Tories say Americans got priority over British for RAF air support

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Indy Politics

British forces in Iraq suffered from lack of air support because RAF planes were being used in American operations, the Conservatives claimed yesterday.

Bernard Jenkin, the Shadow Defence Secretary, declared that, in future Anglo-American military actions, British forces should have first call on RAF aircraft.

Mr Jenkin said that placing British warplanes in the coalition "pool" had resulted in delays in receiving air support while British forces were attempting to take Basra in southern Iraq.

He said: "I have not made any criticism of the Americans. I think it is entirely natural that they would regard their main effort as the attack on Baghdad and that the slow and painstaking approach to Basra by the British forces was a secondary issue to them, and I think that is perfectly understandable.

"My criticism is whether it is right for British forces to pool our air support with the coalition as a whole rather than to maintain dedicated close air support with our own forces.

"The Americans both with their Marines and their infantry, the two-pronged attack on Baghdad, were fighting as land-air systems - that is, the air component was an integrated part of the land attack.

"That was not the case with the British in Basra and I think there is an important lesson to be learned from that situation. Because while some air strikes came in in a very timely manner ... there were occasions when it would have been preferable to have close air support very quickly and it took a considerable time to arrive because the coalition as a whole had other priorities."

Mr Jenkin, who plans to write to Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon about the issue, added: "I don't know how widespread the problem was - my information is, by its very nature, mainly anecdotal - but after the conflict is the right time to look at this kind of question and see what lessons we can learn.

"We need to look carefully at such decisions in future and maintaining a Tornado or Harrier ground attack capability directly answerable to brigade command or divisional command in the field is much more preferable than having to go through the main headquarters and compete with other claims elsewhere during the war."