Asked if a fundamental change in mission in Iraq meant a fundamental change in troop numbers, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister dealt with this comprehensively in his statement to the House earlier today. On troop number he said that as we completed the four tasks that he identified in his statement, and as progress continued, we would continue to reduce the number of British troops in Iraq. So it depended on progress that we were able to make on the tasks that we needed to complete. But the Prime Minister was not saying anything today about troop numbers, which would be dealt with in the normal way by the Defence Secretary in the autumn.
Put that there was now a timetable that we had not had before and did we accept the characterisation that this was a timetable in all but name, the PMS replied that we did not accept that this was a timetable. It was all conditions-based, and was conditional on the amount of progress that we could make against the four tasks that we had set ourselves, and as always we would be guided by the advice of military commanders on the ground.
Put that there was still potential for a rethink, the PMS replied that there were all sorts of hypotheticals that journalists could throw at him, but today the Prime Minister set out the Government’s best assessment of the situation and the progress we expected to make on these four different aspects based on the advice he received from military commanders on the ground when he was in Iraq.
Asked for a sense of what a long term bilateral partnership with Iraq would look like, the PMS replied that this was something the Defence Secretary and partners would now need to work with the Iraqi Government to formulate. We did have normal long term relationships with a number of important countries in the region and elsewhere in the world, primarily about training and bilateral co-operation on defence matters. But of course each country was different, so it would be difficult to look at other countries in the region and replicate that for Iraq, that was not necessarily the case. It obviously depended on circumstances in Iraq, but the detail would be something that the Defence Secretary would work through with the Iraq Government in the coming months, and the Defence Secretary would then report back in the autumn.
Asked if there would be a detailed statement from the Defence Secretary before the results of the US presidential election, the PMS replied that all we were saying was that there would be a statement in the autumn. At this point we were unable to say exactly when in the autumn, that was something that we would have to consider nearer the time.
Asked if the reductions would only start once all four key tasks had been completed, the PMS replied that that troops tended to go on six-month roulements, so it did not really work like that. A decision would have to be taken when we needed to replace one set of troops out there with another set of troops who needed to go out. So it was less of a continuous process than the question assumed. There would be a point in the autumn when the Defence Secretary and the Government would need to take a view on how many troops were needed to replace the troops that were due to come home, based on our assessment of what the circumstances were at that time. So it was not really the case that as we ticked one box, a certain number of troops would come home.
Asked where the troops would go after we hand over control of Basra airport, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister was talking about the Iraqis being able to take over the development of Basra airport. So the issues in relation to Basra airport were two-fold, control of the civilian operation, and the other was about any reconstruction or development work that need to take place in the airport that may have implications for the exact location of our troops in the airport. So they could simply be relocated to another part of the airport, as the airport covered a very large area.
Briefing took place at 16:45 | Search for related news
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