Letter from the Defence Correspondent: If nowhere in Iraq is totally safe, then how can British troops be?


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Once again we are seeing British troops sent to Iraq. The defence secretary Michael Fallon has announced that an additional deployment of 200 troops will be sent to Iraq next month to train local forces battling Isis militants. Yet even as the US-led mission against Isis got under way, the constant reminder from commanders and analysts was that an air campaign alone would not defeat the militants; troops would be needed to confront a formidable insurgency.

Since then, President Barack Obama has authorised the dispatch of 3,100 US troops and Washington now expects its allies to provide the vital boots on the ground. The mantra so far is that they will be used only for training the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces away from the front lines.

But the expectation that this  can be done quickly enough with the highly demoralised Iraqi army – to push back Isis and its constant flow of recruits – may prove to be too optimistic. The temptation for the Americans then would be to send the trainers into combat with the trainees.

But even Britain’s refusal to be part of such a development, as is certain to be the case this side of the election, does not mean that UK troops would have a risk-free deployment. Admitting that a force-protection team for the trainers would be necessary, Mr Fallon insisted that the training camps were “in safe areas”. But those of us who have experienced our heavily guarded hotels in the centre of Baghdad being blown up know that nowhere in Iraq is totally safe. As the recent toll of dead and injured showed, the bombers have not left the Iraqi capital.