Half-truths, dissembling and confusion

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The British troops going to relieve the US forces in the Sunni triangle of Iraq would remain under the operation of a British general, the Defence Secretary, Geoffrey Hoon, said yesterday, announcing the decision in the Commons. A few hours later the Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Michael Walker, declared that the Black Watch troops involved would be under day-to-day "tactical" American control.

The British troops going to relieve the US forces in the Sunni triangle of Iraq would remain under the operation of a British general, the Defence Secretary, Geoffrey Hoon, said yesterday, announcing the decision in the Commons. A few hours later the Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Michael Walker, declared that the Black Watch troops involved would be under day-to-day "tactical" American control.

And so the final decision was confirmed as it had been presaged - in half-truths, government dissembling and a continuing confusion between military and political imperatives. That the Cabinet decided to accede to US requests for support as it prepares an all-out assault on Fallujah surprised no one. It has been clear for days that our government had basically said yes. What they hadn't worked out was a method of announcing the decision that took account of the unexpected resistance the issue had aroused among Labour backbenchers, even some of the most slavish loyalists. No doubt the military could have finally said no on logistical grounds but, considering the planners had been preparing the move for the past couple of weeks, it was hardly likely.

Yet the final agreement hardly closes the issue. We have agreed to move some 900 troops and support staff to the US sector to free up American troops for the attack on Fallujah. But does that mean we support the assault and, more to the point, are we prepared to be openly associated with an attack that has already led to the loss of hundreds of civilian lives in the preparatory bombing?

How, too, can the Prime Minister guarantee his promise of having the troops back by Christmas. If this is a purely military decision, as Geoffrey Hoon claimed yesterday, then it must be subject to the exigencies of the battle on the ground. Should the attack on Fallujah get bogged down, should the Black Watch get locked into an escalating confrontation in its new area, can we withdraw the troops according to a predetermined schedule? It would be militarily culpable if we did.

This is a bad decision on every ground, badly prepared and ill-presented. It should never have been made this way. It should never have been made at all.

Comments