Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Britain Withdraws Combat Troops But Trainers Remain, Could This Be A Blueprint For The U.S.?

On December 23, 2008 Iraq’s parliament passed a bill allowing England and several other members of the Coalition of the Willing to stay in the country until July 2009. The English command set May 31, 2009 as the date they would actually have all combat troops out, and began a quick turnover of facilities to the Iraqis and Americans. With that achieved, London went on to sign an agreement with Baghdad to allow trainers to stay for one more year. Could this be what the U.S. will do when its deadline for withdrawal comes?

Beginning in January 2009, Britain began its pull out from Iraq. Originally 26,000 British took part in the 2003 invasion. That was quickly drawn down to 18,000 by the end of May 2003. A year later there were 8,600, and then 5,500 by May 2007. At the end of 2008 there were around 4,000 English troops still in Iraq. On January 1, 2009 Britain turned over Basra airport to the Iraqis. English troops would remain on the military side of the facility however. By the middle of February it was announced that all of its heavy equipment had been shipped back to England. On March 31, England handed over command of Basra to the Americans. 7,000 U.S. soldiers also moved into Basra to take over many of the jobs the British had previously been doing. At the end of April the English announced that all their combat operations were over. Finally May 31 arrived and all combat troops were pulled out. Within two days London negotiated a deal with Baghdad to allow just under 100 British sailors and five ships to remain in Basra to train the fledgling Iraqi Navy for one-year past the withdrawal deadline.

The Iraq Navy is a small, undermanned, and under equipped force. As of January 2009 there were only 1,898 in the Navy. They are authorized to have 3,596. At the beginning of this year they received 44 small craft, but they lack the personnel, knowledge, and leadership to man all of them. They also have no major ships, although they are to receive two from Italy this year. The British are the main advisors to the Iraqi Navy. Besides the troops in Basra, they have also taken Iraqis to England for further training.

Could the Americans repeat England’s recent experience in Iraq? The British drew down their troops, declared combat operations over, met their deadline to be out by May 2009, and then signed a new agreement to keep trainers in the country for another year. Like the British, the U.S. has also set the end of 2011 as the date that it will be out of Iraq. As reported before, by that time the Iraqi security forces will not be ready to protect the country from external threats. The Iraqi Navy is a perfect example of that as it lacks the personnel and ships to carry out that task right now. When December 31, 2011 approaches then, it’s very likely that both the U.S. and Iraqi military will put pressure on the Obama administration to maintain some kind of U.S. presence in Iraq. It will be up the President then to decide whether keeping perhaps several thousand American advisors in Iraq will break his promise to be out of the country in sixteen months of taking office.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Iraq and Britain agree draft naval deal,” 6/3/09

Ashton, Adam and Hammoudi, Laith, “What are ‘combat troops’? Iraq withdrawal depends on answer,” McClatchy Newspapers, 12/23/08

Aswat al-Iraq, “Britain hands over Basra airport to Iraqi authorities,” 1/1/09

Cordesman, Anthony, “How Soon Is Safe? Iraqi Force Development and ‘Conditions-Based’ US Withdrawals,” 4/20/09

Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” March 2009

Evans, Michael, “Basra gets better beds and burgers as US takes over from the British,” Times of London, 2/16/09

The National, “British military operations end in Iraq,” 4/30/09

Robertson, Campbell and Cowell, Alan, “U.S. Takes Over as Britain Begins Basra Pullout,” New York Times, 4/1/09

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/09

Times of London, “Q&A: Iraq inquiry,” 3/26/09

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