Chief correspondent Alex Thomson blogs from the Iraq Inquiry.
General Sir Richard Dannatt came before the Chilcot folk with their gentle, leisurely questioning of various people involved in what critics describe as the UK’s greatest foreign policy disaster of modern times.
Whether that is the case or not, it remains fascinating to watch the rather Earl Grey gentility of this process. Will it all be another anodyne whitewash or does there lurk, beneath the almost soporific pace and style, some kind of iron fist waiting in there, deeply hidden, to deliver the killer punch at some day long in the future?
Well, today has been very much nuts and bolts. Procurement in fact.
Critically the problem the army faced going into Iraq in having as its vital light movement vehicle the Landrover. The British army calls them Snatches (much to the amusement of their US military bosses in Iraq and Afghanistan). But leaving cheap jokes aside it has been a huge issue for the army, going into Iraq with what was basically a soft-skinned vehicle used in Northern Ireland and barely fit for that long job, now coming into the violent desert theatre of southern Iraq, in and around Al Basrah.
The general has patiently unfolded a picture – familiar of course – of enormous lapses of time, enormous amounts of taxpayers’ money and enormous amounts of dark MOD politicking and still, he observers, still, the army does not really have any kind of replacement for the Snatch after Iraq and now the long grinding years of Afghanistan.
It is another, quiet, patient, indictment of that well-known disaster-zone: MOD procurement. The general has also made some further observations in terms of “overstretch”.
He says – “I contend” being his favourite choice of words – that the army had still a large commitment in Northern Ireland with Afghanistan growing and frankly had little or no desire to go into Iraq and fight the Bush/Blair war.
Because of this he carefully outlined a process over some years which led , in his words, to the whole machine coming close to “sexing up” in terms of the army; that the long-held “military covenant” of trust and support between the civilian and military worlds was “in imbalance”.
Overstretched forces, not adequately equipped; not adequately protected with soldiers rather left unsupported when they got home from tours as well.
On that score he was quite clear – six month tours on the frontline and no more. Yes, he agrees, the Americans can and do 12 or even 15 months but theirs is a very different set-up and culture and he was adamant that British tours of duty in Afghanistan should not encroach above the six month figure.