Barratt: British Troops Not Withdrawing, being Redeployed to Afghanistan
Keith Barratt writes:
“I should like to correct a myth that has been accepted by much of the media and accepted by the majority on the Right and Left because it fits their various agendas.
It is not true that a firm commitment has been made that the British are to withdraw from Iraq.
What is happening is simply a redeployment of some vitally required troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan, because of the deterioration in that country and concerns about the ability of the existing small number of allied troops to deal with the Spring offensive of the Taliban. An announcement is expected on this in Parliament on Monday, according to Ministry of Defence sources, who also state that any plans for Iraq are “aspirational” and “”if conditions worsen this process could still slow up”. As the BBC Defence Correspondent wrote when the news of announcement was first leaked last week: “reports that all troops will have returned home by the end of 2008 was “not a fair representation of what is true at the moment”.
This is why, if the claim is in any way correct that Basra is now capable of being handed over to the Iraqi army and which the most recent Pentagon report denies, the apparently surplus UK military are not simply being transferred to assist the escalation of US troops in Baghdad.
It should be remembered that the actual number of troops being re-deployed by the British represents no more than 0.9% of the US and allied occupational force in Iraq.
The UK government has been under considerable pressure about the need for re-enforcement in Afghanistan from its own military. The ability to do this fully with a seriously over stretched military has been difficult. In October, 2006 the Observer newspaper reported that “Field Marshal Sir Peter Inge, the former head of Britain’s armed forces, has broken ranks to launch an attack on the current military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, warning that British forces risk defeat in Afghanistan. “
At the same time, General Sir Richard Dannatt, wrote an extraordinary article as the newly appointed UK Chief of the Army, saying: “I want an Army in five years time and 10 years time. Don’t let’s break it.” (These words are very similar to those used a year earlier by Lt Gen James Helmly, chief of the US Army Reserve, “…the Army Reserve’s inability under current policies, procedures and practices … to meet mission requirements associated with Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The Army Reserve is additionally in grave danger of being unable to meet other operational requirements and is rapidly degenerating into a broken force.”)
The lack of troops in Afghanistan has been made worse by the refusal of many European countries in recent weeks to increase the numbers committed to NATO for deployment to that country. Many nations, such as France and Germany, have accepted only passive rules of engagement concerned with defending reconstruction work for those small number of troops that they have made available. (Indeed, a threat to the funding of even the relatively small number of existing Italian troops in Afghanistan was one of the reasons for Prime Minister Prodi’s resignation last week) .
So, the redeployment out of Iraq of 1600 troops by the British has been an enforced measure with which the Pentagon has had to concur, despite the risks.
Blair (I say with little pleasure) has handled the spin on this adroitly. First, he has split the announcement (albeit sources say by only a week) of the draw down of troops from Iraq to an almost identical increase of troops in Afghanistan (Pro-Iraq War Conservative Opposition Defence Spokesman Liam Fox described this politically inspired handling as “cowardice”). Secondly, Blair has encouraged the view that this is the beginning of British withdrawal from the hugely unpopular Iraq war, although every statement in this regard has been hedged with the same cautious caveats that surrounded the proposed draw down that never occurred last September. In this way, he has quietened down the left-wing of his Labour Party and removed some of the problems that would be encountered on the doorsteps in the run up to the UK May local elections. Cynically, it can be said to be a preparation of the revised history that will describe the “legacy” of his time in office after his expected resignation in the Summer.
Coupled with this, he has promulgated the claim that Basra and the South are a success for the British Army and the justification of his decision to support the US in the invasion of Iraq.
Bush has recognised the difficulties the British face in Afghanistan and, not wanting to draw attention to the difficulties there – despite his own recent announcement of the need to increase US troops in that theater of war – has been happy to support the Blair projection of what is happening in Iraq. Indeed, he has used the Blair spin to claim the illusion of success and to falsely justify the “surge” in Iraq.
How has this myth that the British are “withdrawing” from Iraq come about and gained such traction?
The Left in the States has bought into the Blair spin because they want to believe that it shows a rift between Downing Street and the White House. It supports their claims that the escalation in US troops is nonsense when the British are stepping down and it reinforces their question as to why the United Sates cannot follow an identical pattern and get the troops out of Iraq immediately.
The Right buys into it because the “success” in Basra gives credence to their claim that the strategy is working and any diminution in the number of allied troops justifies the need for more US forces. It should not be forgotten, either, that the idea of being abandoned by other nations can also have the subliminal effect of invigorating their base by re-enforcing the message that the United States stands alone in facing down “the world wide fundamental Islamic terror”. This can be as powerful in maintaining the dogged support of part of the electorate as the message that it still has allies has with others.
I have tried to combat this misinterpretation of what is actually happening by two diaries on Daily Kos as the events unfolded during last week here:
“UK Troop Withdrawal Truth Finally Now Revealed”
Sadly, once announced it is almost impossible to remove the beliefs that this sort of spin creates. That British troops are withdrawing remains the understanding in many of our blogs and I heard it today on C-Span.
Ignoring the underlying truth has two effects: The ease with which the myths surrounding the supposed British withdrawal have been accepted by all parts of the political spectrum is a forewarning of what will be achievable by the Republicans in the run up to the 2008 elections. More importantly, it disguises the failures in Afghanistan to secure that country and the distraction that the Iraq invasion has been to the initially stated 9/11 goals of the current Administration.
Those seeking a rapid withdrawal from Iraq do not need buy into the illusions created by Bush and Blair to justify their position. The reality is sufficient to condemn this whole Middle East adventure.