Gordon Brown 'Won't Bring Troops Home Early'

March 10th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Gordon Brown 'Won't Bring Troops Home Early'

London Daily Telegraph
March 10, 2008 By Thomas Harding, in Basra province
Gordon Brown faces a humiliating climb down on his pledge to bring 1,500 troops in Iraq home early with military planners now expected to recommend troop numbers remain fixed, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Last October Mr Brown announced that the withdrawal of 1,000 troops from Basra by Christmas would be followed by a further reduction from the current level of 4,000 to 2,500 this spring.
Critics accused him of playing "cynical" politics and using British soldiers as a "political football" as the announcement came during the Conservative Party conference at a time when General Election speculation was rife.
Uncertainty over the security situation now means commanders are resisting the move and soldiers in Iraq are increasingly disgruntled because it appears inevitable that their return date of mid-April will be pushed back to the end of June.
Military commanders are also fighting to prevent further troop reductions because they fear that the mission would become "meaningless" if numbers dropped further.
At a meeting on March 13 they are expected to recommend that the Ministry of Defence deploys the full force of 7 Armoured Brigade in June, keeping overall troop levels at 4,000.
Friction between the military and politicians over the issue appears unavoidable after Whitehall sources suggested that the 2,500 figure was used by Mr Brown on the recommendation of defence chiefs.
"We took advice from the military on what they told us they needed to do the job, they are the ones who put together the force level package and ministers will follow their advice," the source said.
The Army's top generals are concerned at the continuing high levels of deployments, with 8,000 troops in Afghanistan while funding and retaining troops remains a serious problem.
Officers in Iraq argue that reducing the force from three to two battlegroups - each a mixture of 600 men in tanks and armoured vehicles - would limit them to only patrolling the perimeter of the base.
"If we reduce numbers then all we will be doing is protecting our ability to exist and protecting the people bringing in the supplies for us to exist. It would be pretty meaningless," said one commander.
Lt Col Willie Swinton, the commanding officer of the Scots Guards, said he thought a reduction was "unrealistic". Another officer said: "We have invested so much blood and treasure in this mission that it would be criminal to risk it."
Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, said: "The Prime Minister's announcement of troop withdrawals from Iraq have amounted to nothing more than classic Labour government spin at the expense of the welfare of our Armed Forces and their families."
An MoD spokesman said it still planned to reduce levels to 2,500 this spring but added: "Final decisions, however, will as always be based on the advice of our military commanders and conditions on the ground at the time."

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