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Five more years in Iraq, say defence papers

London Telegraph | April 8, 2007
Sean Rayment

Britain's "overstretched" armed forces will fight in Iraq for at least another five years.

A confidential planning document drawn up by defence chiefs called the Operational Tour Plot, parts of which have been disclosed to this newspaper, reveals that troops will be serving on operations in the Gulf until at least 2012.

News of the future operations can be revealed just three days after four soldiers, two of them women, were killed in a carefully planned ambush in Basra, taking the British forces death toll in Iraq to 140.

Almost 100,000 of the 180,000 members of the country's armed services have now served in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

Two of the four provinces in southern Iraq are now under the control of official Iraqi forces. Maysan province is due to be handed over later this month and the Iraqi military should take official control of Basra province later this summer. But British troops will remain for at least another five years, the government documents reveal.

The Operational Tour Plot, which lists the units to be sent on operations, reveals that 12 Mechanised Brigade, which saw service in Iraq in 2005 and which is about to embark on a six-month tour to Afghanistan in May, will return to Iraq in 2012 on Operation Telic 19, the codename for the war in Iraq.

Troops in Iraq are currently serving on Operation Telic 9.

The contents of the document, distributed last month, appear to be in marked contrast to a statement made by Tony Blair in February giving the impression that British troops would remain in Iraq for less than two years. He said: "The UK military presence will continue into 2008". Mr Blair told the Commons: "Increasingly our role will be support and training, and our numbers will be able to reduce accordingly."

Patrick Mercer, a former infantry colonel and former Tory homeland security spokesman, said: "The reality is that many troops will remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future and continue to take casualties."

Senior commanders also revealed the number of troops committed to Afghanistan is likely to increase over the next two years.

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