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Breakfast with Frost
General Sir Peter De La Billiere
General Sir Peter De La Billiere
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: GENERAL SIR PETER DE LA BILLIERE, CMDR, DESERT STORM BRITISH TROOPS & PROFESSOR PAUL ROGERS, BRADFORD UNIVERSITY MARCH 30th, 2003

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Just coming to that particular point there, friendly fire haunted us in that war as well as this war, didn't it?

GENERAL DE LA BILLIERE: Well I'd rather call it blue on blue, I don't like friendly fire, it doesn't describe it all aptly. Yes, it's, I've fought in many campaigns and there's never been a campaign where there hasn't been blue on blue situations and they're most regrettable - the most regrettable type of casualties you can have. And they are a reflection of the standard of training and pre-operational cooperation between the forces involved. And I think that in my view we've had too many situations in this war and one has to ask whether the services, whether they be British or American, have been given enough time to train together, when things are peaceful and quiet, as opposed to being diverted on to other commitments, which of course leads on then into a peacetime situation where you ask whether the army is strong enough, or the services are strong enough, numerically, or whether in fact they've got too many commitments to do their training.

DAVID FROST: Too many - too many tasks too, you mean?

GENERAL DE LA BILLIERE: Yes.

DAVID FROST: So many - five different tasks, you can list.

GENERAL DE LA BILLIERE: They're spread all over the world, very thinly, and then of course spending a great deal of time filling in for people who are striking for more pay.

DAVID FROST: And what were your reflections on what the general [General Richard Myers, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff] just had to say? Did you agree with him on timing?

GENERAL DE LA BILLIERE: Absolutely. Well, who am I to disagree? I'm just an armchair general but it's very refreshing to hear a man who is at the very top of these operations speaking frankly and straightforwardly and I do hope that people will take in what he said rather than a lot of the scuttlebutt one hears being produced. I think - two points that I'd like to bring up - first of all flexibility, he mentioned. The British troops are perhaps the most flexible troops in the world. They've fought in Northern Ireland, they've fought in jungle wars, in desert wars, they fought in the Falkland Islands, and there's an immense amount of experience of all sorts of warfare, from guerrilla right the way up to full scale warfare and they're adaptable as a result. And they will adjust their tactics to whatever Saddam Hussein puts in front of them. Now the question of time, this is become a bit of an obsession, I think, over here. The military commanders are not going to perform to a timetable laid down by politicians. They're going to perform to a plan within the constraints of their plan and when they're ready. And I find no surprise at all that we've stopped, after the immense successes in the last nine days, to regroup and also I think, most importantly, they have a choice. They can fight hard or they can fight easy. And I hope they're going to fight easy.

DAVID FROST: Well let's go to Paul Rogers for one second, to get a reflection from him, the professor of peace studies at Bradford University, and he's in our Leeds studio. It would seem you feel that we're in for a longer period, a slow victory. You feel things are going to take longer than anybody's admitted at the moment.

PROFESSOR PAUL ROGERS: I think it looks that way now. Essentially there was an expectation that Saddam Hussein may even have been assassinated by the bombing campaign right at the start and that has not happened. There was an expectation that the sheer intensity of the bombing would bring the regime to its knees very quickly and there was an expectation that the rapid move towards Baghdad - which has certainly been rapid - would be largely unopposed. We now learn that I think the United States army is now committing three brigades to the security of the supply lines and that's about 30 per cent of the entire US forces currently in Iraq. So the opposition has become much greater than expected and meanwhile you have a situation in which very high casualties are being caused - on the Iraqi military side, probably 2000 or more, on the Iraqi civilian side certainly at least 200 maybe more. I think the one problem from the American perspective is that in fact time isn't on their side because once you get into May you're going to have something like a four month period when the whole pace will slow down because of the very high temperatures. They are therefore stuck in a very difficult position. If they actually go for a rapid, relatively rapid destruction of the regime, as Sir Peter says, that will be going in hard, that will be incredibly counterproductive because of the very high civilian casualties which will be bound to be caused - they'd number into thousands not, not hundreds. We're already seeing a quite extraordinary degree of anger across the Arab world in terms of what is happening now. If the Americans go in slow and easy, so to speak, then you are looking at a war which will certainly drag on into the autumn.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much. Let's put that point to you, Peter. Time is not on our side says Paul Rogers. You say we shouldn't rush it. Do you mean, does that mean you think time is on our side?

GENERAL DE LA BILLIERE: Let me just explain, first of all, the consequences of going hard or easy. If we go in hard we could be in Baghdad in a very short time indeed but the bill would be heavy casualties amongst civilians, casualties in excess of those necessary amongst our own troops and a flattened Baghdad and a lost peace, when the Arab world became even more disillusioned with the West. If we go in quite easy, which is what is clearly the policy, we will, it will take longer but the casualties will be less, the destruction will be less and we must accept the penalty that the war will drag on for a little longer. And I personally support strongly that we should fight easy, which is what we appear to be doing.

DAVID FROST: And how would you compare the task that the troops have this time with the task that you had in the first Gulf War?

GENERAL DE LA BILLIERE: I think this Gulf War is much more difficult and complex than the last Gulf War. We had plenty of time to prepare for the last Gulf War and we had a much simpler objective, a much clearer objective, perhaps morally a more acceptable objective in that we were freeing Kuwait from oppression. So, not only have they got a more complex political situation in this war, but they've got a much more complex military operation. Long lines of communication, which they can cope with -

DAVID FROST: And that's very interesting, with the long lines of communication and so on, would you, at the start of this war, I mean you had twice as many soldiers for the first Gulf War, which as you say was not as difficult, would you have leant toward sending more troops out at the beginning?

GENERAL DE LA BILLIERE: I don't think I've got any comment on that because I don't know enough about how the troops are being deployed and the threat. But I would like to say this, no logistics no war. If you can't get your communications, logistic communication supplies right, then for god's sake don't engage in a battle. And I think they have got it right and this may be - I don't know - this may be one of the reasons why they're pausing now, to make sure there are sufficient supplies forward to enable whatever they're going to do next to take place with reserves of ammunition, petrol, food and all the rest of it.

DAVID FROST: Peter thank you very much indeed for being with us, and our thanks to Paul up there in Leeds as well, thank you for joining us too.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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