The Independent on Sunday said 500 of those 2,000 British soldiers would be out by the end of May under the plan, which has been approved in principle by Washington as long as there are no upheavals in the political process or security in Iraq. Britain's Ministry of Defence denied the report, but a senior US military officer said Washington wouldn't object to British troops beginning to withdraw in the next few months, if Iraqi forces are ready to replace them.
There are about 8,000 British soldiers in Iraq, most of them located in or near the southern city of Basra.
Britain's military also is about to increase its presence in Afghanistan from 1,000 troops to 5,700. The Sunday Express newspaper carried a similar story, saying the secret plan would have Britain start pulling out up to half its troops in Iraq by this summer. The paper said the first British soldiers could leave within weeks of the newly elected Iraqi government taking control of the country.
Both reports quoted unidentified sources and said the game plan was discussed on Jan 23 during a meeting in London by officials from Britain, the United States, Australia and Japan to coordinate troop withdrawals from Iraq.
On Jan 31, Japan's Kyodo News agency reported that Japan will begin withdrawing its troops from Iraq in March and complete the pullout of its 600 soldiers by May. Kyodo said that plan also was discussed during the London meeting.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, John Reid, Britain's defence secretary, played down recent media reports that Britain had settled on a timetable to withdraw its forces from Iraq, saying his country was not going to withdraw "under threat from the terrorists."
Asked about The Independent and Sunday Express reports, a spokesman at Britain's Ministry of Defence said on Sunday, "There is no change in our position regarding a withdrawal from Iraq. We will withdraw our forces once the job is done. There is no secret plan to begin that process this spring." He spoke on condition of anonymity, in keeping with the ministry's rules.
In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. television on Sunday, US Brig Gen Mark Kimmitt, of the US Central Command, was asked if there could be a British withdrawal beginning as early as next month. "There could be. If the British forces in the south took a look at their situation in those four provinces and determine the security situation is such that they don't need to have the same number of forces in the future, then it is appropriate," he said. "We can't be seen to be a force of permanent occupation. It is not right for us to stay there permanently. That would defeat the entire purpose of why we are there."
No country in the US-led coalition would begin withdrawing its forces from Iraq before first reaching an agreement with all the group's members, Kimmitt said.
He said there are nearly 100,000 Iraqi forces on the ground in Iraq now and the coalition is pleased with progress they are making in training to one day become as capable as US and British soldiers.
"I can see a point in the next few years where the vast majority of combat operations on a day-to-day basis are being run by the Iraqi security forces," he said. ap
Source: DailytimesLast Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16