Sunday, February 25, 2007
Overstretched, ill-equipped, the military are caught in the crossfire of a mission impossible.
By Raymond Whitaker
"When Tony Blair rose in Parliament last week to announce that 1,600 troops would be withdrawn this spring from Iraq, he did not say that an almost equal number would be sent to Afghanistan at roughly the same time. That news only emerged a day and a half later.
Why did the Prime Minister keep silent? Because to have announced the two deployments simultaneously would have made clear that all the problems the military have been complaining about, notably the "overstretch" caused by sending undermanned, inadequately equipped forces into two hostile environments at once, have not been solved.
What Mr Blair managed to disguise was that his long-awaited announcement of the beginning of the retreat from Iraq was in fact a slowdown. Military chiefs were desperate to pull 3,000 troops out of Iraq by summer; instead they got only half that number. The rest may leave by the end of the year - if conditions allow. But as one officer with experience there said: "The security situation on the ground in Basra is very volatile. Nobody knows what is going to happen day to day."
With talk in military circles of further much-needed reinforcements likely to be sent to Afghanistan in coming months, not least because other Nato members are refusing to provide them, the strain on resources can only increase. That will expose the deficiencies in equipment even more starkly......"