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July 01, 2004

Now let's take a look at this...

Attack Iran, US chief ordered British By Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent (Filed: 30/06/2004)


America's military commander in Iraq ordered British troops to prepare a full-scale ground offensive against Iranian forces that had crossed the border and grabbed disputed territory, a senior officer has disclosed.

Um, it seems to me he told them to prepare. Not attack. There is a difference. An important one. If you don't have a plan when you get the order, you either wing it, or delay execution until you have one - and usually do things like take more casualties. Based on that one paragraph alone, I would say Sanchez was saying, "Prepare for an attack, I want that option." Which is exactly what a commander is supposed to do. Develop options. Planning. It's what staffs are there to do.

Not the same thing as saying, "Go get 'em!" Maybe I'm missing something.

An attack would almost certainly have provoked open conflict with Iran. But the British chose instead to resolve the matter through diplomatic channels.

Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't. They might have pulled back. We'll never know, will we? But they learned that we wouldn't attack, didn't they? So they know something about us - and we learned next to nothing about them. Oh, and did what they learned about us figure into subsequent actions... like shanghaiing some patrol boats? Not necessarily the best trade. And, if the Brits or US did go through any motions of movement, positioning forces, aerial reconnaissance - how do we know their decision to act on diplomatic overtures was not influenced by the presence of probably the two best armies in the world right there? That's before you introduce the Air Force and Naval and Marine aviation into the picture. Somehow, I'm just not picturing the Iranians too keen on committing a large number of heavy forces with trigger happy US flyboys looking to add more tank silhouettes to their aircraft. Just saying.

"If we had attacked the Iranian positions, all hell would have broken loose," a defence source said yesterday.

"We would have had the Iranians to our front and the Iraqi insurgents picking us off at the rear."

Maybe. You might have had Iranians fleeing back across the border and insurgents learning that Iran wouldn't be too supportive, too. Again, just saying.

The incident was disclosed by a senior British officer at a conference in London last week and is reported in today's edition of Defence Analysis. The identity of the officer is not given.

"Some Iranian border and observation posts were re-positioned over the border, broadly a kilometre into Iraq," a Ministry of Defence spokesman said.

The incident began last July when Revolutionary Guards pushed about a kilometre into Iraq to the north and east of Basra in an apparent attempt to reoccupy territory which they claimed belonged to Iran.

It would be instructive to know what level of force remained close by the border that could have supported these forces. Then the decision making would be a touch easier to understand.

The rest is in the extended post.

Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez then ordered the British to prepare to send in several thousand troops to attack the Revolutionary Guard positions.

Again, this 'prepare' word. Sounds to me like LTG Sanchez was doing his job, exploring his options. "Prepare," believe it or not, is not the same thing as "Go".

As a leader and planner in Germany in the 80's, Kuwait in the 90's, and as a WMD response planner at the end of the century I had lots of "prepare" missions. I would have been professionally derelict if I hadn't. Yet, never once did I cross the Iron Curtain, or fire nuclear weapons at Warsaw Pact forces, re-invade Iraq (on my watch) or commit the CBIRF to a WMD event in the United States. But ya know what - plans I was involved in 'preparing' were executed, oh, lessee, when was that? Oh, yeah! September 11, 2001. And if you think the response was chaotic then - you just think about what it would have been like if we hadn't done any planning at all. So, again, I had lots of plans prepared in case I needed one on short notice. Mebbe I'm missing something in Brit military culture here, and they only plan operations they've already been told to execute. Or is this just ignorant newsies, mebbe with an axe to grind, or scoring cheap points?

The Revolutionary Guard Corps has 125,000 soldiers, making it 25 per cent larger than the entire British Army, and is equipped with 500 tanks, 600 armoured personnel carriers and 360 artillery weapons.

Yeah, so what? Were they all arrayed in battle positions, logistics in place, artillery emplaced, helos at FAARPS, all focused on this one little region? Or were a good chunk of them still in garrison, still in the motor pools, not loaded on the HETs, etc. In other words, perfect fodder for the boys in blue? If not, it's a meaningless comparison.

The incident is reminiscent of the exchange during the Kosovo conflict between the American general, Wesley Clark, the supreme allied commander Europe, and Gen Sir Mike Jackson, the British commander.

When Gen Clark told Gen Jackson to send British troops into Pristina airport to prevent Russian troops from taking control Gen Jackson refused. He was reported to have said: "I am not going to start World War Three for you."

Um, one large, nay big, no, HUGE difference. General Clark didn't say, "Prepare to go to Pristina airport." He said, "Go to Pristina airport." What a difference the conditional modifier makes. It's why the language has them. Doesn't mean that General Clark was wrong, either. It does show you Brits are getting pretty insubordinate though... 8^D

The Iran-Iraq incident lasted around a week and was resolved by a telephone conversation between Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and Kamal Kharrazi, his Iranian counterpart, British officials said.

"It did look rather nasty at the time," one official said. "But we were always confident it was a mistake (NB: Right. A mistake. Uh-huh.) and could be resolved by diplomatic means. We got in touch with Baghdad and said, 'Don't do anything silly; we are talking to the Iranians.' "

Good, that's your job. And you better have been doing the f*cking planning, too, fellas. Or you weren't doing your job near as well as you should have been, and as we have come to expect from you, through nearly a century of close cooperation.

While Mr Straw was trying to resolve the issue peacefully, British military commanders on the ground were calming their Iranian counterparts, the ministry said.

And again, I'm willing to bet the staffs were also doing that "Prepare" thing.

The Revolutionary Guard was believed to be behind the seizure of eight Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel last week after they strayed across the disputed border between Iraq and Iran.

The eight men, who were delivering patrol boats to the Iraqi riverine patrol service, were released - but not before they were paraded blindfolded on Iranian television.

Hmmm. I wonder what clued the Iranians in to the fact they could do that without too much worry? Just asking. Perceptions matter, eh? Doesn't mean that the Brits were wrong to handle the border incident as they did. And if LTG Sanchez had been that worried, he had other tools at his disposal, which I'm sure he would have used.

Sorry, but for the nonce, it just looks like a cheap shot from the Brits - whether from the military, or, more likely, from the newsies.

Just my $0.02 worth.

Do I have any Commonwealth readers who could shed light on the subject?