Mon, Oct 30, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Blair's military policy attacked

TWO FRONTS Leaked Cabinet documents and a newspaper interview with a former chief of the defense staff turned up the heat under the British prime minister yesterday

AFP , LONDON

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's military policies were attacked on two fronts yesterday as a leaked memo linked them with terrorism at home and his favorite general called the Afghanistan war "cuckoo."

Leaked Cabinet documents published in the Sunday Telegraph apparently acknowledge that Britain's troop deployments in both Iraq and Afghanistan have fueled terrorism in Britain.

Presented to a Cabinet committee on security earlier this month and circulated among ministers and security chiefs, the papers say that actions overseas must in future be designed to reduce the threat of terrorism.

Their contents undermine Blair's denials that Britain's actions in Iraq and Afghanistan trigger terrorist attacks against Britain. Four British Muslim suicide bombers killed themselves and 52 London commuters in July last year.

The documents say demand a "significant reduction in the number and intensity of the regional conflicts that fuel terror activity" and set out a list of perfect scenarios in a series of trouble spots 10 years from now.

They call for stability for Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel to live in "peaceful coexistence" with its Arab neighbors and Iran to be devoid of nuclear weapons.

They also say that there should be "no new failed states, dictatorships or wars" in the Middle East and South Asia.

"If all or most of the above were in place, threats from other sources of Islamic terrorism [eg, Indonesia, Philippines, Nigeria] would be manageable or on the way to resolution," they conclude.

"Any remaining deployments of the British armed forces should be seen as contributing to international stability and security," they say.

Blair's office declined to comment on the leaked documents, but said: "We recognize that people have used Iraq as an excuse for terrorist activity but clearly plenty of terrorist activity against the UK and its citizens has pre-dated that.

In an interview in the Observer, General Charles Guthrie, a former chief of the defense staff, described the deployment of soldiers in Afghanistan as "cuckoo."

"Anyone who thought this was going to be a picnic in Afghanistan ... to launch the British army in with the numbers there are, while we're still going in Iraq, is cuckoo," he told the Sunday newspaper.

Guthrie, who was one of Blair's most trusted commanders before he quit in 2001, also cast doubt on Blair's claim that he would produce all the extra helicopters and other resources the army needed.

Guthrie's comments follow those of General Sir Richard Dannatt, the chief of the General Staff, who called this month for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq "sometime soon" because they were contributing to Britain's security problems.

Dannatt later toned down his remarks.

Meanwhile, the Independent on Sunday reported that the British army is so stretched from having to fight on two fronts that 40 percent of army divisions report they are suffering from "serious or critical" problems.

Manning shortages mean that soldiers are having to go on tours of duty before they are properly rested or trained, according to the weekly, citing a Ministry of Defense briefing document.

Members of parliament who have seen the official memo say the problem is threatening the army's ability to fight insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The ministry insists that the military is simply "stretched" and still able to fulfil its orders, the Independent said.

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