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The Jehoshua Novels

Blair gives US control over British troops

David Cracknell & Stephen Grey | Bagdad | October 17

The Sunday Times – Tony Blair faces a growing political row over Iraq after it emerged that hundreds of British troops may soon be sent to the Baghdad region to fight under American command.

Senior MPs and military sources warned of the danger of British soldiers being associated with heavy-handed US military tactics in central Iraq and of being drawn deeper into the conflict.

Blair himself risks accusations that he is acting to shore up his ally George W Bush in advance of the US presidential elections on November 2.

The Tories challenged the timing of the planned deployment, saying it looked like “a political gesture”, adding that the concept of peacekeeping was “alien” to the Americans.

British defence sources confirmed yesterday that more than 600 soldiers from the Black Watch regiment could be moved ahead of Iraq’s elections in January. They are likely to be stationed in a combat zone where insurgency is widespread.

They also said there is likely to be significant “reorganisation” of troops across Iraq to protect polling stations and secure orderly elections.

It is feared that the Black Watch, currently stationed in Basra, may have to adopt America’s aggressive rules of engagement – though the Ministry of Defence has denied this would happen – and so draw Britain even more deeply into the worsening conflict in Iraq.

Military sources rejected reports that the soldiers would be sent to Baghdad itself, saying said it was likely troops would be sent just south of the city to reinforce and “back fill” for US Marines who are likely to join a new offensive against the rebel city of Falluja.

One senior US official in Baghdad said the most likely location for the British was a US Marine base in Iskandariya, and the nearby towns of Latifiya and Mahmudiya. “This is a combat zone with a large proportion of the population who actively support the terrorists,” he said. It was Latifya where the British hostage, Kenneth Bigley, is believed to have been held and then executed.

Although America already has about 140,000 troops in Iraq, only a small proportion of those are fighting soldiers. Even a few hundred British infantry would make a significant contribution.

When the US Marines made their failed attempt to capture Falluja in April, they had to leave key areas of the country uncovered, including most of the Syrian border, as they massed troops round the rebel town.

However, Nicholas Soames, the shadow defence secretary, said: “We need to watch the timing of all this and be careful this isn’t just a kind of political gesture to reassure the Americans of Blair’s support for the American elections.”

He added: “The concept of peacekeeping is one alien to our American friends, they don’t use the same tactics as we do, and that’s their business. But we need to be careful that we have a very major say in the plan for this up coming counterinsurgency operation . . . our soldiers, a large number of them in Basra, will be amongst those picking up the bill if it goes wrong.”

Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, also warned of forcing British soldiers to adopt American tactics: “For a year Britain has been trying in vain to persuade US forces to show the same restraint as our troops, who have won a lot of local goodwill as a result.

“The real risk of sending a British battalion into the US sector is that our troops could become associated in Iraqi minds with US methods. The last time US forces attacked Falluja they left 1,000 civilians dead and uproar across Iraq at their heavy-handed tactics.”

Sir John Walker, a former chief of defence intelligence, said Blair was in danger of creating a British Vietnam if he committed troops to hot spots around Baghdad. “This is the way that mission creep starts in a big way,” he said. “You get deeper and deeper in.”

The Black Watch, used as a reserve force in Basra, was involved in some fierce fighting with the Mahdi army in August in Amara and Basra.

The MoD would say only that negotiations were going on about force deployments. However, Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, is expected to make a statement to the Commons this week.

There was support yesterday for the move from Bruce George, Labour chairman of the Commons defence committee: “I would prefer ideally that we would stay where we are but if it is militarily necessary then I would support this.

“The alternative appears to be to carry on being largely reactive to insurgent attacks, bombings, kidnappings and assassinations. It appears that the US wish to be more proactive and fight them on their adopted home territory in Falluja.”

 Copyright 2004 Times Newspapers Ltd.

6 comments to Blair gives US control over British troops

  • Anonymous

    The chain of command for British troops in Iraq
    now a Uk media hot issue:

    Beginnings of the rumble posted inthe October 15 Iraq update

    Daily Kos and The Independent have more.

  • Anonymous

    More lambs for Bush’s slaughter.

  • Anonymous

    Stop this mission creep

    Monday October 18, 2004

    The Guardian

    If ever there was an example of mission creep, the request from the US for the redeployment of some British troops in support of Americans south of Baghdad, is as dangerous as they come. There were conflicting reports last night about the precise location to which they would be sent, but it will be in an insurgent area – an area which can expect retaliation when the long expected full-scale ground assault on Fallujah begins. Fallujah is believed to be the stronghold of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid wal Jihad group, which killed British hostage Kenneth Bigley. If agreed, the British troops would be the first to have operated in direct support of the Americans – and the first to have been engaged inside the Sunni area south of Baghdad. No wonder senior military officials have been voicing concern. Deployment would mark a major escalation in Britain’s involvement in the occupation of Iraq, yet so far there has been no public discussion, no official details, or even the most peremptory parliamentary debate.

    A Ministry of Defence spokesman yesterday said no decision had yet been made on the US request, but that Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon would be ready to make a “holding statement” in the Commons this afternoon. This is not nearly good enough. What is needed is a full-scale parliamentary debate before the decision is made, not after it. Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, was right to warn yesterday that if British troops were deployed in the US sector, they could find themselves associated with the more aggressive tactics use by the Americans. The last major exercise by the US against Fallujah left 1,000 civilians dead and caused uproar in and outside Iraq over the heavy-handed tactics of American forces. Mr Cook was right to note the danger that “if Britain frees up US forces for the next assault, we may be held equally responsible by Iraqis for what happens to residents of Fallujah”.

    One of many unexplained factors is why the US needs 650 British troops. The unit which would be redeployed if Britain agrees is a 650-strong battle group of the Black Watch regiment, currently based in Basra, but leaving that area less able to maintain stability if it is sent. The unit they would replace is the 24th Marine Expeditionary Force, which is expected to be used in the Fallujah operation. But currently there are 138,000 US troops in Iraq. True, many of them are reservists rather than fully-trained professionals, but do they really not have 650 properly trained replacements among their 138,000-strong occupation force? This has prompted speculation among senior British military circles that the request is prompted more by President Bush’s electoral interests rather than military needs. More gruesome has been the talk in some US circles of the need for British troops to “share more of the load”. There have been 68 British troops killed compared to 1,062 American. But this is all the more reason why we need a well-informed debate.

    Even Nicholas Soames, the Conservative defence spokesman, has expressed fears that the redeployment of British troops could be a “political gesture” designed to help President Bush in the run up to the November 2 election. Meanwhile there were reports yesterday that the prime minister had secretly agreed to allow the US to station interceptor missiles on British soil as part of its controversial “Son of Star Wars” missile defence programme. If true, this would be another serious military decision taken behind closed doors. Rather than a “holding statement”, what we need today is a straight, honest and full statement on the Iraq operation, plus a debate about its costs and strategic implications. Until then – and until ministers have set out a detailed exit strategy – parliament should do all in its power to resist any further mission creep.

  • Anonymous

    Army chiefs fear help for US endangers Basra troops

    Michael Evans | October 18 |  The Times(UK),,7374-1315166,00.html

    THE Government’s most senior military advisers are warning of a “dangerous” gap in manpower being left in Basra if they are to meet the American request for a British armoured battle group to relieve US Marines south of Baghdad.

    General Sir Michael Walker, the Chief of the Defence Staff, and his senior operational commanders have forcefully expressed their concerns about the sudden change in policy for British troops in Iraq, The Times understands.

    High-level meetings have been going on at the Ministry of Defence since the Americans approached MajorGeneral Bill Rollo, commander of the Multinational Division, based in Basra, last Tuesday.

    Politically the Government will find it difficult to turn down the request and Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, will make an announcement in the Commons today about the US proposal.

    Mr Hoon will repeat the assertion by ministers yesterday that any decisions will be operational, not politically motivated by the approach of the US presidential election.

    The statement comes as Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General, added to pressure on the Government by saying on the ITV1 Jonathan Dimbleby programme that the Iraq conflict had done nothing to make the world a safer place.

    The Ministry of Defence also said yesterday that the United States had “made no approach” to the British Government about basing interceptor missiles at RAF Fylingdales, in North Yorkshire, as part of its planned anti-missile defence system. The denial followed a newspaper claim that Tony Blair had given a secret assurance to Washington.

    Defence sources said that although General Walker was concerned about sending a battle group several hundred miles north of Basra, contingency plans had been drawn up for The Black Watch regiment to be sent to the location earmarked by the Americans, which is 20 miles southwest of Baghdad around the towns of Iskandariyah, Latifiyah and Mahmudiyah.

    The plans include sending a squadron of Challenger 2 tanks to boost the firepower for The Black Watch, which is equipped with Warrior armoured infantry fighting vehicles. With some Royal Engineers, this could boost the size of the force to be sent northwards to about 750 troops.

    The Black Watch is currently the divisional reserve force in southeast Iraq, and their redeployment northwards would leave a potentially dangerous capability gap in the south.

    The Americans want the British battle group to patrol south of Baghdad to allow the US Marine force based there to transfer to Fallujah for a major offensive against terrorists before the elections in January. However, the defence sources said that if there were an uprising in the south, the absence of The Black Watch would deny General Rollo the option of using the special reserve force to suppress the violence.

    Under contingency plans, the British military now have three options: to risk having no reserve force in the hope that the region remains relatively quiet; to create a new force from the existing troops, taking soldiers away from training Iraqis; or to send a new force out.

    Sending another battle group from the UK would take too long, however, the sources said. Under current contingency plans, The Black Watch and support units would be based southwest of Baghdad for up to 30 days. The regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel James Cowan, is one of the most experienced units in Iraq.

    Alan Milburn, Labour’s election surpemo[the rising star with Blair's foot on Brown's head] , told the BBC Radio 4 programme The World This Weekend: “People will look pretty askance at those who are saying somehow or other there is some sort of tawdry political deal that has been done here. All these decisions are taken on an operational basis.”

    Soldiers campaigning for official recognition of Gulf War syndrome were last night seeking “urgent talks” with the Ministry of Defence after a US government-sponsored report concluded that the illness exists.

     Copyright 2004 Times Newspapers Ltd.  

  • Anonymous

    18 October

    he families of Black Watch soldiers reacted with outrage after the Government confirmed it was considering a request for British troops to provide assistance outside the UK controlled southern sector of Iraq.

    Defence Minister Geoff Hoon refused specifically to confirm that the troops involved would come from the Black Watch regiment, currently serving as the reserve in the UK area of operations.

    But he responded several times to MPs’ questions asking if the regiment would have to stay beyond its routine six-month tour of duty, scheduled to finish by the end of the year.

    He said the Black Watch was “determined to carry through this operation, should it be decided they participate”.

    But relatives of Black Watch soldiers serving in Iraq expressed concern about what the announcement would mean for their loved ones.

    James Buchanan, 56, from Arbroath, who has two sons with the Black Watch in Basra, said he was convinced the regiment was being sent to Fallujah. He said his sons Craig, 25, and Gary, 27, both corporals in the regiment, had both been looking forward to spending Christmas with their families.

    “My boys joined the army because they wanted to, and because they’re proud to be soldiers,” he said. “They know they have to fight but they hate being lied to.

    “It’s a bloody disgrace how the Government has treated them, they’re stabbing them in the back and trying to disband them at the same time.

    “My son told me the British troops in southern Iraq have all been pulled back to Basra. They reckon there’s going to be one big push to Fallujah.

    “It’s us going to pull the Yanks out of the fire once again. They’re so stupid and gung-ho, they go round shooting everyone. And now they need our boys to sort out their mess. This is just a political game to help George Bush win the election, and it all just stinks to high heaven.”

  • Anonymous

    Mon 18 October, 2004

     By Katherine Baldwin

    LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will respond soon to a U.S. request to send troops to more dangerous areas of Iraq, a politically charged issue that has revived anger over Tony Blair’s support for the war.

    “The U.S. request is for a limited number of UK ground forces to be made available to relieve U.S. forces, to allow them in turn to participate in further operations elsewhere in Iraq to maintain the continuing pressure on terrorists,” Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told parliament on Monday.

    Hoon said British troops would not be required in the flashpoint areas of Baghdad or Falluja.

    Government sources said officials were expected to make a final assessment on the U.S. request in days.

    Asked by a MP about the consequences of turning Washington down, Hoon said: “There will be no penalty but we will have failed in our duty as an ally.”

    The prospect of troops becoming more embroiled in what many in Britain see as an increasingly chaotic situation in Iraq has sparked a political row and fears of a sharp rise in military casualties.


    Critics have accused the prime minister of preparing to put the lives of British troops at greater risk to help President George W. Bush in the U.S. presidential election on November 2, in which Iraq is a key issue.

    Blair’s decision to back Bush over the March 2003 invasion of Iraq has hit his ratings and divided his Labour Party.

    Hoon rejected the accusations.

    “I want to make clear that the request is a military request,” said Hoon.

    “Although it is linked to elections it is not the U.S. elections but with efforts to create the best possible security situation in which to hold the Iraq elections in January.”

    But critics, some in the Labour Party, questioned why Washington thought the redeployment of a small number of British troops was so vital at this time.

    “I and many others … do not take kindly to the idea that we are being engaged with President Bush and the Pentagon in order to bail them out,” said Labour parliamentarian Dennis Skinner.

    Britain has some 8,000 troops in Iraq but until now its forces have operated only in the relatively quiet Basra area of southern Iraq.

    Since last year’s U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, 68 British troops have died, compared with more than 1,000 U.S. troops.

    Analysts say up to 650 British troops may be moved north in response to the U.S. request to cover for American forces now fighting guerrillas in the rebel-held city of Falluja and elsewhere.

    The most likely move would be to redeploy troops from Britain’s Black Watch regiment from Basra to areas south of Baghdad.

    Commentators suggest the volatile towns of Iskandariya, Latifiya and Hilla could be possible destinations.

    “(The Black Watch) might be the force that are involved,” Hoon said.

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