The Government has recently been saying that British troops might leave Iraq some time next year. As previously blogged, they have been saying this since the British troops entered Iraq, there or thereabouts, with the only difference that the number of troops has climbed steadily, from a low of one brigade group and 1 Division HQ immediately post-invasion to the current position, with 7 Armoured Brigade, an adhoc Div HQ, various support elements, and three (I think) battalions-equivalent as reinforcements to 7 - in other words, almost another brigade. (Details.) And, as previously blogged, there were rumours that General Dutton had wanted even more troops at the last rotation but didn't get them.
This time, one might have thought that there was more point to the story. After all, Prez Jalal Talabani was in town, and he says so. And the Guardian ran a large story on how "the emphasis was shifting" towards withdrawal that was heavily larded with markers of government briefing - "sources", "officials", "so-and-so will say..", all that stuff.
Only one question. This week, the first Army units were officially warned-off for Operation TELIC 9, the next tour of Iraq after the 7th's, with mobilisations planned for the late summer of 2006 and a planned return home in May, 2007. Ten years to the day after Tony Blair's election. Now, warning-off isn't a binding process, it simply announces that unit X is likely to mobilise in the future and ought to prepare. But it certainly sheds light on the confident commentary given by, among others, Sir Michael Jackson this week.
A possible explanation was that one of the official sources who will brief that.. said that 3,000 troops might be withdrawn "without affecting operational capability". Well, I doubt that very much, as operational capability is exactly why the generals asked for them. I suspect they meant without affecting the operational situation. To put it another way, they are hoping to get back to the original number of troops before the before, and then hope one day to get out of Iraq.
By the way, can the Ones Who Will Brief kindly stop it with re-announcing next spring's deployment to Afghanistan, Op. HERRICK? The press react, infantile, every time it is spun as if it was all brand new although it was first announced two years ago. Re-announcing five-a-day programmes for sink estates is one thing, re-announcing military operations is too much, surely?
Jesus, this is the end. I've started whingeing about "spin". Old age must be near.