Tony Blair brought military close to seizing up, says ex-army chief1
Committed by Blair to future fight in Afghanistan, British troops were pulled out of southern Iraq as quickly as possible in a move criticised by the US and widely recognised as damaging to the British army's reputation. "If Iraq was the only show in town, we probably could have increased [the number of troops there ] but of course we couldn't. We had already decided to reinforce Afghanistan," said Dannatt.
The link between the two operations was emphasised by General Sir Mike Jackson, Dannatt's predecessor, who also gave evidence. More British troops could have been deployed in Afghanistan had more been withdrawn from Iraq, Jackson told the inquiry. "It was not open to us to put our hands up," he added, referring to Dannatt's suggestion that military chiefs should have reconsidered Blair's decision to commit thousands of British troops to Afghanistan.
British military commanders, and former ministers, now admit that British troops suffered the worse of both worlds – too few were deployed for the task in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dannatt told the inquiry that the military covenant – setting out the nation's obligations to the armed forces – had been getting "progressively out of balance" in terms of pay, conditions, accommodation and equipment, he told the inquiry. He warned publicly – first in an interview in the Guardian shortly after he became head of the army in 2006 – had been "running hot".
He continued: "You can run hot when you are in balance and there is enough oil sloshing around the engine to keep it going. When the oil is thin, or not in sufficient quantity, the engine runs the risk of seizing up … I think we were getting quite close to a seizing-up moment in 2006."
Dannatt continued: "We could see that perfect storm coming to fruition in about the middle of 2006 and I would contend that it did."
He said he warned Des Brown, defence secretary at the time, that pressures on the army was so great and morale so fragile that the prospect of more and more people leaving the force would be "akin to going over a cliff edge". He blamed delays in replacing the much criticised Snatch Land Rover, vulnerable to roadside bombs on "deficiency in leadership and energy".