The Guardian reports today that Kurdish peshmerga forces, backed by US-led air strikes, have pushed ISIL militants out of a large area around Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. The Times (p1) reports that ISIL militants have kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery hundreds, possibly thousands, of girls and women in the past five months. The piece claims that girls as young as 12 and their mothers have been seized and raped by ISIL. Teenage girls who escaped ISIL were interviewed in Iraq, where they described how women were grabbed by their hair and pushed onto lorries, before being driven to sorting centres where they were classified according to age, education and marital status.
The Daily Mail (p12) claims that the Prime Minister David Cameron is under intense pressure to deliver on his promises to hold a judge-led inquiry into UK complicity in torture. Mr Cameron is condemned for insisting a Westminster committee should do the job even though it presided over an alleged whitewash of the treatment of terror suspects.
The Independent (p19) reports that from next month every prisoner going into custody will be asked whether they have served in the Armed Forces as part of an effort to improve the treatment of veterans in the criminal justice system. The recommendations follow a review overseen by the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, and Stephen Philips QC, which found the level of support for veterans in the justice system to be “patchy”.
President Barack Obama has warned that the US may classify North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism after its "cybervandalism" of Sony Pictures. He spoke as Sony raised the prospect of releasing the film at the centre of the controversy The Interview online, perhaps through YouTube (Guardian p21).
Chief Petty Officer Michael Jeffrey with his wife Kerri and Daniel Jeffrey. They are just one of the hundreds of families that were reunited in time for Christmas when HMS Iron Duke came back to Portsmouth last Friday 19 December. HMS Iron Duke returned from a successful South Atlantic patrol conducting maritime security operations and providing support to British Overseas Territories in the region. The Type 23 frigate and her 180 crew covered 27,442 miles and visited 11 countries during the six-month deployment.
A number of the papers speculate this morning that women could be serving on the front line by 2016, following a review carried out by the Chief of the Defence Staff over the last six months. The Telegraph says that the review has removed concerns that the change would disrupt the effectiveness or morale of combat units. The Daily Mail carries quotes from Labour MP John Woodcock of the Defence Select Committee, he broadly welcomes the findings saying they are “challenging but [a] hugely welcome step forward.” He says, “keeping our country safe is too important to exclude anyone that can play a role.”
There is further coverage on ITV News, BBC Radio 4 Today, BBC Breakfast and Sky.
These all included interviews with Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, who said that he wanted to bring the UK in line with other Armed Forces who have made this change, but that we must be sure the women would not suffer any long term physiological damage.
A Night Of Heroes – The Sun Military Awards
The very best of our armed forces were recognised once again at the seventh annual Sun Military Awards (The Millies). Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall were guests of honour at the event, held at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, on Wednesday 10 December. This year, four special awards were given to recognise the achievements of those who served during combat operations Afghanistan. You can catch up on the programme here.
The newly formed Royal Artillery Band joined a celebration of Christmas at BBC Wiltshire’s annual Carol Service in Salisbury Cathedral. Playing to a candle lit congregation of over 900 people, they were joined by the Cathedral Choir and Salisbury pianist and singer Laura Doggett. The service was recorded for broadcast on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. [Picture: Copyright Ash Mills]
Widespread coverage of the verdict of the Al Sweady inquiry is carried across the papers today, including the Telegraph front page and a leader article in the same paper that is scathing about the lawyers involved. Coverage is generally critical of public interest lawyers (PIL) using phrases from the judgement such as “deliberate lies and reckless speculation”. A comment by Colonel Richard Kemp in the Independent called the issue “lawfare” and said it blights brave men’s lives. A leader article in the Daily Mail is similarly critical of PIL.
Elsewhere, the Telegraph splashes on suggestions by senior government figures that lawyers who wasted millions of public money pursuing false claims that British troops murdered and tortured Iraqi detainees should now face disciplinary action. The report carries comments from the Defence Secretary, who says the claims put forward by the legal teams representing the Iraqi complainants were a “shameful attempt to use the legal system to attack and falsely impugn our Armed Forces.”
To see a full summary of articles on Google News, click here. To read the MOD’s full response to Sir Thayne’s report, click here. A full transcript of the Defence Secretary’s oral statement to Parliament is also available here.
Defence Support Group
The Financial Times reports this morning that Babcock International has bought the Defence Support Group (DSG) in a deal worth £2 billion over the next 10 years. The company said that Babcock “will exclusively provide the maintenance, repair, overhaul and storage of a range of current military vehicles and light weapons.” The Telegraph’s business pages, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express also report on the deal.
Welcoming the sale of the DSG, Defence Minister Philip Dunne said: “I am delighted with the successful outcome of this transaction. Signing this deal with Babcock will put the Defence Support Group on a sustainable long-term footing and will transform the equipment maintenance and repair support that the Army relies on both at home and overseas. Babcock will provide market-leading engineering and fleet management expertise to optimise vehicle availability to the Army at better value for the taxpayer. The £140 million proceeds from the sale and the significant savings over the life of the contract represent outstanding value for money for the tax payer and will allow us to continue to focus our resources on the front line.”
Covenant Annual Report
Yesterday the MOD published its third Annual Report on the Armed Forces Covenant. Click here to read more about what we’ve done for our people, our veterans and their families over the last year.
The Independent reports this morning comments from Dr Hugh Milroy, the CEO of Veterans Aid, who says that the government is “disconnected from the reality” of life faced by the country’s most vulnerable veterans. Dr Milroy stressed that he applauded the goals of the Covenant and said he believed politicians of all persuasions wanted to do well by the military community, but that more could be done.
The government works to ensure veterans and their families are supported properly and treated with the dignity they deserve. That is why this government put the Armed Forces Covenant into law in 2011. Veterans with urgent housing needs are always given high priority for social housing, and those who have recently been discharged do not lose their qualification rights because of the requirement to move from base to base. Every local council has signed up to the Community Covenant. More than 350 companies have signed up to the Corporate Covenant. Those councils and organisations need to deliver on their promise and help ensure those who have bravely served their country are not disadvantaged by their service.