Britain urged to boost anti-terror ties with Gulf

British police patrol through Trafalgar Square in central London, in this May 23, 2017 file photo, a day after a deadly terror attack at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena. (AFP)
Updated 13 February 2018

Britain urged to boost anti-terror ties with Gulf

LONDON: The British government can help tackle the root causes of extremism by strengthening its ties with civil society groups throughout the Gulf region, a London-based think-tank has said.

A report due to be published Tuesday by the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) urged the UK to support modernization projects across the GCC rather than simply focusing on sharing intelligence with the council’s members.

It encouraged London to throw its weight behind the Vision 2030 plan to modernize the Saudi economy and society.

“The UK should increase its anti-terrorism cooperation with the GCC, beyond intelligence and security information sharing, by creating more joint initiatives and collaborative programs to prevent radicalization,” said report author Najah Al-Otaibi, research fellow at the Center for the Response to Radicalization and Terrorism at HJS.

“By getting involved with more civil society initiatives — addressing the root causes and threats of terrorism, and thereby challenging ISIS’s (Daesh’s) own propaganda machine — the West can have a greater impact and lessen the need for clumsy GCC legislation which so often stifles legitimate political opposition.”

The report, entitled “Terror Overseas: Understanding the GCC Counter Extremism and Counter Terrorism Trends” warned that the “large, young, online population” of Gulf states has left them “especially vulnerable” to radicalization via the Internet.

As a result, the UK needed to show a more imaginative, long-term approach, and support efforts to address “the root causes and threats of terrorism” in the region.

The report praised the principles behind the Vision 2030 plan but said Riyadh needed to provide more details on exactly how it intended to combat radicalism in the years ahead.

Among the positive measures highlighted by the report was a 2005 online initiative launched by Saudi Arabia in response to a wave of Al-Qaeda attacks in the Kingdom. The scheme employs moderate Saudi scholars to engage with radicals over the Internet and was the first of its kind in the country.

More recently, as part of “cultural and media war against extremism,” Saudi-backed TV stations broadcast a 2017 TV series entitled “Gharabeeb Al-Soud” (“Black Crows”), which focused on the plight of women recruited by Daesh. The HJS report also said a government-run program to rehabilitate extremist prisoners in Saudi Arabia had achieved “some remarkable successes.”

The report warned GCC members against committing human rights violations and criminalizing free speech under the guise of “anti-extremism policies.” It urged the UK to continue supporting existing counter-extremism initiatives in the region while “exercising more leverage where excessive suppression of GCC citizens is concerned.”

Further Taliban assaults likely in weeks ahead — US Defense chief Mattis

Updated 45 min 26 sec ago

Further Taliban assaults likely in weeks ahead — US Defense chief Mattis

  • The Taliban had six objectives in and around the city of Ghazni and failed to seize any of them
  • Some Taliban fighters were still holed up in houses in the city ‘trying to get resupplied’

BOGOTA, Colombia: The Taliban is likely to keep up its recent surge of violence in advance of scheduled parliamentary elections in October but Western-backed Afghan defenses will not break, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday.
In his most detailed comments on the Taliban’s assault on the eastern city of Ghazni since it began Aug. 10, Mattis said the Taliban had six objectives in and around the city and failed to seize any of them. He would not specify the six sites.
In Ghazni, provincial police chief Farid Mashal said Thursday that roads were being cleared of mines planted by Taliban who temporarily held entire neighborhoods of the city that they had besieged. The fighting continued for five days with more than 100 members of the Afghan National Security forces killed and 20 civilians. Scores of Taliban were also killed, according to Afghan officials.
Mattis said some Taliban fighters were still holed up in houses in the city “trying to get resupplied.” He said businesses are reopening, and overall, “it’s much more stable” in Ghazni, showing that the Taliban have fallen short.
“They have not endeared themselves, obviously, to the population of Ghazni,” Mattis said. “They use terror. They use bombs because they can’t win with ballots.”
The Taliban operation followed a familiar pattern, Mattis said in remarks to reporters flying with him Thursday evening to Bogota, Colombia, where he was winding up a weeklong tour of South America.
The insurgents likely were trying to gain leverage in advance of an expected cease fire offer by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, he said. And they likely were hoping to sow fear in advance of the October elections, he added.
“They achieved a degree of disquiet,” he said, but nothing more.
“So, we’ll continue to see this sort of thing,” he said, even though the Taliban lack the strength to hold territory they seize for brief periods. “They will never hold against the Afghan army.”
The Afghan war has been stalemated for years. The Taliban lack the popular support to prevail, although they benefit from sanctuary in Pakistan. Afghan government forces, on the other hand, are too weak to decisively break the insurgents even as they develop under US and NATO training and advising.
Mattis has said he believes the Afghan security forces are gaining momentum and can wear down the Taliban to the point where the insurgents would choose to talk peace. So far that approach has not produced a breakthrough.
Next week will mark one year since President Donald Trump announced a revised war strategy for Afghanistan, declaring there would be no time limit on US support for the war and making a renewed push for peace negotiations.