is undergoing medical checks.

He said the former hostage was "to put it mildly absolutely delighted" at his release and would be reunited with his family "as soon as possible".

The computer expert was seized along with his four British bodyguards at the finance ministry in Baghdad on May 29, 2007.

Fears for his safety grew after the bodies of three of the security guards were handed over to the UK authorities.

Mr Moore's father Graeme, 60, from Wigston, Leicestershire, said he was "over the moon" at the news.

He said: "We are so relieved and we just want to get him home, back now to his family and friends.

"I'm breaking down, I'm just so overjoyed for the lad. It's been such a long haul."

Gordon Brown said: "I pay tribute to all those who helped in the protracted effort to secure the release.

"At this moment of celebration, we also remember the families of British hostages who have been killed in Iraq and elsewhere."


British Soldier Named

Tributes have been paid to a soldier killed in an explosion in Afghanistan on Monday.
Rifleman Aidan Howell, who was born in Sidcup, Kent, was nicknamed "Sunshine Boy", his family said in a statement.

"We cannot begin to express the total and utter devastation we feel at the loss of our beautiful son Aidan," they said.

"He may be recognised as a hero now, but to his family and everyone who was lucky enough to know him, he was already a hero.

"Aidan was a big Leeds United fan and even met the players, his heroes, before he left for Afghanistan."

The 19-year-old, from 3rd Battalion, The Rifles, was killed by an improvised explosive device while patrolling in the Kajaki area of Helmand province.

His death takes the number of British service personnel killed in the conflict to 244, including 107 this year alone.

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Kitson, commanding officer of 3 Rifles Battle Group, said: "His loss is a tragedy and he goes to join a line of gallant Riflemen who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country and their mates out here in Afghanistan.

"Those who remain here will take strength from his courage and dedication and will honour his memory always."



Friday, 25 December 2009

British troops in Afghanistan have held their own Christmas celebrations as senior officers served up meals.

Deputy commander of Nato forces Lt Gen Nick Parker, ambassador Mark Sedwill and UK commander in Helmand Brig James Cowan toured bases in the country.

Turkey, ham, mince pies, Christmas pudding and presents were flown in to British forces in southern Afghanistan.

Troops have been given an extra hour of free phone calls home on top of their normal 30 minutes' weekly allowance.

'Amazing job'

However, Christmas Day saw many troops in Afghanistan carrying out their usual front-line patrols.

General Parker, Mr Sedwill and Brigadier Cowan began their tour by serving breakfast to soldiers from 1 Royal Anglian Regiment in Silab in Nad-e-Ali district.

They visited the Coldstream guards in Babaji, the Grenadier Guards in Shahzad, and the headquarters of 3 Rifles in Sangin where Padre Mark Christian held a short service.

They then saw A Company, 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh, before Gen Parker went to the main British base at Camp Bastion.

Lieutenant Colonel David Wakefield stressed the importance of visits by senior figures.

He said: "The message from Gen Parker to soldiers in places like Sangin and Nad-e-Ali was that even though they are sat up in Kabul looking at the whole of the country, these places are squarely in the centre of their minds because there is so much insurgent activity going on there and the fighting is so intense.

"The soldiers are doing an amazing job."

'Second family'

The BBC's Peter Greste, in Afghanistan, said the food was expected to be "a very welcome and festive departure from the usual rations".

Explaining the festive atmosphere, he said: "Everyone would much rather be at home, but they are with the people that are in a lot of respects essentially a second family.

"If they can't be with their blood relatives, they are with people who matter to them."

Some 120 bags of Christmas hampers, books and magazines have also been flown in.

Rifleman Dan Parrack, of 3 Rifles, told our correspondent his thoughts turned to loved ones over Christmas and he was looking forward to returning home.

The BBC put the soldier in touch with his mother Lisa Mitton, in High Wycombe, who said the chance to speak to her son and see him was "probably the best Christmas present" she could have asked for.

Difficult time

Servicemen and women will receive an additional 30 minutes free talk time from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and another 30 minutes from a communications company, giving them an extra hour to chat to family and friends between 22 December to 2 January.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said: "Free telephone minutes mean our forces can talk to their loved ones back home when they are in Afghanistan.

"I am delighted that we are able to boost the allowance even further over the Christmas and new year period."

Flight Lieutenant Andy Wilson, who manages the MoD's welfare communications, said: "Christmas can be a difficult time for the troops and their families and we hope that this goes some way in making this separation a little easier.

"This extra hour will allow families to share their news over the festive period, for mothers and fathers to have that extra bit of time to chat with their children and for the troops to feel as much a part of the celebrations as possible.

"Communication is vital to the morale of our personnel and the well-being of their loved ones at home, especially around this time of year."


Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Soldier Dies In Helmand Bomb Blast

A soldier from the Parachute Regiment has been killed by a suspected improvised explosive device in southern Afghanistan.

He died while on foot patrol near Sangin in Helmand Province. His family have been informed.

He is the third British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan in the last week.

The other two servicemen died in separate suspected friendly fire incidents.

Lance Corporal Michael David Pritchard, 22, of the 4th Regiment Royal Military Police, was killed in Sangin on Sunday.

On Tuesday a soldier from 3rd Battalion The Rifles died from wounds sustained in a firefight near Sangin.

The Royal Military Police are investigating both deaths. No more information will be released until inquests have been carried out.

Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said friendly fire incidents took place "very frequently indeed" in the chaos of war.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Troops are fighting in places like Sangin and other towns and villages where there are very tightly-packed compounds, rat-run alleyways, and high mud walls.

"The enemy appears very, very briefly at short range - it's kill or be killed.

"You open fire rapidly and sometimes, tragically, you open fire on your own people."

A total of 243 British troops have died since the start of operations in Afghanistan in 2001, 106 this year alone.