Thursday, March 01, 2007

A matter for contempt

It is rather typical of the left-wing press to salivate over the prospect of a Vietnam-style meltdown in Iraq, hence the enthusiasm displayed by The Guardian this morning in elevating to its front page the comments of "an elite team of officers advising the US commander, Gen. Petraeus" that they have six months to win the war in Iraq.

But if that is the case, at least the United States is still looking at a recoverable situation, where it is working for a winning solution. It is prepared to put the resources and, as importantly, the intellectual capital, into beating the enemy. And, amongst the tangible measures the US is planning to take, we learn from The Guardian is that they are preparing for the possible southwards deployment of 6,000 US troops to compensate for Britain's phased withdrawal and any upsurge in unrest.

What an extraordinary contrast this makes with the statements made by the secretary of state for defence, Des Browne, in response to oral questions put to him by Ann Winterton during Defence Questions on Monday. Then, he was asked:

Is not the case that the military have almost lost the ability to fight an insurgency war, and are certainly inadequately equipped to do so? This, coupled with the present rules of engagement, makes it well nigh impossible to make progress in this theatre, and that is not good for the security situation as a whole.
Browne, predictably, did not agree with the "hon. Lady", declaring:

Our troops are simply not ill-equipped. We have introduced a range of new systems over the past few years that have enhanced our troops' capability quite significantly—for example, new body armour, underslung grenade launchers, night vision equipment, light machine guns, ballistic eye protection and a range of other offensive and defensive systems, not to mention the progress that we have made in past months in relation to protected vehicles.

Equally, I do not accept that our military are not capable of undertaking counter-insurgency work. Indeed, the contrary is the case. In my view, the British military are the best in the world at undertaking counter-insurgency.

That is why General Petraeus, who is in charge of the coalition forces in Iraq, has drawn substantially on our counter-insurgency strategic approach to inform the way in which the American military will now operate. The evidence of that is the improvement that our troops have made in the south-east of Iraq, and we should not underestimate the achievement for which they have been responsible. It has allowed us to announce the draw-down that we were able to announce last week.
This latter statement is either the most extraordinary hubris, or indicative of a dangerous, almost unbelievable layer of corporate self-deception. Only yesterday, for instance, did we hear of the inquest of Privates Joseva Lewaicei and Adam Morris, 19, both killed in a roadside bomb in Basra, last May, two more casualties of "Snatch" Land Rovers.

But what is absolutely chilling is that, according to the AFP report (the only report we have seen), the inquest was told that it had become too dangerous to send officers from the Army's Special Investigation Bureau into Basra to recover evidence of how the attack had been mounted.

That, however, is just another tiny little indicator of how, from early last year at the very latest, the British military authorities lost control of the city. Since then, soldiers venture onto the streets only when necessary and then, as the The Independent recorded this weekend, in armoured convoys. Gone completely is the "soft" approach of troops patrolling on foot without helmets.

That much we know, but the latest death of a soldier, Rifleman Daniel Lee Coffey – the first to be killed while riding a Bulldog APC, shot while acting as "top cover", tells us something else. In the first instance, the unfortunate Coffey was not killed immediately, but died of his wounds a day later. Only then did the MoD make a public announcement. Had Rifleman Coffey survived, no matter how grievously injured, we would have heard nothing at all of the incident.

As we have remarked before, with the improvements in trauma medicine and the availability of world-class front-line medical care, the death to injury ratio is lower than in comparison with other wars, giving a false impression as to the lethality of this campaign. More to the point, this means that we are not being told anything like all that is going on.

That said, it is evident that the battle for southern Iraq has been lost by the British Army. That leaves our troops forced to skulk in their barracks, while it looks like the Americans are having to move in to bail us out. Their reward is to have our sooooooo superior media mock their efforts, while the secretary of state for defence claims credit for teaching them how to do their work. He then pretends that our Army has somehow scored a great success, as a prelude to its running away from the battle.

It is difficult to decide which is more contemptible.

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