Politics Summary: Wednesday, July 14th

A manhunt is under way for the rogue Afghan soldier who killed three British soldiers in Nahr-e Saraj in Helmand province yesterday.

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A manhunt is under way for the rogue Afghan soldier who killed three British soldiers in Nahr-e Saraj in Helmand province yesterday. A senior British officer was murdered in his sleep, along with two members of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, one a British-born junior officer and the other a Nepalese Gurkha – killed when the rogue soldier fired a machinegun and a rocket-propelled grenade.

The Independent describes the “bloodbath”: “Patrol base 3 was a scene of devastation. The operations room, which had been hit by rocket-propelled grenades was a bloodstained and smouldering ruin. Next to it the briefing room had also burned down following the blast; a charred flag of St George, put up during the World Cup, stood blowing in the ashes. Bullet holes shredded the brown canvas walls of the tent where the next attack, using a machine gun, had taken place. Gurkha soldiers peered in, shaking their heads and patting each other on the back. A female soldier stood silently as what evidence there was began to be collected, her head in her hands.

“The treachery came in the early hours of the morning, one of the victims was still asleep in his bed. The suspected killer, a 23-year-old soldier in the Afghan army with the name of Talib Hussein. The three Gurkhas who died stood no chance. Two of them – believed to be UK nationals – died in the operations room when it came under attack by a rocket-propelled grenade. The lone assailant then opened machine gun fire into a tent where the third, a Nepalese national, was sleeping.” This morning, news of a fourth death has emerged; BBC News reports that a marine from 40 commando was killed while on foot patrol in Sangin – taking the number of British troops killed in Afghanistan to 318.

The Taliban claim the assailant has now joined the insurgency after fleeing to a location protected by them. Doubts have arisen about the strategy in Afghanistan in the wake of the latest deaths, reports the Telegraph: “The incident has raised fresh concerns about the Western strategy for Afghanistan, which is based on training and enlarging the Afghan National Army until its members can secure the country themselves. Describing the killings as ‘appalling’, David Cameron insisted that the incident would not alter Britain’s approach or weaken the Government’s resolve. But one defence expert said that the ‘betrayal of trust’ could undermine British support for the war, which has now lasted nearly nine years and resulted in 317 British deaths.” The Guardian adds: “The killings are the latest blow to British efforts to train the Afghan security forces, which is key to government plans to withdraw UK troops by 2015 and raises questions about the extent of Taliban infiltration of the Afghan army… Liam Fox, the defence secretary, said the attack would not affect the government’s ‘resolve to see our mission through and train Afghan security forces so they can look after their own security and our forces one day can come home’. He added in a speech to the Chatham House thinktank: ‘We all know there is no such thing as a risk-free war, a casualty-free war or a fatality-free war.'”

There has been a third night of rioting in Belfast – with shots fired and petrol bombs thrown at police. A pipe bomb was also thrown. The Telegraph reports that: “A number of burning barricades were in place and laser pens were shone at police, but no one was injured. The trouble in North Queen Street and the Markets followed sporadic incidents in which a bus was damaged by stone-throwers in Stewart Street, in east Belfast, and a car was recovered by police as youths tried to hijack it. Politicians have condemned the violence, which has flared at the height of the loyalist marching season.” The Guardian reports the latest reaction to the rioting: “Northern Ireland’s first minister, Peter Robinson, and deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, last night criticised the rioters and defended their political efforts to ease tensions over controversial parades… Chief Constable Matt Baggott blamed dissident republicans opposed to the peace process for fomenting tensions that reached a height in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast on Monday night where police came under attack and eventually used baton rounds and water cannons to contain rioters.” Robinson said: “I am disgusted at the outright thuggery and vandalism that has taken place over the course of the last 48 hours. There is no excuse and no place for violence in civilised society.” While McGuinness added: “Our experience demonstrates that the way to deal with any disputes or contention is through dialogue and agreement. There are numerous examples that show this to be the way forward. We are currently consulting on legislation that aims to provide a workable framework for dealing with contentious parades.”

Student places should be cut and not funding, the provost of UCL has said. Professor Malcolm Grant says that research should be protected, even if it means “second rate colleges” have to close, reports The Guardian. Places at “pile it high, sell it cheap” universities should be slashed, believes Prof Grant. He said: “The biggest risk to the big research universities is a cut in funding for research, if that was done without proper identification of excellence then it would decimate Britain’s global competitiveness in research… The politics of reducing total student numbers is very difficult, if it then leads to the conclusion that there should be fewer universities. There will be political pressure to keep open universities at the teaching-only end of the spectrum by taking resources away from the world-class research universities.” The report explains that: “Cuts in teaching budgets would affect all universities and risk protest from the families of bright children who were denied places. But cutting research funding would hit elite universities disproportionately; last year UCL received nearly £69m from the government for teaching compared with £104m for research.” The Independent, meanwhile, reports that “two-year university degrees, more part-time courses and more students living with their parents while they study will be proposed by the coalition Government”, with Vince Cable, in a speech tomorrow, saying that the present system of higher education “must undergo radical changes”, and that universities “cannot be immune from the cuts”.

And the Financial Times reports William Hague’s vow to defend Britain’s embassy network in the face of budget cuts. Speaking on the eve of a visit to China and Japan, the foreign secretary insisted his department would in future have an “existential” mission to promote trade, and suggested the Foreign Office would be spared the heaviest of the spending reductions about to hit Whitehall, saying he did not want to close embassies, arguing that the diplomatic service had already suffered “big cuts”. He said: “Helping British business is an existential mission for the Foreign Office. You have to have a presence in most countries to be able to assist British companies… It’s certainly part of my approach that Britain must maintain its diplomatic network.” Hague added: “Clearly it is important to bear in mind that the FCO has already had some big cuts. The number of senior staff has been cut by a quarter since 2004, while most of the rest of the government was increasing in size.”

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