British soldiers near Baghdad would give Bush a big boost

Click to follow
The Independent US

The Pentagon's request for Britain to move troops to more dangerous areas closer to Baghdad underlines how over-extended United States forces are, on the eve of an expected major assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.

The Pentagon's request for Britain to move troops to more dangerous areas closer to Baghdad underlines how over-extended United States forces are, on the eve of an expected major assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.

Speaking in New Jersey yesterday, President George Bush made no mention of the request as he promised to see through the campaign in Iraq to a victorious conclusion. But the issue of a redeployment of British troops might yet feature in the campaign, especially if London agrees to do so before election day on 2 November.

His opponent, John Kerry, has repeatedly attacked the President for failing to assemble a genuine coalition in Iraq, saying that the US was taking 90 per cent of the casualties and facing 90 per cent of the cost of the war. With crack British troops closer to the most dangerous insurgency in the centre and north of the country, Mr Bush could use British reinforcements to hit back at those claims.

A concerted offensive to break the resistance in Fallujah has long been on the cards, and this month US commanders have stepped up air attacks on suspected insurgent positions in the city. But it has generally been assumed that a ground assault, with the attendant risk of high casualties, would not take place until after the election.

Even so, almost every day brings fresh evidence of alarming supply and logistical problems for US forces in Iraq. The Pentagon is currently investigating allegations that members of a reserve army unit refused to undertake a land convoy mission last week.

According to reports here, up to 19 soldiers from the unit, based near Talil in southern Iraq, disobeyed orders, saying they were being sent on a "suicide mission" without proper escort and in vehicles without adequate protection.

A report in The Washington Post yesterday claimed that the former top commander in Iraq had told the Pentagon last winter that his soldiers' ability to fight was compromised by dire supply shortages, especially of spare parts for tanks and helicopters.

The complaints were made by Lt-Gen Ricardo Sanchez who was commander of US forces in the country until earlier this year. Pentagon officials say the waiting period for critical spare parts has now been halved to about 24 hours.

But the general's criticism has been implicitly confirmed by Paul Bremer - until June 2004 the US pro-consul in Iraq - who claims to have repeatedly asked for more troops to be sent in the critical weeks after the invasion was complete.

Mr Kerry used the Sanchez report yesterday to accuse Mr Bush of "arrogant boasting" over Iraq, in complete contradiction of the real situation on the ground. He also accuses the Pentagon of secretly preparing plans for a Vietnam-style draft to make good the manpower shortage in Iraq. Mr Bush has flatly denied any such intention. Even so National Guard and reservist units are being forced to serve ever longer tours in Iraq, in what the Democratic candidate calls a "backdoor draft".

Comments