Sunday 22 November 2009

Skis In The Desert? Priceless!

Andrew Gilligan in the Sunday Telegraph has what looks like a scoop, although it seems to have been ignored so far today by the rest of media despite being picked up by the Press Association and AP. He has obtained a leaked government report on "lessons learnt" from Iraq that is based on transcripts of classified interviews with British Army commanders, who "vent their frustration and anger with ministers and Whitehall officials". Based on these documents, Gilligan writes:

Tony Blair, the former prime minister, misled MPs and the public throughout 2002 when he claimed that Britain’s objective was “disarmament, not regime change” and that there had been no planning for military action. In fact, British military planning for a full invasion and regime change began in February 2002.

The need to conceal this from Parliament and all but “very small numbers” of officials “constrained” the planning process. The result was a “rushed”operation “lacking in coherence and resources” which caused “significant risk” to troops and “critical failure” in the post-war period.

Operations were so under-resourced that some troops went into action with only five bullets each. Others had to deploy to war on civilian airlines, taking their equipment as hand luggage. Some troops had weapons confiscated by airport security.

Commanders reported that the Army’s main radio system “tended to drop out at around noon each day because of the heat”. One described the supply chain as “absolutely appalling”, saying: “I know for a fact that there was one container full of skis in the desert.”

The Foreign Office unit to plan for postwar Iraq was set up only in late February, 2003, three weeks before the war started.

The plans “contained no detail once Baghdad had fallen”, causing a “notable loss of momentum” which was exploited by insurgents. Field commanders raged at Whitehall’s “appalling” and “horrifying” lack of support for reconstruction, with one top officer saying that the Government “missed a golden opportunity” to win Iraqi support. Another commander said: “It was not unlike 1750s colonialism where the military had to do everything ourselves.”

The documents emerge two days before public hearings begin in the Iraq Inquiry, the tribunal appointed under Sir John Chilcot, a former Whitehall civil servant, to “identify lessons that can be learnt from the Iraq conflict”.

The details about the lack of preparedness for the invasion because of the need to keep plans secret, coupled with the lack of thought given to post-war occupation, reminds me of Imperial Life in the Emerald City, the excellent 2006 book by Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post, which next year will be released as a Paul Greengrass film.

But I don't remember hearing about the Americans accidently shipping skis to the desert. That's priceless!

UPDATE - 23 November

The Telegraph has produced some of its leaked documents, one of which was in fact already made public by Wikileaks In August 2008. Others documents are here and here. Meanwhile, Gilligan has been interviewed by Russia Today:

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