Into the triangle Oct 21st 2004 From The Economist print edition British troops face fiercer fights in Iraq THE British death-toll in Iraq has been mercifully modest so far, but that may soon change. On October 21st, Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, announced in Parliament that 850 British troops and support personnel currently based near Basra would move to three unfriendlier towns along the southern base of the Sunni triangle. The redeployment will answer an American call for help, and will be temporary. Mr Hoon said it would last âweeks rather than monthsâ. Its aim is to free US marines for an attack on Fallujah, the centre of Iraq's insurgency, next month. This did not reassure opponents of the war, including many within the Labour Party (see article) who suspect that the redeployment is motivated by political, not military considerations. If Iraq is to hold elections in January, as planned, Fallujah and other insurgent-held towns must be brought under control. And if America's over-stretched army is to control them, it will need back-up which only Britain is able and willing to provide. In response to allegations that the expected redeployment is a ruse to improve George Bush's prospects of re-election next month, Mr Blair had a good answer. It had nothing to do with America's election, he said, and everything to do with Iraq's. It will be interesting to see how British troops fare further north. There is a lingering, and mostly erroneous, view that British soldiers are enjoying a soft war in Basraâpossibly the consequence of Baghdad being so dangerous that journalists dare not venture out. In August, British troops in Amarah, a town north of Basra, fired some 30,000 rounds at Shia militiamen in the space of ten days. Yet the towns of Iskandariyah, Latifiyah and Mahmudiyah, 30-45 km (19-28 miles) south of Baghdad, are even more forbidding. Lining the southern road to Fallujah, an important supply-route for the insurgents, the towns are patrolled but not controlled by American marines. Among the many violent crimes common in the area, kidnapping is a speciality. The standard view of British soldiers as smiley peacekeepers compared with America's trigger-happy killers is too simplisticâas the expenditure of bullets in Amarah suggests. But it is true that British soldiers are better at building trust with locals, and are slower to shoot at suspected enemies and more careful to kill them when they do. This is not because they are better disciplined than the Americans, but because their training is different. Where British troops aim to expend no more bullets than is necessary, American troops, confident in their logistical support, aim to vaporise their foe in a storm of fire. Against many determined assailantsâif not in a thronging market placeâthe American way may sometimes be best. But while the British troops learn new tricks and teach old ones in the Sunni triangle, they will leave a gap behind. The force likely to be redeployed, mainly armoured infantrymen from the Black Watch regiment, is on standby to fight fires in the south. A similarly-sized infantry troop based in Cyprus will replace them, though they will not be bringing their tanks. (Emphasis added). ======== Ya have to have a subscription to read this online (which is why I've c+p'ed the whole thing) - it's on pg 28 of the print version.