Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Doing It for Harry?

That's the latest--and ill-informed--speculation on Fleet Street, as Prime Minister Tony Blair annouces plans for a decrease in Britain's military presence in Iraq. According to Mr. Blair, the number of British troops in Iraq will be reduced from 7100 to 5500 over the next few months, as Iraqi forces assume a greater role in security operations. Still unclear is what impact--if any--the reduction will have on a scheduled deployment by Prince Harry's Blues and Royals Regiment. Harry, the third in line for the British throne, joined the regiment as a junior officer last year, after graduating from the military academy at Sandhurst.

Harry has made it clear that he wants to go to Iraq if his regiment is deployed, and will not accept any preferential treatment. The British MOD is reportedly concerned about the prince's personal safety, but given his desire to do his job--and the royal family's long record of combat service--I expect that Prince Harry will deploy, and he won't wind up behind a desk in Basra. Various descriptions of his duties indicate that Harry is the equivalent of a Scout platoon leader in the U.S. Army. In that role, he could wind up patrolling the southern border between Iran and Iraq in light tanks or other armored vehicles.

The next major British troop rotation to Iraq will occur in April, and quite frankly, I'd be surprised in the Blues and Royals aren't on the deployment schedule. Beyond Prince Harry's obvious desire to serve, I rather doubt that Tony Blair wants to be remembered as the Prime Minister who pulled strings to keep a royal out of a combat zone. That wouldn't sit very well with Labour constituency, and might jeopardize his party's chances for retaining power after Mr. Blair's retirement.

Besides, troop deployments are planned well in advance; units in the British Army (like their American counterparts) know when they're scheduled to deploy, their operating location, and how long the rotation will last. Soldiers assigned to the Blues and Royals have been preparing for their deployment for some time; at this juncture, it would make little sense to cancel their rotation, given Britain's plans to maintain a sizeable military presence in southern Iraq, and the need for trained troops to patrol that region.

The notion that Mr. Blair's troop reduction is somehow designed to keep Prince Harry out of harm's way is, quite frankly, absurd. But not quite as absurd as U.S. press reporting on the British troop reduction last night. Viewers watching CNN or MSNBC were probably convinced that every British solider was departing Iraq in the next month or so, leaving the U.S. to go it alone. What Wolf Blitzer and Company didn't tell you is that under Mr. Blair's plan, roughly 5% of the British Army will remain in Iraq, even after the drawdown. That's a significant contribution by any measure, and the continued British presence in the south allows the U.S. to concentrate on the most pressing military concern--securing Baghdad.


CatoRenasci said...

I would point out that the concern about Prince Harry's safety has historical precedent: during the Zulu War in 1879, the French Prince Imperial, son of the exiled Emperor Napoleon III and Eugenie who were Victoria's guests in England, was killed in action as a cavalry officer.

James Barr said...

The US media were probably following the lead of the BBC, which implied much the same, that an enormous pullout was now about to happen. They were probably encouraged by the government to take this view.
In fact the details released today show that the withdrawal will be rather slower than had previously been hinted. The timing of the "announcement" was probably determined by other, more domestic, issues.