Blair’s announcement of the Brit force draw-down in Iraq was inevitable, and his holding on so long is to his credit. But it reveals a failure of British arms that’s entirely his governement’s responsibility.
The coalition force is tasked with ensuring an orderly transition to an Iraqi democracy – that means suppressing terrorists, warlords and criminal gangs so that the vast bulk of peaceful Iraqis can get on with their lives. The Brits have responsibility for the South Eastern area, centered on Basra, and Blair announced a plan to reduce their numbers from 7,100 to 5,500. The force has been steadily reduced from 45,000 at the time of the invasion, to 9,000 in May 2005 and so this latest reduction just continues that progression.
But the objective of war is not to withdraw in the face of the enemy, and that, unfortunately is what has been happening in the Brit zone – here are two people on the spot:
Samira Luady, 43, a post office official, said: “If we want to estimate the British performance in Basra, it was good, and the evidence of that is the stability all over the town.”
But she added: “The Iraqi police now cannot control the situation if the British troops pull out because of the weakness of these forces and the infiltration by political parties and religious groups. I don’t know if the Iraqi Army will be able to control the situation or not but I doubt it.”
I live and work here with the British Army in Basra City. The situation is far worse than anyone imagines at home. I work with the Iraqi Police Service who are at best disorganised and inept, at worst, militia led organising attacks on MNF forces.
We are attacked by rockets and mortars daily in our base and attacked by IED’s, RPG’s and small arms fire every time we leave it to visit police stations.
Basra is , and has been for many months, lost to the Shia Militia who will step in and enforce a hard and ruthless hold over this part of the country.
That’s a terrible return for the courage and sacrifice of the Brit troops, and it’s due entirely to management failings in Blair’s government.
1. Underspending on Defense
The US spends 3.2% of its GNP on its military (about $277 billion annually) – that’s down from over 5% at the end of the Cold War. Brits spend just 2.32% (about $32 billion) – way less than economically smaller France’s $47 billion.
This low spend on security is Blair’s responsibility, although his Chancellor Brown is the proximate culprit.
In consequence, the Brit Army has been trying to hold down about 20% of Iraq with about 7% of the 132,000 troops committed by the US. It’s argued that the US has the harder task in the Sunni center and Kurdish north. But that’s only partly true, since the Kurds need (and get) no US troops. And, as we now know, the US troops themselves need reinforcement.
So assuming that South East Iraq needs 75% of the surged US force level of 150,000, and applying the area scaling of 20%, the Brits needed 22,500 troops.
Poor Political Leadership
This understrength Brit military was undermined by the relentless legal assault of by Blair’s Attorney General – a man whose reputation will be forever stained by this action. He achieved two things:
– Army recruiting diminished, taking with it the flow of replacements (men can’t stay in battle for more than 6 months at a time), and
– To avoid being labelled war criminals, Brit troops avoided conflict.
Vindictive people like Goldsmith are poison in teams, and Blair should have fired him years ago.
Good anti-mortar and anti-rocket systems for point defense have been available for decades. Tracking mortar launchers is easy, since the rounds follow ballistic trajectories, and for rockets you just need to elevate a centimetric radar on a tower or a balloon to locate the launchers. With automatic location and counter-fire, you can kill the attacking within a second of their firing.
And for a small additional cost, you can take out the incoming weapons in flight by using Phalanx guns borrowed from the Royal Navy.
With this equipment, Brit bases would have been safe places, surrounded by body parts of their failed attackers.
Poor Military Leadership
If Brit military leaders had threatened to resign en masse, Blair would have been forced to dump Goldsmith. They could have used the same tactic to force the awful Ministry of Defense to procure and deploy force protection systems using a crash program along the lines of the successful US IED Task Force.
Instead they reacted passively – directing a succession of retreats to base, which absent modern force protection systems just made our troops fish in a barrel.
This sad story confirms a hard fault in the Brit political system. All but (I think) three US Presidents have previously run States. Whereas Brit politicians almost invariably come to power with zero administrative and management experience.
Blair is a gifted man – he was warning about the threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of death-seeking Islamic dictators well before 9/11. He’s also an excellent orator and a skilled politician, and these skills quickly took him to the top.
But faced with a war and lacking experience of leadership and execution, he was hopelessly under-equipped, so failed the nation and its fighting men and women.
Sadly, he’s the best leader the Brits are likely to have for a decade.