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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
UK troops 'lived up to expectations'
By Gary Eason
BBC News Online

You could be forgiven for thinking the main role of the British forces in Iraq was making friends with smiling children.

The hard-hat fight to take the south-east of the country has been largely swept aside in the outpouring of images of beret-wearing assistance.

But this was the country's biggest war-fighting commitment since the last Gulf War, with about 45,000 personnel involved - more than half of them on the ground.

Member of 42 Commando firing Milan anti-tank missile
Royal Marines launching the assault on the al-Faw peninsula

So how did they do?

Military analysts will be busy for some considerable time going over the emerging details of the operations, but early impressions are favourable.

Major Charles Heyman, editor of Jane's World Armies, said the effort had been greatly assisted by the "total Iraqi military incompetence".

"The British just rolled quickly into south-eastern Iraq, put down the opposition with extreme efficiency, then surrounded Basra - and didn't rush in," he said.

"Basra was used really as an experiment for the Iraqi military environment - to sound it out and play around with it and find out what sort of resistance was there."

Intelligence questions

The British spent two weeks probing the defences - making armoured raids to draw enemy fire and reveal their positions. The city was not entered in force until day 18.

Dr Alice Hills, an urban warfare specialist at the UK's Joint Services Command and Staff College, said there would be a continuing debate about how much light infantry required air and armoured support.

Much had to do with the role of new technology in substituting for manpower.

Basra had involved "much more conventional raids and grabs", but these did seem to have worked.

It was hard to tell what level of intelligence the British had been getting, but there had been suggestions it was inadequate.

"It has been argued that UK forces weren't aggressive enough, that they could have solved a lot of the problems by going in and dealing with things much more aggressively - that they showed too much patience," Dr Hills said.

"But perhaps they didn't have the kind of intelligence that would have enabled them to go and get what they wanted and get out, without causing the kind of casualty figures and collateral damage that wouldn't have looked good in political terms."

'Hearts and minds'

The UK forces' internal security role rapidly became dominant.

Members of 1 Para with children in Qurna
1 Para making friends in Qurna

"It's easy to overplay the success of that, particularly for British commentators because you can't help feeling a sense of pride in that they do seem to be good at it - I think we really have to ask the Iraqis whether they are good at it," Dr Hills said.

But their performance compared with that of the US forces in handling civilians - "policing" in the widest possible sense - had been much better.

This was important in the modern context and there was no longer a feeling that "peacekeeping was for wimps" - the way the former chief of the UK defence staff, Lord Guthrie, described the Americans' view of things.

They were the first to patrol this area after the city's fall and many children now know the soldiers by name
BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley

UK forces had been particularly good at the "hearts and minds" approach and militarily that was important.

And there is a consensus that the UK armed forces lived up to the high expectations people had of them.

Major Heyman said this was partly a matter of training and of leadership.

"When things go well, you know the junior leadership is the sort that says 'Follow me', not 'Go and do this'," he said.

But, more fundamentally, the performance of a nation's armed forces spoke volumes about its standards as a whole.

Without wishing to exaggerate, his impression was that young people in the military today were more intelligent, better educated and healthier than they had been 30 or 40 years ago.

Equipment issues

The kit - modified to counter shortcomings exposed during the 2001 Saif Sareea exercise in Oman - seemed to do what was asked of it.

AS 90 self-propelled gun
The AS 90 tracked howitzers are said to have performed well

Reports of tank breakdowns and jammed rifles did not emerge during the real fighting.

The AS 90 long-range, self-propelled howitzers came out with a reputation as the best of their type in the world.

One clear shortcoming was in secure communications, but that was known about and new radios are just now beginning to be delivered to UK troops.

There had been some logistical shortcomings, notably a lack of desert boots and uniforms.

Stocks of these were calculated on the amounts needed for the UK's much smaller Joint Rapid Reaction Force, according to the director general of operations, Rear Adm Mike Wood.

But Major Heyman said it raised questions about the UK policy of relying so heavily on its volunteer reserve for logistical support, mainly for cost reasons.

"The pendulum has swung too far," Major Heyman said.

Almost 5,000 reservists went to the Gulf - but plenty also declined to go.

Air support

At sea, the fleet submarine HMS Turbulent fired about 30 Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets in Iraq.

Harrier GR7 with Maverick missiles
Harrier GR7s now have Maverick infrared guided missiles

British ships brought the first humanitarian supplies into the port of Umm Qasr once it had been cleared of mines, an operation which involved Royal Navy mine-hunters.

Meanwhile, UK aircraft were on the go around the clock, bombing, photographing, escorting and refuelling.

Tornado pilots flying out of Ali Al Salem airbase are said to have been hugely impressed with the way their equipment worked.

Harrier jets, newly-equipped with Maverick missiles, carried out close air support of ground forces, apparently highly effectively, according to David Jordan, of the Centre for Defence Studies at King's College, London.

"It also suggests to me that the doctrinal debate over whether air forces should leave close air support to army attack helicopters and concentrate upon interdiction of supply routes has been pushed to one side," he said.

"Although the RAF provided a relatively small force for Operation Iraqi Freedom, it was extremely significant.

"It carried out its operations with great precision, made use of technology effectively and generally performed in the manner which the public expect - that said, we need to make sure that we keep supporting the RAF with adequate finances to ensure that they can maintain this level of performance."






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