The situation for the British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan could hardly be worse.
Under political pressure back home and from his senior military commanders, there are few who doubt the British forces will withdraw from Basra. The US command however, thinks the British are cutting and running.
For much of the last four years, the Americans in the room would have listened carefully, used to deferring to their British colleagues’ long experience in Northern Ireland. This time, however, eyes that would once have been attentive simply rolled.
Another concern for Britain is that the retreat may become messy.
Stephen Biddle, who also advises the US commander in Iraq, said Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in the south would try to create the impression they were forcing a retreat. “They want to make it clear they have forced the British out. That means they’ll use car bombs, ambushes, RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] . . . and there will be a number of British casualties.”
Meanwhile, the news in Afghanistan is hardly any better.
In a graphic illustration of the intensity of the conflict in Helmand province, more than 700 battlefield soldiers have needed treatment since April – nearly half of the 1,500 on the front line. The figures, obtained from senior military sources, have never been released by the government, which has faced criticism that it has covered up the true extent of injuries sustained during the conflict.
The US commanders who do not realize that this is merely a sign of things to come for them are deluding themselves. In spite of all the happy talk about progress being made, the White House is not even willing to address benchmarks.