[Media-watch] UK troops out of Iraq - But back into Afghanistan? - Observer and Independent - 19/10/2004

Julie-ann Davies jadavies2004 at yahoo.co.uk
Sun Sep 19 14:30:09 BST 2004

Two different pieces from separate publications.




Britain to cut troop levels in Iraq

Jason Burke, chief reporter
Sunday September 19, 2004
The Observer

The British Army is to start pulling troops out of Iraq next month despite
the deteriorating security situation in much of the country, The Observer
has learnt.

The main British combat force in Iraq, about 5,000-strong, will be reduced
by around a third by the end of October during a routine rotation of units.

The news came amid another day of mayhem in Iraq, which saw a suicide bomber
kill at least 23 people and injure 53 in the northern city of Kirkuk. The
victims were queueing to join Iraq's National Guard.

More than 200 people were killed last week in one of the bloodiest weeks
since last year's invasion, strengthening impressions that the country is
spinning out of control.

Yesterday grim footage apparently showing a British engineer kidnapped from
a house in Baghdad last week along with two American colleagues surfaced in
a video released in the Iraqi capital. The group holding the three
threatened to execute them unless Iraqi women prisoners are released from

And last night it was reported that 10 more staff working for an
American-Turkish company had been seized as hostages.

There are now fears that scheduled Iraqi elections in January will have to
be delayed because of the growing instability.

Last week Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, said that more troops could be
sent to safeguard the polls if necessary, although Whitehall sources said
there was no guarantee that they would be British.

The forthcoming 'drawdown' of British troops in Basra has not been made
public and is likely to provoke consternation in both Washington and
Baghdad. Many in Iraq argue that more, not fewer, troops are needed. Last
week British troops in Basra fought fierce battles with Shia militia groups.

The reduction will take place when the First Mechanised Infantry Brigade is
replaced by the Fourth Armoured Division, now based in Germany, in a routine
rotation over the next few weeks.

Troop numbers are being finalised, but, military sources in Iraq and in
Whitehall say, they are likely to be 'substantially less' than the current
total in Basra: the new combat brigade will have five or even four battle
groups, against its current strength of six battle groups of around 800 men.

A military spokesman in Basra confirmed the scaling back of the British

Currently there are 8,000 British troops in the 14,000-strong 'multinational
division' in southern Iraq, which has responsibility for about 4.5 million

The cuts will occur in the combat elements of the deployment - the
5,000-strong infantry and armoured brigade that is committed to the
provinces of Basra and Maysan. Four Royal Navy ships will remain in the

However, the incoming force will leave its heavy armour, mainly Challenger
tanks, behind, but will be equipped with a unit of Warrior armoured troop

Senior officers say the scaling back of the British commitment in Iraq is a
sign of their success in keeping order and helping reconstruction. But both
Basra and Maysan have seen heavy combat recently, with some units sustaining
up to 35 per cent casualties, and remains restive. The al-Mahdi army, which
was responsible for most of the fighting, remains heavily armed.

'Whatever they say, fewer troops mean less capability,' a military expert
told The Observer . 'You need as many boots on the ground as you can get for
low-intensity warfare and peace-keeping operations.'

Iyad Allawi, the interim Iraqi Prime Minister, will hold talks with Tony
Blair at Chequers tomorrow on security issues, including elections and the
strengthening of border patrols.

News of the troop withdrawal comes at a difficult time for Blair, with the
publication yesterday of leaked documents suggesting that he was warned a
year before the invasion that it could prompt a meltdown.

However Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary and a close ally of Blair, told
The Observer that the Prime Minister still believed that Britain's actions
would be justified by the restoration of democracy 'however difficult and
remote a prospect that seems at the moment, when our headlines are crowded
with further attacks by the insurgents'.

In another embarrassment for the Prime Minister, a draft report from the
Iraqi Survey Group, set up to investigate Saddam Hussein's weapons
programme, has concluded that the former dictator's only chemical or
biological armament was a small amount of poison for use in political


Thousands of UK troops may be sent to Afghanistan next year
By Nick Meo in Kabul and Robert Fox
19 September 2004

Britain and the US are both set to step up their troop presence in
Afghanistan, which faces a presidential election next month and a fraught
parliamentary election early next year, that could see a confrontation with
the country's powerful warlords.

The US has confirmed it will send up to 1,100 extra troops in time for the 9
October presidential vote, amid increasingly urgent pleas by the interim
President, Hamid Karzai, for greater security and a warning by the American
ambassador to Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, of a possible "Tet offensive" by
militants in Afghan cities, echoing the uprising that hastened the departure
of American forces from Vietnam.

A far bigger British deployment is being mooted, meanwhile, to take place
early in 2005, a critical time when a series of dangerous security problems
are expected to converge. The Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mike
Jackson, says plans have been made to send a headquarters staff and a
brigade-sized force of around 8,000 peacekeeping soldiers to Afghanistan.

Early next year Mr Karzai, who is widely expected to be re-elected, will be
under intense pressure to deal with warlords who have failed to disarm. A
major crackdown on the booming narcotics trade is also expected, possibly
provoking rural resistance, and parliamentary elections planned for April
are predicted to be much more violent than the presidential vote, because
local strongmen will almost certainly fight each other for power.

If the deployment went ahead, British soldiers could also expect to be sent
to dangerous areas of the south and east where the Taliban's guerrilla war
continues unabated, under long-nurtured plans to expand peacekeepers from
the major cities to garrisons known as Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

Gen Jackson revealed the plan during a visit to Iraq this week. Sending such
a large force to Afghanistan - roughly equal to the number of British troops
in Iraq - would be a significant change.

"The Army is only as big as it is," he said, "but one-offs like this can be
done. We have got to prioritise if we have to make a sustained contribution
to Afghanistan. We couldn't have a sustained brigade in both Iraq and
Afghanistan; the balance depends on events."

Currently there are only a few hundred British soldiers in Afghanistan. They
patrol in Kabul and man a much-praised garrison in the flashpoint northern
city of Mazar-i-Sharif. There about 200 soldiers form a buffer between two
of the country's most powerful feuding warlords.

About 18,000 US combat troops continue to hunt the Taliban and al-Qa'ida
remnants in much of the country, although the American military is
increasingly trying to switch from combat to peacekeeping operations.
However, the security situation is deteriorating, and there has been only
limited success in training Afghan security forces. A fresh infusion of
international troops may be the only way to stop the rickety political
settlement from unravelling, and keep Tony Blair's promise to the Afghan
people that he would not walk away from them.

The peacekeeping force would be under the headquarters of the Nato Allied
Rapid Reaction Corps, commanded by a British general. Most of the staff
would be British. The corps would replace the force in Afghanistan led by
France, Germany and the Netherlands. The Dutch have been criticised for
failing to find more soldiers to provide security for next month's election,
which the Taliban have vowed to wreck.

The peacekeepers, largely confined to Kabul and some of the more peaceful
cities, such as Kunduz in the north, have also had operational problems that
have limited their effectiveness. Rules designed to protect their soldiers,
such as not patrolling beyond set distances from bases, have made life
particularly difficult for the German garrison in Kunduz.

British troops played an important role in the dangerous first days of the
peacekeeping force after the Taliban's fall in 2001. They have always been
popular with Afghans, nearly all of whom want them as desperately needed
protection against criminals and terrorists. The British are also generally
regarded as the most professional and effective peacekeepers by other
international forces in Afghanistan.

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