British ministers warned Blair on Iraq troop levels: letter

2nd July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Two senior ministers warned Britain's then prime minister Tony Blair of "long-term damage to the armed forces" if it failed to swiftly draw down its troop numbers after the Iraq invasion, an inquiry heard Friday.

Then foreign secretary Jack Straw and defence secretary Geoff Hoon wrote to Blair in March 2003 to say it would be "necessary" to cut its troop deployment by later that year.

"It will be necessary to draw down our current commitment to nearer a third by no later than autumn in order to avoid long-term damage to the armed forces," said the letter, which was previously top secret.

"Scaling down... will limit our contribution thereafter to a maximum of around one brigade, a two-star headquarters and possible a contribution to higher level command and control, air and maritime components and support enablers.

"Our view is that we should probably agree now to tell the US, for planning purposes, that this is the upper limit of our contribution."

Britain's deployment in Iraq peaked at 46,000 troops in March and April 2003 -- when the US-led invasion took place -- and fell to around 18,000 by the end of May, official figures show.

The Iraq war inquiry resumed Tuesday after a break for Britain's general election, which took place in May.

The probe, led by former top civil servant Sir John Chilcot, is due to report by the end of the year.

© 2010 AFP

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