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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 May, 2003, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
Profile: Air Marshal Sir Brian Burridge
Air Marshal Brian Burridge
Air Marshal Brian Burridge praised the "bloody brilliant" UK troops
For the commander of the British forces in the Gulf, war in Iraq was "like playing jazz" - improvisation rather than strict adherence to a cast iron plan.

Such language is typical of Air Marshal Sir Brian Burridge, an academic and mild-mannered military man, with a degree in physics, an MBA and a fellowship at Kings College, London.

Whereas his US counterpart, the ebullient General Tommy Franks, spoke of "shock and awe", Burridge talked of going into Basra without "breaking china".

From the start of the war Air Marshal Burridge repeatedly stressed the need for swift and "nimble" humanitarian aid in Iraq.

Media 'lost plot'

But the clipped tones of this 53-year-old former Nimrod pilot, who has climbed Everest, hide toughened steel.

In the third week of the war, he did not hold back from lashing out at what he perceived as negative reporting.

"The UK media has lost the plot," he told journalists. "You stand for nothing, you support nothing, you criticise, you drip.

"Its a spectator sport to criticise anybody or anything, and what the media says fuels public expectation."

The military campaign was, by military standards, a stunning success
Air Marshal Brian Burridge

Some of that criticism had come because in the first four days of the war, 16 British personnel had been killed by helicopter crashes and "friendly fire".

But while tragic, such things were to be expected, Air Marshal Burridge said, and the public - including the media - had to understand that.

"You know, these things happen," he told US television.

"In war, we're right at the edge of the envelope of performance. As long as humans are in the loop, there will always be the fog of war."

But speaking on Thursday, as he prepared to head home from the Gulf, he said that overall "the military campaign was, by military standards, a stunning success".

Earlier in the conflict he had commended the "bloody brilliant" performance of British troops and their key tactical operation to take Basra.

UK forces played a waiting game for almost two weeks before sweeping into Iraq's second city virtually unopposed.

Chemical fears

Before the war began, Air Marshal Burridge had voiced his fears that Saddam Hussein would aim to draw coalition forces into a "Stalingrad siege" of Baghdad.

He felt that the Iraqi leader, whom he described as a "dangerous bastard", would resort to tactics such as using chemical weapons.

"We don't know what he has up his sleeve," he told a newspaper at the time.

In a speech two years ago he contrasted the well-defined boundaries of the Cold War with modern military strategy.

The first was like "playing in a symphony orchestra" where military leaders knew exactly who and where their enemy was, what kit, training and doctrine they had.

But "these days I have to play jazz," he said.

As he prepares to fly back from the theatre of war, Air Marshal Burridge seems pleased with the tune the British forces ended up playing.




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