not so fast

for those who would like to characterize tony blair’s withdrawal of british troops from basra as an admission that he was wrong about iraq, here’s an opposing point of view.

gerald baker:

The first point to note, is that, as the prime minister himself said in his statement to the House of Commons, the British troop presence in Iraq – unlike the US – has been on a steady downward trajectory since the initial phase of the war ended in May 2003. At one point total UK military personnel in the region numbered close to 40,000. By the end of 2004, the number stationed in the UK-command sector of Iraq – around Basra in the southeast of the country – was just over 9,000. Two years ago it was reduced to the current level of roughly 7,100. With yesterday’s announcement , the new total will be about 5,500.

This is, obviously, well below the 150,000-plus troops the US will have in Iraq once the new counter-insurgency strategy is fully under way but it is still a long way ahead of the next largest contingent of the coalition, Poland at around 2,000. It hardly represents a retreat or a surrender, still less an abandonment of the US.

more at real clear politics. the brits have been withdrawing troops without anyone noticing it for years now. this is nothing new, and it doesn’t represent a policy shift by the blair government. mr. baker goes on to argue that the basra mission was a different challenge than securing baghdad, and the british troops experienced some success in stablizing that area. that’s good news. there’s still more work to do, of course, but we should give credit to the brits for the work they have done in iraq.

he also mentions that the withdrawal frees up more manpower to continue the struggle against the taliban in afghanistan.  somehow afghanistan has become the forgotten battleground. iraq gets all the headlines, but there are still battles to be won in afghanistan.  we need to finish what we started there.