Army report says Government delay put the Black Watch at ris


Army report says Government delay put the Black Watch at risk in Iraq
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
(Filed: 19/12/2004)

A top level Army report has revealed that Black Watch soldiers were sent on their highly controversial mission into Iraq's "Triangle of Death" unable to protect themselves properly from suicide bombers because of ministerial delays.

The document, which is marked "Secret UK Eyes Only", states that a "delay" by the Government on whether or not to send the troops meant that "there was insufficient time [for the regiment] to assess and then practise appropriate tactics, techniques and procedures".

Gen Sir Michael Walker
The report was leaked to The Telegraph after General Sir Michael Walker, the chief of the defence staff, and Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, appeared to blame the media for the deaths of the Black Watch soldiers.

In an interview with BBC2's Newsnight, Gen Walker, said: "I'm certain that the media coverage would have made it easier for anybody who wanted to conduct those attacks to do so."

That statement was followed last Sunday by Mr Hoon on BBC1's Politics Show, when he said: "I don't believe that the media necessarily helped in protecting those lives."

The Telegraph has learnt that the delay was caused by "concerns" at Cabinet level that the deployment of the Black Watch to such a dangerous area would lead to "presentational difficulties" as the regiment was originally due to return home before Christmas and then faced being disbanded or amalgamated.

Private Tukutukawaqa was killed by a roadside bomb
The report, which has been seen by this newspaper, reveals that the Black Watch was warned on October 7 that it might be taking part in the operation but the regiment had to wait another 12 days before it was given permission to begin planning and training for the mission, which began on November 3 and ended on December 4.

Four members of the regiment were killed by insurgents during the operation. Sgt Stuart Gray, 32, Pte Paul Lowe, 19 and Pte Scott McArdle, 22, in addition to their Iraqi interpreter (who cannot be named for fear that his family will become a terrorist target) died when they were blown up by a suicide bomber.

Pte Pita Tukutukawaqa, a Fijian serving with regiment, was killed by a roadside bomb. A fifth soldier died in a road accident.

Immediately after the attacks, Lt Col James Cowan, the Black Watch's commanding officer, ordered his troops to adopt new anti-ambush tactics to counter the threat posed by insurgent suicide bombers. The Black Watch was selected for the operation following a formal written request by a United Staes military commander to Major Gen Bill Rollo, the commander of British troops in southern Iraq, because, as the reserve force, they were the only troops available.

The Black Watch troops were based in Camp Dogwood, about 25 miles south-west of Baghdad, and were used to cut-off so-called "terrorist rat-runs" into and out of the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, which was about to be attacked by American forces.

The Telegraph has been told by a senior defence official that the military regarded the operation as being "relatively straightforward" and that it should be undertaken.

He added: "A risk assessment was conducted and it was agreed that the mission should go ahead. The delays began to kick in at the ministerial level. The Government was sensitive to the adverse publicity this operation would attract because the Black Watch would need to extend its stay in Iraq and was facing disbandment or amalgamation when it returned to the UK. That fear added to the delay because the Government needed to be convinced that the Black Watch were the right unit, which took time. As far as the Army were concerned, though, they were the only option."

The report, which was written during the operation and is dated 17 November, states: "The delay in a decision for the redeployment of 1st Battalion Black Watch Battle Group had implications to the Battalion's preparation for a significantly more demanding operational environment, even though the Battalion had been on operations for three months as the Multinational division south-east divisional reserve. There was insufficient time to assess and then practise appropriate tactics training and procedures. These had to be developed as the operation progressed."

The document was produced by a team of officers from the Army's Land Warfare Centre at the behest of the Chief of Joint Operations at the Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood, Middlesex, so that senior officers could assess the tactics being used by British troops in the wake of the deaths of the Black Watch soldiers.

The report praises the regiment for adapting quickly to the "high tempo of threat", but reveals that Lt Col Cowan was concerned that he was forced to deploy his troops with a "limited" intelligence assessment of the threat they faced. It states that no coalition forces had been in the area for 30 days prior to the start of the operation and that because of this "very little was known about the possible structures and tactics of anti-Iraqi forces". The report adds: "There were no Iraqi Security Forces available to support the battle group. Most had withdrawn as a result of intimidation."

The report also states that Lt Col Cowan had informed senior officers that the "espionage threat" from Iraqi spies was "high" and that they had managed to infiltrate US military compounds and were "quick to learn and adapt their tactics accordingly".

The report also added that there were "implications" when placing British troops under the command of US forces which "should not be underestimated" because of communication difficulties.

An MoD spokesman said: "We don't comment on leaked reports."
Shades of TELIC I anybody?

The obsession of this Government with presentation was undoubtedly to blame to a degree for the kerfuffle surrounding the Black Watch BG`s deployment north.

However it pailed into insignificance when compared with the bleating from certain politicians (including some who should have known better like `Who ate all the Souffles` Soames) who seeked to make political capital out of what was a military decision. I doubt if the Black Watch deployment even made the classified ads in USA Today, so I don`t think we can cite it as a major cause for Dubya`s re election. We are in Iraq as a theatre, like it or not; in WWII we were chopping whole Corps and Armies between British and US Command.

That is what I believe allies do in war.

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