Saturday, November 21, 2009

Army leaks to the Telegraph

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Iraq report: Secret papers reveal blunders and concealment

The “appalling” errors that contributed to Britain’s failure in Iraq are disclosed in the most detailed and damning set of leaks to emerge on the conflict.

By Andrew Gilligan
Published: 9:58PM GMT 21 Nov 2009

On the eve of the Chilcot inquiry into Britain’s involvement in the 2003 invasion and its aftermath, The Sunday Telegraph has obtained hundreds of pages of secret Government reports on “lessons learnt” which shed new light on “significant shortcomings” at all levels.

They include full transcripts of extraordinarily frank classified interviews in which British Army commanders vent their frustration and anger with ministers and Whitehall officials.

The reports disclose that:

Tony Blair, the former prime minister, misled MPs and the public throughout 2002 when he claimed that Britain’s objective was “disarmament, not regime change” and that there had been no planning for military action. In fact, British military planning for a full invasion and regime change began in February 2002.

The need to conceal this from Parliament and all but “very small numbers” of officials “constrained” the planning process. The result was a “rushed”operation “lacking in coherence and resources” which caused “significant risk” to troops and “critical failure” in the post-war period.

Operations were so under-resourced that some troops went into action with only five bullets each. Others had to deploy to war on civilian airlines, taking their equipment as hand luggage. Some troops had weapons confiscated by airport security.

Commanders reported that the Army’s main radio system “tended to drop out at around noon each day because of the heat”. One described the supply chain as “absolutely appalling”, saying: “I know for a fact that there was one container full of skis in the desert.”

The Foreign Office unit to plan for postwar Iraq was set up only in late February, 2003, three weeks before the war started.

The plans “contained no detail once Baghdad had fallen”,causing a “notable loss of momentum” which was exploited by insurgents. Field commanders raged at Whitehall’s “appalling” and “horrifying” lack of support for reconstruction, with one top officer saying that the Government “missed a golden opportunity” to win Iraqi support. Another commander said: “It was not unlike 1750s colonialism where the military had to do everything ourselves.”

The documents emerge two days before public hearings begin in the Iraq Inquiry, the tribunal appointed under Sir John Chilcot, a former Whitehall civil servant, to “identify lessons that can be learnt from the Iraq conflict”.

Senior military officers and relatives of the dead have warned Sir John against a “whitewash”.

The documents consist of dozens of “post-operational reports” written by commanders at all levels, plus two sharply-worded “overall lessons learnt” papers – on the war phase and on the occupation – compiled by the Army centrally.

The analysis of the war phase describes it as a “significant military success” but one achieved against a “third-rate army”. It identifies a long list of “significant” weaknesses and notes: “A more capable enemy would probably have punished these shortcomings severely.”

The analysis of the occupation describes British reconstruction plans as “nugatory” and “hopelessly optimistic”.

It says that coalition forces were “ill-prepared and equipped to deal with the problems in the first 100 days” of the occupation, which turned out to be “the defining stage of the campaign”. It condemns the almost complete absence of contingency planning as a potential breach of Geneva Convention obligations to safeguard civilians.

The leaked documents bring into question statements that Mr Blair made to Parliament in the build up to the invasion. On July 16 2002, amid growing media speculation about Britain’s future role in Iraq, Mr Blair was asked: “Are we then preparing for possible military action in Iraq?” He replied: “No.”

Introducing the now notorious dossier on Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, on Sept 24, 2002, Mr Blair told MPs: “In respect of any military options, we are not at the stage of deciding those options but, of course, it is important — should we get to that point — that we have the fullest possible discussion of those options.”

In fact, according to the documents, “formation-level planning for a [British] deployment [to Iraq] took place from February 2002”.

The documents also quote Maj Gen Graeme Lamb, the director of special forces during the Iraq war, as saying: “I had been working the war up since early 2002.”

The leaked material also includes sheaves of classified verbatim transcripts of one-to-one interviews with commanders recently returned from Iraq – many critical of the Whitehall failings that were becoming clear. At least four commanders use the same word – “appalling” – to describe the performance of the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence.

Documents describe the “inability to restore security early during the occupation” as the “critical failure” of the deployment and attack the “absence of UK political direction” after the war ended.
One quotes a senior British officer as saying: “The UK Government, which spent millions of pounds on resourcing the security line of operations, spent virtually none on the economic one, on which security depended.”

Many of the documents leaked to The Sunday Telegraph deal with key questions for Sir John Chilcot and his committee, such as whether planning was adequate, troops properly equipped and the occupation mishandled, and will almost certainly be seen by the inquiry.

However, it is not clear whether they will be published by it.

Home > News > News > Topics > Politics > Defence

Iraq report: Britain 'unprepared' for nation building

When British troops swept into Iraq, they carried with them leaflets bearing an “open letter” in Arabic from Tony Blair. “As soon as Saddam Hussein’s regime falls,” promised the Prime Minister, “the work to build a new, free and united Iraq will begin. A peaceful, prosperous Iraq which will be run by and for the Iraqi people.”

By Andrew Gilligan
Published: 10:00PM GMT 21 Nov 2009

But according to the leaked papers, Britain did little or nothing to make good on its promises. And on the “work to build a new Iraq”, among the most striking things in the documents is the anger and contempt expressed by many British Army commanders towards their own Government.

“We got absolutely no advice whatsoever,” said Brig Bill Moore, the commander of 19 Mech Brigade. “The lack of involvement by the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office], the Home Office and the Department for International Development was appalling. We were just left to get on with the task of nation-building ourselves.”

Brig Ian Dale, the commander of 101 Logistic Brigade, said: “I was horrified at the lack of other [British] Government departments’ involvement in the post-conflict phase. The Army was holding the ring to allow reconstruction and nothing happened. I believe the Government missed a golden opportunity.”

Brig Bruce Brealey, Britain’s chief of operations support in Iraq, said: “The Government was only prepared for a humanitarian crisis and not a nation-building one, and yet it must have been clear from the outset ... that nation-building would be needed.”

After every major military operation, the Army sits down in a room with each of the field commanders who took part. In a one-on-one session, an “interviewing officer” asks them what they thought, what went right, what went wrong, what surprised them and what messages they want to give. The answers are tape-recorded and transcribed. Those classified transcripts have been obtained by The Sunday Telegraph.

These are the voices of the men at the sharp end: the field commanders who had to pick up the pieces in April 2003, immediately after the “major combat operation” phase, or Telic 1, had ended.

The victory celebrations had been held. President Bush had proclaimed “mission accomplished”. But the real mission, to kick off the rebuilding Mr Blair had promised, had barely started. The fact that, right from the beginning, it was starting to fail comes through vividly.

“Sufficient resources were never available to us to make the whole thing work properly, and that affected our credibility enormously,” said Lt Col Jim Castle, the commanding officer of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers.

Lt Col Richard Nugee, commanding officer of 40 Regiment, Royal Artillery, said: “It was not unlike 1750s colonialism, where no standing civil service existed and the military had to do everything for themselves.”

Brig David Rutherford-Jones, the commander of 20 Armoured Brigade, said: “We did have the distinct impression that in London there was little care about the operational pressures we were under, only interest in the correct observance of financial procedures.”

The disillusionment of the commanders in the field is matched by the story told in the “overall lessons learnt” documents leaked to us. The documents admit that potential problems were foreseen before the war. “During the winter of 2002-03, there were fears in London that several factions might compete for power if Saddam Hussein fell, and that violence or moves towards civil war were possible,” says one.

But almost nothing was done to prevent that and improve the chances that the occupation would succeed. “Planning was not done in sufficient depth, and at the outset of Phase 4 [stabilisation/occupation] little finance was requested and approved for reconstruction purposes,” says the Army “general staff analysis” on the first two years of the occupation — four successive six-month operations codenamed Telic 2, 3, 4 and 5.

The documents say: “The coalition plan effectively contained no detail once Baghdad and Basra had been taken and the regime removed ... There was, therefore, a notable loss of momentum after the fall of Baghdad and Basra ... a significant issue [outside the British area], allowing some Iraqis to regroup for insurgent operations. This shortcoming is the more noteworthy because it was predictable.

“Lack of Phase 4 planning meant that coalition forces were ill-prepared and equipped to deal with the problems in the first hundred days, which represent the defining stage of the campaign ... The inability to restore security early during the occupation was a critical failure … There was an absence of political direction for what, overall, the UK wished to achieve.”

So keen was Britain to declare victory and leave that it pulled out troops even when they were badly needed. The report attacks the “premature drawdown of troops when, during a tense public order situation, the visible requirement was for boots on the ground”.

Remarkably, according to the report, the Foreign Office did not set up its Iraq post-war planning unit until late February 2003, three weeks before the war started. But the Army, too, was at fault.

“1 Division’s declarations that essential services could be quickly restored proved hopelessly optimistic,” says the report. “During the initial months, reality on the ground and Iraqi expectations were far apart, and local support for the coalition ebbed.”

It has now become conventional wisdom that the war never stood a chance. But in the British sector, the Shia population, persecuted by Saddam, was thrilled to see the leader gone and initially welcomed the occupiers. A key feature that emerges from these reports is the belief, right or wrong, by officers on the ground that with a bit more backing they could have got somewhere.

In his report, Major-General Andrew Stewart, the overall British commander in Iraq for Telic 3 and 4, writes: “The pessimist in me says that Iraq is a missed opportunity … at the strategic level [Government] we had poor judgment, thinking there was time ... My greatest fear is that, should the political and development process fail, we may become the focus of hostility and resentment from the whole spectrum of Iraqis.”

Although General Stewart thinks “we and the Iraqis will somehow muddle through,” it is in the end his pessimistic projection that comes to pass. By 2007, the Army in Basra was virtually under siege.

As trouble started to build, Brig Dale admitted that “we were generally unprepared for the increasing levels of violence that were directed at us. I do find it somewhat amusing that we give troops deploying to Northern Ireland a mandatory two-month training package, whereas for Telic ours consisted of a CD-Rom.”


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