Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Brits and Americans divided over Iraq pullout as Afghanistan slides toward civil war

After noting yesterday John Patrick Grace's exuberant editorial that "We may now be only weeks away from ... the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq," I decided to check if there was any related news. There is, but only in the Scotsman. This is amazing—that discussions of a British troop pullout from Iraq are being covered by one newspaper in the world. And only then—if it's as I suspect—because they are being force-fed the news by the British government.

Brian Brady in a piece headlined "Bush warns Blair he must boost UK forces" reports,

Britain is coming under sustained pressure from American military chiefs to keep thousands of troops in Iraq - while going ahead with plans to boost the front line against a return to "civil war" in Afghanistan.

Taken in conjunction with Bush's speech yesterday to the troops,1 the next paragraph is a killer—

Tony Blair was warned that war-torn Iraq remains on the brink of disaster - more than two years after the removal of Saddam Hussein - during his summit with President Bush in Washington earlier this month.

There is clearly a behind-the-scenes struggle going on between the Brits and Americans over a pullout from Iraq, as I've discussed in previous posts. But the struggle is intensifying. This might be due to a number of factors, but the most likely of them is that Blair is close to making an announcement.

Blair's excuse for the pullout is Afghanistan, and Afghanistan has been cooperating fully—

Scotland on Sunday revealed last month that Blair is preparing to rush thousands more British troops to Afghanistan in a bid to stop the country sliding towards civil war, amid warnings the coalition faces a "complete strategic failure" in the effort to rebuild the nation.

The grim prognosis was underlined last night by Afghanistan's defence minister, who warned that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network was regrouping and planned to bring Iraq-style bloodshed to the country.

Britain's military chief in Kabul last week confirmed that the 8,000-strong UK presence in Iraq would be scaled down to enable more troops to be diverted to the struggle against a resurgent Taliban.

Notice that the Brits have been announcing this since April, but only through military spokesmen in Kabul and the Scotsman. When Blair says it, even the NY Times and Washington Post will have to notice.

But despite fears that the security situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating, the Americans have now launched a determined rearguard action to ensure Iraq does not suffer from a switch in Britain's military focus.

"The Prime Minister was given a pretty depressing run-down of the prognosis for Iraq while he was in Washington," one senior Ministry of Defence source said last night. "The Americans are pushing for at least a maintenance of the troop numbers we have there now. Our latest intention is to reduce by at least half the number of our troops in Iraq within a year."

Well, if anything can change Blair's mind it's rearguard action, but I don't believe even that is going to work this time.

Air Marshal Glenn Torpy, head of military operations, last week confirmed that the presence in Iraq would decrease in "battalion chunks" after [Iraqi] elections expected at the end of this year.

The cost of the war

Meanwhile some British economists have been calculating the cost of the Iraq war and estimate that it will exceed 5 billion pounds, making it the most expensive British military excursion since World War II.

According to Severin Carrell of the Independent,

Professor Keith Hartley, one of Britain's leading defence economists, says the bill for military operations alone in Iraq is already £1bn more than the Government has stated because ministers have failed to count the full costs of the operation.

His estimates exclude the £390m spent on civil reconstruction and the undisclosed costs of spying.

He quoted the Treasury as telling him the Ministry of Defence had so far spent nearly £3.2bn in Iraq. However, Professor Hartley, director of the Centre for Defence Economics at the University of York, contests that figure.

The professor said the costs of the invasion and occupation had already reached £4.2bn because Whitehall had failed to take into account manpower and equipment, ignoring the £58m "value" of the 87 British soldiers killed and hundreds injured.

By March 2006, that bill was likely to rise to £5bn he said.

Blair can't handle much more news like this. And the Bush administration can't handle news of a troop withdrawal by its only real partner in the coalition. This is going to get mighty interesting. Care to bet when the newspapers will cover this story?

Follow-up post
Update on "Brits and Americans divided over Iraq pullout..." (7/5/05)

Previous posts
What's up in Britain? (9/23/04)
What's up in Afghanistan and why is Blair sending more troops? (4/5/05)
The secret that's not a secret: British troops to Afghanistan (5/23/05)
A further note on the Brits and Afghanistan (6/2/05)
What does this man know about the British? (6/28/05)


1"In the past year, we have made significant progress"
—"George Bush" as quoted in the Guardian [back]

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