British soldiers in Iraq were “dying for no strategic benefit” because Tony Blair's government did not appreciate what it was taking on when it planned the invasion, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of defence staff, has told MPs.
There was a “failure of strategic thinking” in southern Iraq, he told the Commons public administration committee. Stirrup, who retires next month, was asked if the politicians appreciated what they were taking on when British forces went into southern Iraq. He replied: “No.”
“We had people sitting in locations in Basra city unable to execute an aggressive military function but being shelled, resupply convoys on a daily basis being attacked, people dying for no strategic benefit, and no prospect of strategic benefit down this track,” he said.
He added: “The proposition was that freeing Iraq from Saddam Hussein and establishing proper democratic government would be a beacon for other countries throughout the region … It didn't work. It was wrong. But that was the strategy.”
Stirrup backed a renewed Trident, saying to maintain a “minimum credible nuclear deterrent” Britain needed a “continuous at-sea deterrence by a submarine”.
There is a growing view in Whitehall and Westminster that Britain does not need, and cannot afford, to replace the four Trident submarines at a cost officially estimated at £20 billion. Government officials are considering delaying a decision.