U.S. official: Britain seeks Iraq pullout in a year

October 25th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: U.S. official: Britain seeks Iraq pullout in a year

Byline:Kristin Roberts
Date: October 24, 2006

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The British military hoped to withdraw troops from
Iraq within about a year and London wanted to focus on the war in
Afghanistan, a U.S. defence official said on Tuesday.

British officials had told U.S. counterparts the British military was "near
the breaking point" due to long deployments in Iraq and weak retention of
personnel, said the official, asking not to be identified.

The official's comments offered the first hint Britain's military may have a
timetable for withdrawal in mind.

"It's about a year, give or take a few months," the official said.

But another U.S. defence official played down the withdrawal issue, and no
immediate comment was available from British Prime Minister Tony Blair's
Labour government.

The official said British discussions about troop levels were part of
regular, internal military reviews and that the British government had not
approached senior U.S. officials with adjustment plans or timetables.

On Sunday, British Defence Secretary Des Browne said Britain was "quite far
down" the road towards transferring responsibility for security in Iraq to
Iraqi forces but British troops would leave only when the job was done.

About 7,200 British troops are based in southern Iraq and Blair has been
U.S. President George W. Bush's closest ally over Iraq.

Britain has launched a large new operation in Afghanistan this year, and
commanders have acknowledged they had hoped to accelerate force reductions
in Iraq.

Blair and Bush face intense pressure at home over Iraq because of the
unrelenting violence.

An opinion poll published on Tuesday showed more than 60 percent of Britons
want their troops to be withdrawn this year, and surveys show Bush's policy
on Iraq may cost his Republican Party control of Congress in November 7

A British withdrawal could put more stress on U.S. forces, already facing
equipment and funding shortfalls and the possibility of repeat tours of duty
in Iraq.

Britain has handed over authority to Iraqi forces for two of the four
provinces in its area of responsibility in the south.

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