Extracts from the Shadow Defence Secretary’s response to yesterday’s statement by Des Browne MP on British troops stationed in Iraq:
Is Britain involved with the key decisions in southern Iraq?: "How much control do we really have over events in the area in the south of Iraq? At the meeting on 23 March, did our commanders agree with bringing forward General Mohan’s offensive? When the Secretary of State says we were represented at a very senior level, was it military or civilian and what was the exact level? Surely, it is not acceptable for us simply to end up mopping up if we do not have a say in what operations are being carried out and how. From what the Secretary of State has just told us, it appears that our commanders had only 48 hours’ notice, yet they had to deploy more than one battlegroup, with tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery. Is that an acceptable model for the future?"
Do the Iraqi troops have sufficient equipment to deal with the militia threat?: "General Mohan said that although he believed he had sufficient men to deal with the militia threat, he was short of equipment—in particular, medium-range artillery, electronic jamming equipment and off-road capability. He also said at that time that he believed that the Government in Baghdad were slow to provide that because of pressure being applied from the Iranian Government. What representations have our Government made to get more equipment available more quickly to the Iraqi forces themselves, so that they can better deal with the situation that they face and not have to rely so much on British equipment?"
Could British troops re-enter Basra if the situation deteriorated?: "What if things do not go according to plan and the situation deteriorates further—something that we all hope will not happen? Under what circumstances would British troops ever be redeployed into Basra city and who would take such a decision? Would it be so important that it would be taken by Ministers, not just by commanders on the ground?"
Issues of overstretch: "We have seen in recent months only a small reduction in total numbers on Operation Telic, to around 5,500 now in the region—considerably more than in Iraq itself. Have the Government completely ruled out redeploying any of those back to Iraq if the situation deteriorates further? What are the cost implications of keeping our numbers up to a higher level than the Government anticipated and said only a few months ago, because that will clearly have a marked effect on the overstretch of our armed forces? I am afraid that the Government have been caught too often on the over-optimistic end of the spectrum. Only two weeks ago, in the Government-produced national security strategy, they said that “we are entering a phase of overall reduced commitments, recuperation of our people, and regrowth and reinvestment in capabilities and training as much as equipment.” That is simply not true in either Afghanistan or Iraq."
Read the full Hansard record and Des Browne’s response here.