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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 October, 2004, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
US unruffled by UK troop furore
By Nick Childs
BBC correspondent at the Pentagon

British troops in southern Iraq
About 850 UK soldiers could be moved to an area south of Baghdad
The issue of redeploying British forces has caused barely a ripple in the United States.

Here, the presidential election and the fate of the 135,000 US troops in Iraq remain very much the preoccupations.

Whether that will change as a result of the political fallout in Britain is not clear.

But in the Pentagon, officials are insisting that the request for the move was very much from operational commanders in Iraq, and was for tactical reasons.

It would not have reached the level of senior officials in the Pentagon itself and, according to these sources, would be the natural thing for commanders to do in terms of making the most of their available forces in the run-up to possible increased operations.

Whether those commanders anticipated the furore in Britain is unknown.

National caveats

But one US administration official has suggested to the BBC that the call from the head of the multinational force in Iraq, General George Casey, was a broad one to all coalition forces.

Whether any other countries may agree to redeployments is uncertain.

Iraq
There are some 31 countries other than the US in Iraq, with 23,000 troops in all.

But many have limited rules of engagement and what are known as national caveats over where and how they are used.

And many are small contingents of limited capabilities.

Indeed, the head of US Central Command, General John Abizaid, has acknowledged that the US had to carry out major shifts of its own forces in Iraq during the flare-ups there in April.

Convenient or crucial?

That was because other foreign forces were limited in what they could do, and in some cases were unable to fulfil missions in the areas where they were deployed.

It may be that the call now is a sign that the US forces in Iraq really are stretched thin.

Or it may be that it would be simpler operationally to call in other forces than move US units around in a domino effect.

And British forces certainly have significant capabilities and robust rules of engagement - and US commanders and defence officials regularly state their appreciation of that.


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