Oral evidence

Taken before the Defence Committee on Wednesday 9 July 2003

Members present:

Mr James Cran
Mr David Crausby
Mr Mike Hancock
Mr Gerald Howarth
Mr Kevan Jones
Patrick Mercer
Syd Rapson
Mr Frank Roy

In the absence of the Chairman, Syd Rapson was called to the Chair.


Witnesses: LIEUTENANT GENERAL JOHN REITH CB CBE, Chief of Joint Operations, Permanent Joint Headquarters, MR IAN LEE, Director General, Operational Policy, Ministry of Defence, and REAR ADMIRAL CHARLES STYLE CBE, Capability Manager (Strategic Deployment), Ministry of Defence, examined.

Q863  Syd Rapson: Can I start the meeting by making two apologies. Firstly, for keeping you waiting. We took longer in our private session trying to talk things through, as is normal for we politicians. Secondly, the Chairman is away on other parliamentary business, along with other members of the Committee. So apologies from us all on that, and I hope that the afternoon will go fairly informally. We do intend to finish at five o'clock, which might help you, to know the end time, and because of that if we could give short questions and short answers it would be more than welcome, but we have got a five o'clock finish time plugged in. It will probably ruin the whole programme but at least we know where we stand. First of all, can I ask the original question that was laid down for the Chairman, which opens things up, and this is mainly to you, Lieutenant General. Can you explain briefly to the Committee the role of the Permanent Joint Headquarters and the Chief of Joint Operations within it, and clarify your role in the command chain of Operation Telic?

Lieutenant General Reith: Yes, of course. The Permanent Joint Headquarters was formed just over six years ago. Having reviewed previous operations, we found that we needed a permanent Headquarters to run them. The system works that the Permanent Joint Headquarters is part of the Defence Crisis Management Organisation. We have a direct link with the MoD and we work with the Policy and Commitments area in the MoD very, very closely indeed, and we have a daily video teleconference link with the MoD, and clearly my staff are talking to them on an hourly basis. The Chief of Joint Operations works directly for the Chief of Defence Staff, and he has responsibility for planning, mounting, directing, sustaining and recovering all troops on operations abroad, and I have a responsibility only for outside of the UK. So in that process my Headquarters does the operational level planning and gives politically aware military advice into the MoD, and then the MoD puts the strategic piece on top of the operational piece in the decision-making process that goes before ministers.

Q864  Syd Rapson: Thank you. We took evidence from Air Marshal Burridge, but how did your working relationship with him operate during the major combat phase?

Lieutenant General Reith: I was the Joint Commander and I was delegated by CDS, and the single Services then put their troops under my command. As the Operational Commander, I had command, I delegated operational control to Air Marshal Burridge, and therefore he was controlling the operation as the man in theatre dealing with the detail.

Q865  Syd Rapson: That is a regular link, all the time, on an hourly basis?

Lieutenant General Reith: That is within our doctrine, that we put forward either a Joint Commander in theatre or a National Contingent Commander; in this particular case, because we were junior partners, obviously, in the conflict, with the Americans, he was a National Contingent Commander.

Q866  Syd Rapson: Did you ever consider having a Permanent Joint Command in theatre?

Lieutenant General Reith: One of the lessons which I have drawn from this operation is that maybe our doctrine is wrong, we have to review it. It may well have been, with modern communication, that actually, as the Joint Commander, I could have been forward and still performed the function that I did for the Chiefs of Staff Committee and ministers in the briefing process during the conflict from Qatar on a video teleconference link.

Syd Rapson: Thank you.

Q867  Mr Howarth: General, what percentage of your staff based at PJHQ were detailed for Operation Telic?

Lieutenant General Reith: What do you mean by 'detailed'?

Q868  Mr Howarth: How much of the operation at PJHQ was set aside for the running of the campaign, and how much of it was left to run the day-to-day business, if you like?

Lieutenant General Reith: That is very difficult to answer, and I am not being evasive. I work a system where we form what we call an operational team, they are the only people dedicated to the operation, and in the case of Telic it was about 12 people. They work a 24-hour shift, with the link into theatre, they act as the conduit into the staff, and the staff branches then answer all the questions and do all the work required to support the people in theatre, using that as a conduit. Those staff branches also, of course, were doing all the other concurrent operations, Afghanistan, the Balkans, we put a battalion into Sierra Leone during the period, and so forth. I cannot say specifically. If you ask me, just off the top of my head, I would say about 50 per cent of our effort, maybe a bit more, was on Telic during the operation.

Q869  Mr Howarth: Can you remind us how many people are employed under your command at PJHQ?

Lieutenant General Reith: I have a basic establishment of 460, and during the Telic period then we built it up right through Afghanistan, and ever since Operation Enduring Freedom started I have been running at about 550.

Q870  Mr Howarth: Was PJHQ's involvement in Operation Telic different from its involvement in other operations, such as Kosovo? Did you learn any lessons from Kosovo which have been applied during this campaign, or indeed lessons from Afghanistan, more recently?

Lieutenant General Reith: What we did was no different from any other operations that we do. We learn after every single operation. The immediate thing, during an operation and after it, is to draw lessons from it, and, once identified, obviously, then look at how we can resource to make the changes.

Q871  Mr Howarth: Given that, as you were just telling us, you were running a number of operations simultaneously, were you satisfied that you had enough, people even with this augmentation of about a hundred, that you have just referred to?

Lieutenant General Reith: I was very happy with what I had. My people were working very hard, but, nonetheless, there were sufficient to do the task.

Q872  Mr Howarth: They were stretched, not overstretched?

Lieutenant General Reith: Correct.

Q873  Mr Howarth: You mentioned earlier that you are part of the Defence Crisis Management Organisation. Looking at the general structures, how well do those current structures for PJHQ work within the Defence Crisis Management Organisation function?

Lieutenant General Reith: I would say, after nearly two years in this job, extremely well. Clearly, very often it comes down to personalities, but I have a very good relationship, as do my staff, with all the branches within the MoD, and we talk to them, as I say, on a daily basis, and if we do have any differences of opinion we get together and we sort them out.

Q874  Mr Howarth: So your overall verdict, as a result of this campaign, has been that the systems, structures, have been tested, work well and the personnel are sufficient to carry out the functions?

Lieutenant General Reith: I am confident of that, and I am blessed that I have got such quality people in my Headquarters.

Q875  Mr Cran: General, moving on to planning and working with the Americans, the Committee have received varying indications of when your Headquarters started planning for the operation in question. I wonder if you could tell us, as it were, from the horse's mouth, when you did start planning?

Lieutenant General Reith: I have had staff embedded with Centcom, in Tampa, since the twin tower bombing in New York, very shortly afterwards, because we were then preparing for Afghanistan, and I have left them in place. So I have that permanent link in with Centcom Headquarters. It was in about May last year when we picked up that the Americans were doing some, what they call, 'no foreigners' planning, to which we were not allowed access, which was unusual, because normally we have very, very good access on everything. Clearly, there was a decision, I think in June of last year, by the Americans to bring the UK and Australia in on their planning cycle. I then got authority from the Ministry of Defence to get involved in that planning, on the basis of no UK commitment.

Q876  Mr Cran: That was when?

Lieutenant General Reith: That was end of June last year, and we have been involved with the planning, with the Americans, ever since, obviously right through the combat phase and still now, dealing with the aftermath.

Q877  Mr Cran: This document, which you will be well aware of, First Reflections, it says, at paragraph 2.4, and I will just quote it to you: "While overall planning for the operation was led by the United States, the UK was fully involved, including through personnel embedded" as you have said just now, "in US Central Command in Tampa and elsewhere." What I think the Committee would like to know is, how did that really work, in practice? The bald words suggest that it all works terribly well, and all the rest of it. Talk us through this?

Lieutenant General Reith: It worked extremely well. Altogether, at Tampa, I had approaching 40 people, of which roughly half were embedded staff working as Staff Officers in the American Headquarters, giving UK staff power into their system, and actually we are very good at this. I had then a UK team working with them, alongside, of roughly 20, with a 2*, a Major General, who was really my link in to Tommy Franks. We were involved in the planning, as I said, we had a very close-hold group back in PJHQ and in London, which we christened the Warrior Group, which did the planning on a very close-hold basis, so it did not get out generally in the early stages, until we were more certain of any form of commitment. The staff at Tampa were able to influence the American planning and inform the American planning and ensure that the chiefs and ministers here in London knew what was going on all the time, as the plans were progressed. I refined that further, as time progressed, and I embedded staff into the Land, Air and Naval Component Headquarters as well, so that then we got into the detailed planning of each of those components, and again contributed to the planning and were able to influence them. What we were able to do, I think, was put a degree of sensitivity into the planning. The American military machine is on an industrial scale and therefore tends to be slightly less, shall we say, flexible and sensitive than we are, and I think we helped contribute in that way, and I know that General Franks appreciated our contribution.

Q878  Mr Cran: Could we get behind the words for just a second, and you introduced 'sensitivity' into it. What does that mean, could you tell the Committee what that means? I know it is difficult, because you will not want to go into the details, or anything, but in a broadbrush way, could you tell us how we influenced the Americans, apart from that, if we did?

Lieutenant General Reith: Yes. Clearly, we were going into combat. In combat normally you use massive fire-power for effect, and, shall we say, the more massive the fire-power the more effective you will be in destroying your enemy. Also we were hugely conscious of the fact that we were liberating Iraq and the people, not subjugating it, and therefore we wanted to break as little china as possible, because we knew that we would have to either replace it or mend it afterwards. It is in that respect that we were able to influence the Americans and, very closely with them, look at all the targeting and at the way we were going to conduct the operations to minimise casualties to the civilians and minimise damage.

Q879  Mr Cran: Just one more supplementary, Mr Rapson, then I will pass on. If I asked you, in the light of the experience which you have just had, with the co-operation and the arrangements which you had with the Americans, would you do it exactly the same next time, would you, if there were to be a next time?

Lieutenant General Reith: If there were to be one, we would, yes.

Q880  Mr Cran: You would not change anything?

Lieutenant General Reith: I would not change anything in the way we set it up. We learned things as we went along and adjusted, but I would do it in exactly the same way as we did it.

Q881  Mr Cran: It would be fascinating to know the things you readjusted as you went along. Can that be answered quickly?

Lieutenant General Reith: When you go into an operation like this, when you set off, you know nothing of what really is going to happen when you have crossed the line of departure. Remember that the person with whom you are in conflict is going to try to defeat you by some underhand means, or whatever, and therefore you have to have a fairly broadbrush plan when you go. In this particular case, the actual combat phase was broken into sub-phases, where Phase One was to secure the oilfields at Umm Qasr, because they were absolutely essential to the follow-on phases, the humanitarian side, and so forth, in the reconstruction of the country, and to push up to the Euphrates crossing at An Nasiriyah. The phase thereafter obviously was to push on up to Baghdad, and the centre of gravity, as seen for the combat phase, was the fall of Baghdad, and thereafter to exploit beyond that. Of course, things did not work out exactly as we expected. Originally, we were only going to screen Basra; as it transpired, we were able to enter the city and take Basra. Equally, the Americans were expecting to have to fight on the Euphrates and build bridges; as it turned out, they managed to seize them, the resistance there was much less than expected. So the picture we had in our minds when we went in did not exactly fit what happened, so we had to adjust to the new picture.

Mr Lee: I just wanted to add a couple of words on this subject of planning and when things started. As General Reith has said, this dates back to having embedded staff with the Americans, and back to May/June and the first consideration of this in small groups. I think it might be helpful just to think of this as a continuum, where, at the beginning of the continuum, one is talking about staff discussions, people in a very exploratory way just discussing a subject and then gradually it becoming slightly more defined. One is talking about contingency plans on paper, and that was going on during the summer last year in these very small groups, but, as General Reith said, entirely on a 'no commitment' basis, just an exploratory activity. It was not until September last year, after President Bush had been to the United Nations and made the speech, and so on, that we got into a phase which might be more recognisable as planning, in the sense actually of developing options and beginning to think about taking action in respect of training, or whatever, which would have an effect of some sort on the ground, as opposed to entirely paper contingencies.

Q882  Mr Hancock: When was that?

Mr Lee: That would have been September last year. So there is a continuum, which starts just with paper and thoughts on the subject and then moves into more concrete planning, and obviously right the way through to the conflict itself.

Q883  Mr Howarth: Did you get a sense, at that time, that there was beginning to appear in the United States an inevitability about going to war? Bearing in mind that the British Government's position was, quite firmly, that no decisions had been made and the United Nations route was going to be pursued vigorously, how did it seem to you that the Americans were approaching it, had they made up their minds?

Mr Lee: No, I do not think there was an inevitability at that stage. There was a balanced position where, particularly, as I say, after President Bush went to the UN, there was a diplomatic track being followed, with 1441 and weapons inspections, but balanced against that there was the planning and preparation of a credible military force. Certainly there was not, at that stage, an inevitability, there was a possibility, that the diplomatic track, backed up by the threat of force, might have been successful, and that was a possibility which I think the Americans would have welcomed every bit as much as ourselves. It was only later, obviously, that possibility fell by the wayside.

Q884  Mr Hancock: To what extent, General, despite the embedded nature of some of your staff, was the fait accompli of the plan? It was a United States plan; did you just have to fit in around it?

Lieutenant General Reith: It is much more complex than that, and I am not in any way trying to make light of what you say. The plan was dynamic throughout, even on the last day the plan adjusted, and much of it was done by discussion between myself and General Franks. I had conversations with the Land Component Commander, I had conversations with the Commander of the Marines who ended up commanding the First Division, making sure, from our perspective, that the tasks which they envisaged, the tasks which were suitable for our troops, that we had the right balance in our force and our equipment to do those tasks at an acceptable risk. We went through a series of Commanders Conferences with the Americans, where I went with Brian Burridge and our Component Commanders, and we were involved fully in their thinking and planning as they adjusted the plans.

Q885  Mr Hancock: What were you able to influence then, from the emerging plan, that was actually a UK initiative, or a variation?

Lieutenant General Reith: It is hard to say exactly a specific now, looking back. In the very early planning, the Americans had decided to attack only from the south, and militarily it made more sense to be able to attack on two axes, because there was going to be congestion logistically coming in through the south. That was suggested to the Americans, who seized it with both hands, and that is why there was thought then of putting an axis through Turkey. Of course, as it transpired, the Turkish authorities were unhappy with that, and we did not go through Turkey. So then we had to readjust the plan again to look at another way of doing the plan in the south, and so we participated in that and looked at what we, the UK, could best do in the south, and we assisted the Americans on that basis.

Q886  Mr Hancock: The Americans were talking to the Turks before the Turkish elections, and that is a lot earlier than October; so the early plan was a very early plan. Certainly, in September, the Americans were talking to the Turks before they had their elections and the Government changed, because they were more, I think, of the feeling they would get permission to go through Turkey from the original, socialist regime in Turkey than the new Government. I am interested in this point about the British involvement and your own background, having been in other parts of the world where it was important to ensure that the civilian population knew what was happening and why it was happening and why you would secure some of the very important structures which they needed for their protection. I was in Washington yesterday, where a senior member of the administration told us, with a great deal of regret, that, despite the fact they had 500 staff working for six months on the post-war situation, the post-fighting situation, they had got it hopelessly wrong. I was rather surprised that someone like you, from your background, did not try to suggest to them, maybe you did, and maybe they did not heed any warnings to them, that you should be protecting the water supply, the electrical supply. Maybe the oil wells were important but there was the other infrastructure which was vitally important, if you were going to win the hearts and minds of the people within the first couple of days of a war breaking out in their country?

Lieutenant General Reith: We did that.

Q887  Mr Hancock: Why did they not listen?

Lieutenant General Reith: When we attacked in the south, the first priority, whenever we took anywhere, was to ensure that we got the pumping stations, the electricity, distribution system, controls, and everything else, to secure those without damage. Clearly, there was some damage, there is bound to be some damage when you are fighting, but it was minimal. What we found though was a crippled infrastructure, an infrastructure which had not been invested in for about 20 years. My engineers, and with UK money as well, as part of the Quick Impact Projects, did a lot of work, using the local population experts, to get their systems up and running more effectively. Within Basra before the conflict, most of the time there was no power, certainly there was no power into the Shia areas. He used the delivery of power as a weapon to punish people if he was unhappy with them, and so the Shias were very much sort of third-class citizens in that area. The power supply really was designed to go only into the more €lite areas, and it was much more difficult for us to get an even distribution of power. The engineers did a terrific amount of work, and within three weeks to a month of our taking over in that area we had the system up to better than it had been before the conflict and as good as it could get without the long-term investment.

Q888  Mr Hancock: Then were you disappointed that the Americans did not follow the advice which the British were giving them?

Lieutenant General Reith: No. The Americans worked on exactly the same principle, and, again, they were shocked at the level of degradation of the system which had occurred over the years. The problem that we had with the American system was that they had relied on producing very big contracts through big companies to do most of this work, and, of course, it is more difficult, the people who plan from these companies are finding that the conditions of what they had taken on are much worse than they had expected. So they are having to revise contracts, revise the way they do things, as they go along. It is happening, and Bremmer, in the CPA in Baghdad, is working really hard at it, and Andy Bearpark, who is a Briton over there, is leading on this now and progressing things very quickly.

Q889  Mr Hancock: I am sure that is something everybody is glad to hear about. Referring to the First Reflections on Iraq, and page nine, which is the Planning - First Reflections, there are three issues here. One is, the important point which is raised is about developing a range of planning options to cater for the possible uncertainties ahead of operations, for example, difficulties associated with access, overflight and basing. A lot of the evidence we have heard already from your colleagues who were there were those problems, and it was a lack of understanding, of the Americans promising to deliver but then being unable to, and at the last minute our servicemen and women arriving without the facilities which had been promised being delivered. What is your reaction to that?

Lieutenant General Reith: We were planning in a dynamic situation.

Q890  Mr Hancock: But this was in Kuwait?

Lieutenant General Reith: Yes. There was a political process running parallel with the military process here. We were producing a capability which was being used at that stage for a coercive effect to try to make a success of UN Security Council Resolution 1441. At the same time, there was a diplomatic process, trying to get us to be allowed to use various bases within the region, and there was a public face to many of the people we dealt with and a private face, and, clearly, in the end, we managed to get the basing we required.

Q891  Mr Hancock: If I could ask just two points. One is the planning focusing on military options in support of the diplomatic process. I can understand, before the war starts, that that is a key issue. I do not know what part you played in the writing of these First Reflections on the planning, but I would be interested to know how that proceeded, once the fight started, what sort of diplomatic process you were being made aware of, and what you were being told you could or could not do? The final point, going back to the humanitarian aid again, and the question in this final point that we should have planned better for it, were any of your staff, or any of the UK military staff, involved in that team of 500 who planned for six months on the post-war scenario, were any of the Brits involved in that?

Lieutenant General Reith: The answer is, no, we were not involved in that, that was done in Washington, it was not done at Centcom, where the military planning was going on. However, we did a lot of planning in my own Headquarters, working with London, and what came out of that planning was the formation of an Iraq Policy Unit within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which then worked out the UK strategy linked into this and tied together the other government departments with us, to ensure that we could deliver the humanitarian needs and assist with the initial reconstruction, and that went on. I was delegated authority to spend up to £20 million initially, and it could be topped up as necessary for Quick Impact Projects, to get the utilities back up and running, and also I was allocated the authority to spend up to £2€ million per week on humanitarian assistance. As it transpired, I did not have to spend the latter, because there was no humanitarian crisis.

Q892  Patrick Mercer: Gentlemen, what were the main criteria that went into designing the force package which Britain gave to the operation?

Lieutenant General Reith: The criteria were looking at the task and doing an assessment and working out the package best suited to carry out those tasks. We extracted those, obviously, from the American planning and so we came up with a balanced force package to suit the area we were going through, which was in large part urban and also in the Euphrates Valley, which is irrigated and obviously wooded, and so forth, with palm trees, and so we had to get a balance between armour and light forces.

Q893  Patrick Mercer: The size of the contribution then was shaped by the task which Britain was allocated, rather than the task being decided by the size of the force?

Lieutenant General Reith: Correct. We did not form the package until quite late, to fit the tasks which had come out of the planning.

Q894  Patrick Mercer: That is clear, thank you. Using the quotes again in this document here, who decided to commit a force whose size exceeded the parameters set by the SDR?

Lieutenant General Reith: The process went through a paper from me into the Chiefs of Staff Committee on the options, looking at various force packages and whether we could take on all the tasks the Americans wanted us to, or not. The Chiefs then considered that and the Chief of the Defence Staff made a recommendation to the Secretary of State, who approved it, who then put it through to Number 10.

Mr Lee: Perhaps I could just add to that. The purpose of the defence planning assumptions that we have is for, it sounds obvious, defence planning, they are assumptions which are made in order to produce the overall force structure that we have across the Armed Forces. They are not, and never were, intended to be limits which we imposed on a particular operation, in respect of a particular operation, and it is always possible, given the circumstances, as in this one, that one can exceed those assumptions and put together whatever force is necessary for that particular task. Of course, it does mean that you have got then a recuperation period to go through, and you have to revise the way in which you restore your force structure to its original balanced position, but the planning assumptions themselves are not intended to limit or guide particular operational deployments in that way.

Q895  Patrick Mercer: General, you have touched on this already, but at what point was the final force package decided upon, please?

Lieutenant General Reith: We decided on it finally, I think, in the middle of January, about the 16th or 17th.

Q896  Patrick Mercer: So seven or eight weeks before the start of hostilities?

Lieutenant General Reith: Correct.

Q897  Patrick Mercer: And it did not change significantly after that?

Lieutenant General Reith: The package; we included one extra battalion minus, to cover prisoners of war.

Q898  Patrick Mercer: The Duke of Wellingtons, yes. Mr Lee, can I come back to you for just a moment, please. What is your part in the planning and decision-making?

Mr Lee: I work in the Policy and Commitments area in the Ministry of Defence, which is the Ministry of Defence part of the Defence Crisis Management Organisation, to which General Reith referred earlier. Whereas the PJHQ puts together the operational package and the operational plan, our role in the Ministry is to apply a more strategic view to that and balance that proposal across other commitments which we have. For example, in this case, the commitment to the fire-fighters dispute, Operation Fresco, as we called it, and other commitments there are across the world. We provide the link with the other government departments, which also, in some sense, are part of the Crisis Management Organisation, the Foreign Office and the Cabinet Office, and so on, and advise ministers on the basis of all of these different factors, built upon the operational plan from PJHQ.

Q899  Patrick Mercer: Thank you. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, clearly. A couple of weeks ago, we had an absolutely absorbing visit to 2RTR and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. They both gave the impression, and I understand that any soldier wants to feel needed on the battlefield, I got the impression that both of the regiments were very stretched, providing armour to other brigades which did not have intrinsic or organic armour with them. With the benefit of hindsight, was the force package correct?

Lieutenant General Reith: I am confident that it was. You will know, from your own past military experience, that we task organise, the commanders on the ground task organise as to the requirement of that particular battle group going into that particular task. Which is why, for instance, a CVRT squadron went with the Royal Marines, and the armour was broken up between the other groupings.

Q900  Patrick Mercer: It seems easy to draw conclusions now, but it seems that one brigade in particular, 7 Brigade, took a disproportionate amount of the fighting. Again, was this just the fortunes of war, but perhaps 16 Brigade was not as useful as one had hoped they would be? What are your comments on that?

Lieutenant General Reith: No, I do not think that 7 Brigade took a disproportionate amount of the fighting; in fact, 3 Commando Brigade probably had more action than 7 Brigade. I think 7 Brigade got more publicity, because of going into Az Zubayr and Basra. The principal task of 16 Brigade had been to get in and keep the oilfields secure and then they were to be used for exploitation; they were used for exploitation. Once we went beyond Basra, we went up into the north east, up into Maysan Province. Now, of course, that did not get much publicity, because by that stage the embedded journalists had left them, and I do not think it even hit the UK media. They did a very successful advance over a couple of days and went the distance from, I suppose, probably here to Carmarthen, so it is quite a long way, over a couple of days, and cleared as they went.

Q901  Patrick Mercer: We have had a couple of conflicting pieces of evidence about the use of cluster munitions. Do you believe that the use of cluster munitions near urban areas by coalition forces was essential?

Lieutenant General Reith: The use of cluster munitions is always an operational decision at the time, according to the circumstances. We give very clear guidance on trying to minimise casualties to civilians, and if and where cluster munitions have been used we would have tried to minimise that. Equally, we have a duty of care for our own soldiers and if they are in a position where that munition is the best munition to use we will use it.

Q902  Patrick Mercer: What restrictions did you place on their use?

Lieutenant General Reith: The conditions are placed according to the task. We go through a very clear targeting process, whereby we calculate the potential for civilian casualties, and if we are going for a specific target we do it on that basis, and then we make a judgment whether that is appropriate or not according to the risk to us.

Q903  Mr Hancock: General, may I ask, it would help us enormously if you could give an example of how far up the command structure a decision to use that type of weapon goes when a request is made, and could you give us an example of where they were used, and what was the rationale behind their use?

Lieutenant General Reith: There were very few cluster bomb units used fired from the air, very few, and, in fact, I do not think there were any UK ones dropped at all. We do have a bomblet system within our artillery for AS90, that was used on several occasions, not in the main urban areas but outside Basra, in areas where we had concentrations of enemy force.

Q904  Mr Hancock: How far up the chain?

Lieutenant General Reith: We had formal levels of delegation as to what could be done at which level. Some judgments would go straight to the Secretary of State for clearance.

Q905  Mr Hancock: I am asking you about the use of cluster bombs, because there is conflicting evidence about who makes the decision?

Lieutenant General Reith: No, the cluster bomb is an operational decision.

Q906  Mr Hancock: Or the shells?

Mr Lee: Sorry, I have a note here, just to correct a point. I have a note to say that UK forces did use some air-delivered cluster bombs.

Lieutenant General Reith: I was not aware, on that point.

Mr Lee: We can follow up with more detail on those, if you wish.

Q907  Mr Hancock: Who makes that decision?

Lieutenant General Reith: It is an operational decision and it is made at the Air Component Headquarters, according to the request from the ground.

Q908  Mr Hancock: By the Secretary of State? You said in some instances they go straight to the Secretary of State for a decision?

Lieutenant General Reith: Not targeting cluster bombs, I was talking targeting generally. You asked me two questions. One was cluster bombs and one was targeting, delegation.

Q909  Mr Hancock: Let us pretend I asked that question again then. Is the use of a cluster weapon, either a shell or a bomb, a decision for an operational commander to make, or does he request that and then a political decision is taken?

Lieutenant General Reith: As I said earlier, it is the operational commander's decision.

Mr Hancock: Yes and no; okay, fine.

Q910  Mr Crausby: Can we turn to some questions on the air campaign, which appears to have been fully integrated, unlike the land campaign, which had a more discreet area of operation. Can you explain how you and PJHQ were involved in the actual planning of the air campaign?

Lieutenant General Reith: The air campaign had considerable flexibility within it. We were involved in a target list, there were over 300 targets which we cleared jointly with the Americans, and we went through a full process, over several weeks, before the campaign, ensuring that we were happy with the targeting. On the ground itself, we had the Air Component Commander, Glenn Torpy, who was embedded with the Americans at the CAOC, the Combined Air Operations Centre. They were going through daily the air tasking order, clearly making sure we were happy with the targets that were going to be hit, and then he was authorising the use of British aircraft for that. He had a delegation, as I said, if there was something which he was unhappy with then he would raise it up the chain for decision.

Q911  Mr Crausby: What was your role in targeting decisions?

Lieutenant General Reith: The delegation ran from him into the NCC, the National Contingent Command Headquarters, into mine, and ultimately it would go into DTIO, the targeting element within the MoD for final approval by the Secretary of State, if it was a contentious target.

Q912  Mr Crausby: Some of these decisions, they must have had very short periods of time to plan, almost immediate decisions. How did that work, in practice?

Lieutenant General Reith: As I say, the delegations covered that. There was a delegation for time-sensitive targets related to weapons of mass destruction, where the delegation was much lower to do a very quick reaction time on something of that sort of nature.

Q913  Mr Crausby: There were some British aircraft which supported coalition forces which included UK forces not under the direct command of the UK National Air Contingent Commander, special forces, for example. Can you tell us how arrangements were organised for targeting decisions, as far as they were concerned?

Lieutenant General Reith: I had command of special forces. I cannot go into detail in this forum. I know the Committee has already written to the Secretary of State to look at a way by which we can brief you.

Q914  Mr Roy: Gentlemen, we have heard already from the International Red Cross, who appeared before us a couple of weeks ago, that the main concerns of ordinary Iraqis had been security rather than humanitarian aid post-conflict, to such an extent that the NGOs who had arrived in Iraq to supply humanitarian aid left almost immediately because they were not needed. With hindsight, did your plans for post-conflict Iraq focus too heavily on providing the humanitarian assistance rather than repairing infrastructure and restoring security?

Lieutenant General Reith: The answer is that we have huge versatility with our troops, and I will give you an example. I commanded the operation in Albania during the Kosovo crisis, where we carried out a major humanitarian effort and also some reconstruction work. What amazed me on this particular operation was how versatile our troops were, and one battalion, for instance, in Az Zubayr, at one end of the town they were still fighting, and at the other end they were already in berets and dealing with the population. Our engineer effort went almost immediately into the reconstruction, and we had specialist teams from the engineers who went in, made contact with the local power workers, the local water supply people, and so forth, and started almost immediately getting things up and running.

Q915  Mr Roy: What is "almost immediately"?

Lieutenant General Reith: I mean, as soon as it was possible, literally; so we were running combat and post-combat simultaneously.

Mr Lee: Could I add perhaps a point on the post-conflict planning, because this comes up very frequently. I think the point to make is that before the conflict we were well aware of the need for post-conflict planning and people were thinking about this well back into last autumn, but it was never possible to know at that time what the starting conditions would be for the post-conflict phase. Much of the planning at that time was concerned with scenarios where there might be large-scale humanitarian problems, disaster even, movement of refugees, shortage of food, damage to the oil infrastructure, damage to power stations, all sorts of possibilities which existed at that point, which the planning tried to cope with. Many of the most serious of those scenarios actually have not happened, so I think it is legitimate to say that some of the planning that was done for the conflict has been successful, and the way that the conflict was conducted has been successful in obviating some of those possible scenarios. Where there are difficulties now, I think, as General Reith says, those are difficulties with which we are trying to deal with the flexibilities of the forces that we have there. The lack of security, the lack of police structures, and so on, indigenous Iraqi police structures, is something which would have been very, very hard to foresee in quite the way it has happened. Nevertheless, that is being dealt with now by the soldiers and also by re-employment and retraining of Iraqi police, which is moving ahead quite rapidly.

Q916  Mr Roy: Can I just clarify though, do the three Services have that same capability to re-engineer; is that right across the board, Rear Admiral?

Rear Admiral Style: Certainly, there is a Naval capability in that area available when it is useful to employ it, and training, to an extent, as well.

Q917  Mr Roy: Was the Navy deployed to do that?

Rear Admiral Style: I think you must ask General Reith that question, because I am coming more from the equipment capability end and I was not involved in the day-to-day operations.

Lieutenant General Reith: The engineer effort was put in primarily by the Royal Engineers. We had specialist Royal Engineer teams who have knowledge, also we have people from the reserves who have particular knowledge in power and water supply. Also we put in a team of specialists who were able to deal with the railway, and we got the railway running up to Baghdad very quickly indeed, because, of course, that was essential for getting aid from Umm Qasr port into the centre of the country. So those teams were pre-planned, and, of course, our Royal Engineers, every one of them, as well as being a combat engineer, is an artisan, of one nature or another, they are all qualified in a skill, and we were using that in, for instance, refurbishment of schools and police stations, and everything else, getting everything back up and running.

Q918  Mr Roy: I can understand the Royal Engineers, but I would like to get a broader picture of the other two Services. Are they capable of doing it, and did they do it, and when did they do it?

Lieutenant General Reith: There is not an engineering capability in terms of construction engineering in the other two Services. For instance, in our deployed operating bases, we had Royal Engineers with the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Engineers built the camps, did repairs to runways and improvements on the aprons, and so forth. We have the flexibility within the three Services that we move people from each Service to support the other, and so it is done on that basis.

Q919  Mr Roy: For example, if you need to rebuild any services in a port, and you have got one of your ships out, lying off port, do we have the capability to bring in some of those people to help?

Lieutenant General Reith: We have the Port and Maritime Regiment in the Army which deals with ports and management of ports, and so forth, and the Royal Engineers support them in any construction effort required. So Umm Qasr port actually was opened by the Port and Maritime Regiment.

Rear Admiral Style: If I may just add perhaps, I cannot speak for how ships were used in the event, but, in answer to the capability aspect, ships' companies, of all our ships, actually, above a certain size, are trained in disaster relief and have an ability in that respect. Whether or not it fitted to use them in the circumstances of this campaign, obviously, I could not speak for.

Q920  Mr Roy: On another point, just for clarification, the RAF engineers, are they trained in a wide spectrum? I am just a layman here, are they trained in the wide spectrum of engineering capability to help, post-conflict?

Lieutenant General Reith: I am sorry, I am probably being a bit obtuse. We have different types of engineers. Construction engineering sits within the Army. Within the Air Force, obviously, we have specialist engineers who deal with avionics and aircraft mechanics dealing with engines, and so forth.

Q921  Mr Roy: Do any of those deal with civil engineering, in the RAF?

Lieutenant General Reith: No, it is purely to do with the equipment and the weapons and the support for them. The construction work, and that sort of support, maintenance of buildings, all sits either with the civilian contract, because that is what we do normally in a steady state, or with the Royal Engineers.

Q922  Mr Roy: Sorry, just to labour this point again. In this type of conflict, would it not be advantageous, for example, for RAF engineers to be given some sort of civil engineering training, knowing that, in the world we live in now, that could be where the skill is needed?

Lieutenant General Reith: My question would be, why? We have the resources in defence; we are talking about defence here. I am a Joint Commander. I take assets from all three Services and put them to best effect. If you start spreading and saying, "We need this civil engineering capability in the Air Force and the Navy as well," actually you are increasing cost. It is better to keep them concentrated training a specific group which can be used to support any of the three Services for any particular task.

Q923  Mr Howarth: Just a quick question on the engineering side. You mentioned the railway engineers. I gather that this is the first time really they have been in action in earnest, perhaps since they built that railway up at Khyber Pass; is that right?

Lieutenant General Reith: I think that is unfair, because just after the Kosovo crisis we used them to reopen the railway out of Macedonia into Kosovo.

Q924  Mr Howarth: Are they a big troop?

Lieutenant General Reith: Off the top of my head, I cannot tell you the size, but they are very effective. It is a specialist task and they are very good at it, and there are a lot of reservists involved with them, obviously, I think who work in our normal railway network.

Q925  Mr Hancock: General, I want to ask some questions about what happened once the war started. But, first of all, can I ask you if you were satisfied with the intelligence which you had pre the war about the possibilities you might face in Iraq?

Lieutenant General Reith: As always, I thought that we had quite good intelligence, and, as I mentioned earlier, of course, once you cross the line of departure, you find it was not quite as accurate as you thought it would be.

Q926  Mr Hancock: Do you think we knew our enemy well enough?

Lieutenant General Reith: Yes, we knew his capabilities. What we did not know was what his tactics were going to be.

Q927  Mr Hancock: If we had this intelligence about the possibilities, the scenarios, we had the scenario that everybody would rush out into the street and welcome us, and what have you, did we have a scenario which suggested that there would be widespread criminality and that looting would go on? Was there a plan for that?

Lieutenant General Reith: From my own experience, you can do nothing about looting, in the initial stages.

Q928  Mr Hancock: That is a different answer. The question is, did we have a plan, had anyone foreseen the possibility of that happening, and did we have a plan to deal with it?

Lieutenant General Reith: We were planning a combat, we were not planning dealing with looting.

Q929  Mr Hancock: That is not the question, General, is it? You said, did you not, that your staff were involved in the planning both for the before stage and the after stage, and I am asking, in all of the scenarios which you had to experience, did we have a plan to deal with widespread criminality and looting? Did we expect to have to safeguard hospitals from having their equipment stolen?

Lieutenant General Reith: No. We did not have a plan to stop hospitals having their equipment stolen, because we did not expect it. If I can put it in perspective, we did not find out until afterwards that, in fact, the Shia population had not been allowed to use the hospitals. It is rather like what happened in Albania, when they virtually destroyed their country. This was a reaction against the regime, and the target for the looting was anything that the regime had run, and we did not expect that.

Q930  Mr Hancock: As a top-level Commander, do you think the intelligence you had was either negligent or defective?

Lieutenant General Reith: Intelligence draws on whatever sources it can draw on and tries to make, shall we say, a sensible assessment from the information it has got. I do not think anybody could have anticipated what was going to be a reaction within the population.

Q931  Mr Hancock: General, I was told yesterday the Americans had people in the middle of Baghdad who were on a communication link to the White House, supposedly being able to pinpoint where Saddam was, and that was before the war started, these were American service personnel they claim to have had in these positions. I am a little surprised that there was no intelligence available to both you and the American forces that there was the possibility that these things would happen because of the way in which these people had been treated by this regime. Rather than welcome us, they would take it out on any aspect of the regime which was available to them. Do you not think that was a failure somewhere along the line, not to have grasped that?

Lieutenant General Reith: As I say, I do not think that anybody could have foreseen what happened.

Q932  Mr Hancock: There is not a single word about it in here, not a single word. You do not recognise it as a failure of the intelligence community not to have told you that this was a possibility. I cannot understand how you could have produced this report in the MoD of your First Reflections. What is the most horrific reflection which people have had since this war started has been the way in which the country was looting itself, and the criminal elements took over that country for the space of a week nearly?

Lieutenant General Reith: I am not sure really that the people themselves would have known before the conflict that they were going to indulge in looting afterwards, and if that is not known then obviously we cannot have known it through intelligence. I think also it is fair to say that, although there has been looting in the UK area of operations, it was fairly short-lived; although no doubt there is still some isolated looting, it has come under control.

Q933  Mr Hancock: Widespread looting in Baghdad as well?

Lieutenant General Reith: There was thought of some degree given to the possibility of lawlessness before the campaign started, but there comes a point where you cannot have a plan which addresses a scale of problem which is unforeseen.

Syd Rapson: A lot of the experience though, with very intrusive television which took us into the streets of Baghdad, or Basra, immediately after the fighting stopped, we need to plan that in for any future operation. Is that being done actively, where we did not anticipate it, or we assumed the Iraqi military would take over on our behalf, that we need to plan that in?

Q934  Mr Hancock: You saw this in Kosovo though, you saw it in Bosnia?

Lieutenant General Reith: We did not see it in Bosnia.

Q935  Mr Hancock: Come on.

Lieutenant General Reith: No, not in the same way at all.

Q936  Mr Hancock: You saw it where one side got into the other side's properties. They had nowhere to live and, rather than move in, they blew them up, and they did the same thing in Kosovo. If that was not a lesson that people who had nothing actually do not want what the other person has got, they just want to deny those people what they never had?

Lieutenant General Reith: I do not think the Balkan analogy is the correct one here, because the blowing up of houses in the Balkans was to stop people returning to their homes in areas where they had polarised, in terms of the community.

Q937  Mr Hancock: Looting?

Lieutenant General Reith: The looting I think we need to put in perspective here. It was very short-lived, in Basra. Basra has a population of nearly two million people. It is like trying to control with three battalions something which is a third the size of London, and we just did not have the resources, and the UK could never have had the resources to have stopped that. Where we saw it, we stopped it. Clearly, press were in areas where we were not, and so you were seeing it happen before your eyes on television, but the people on the ground were responsible and tried to stop it, and we did stop it. Once we were no longer fighting and we were able to get more control in the streets then, of course, it went down dramatically, very, very quickly indeed. I would say also that looting might not be the exact, right term, because in many ways what was happening there was what the population there would have seen as a fair redistribution of wealth.

Q938  Mr Hancock: Taking an operating table out of a hospital?

Lieutenant General Reith: We had a group there who had been victimised over many years, and it is rather like looking across a fence and seeing somebody with everything and you are living in poverty, and, clearly, if they get an opportunity, they will take. I think that was what happened here, it was a redistribution.

Q939  Mr Hancock: Maybe this question should be directed more at the MoD. Surely there must have been some lessons. We failed to grasp the psyche of Milosovic. One of the lessons of Kosovo was surely that we must know our enemy better and we must understand the population's view about various scenarios which will occur. If we learned anything from that campaign it was that we did not have sufficient knowledge about what was happening, or possibly was going to happen, on the ground, within the civilian population, their resilience to bombing, the fact that they did not come out on the streets, etc. Surely the MoD had a responsibility to put in place either the right sort of intelligence or the right sort of feedback to the field commanders on how to deal with this. The issue of when the British police were involved, between Phases Three and Four, if that process could have been speeded up, once we were aware of what was happening, that there was not overwhelming rejoicing in the streets, actually there were significant law and order problems to deal with, this is more, I think, General, a point for them to deal with?

Lieutenant General Reith: No, I do not think so. I will deal with that.

Q940  Mr Hancock: Both of you then, but I would like to hear what the insider, in the MoD, has to say as well?

Lieutenant General Reith: The intelligence-gathering, clearly, there is a resource available and you direct it at your priorities, and the priorities clearly were looking at winning the combat battle, and that was where most of the resourcing was going. We had some sources within the local population, and clearly one gets conflicting messages. What we did not know, and we did not understand, was quite how repressed the population were and quite how much their anger would show as soon as that repression was taken away, and I do not think anybody could have assessed that. In terms of the policing, of course, what happened was, as soon as the Ba'athist control went then all the security organs disappeared, went underground. We found subsequently that, for instance, all the oil installations had been guarded by security forces, of one form or other, and, as I say, the police disappeared. We worked very hard and very quickly to find those people, to get the message across that we understood that anybody wanting to be in any official position had to be in the Ba'athist Party. That we were looking only in terms of removing those people from positions at the very top, obviously, who were linked directly with the regime, and all the middle- and lower-level managers and the people on the ground would be welcomed back. Subsequently, we have built it up, we have got over 3,000 policemen operating in Basra City, for instance, and the surrounds, and we have got more than we need in Maysan Province at the moment. Also now we are building up the security force which is used for securing the infrastructure, that is the oil, power and water supplies, to guard those against potential terrorists. Also we are building up, for instance, what is called a Border Riverine Service, which now is patrolling the Shatt al Arab and dealing with the smuggling and other things that are going on. So those things are coming back very quickly. I think we need to put into perspective here that from when we crossed the border we are talking of only three and a half months, and a lot has happened in that period and we have made huge progress. To take down a country the size of France with the speed we did, and then to get as far as we have got already, in terms of reconstruction and putting things in place, I think is quite impressive. So, yes, I agree that there were things which perhaps we could not have perceived before we went in there, but we dealt with them as quickly as we could once they happened.

Mr Lee: I will be very brief because I only need to be, because John has covered most parts of this. I think just one, simple point is that, if you are asking would we have liked to know more about how Iraqi society would have reacted once their system of government had been removed entirely, and known that in advance, yes, of course, we would have liked to know more. It is a difficult intelligence target to try to understand in advance how a whole society will react, and I think I agree with General Reith that it is not something which is knowable in advance.

Q941  Syd Rapson: Can we move on, because I think we have done a fairly good job on that, and well investigated. There must be a frustration amongst the military for lack of supplies and spares and bits and pieces you need at any time, and 'just in time' is getting a bad name, I do not know whether that is true or not but it is beginning to, during our investigations. We have also Urgent Operational Requirements when suddenly there is a rush, something is needed quickly, and generally they use the three distinct reasons. Can I ask how many of the UORs were for accelerating the existing procurements, for new equipment and providing existing items of which inadequate stocks were held, the three basic ones?

Lieutenant General Reith: If I may, I am going to pass this over to Charles, because it is his area, I just received them rather than actually directed them.

Rear Admiral Style: The systems we have for procuring our equipment, in general, especially the longer timescales, have to be well-regulated, ordered and responsible, because they are complicated, we are spending a lot of money, it takes a long time, and it is our obligation to make sure that this is done carefully, and obviously we spend a significant proportion of our budget on that. Equally, at the other end of the scale, at any one time, there is shorter-notice equipment which we need to procure in the event of an operation like this, which is fitted to the specific threat which might be faced by the particular environment, or is the very best that we can provide from the very latest technology which might not have been available three months or a year before. What we did with our 190 plus UORs, at a little over £500 million, was a very remarkable, I think very positive and successful, quick turnaround of some equipment which was already in the programme when we brought forward. An example of that is Storm Shadow, which was on its way and we did a very good job to get some of those missiles into action earlier than would have been possible. Some of them were bringing forward equipment which we had already in the plan, and some of them were answers to some very specific issues, of which just one example would be the shallow water Mine Counter-Measures which were done by the Navy, which our previous concept of operations had not arranged for and we did a very fast procurement of something which allowed us to do that.

Q942  Syd Rapson: Could you break down the 190 items into the three categories, or would you send us a note afterwards?

Rear Admiral Style: I will send you a note to be precise with the facts.

Q943  Syd Rapson: We will follow that up, to make sure.

Rear Admiral Style: I am so sorry, could you just repeat the three categories?

Q944  Syd Rapson: One was accelerating the existing procurement, new equipment and, finally, providing existing items of which there were inadequate stocks. So one for acceleration of procurement, new equipment, which Storm Shadow comes under probably, and providing where there are inadequate stocks. A note to us would help the report. You talked about £500 million, how does that compare with previous operations, with the first Gulf War, for example, is it exceptional or about the same?

Rear Admiral Style: It was a significant UOR activity. The exact comparison in terms of the amount of money that we spent, again, I could provide you the precise figure, if you need that, in comparison with previous wars. It was a large-scale activity and it was done, I think, by and large, extremely successfully, to very tight time lines.

Q945  Syd Rapson: Was this the largest cost for UORs?

Rear Admiral Style: We started from the proposition that we assessed every candidate Urgent Operational Requirement which came from the operational commanders, that went through General Reith's Headquarters to make sure that within his concept of operations the aspiring new equipment really was required. Having done that process then we set out to meet every requirement which was given to us. There was not, in any sense, a limit arbitrarily imposed, in terms of the sum involved, but it was a major effort, yes.

Q946  Syd Rapson: There were over 190 UORs issued; how many arrived before the combat operations and how many did not make it?

Rear Admiral Style: There were cases of equipment arriving very shortly before the start of operations. I would emphasise that I think that is absolutely inevitable, that the idea of the Urgent Operational Requirement process is to make sure we give our people the very best that technology or industry can provide us with, up to the last moment. As I said, some of the UORs were very specific to the threat or to the particular environment, and our process was extremely responsive. For example, when the northern option ceased to be in existence, certain UORs we did not proceed with, some of them we had to do more of because of the different nature of the operation. If you are in that kind of business. which, as I say, is to do with providing our troops with the best, even at a very tight timescale, and I think a lot of that was very successful, inevitably you will have equipment arriving fairly close to the start time. Can I give you just one statistic, you have seen it in the report I am sure, that in round terms we carried out logistically about the same quantity of equipment for this operation in half the time, by comparison with the Gulf War of ten years ago.

Q947  Mr Howarth: Admiral, can I pursue this point, because you said just now, inevitably, equipment would arrive at the last minute, and one can understand that in respect of certain Urgent Operational Requirements. We visited Fallingbostel, a couple of weeks ago, where we met 2RTR and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, and it is perfectly clear from what they told us that they were desertising the tanks right up to the very, very last minute, they came perilously close to not having the tanks ready. We all knew, because we had been to Exercise Saif Sareea, you all knew, that if we were going to deploy Challenger 2 tanks on this kind of operation adjustments were going to have to be made, modifications would have to be made to those tanks. What I want to ask you is this. Given that, as military men, you knew this, what pressure were you putting on the politicians to authorise this work to be undertaken in a timely fashion, because, as I say, you came perilously close to putting some guys on the front line ill-prepared to do the task for which you were sending them out?

Lieutenant General Reith: Can I come in on that, if I may. We came perilously close, you are right, but we did it, and we planned it that way.

Q948  Mr Howarth: You planned to come perilously close?

Lieutenant General Reith: No; let me finish, please. Within the process, we have what we call RSOM, it is Reception, Staging and Onward Movement, and within the planning we had made a conscious decision to up-armour and desertise the tanks on arrival in theatre, because clearly the decision to commit to war was the release to go to industry to get the things we needed. Therefore, we moved the equipment by sea, and while it was moving by sea we worked through contractors, getting the equipment which was required delivered to theatre, so that as they arrived there they could be fitted, and it was part of that planning process. It was very close, but we did not know until we went exactly when we were going to commit to the conflict.

Q949  Mr Howarth: Indeed, and really this is what I want to put to you, and I recognise it is a delicate issue, because you two are senior military officers, you are a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Defence, and you are having to respond to politicians who have other pressures. It seems to me that if the Government had made a decision at the back end of last year that there was a very strong possibility that we were going to be committed to military action, therefore this kind of procurement should have been underway already, you would not have found that those two units, in particular, would have come to what you confirmed was perilously close. What I am saying to you is this, surely, as military men, one of the lessons you must have learned from this is that you cannot risk having the professionalism of our Armed Forces tested so closely, because you know that the fear in the Armed Forces is that there will come a time when you cannot deliver, and that every time you do deliver the Government says, "Well, there you are; fine," and Governments of all persuasions. Can I put it to you that perhaps one of the lessons you should be drawing from this is to explain to politicians that if you want to engage in this kind of activity and not imperil your men you have got to be prepared to make those decisions perhaps earlier than was so on this occasion?

Lieutenant General Reith: If I could just comment that, clearly, as you say, it was perilously close, but I would not have allowed our people to go into peril, and the plan was flexible enough that if those two battle groups, and we knew it was going to be tight-run with those two battle groups, had not been operationally ready they would have been held back and then committed later in the operation, and that was within the plan. We used the words 'perilously close' but I can promise that I would not have allowed them to commit to the operation if the operational commander had not been satisfied that they operationally ready.

Rear Admiral Style: Can I just say that I feel our record, across the board, in responding to lessons identified is not bad. In Kosovo, we learned a lesson about the nature of bombs and munitions, imprecise as opposed to precise kinds of munitions, and, against always a considerable affordability challenge, we introduced Maverick, Paveway, and so on, and Storm Shadow came on, as a direct consequence of lessons identified. I could give you other examples. Our readiness, for example, to deal with the mine warfare threat in the Gulf was something we perceived and were able to deal with because of that, SA80 safety-catches, and suchlike. In the equipment programme process in which I am involved in the ECC, we always have a million priorities and not enough money to allocate to them all. You would say it was so obvious from Saif Sareea we had learned the lesson that we should have done something about it. We did put money into the equipment programme towards this in the last round, some of that takes time to do, but, I think absolutely rightly, we set a priority in the last equipment round, and it remains the equipment programme priority to sort out, as you know, our network-enabled capability. We have done some very important things, which in a different sense add dramatically to our ability to deliver effect, and, by the way, to look after our people as well and to co-operate with the Americans. Although there were things about the delivery of capability, and maybe the desertisation of Challenger was one, which were fairly close to the wire, I do believe that will always be the characteristic of a degree of our Urgent Operational Requirement process and deliveries, and the proof is in the pudding. It was there on time.

Q950  Mr Howarth: Yes, we understand it was there on time. The point I am trying to make is, and I think I speak for the Committee on this, that we have been impressed by how damned close-run a thing it was. I would not like to have been one of your senior officers having to tell the Secretary of State, "So sorry, Secretary of State, but actually two battle groups can't be deployed because they aint got the armour stuck on the side of the tanks yet." I think you would have found that extremely embarrassing. Therefore, these guys were right up against it. I put it to you, it was not necessary, you knew, we all knew, this Committee knew that you could not deploy Challenger 2 tanks in that environment without doing the necessary modification. We have been told when we have spoken to the guys on the front line that they were right against the wire?

Mr Lee: I just want to say that the background to all this, of course, is that throughout this process of preparing the UORs, which takes some months from the very first discussions with industry, and so on, during that period we did not know what the date would be on which the conflict would start and there was great uncertainty about that right the way through. In a sense, the date when the conflict started was when the forces were ready for it to start, and being ready included having the various UORs fitted. So, by definition, deliberately it was going to be a close-run thing, because that was when it started, when we were ready for it to start, it was a conflict which started at a time of our choosing.

Q951  Mr Hancock: You could get that precariously close to the start date, could you not, only because the Americans were there and they would have gone without us, presumably, because they would not have been able to put it off? The real lesson is, what do we do when they are not there to make sure that we are covered? We wrote our report on Saif Sareea and the Secretary of State gave evidence here about the specific issue of desertification of these tanks, and it is obvious that there was not a proper, capable plan to protect these tanks until very near the time the tanks were about to leave the United Kingdom or their bases in Germany. There was not an agreed, accepted plan to do it, despite the fact that, Mr Lee, you know that we had to have this after Saif Sareea, because we were told, the Secretary of State said, "Don't worry, it's in hand," or words to that effect, when effectively it was not?

Rear Admiral Style: Can I respond to that. When this thing came up, it is true, we were not in the process of desertising the tanks, physically, at the time.

Q952  Mr Hancock: The problem, Admiral, was not that you could not do it but that you did not know how to do it. The evidence we had says that there was not a recognised scheme to equip these tanks for the desert which had been agreed?

Rear Admiral Style: All I can tell you is that we had money in the equipment programme to make sure that we did know how to do that. We did have a plan to do it, and I would only suggest that the evidence of the speed at which we did it, even if, yes, it was close, of course I accept that, is indicative that we had our plans in a row, ready to execute it. I am not suggesting, by the way, in taking the line I am taking about the timescales being very close in some cases, that there are not lessons to learn. We are deep into this process at the moment. There is no doubt that the shape of the equipment programme coming up that we are going to deal with now will reflect some lessons from this operation, and some aspects, which I think you have heard about already, about holding some equipment, our tracking of resources, and a whole variety of things, we will pick up and I am confident the process is detailed enough to deal with it. I am not suggesting it was all perfect, but I do not accept the suggestion that there was no plan to deal with the desertising of tanks.

Mr Hancock: This was not a surprise, Admiral, this was not a surprise. You should reread the Government's response to our Report of Saif Sareea, and this was a priority.

Syd Rapson: It had better be, in future, that the lesson is learned.

Q953  Mr Cran: Alas, we are not getting off the topic which we were just on, because my colleagues have mentioned the problems of Challenger 2 and you have been defending manfully for the last hour. I do assure you, gentlemen, as we have walked around, talking to the units which have been in this action, there are widespread complaints about the lack of this, that and the next thing. I just remember the note from the Joint Helicopter Force at Odiham, 'just in time' did not work for boots, clothing, and all the rest of it. These are things which have an effect on the morale of your men, General, and I have to put it to you that, at least to me, you are beginning to sound slightly complacent. You see, you have all said, "Actually, it did work," and, of course, I have to agree with you, it did work in the end, but just perhaps if we had had a bit more vigorous an enemy it might not have worked. Therefore, as I recall it, the First Reflections document says that the UOR process, which I think is a 'just in time' process, at least that makes me understand it, involves risks, the risks that equipment is not going to be there. Now the question is, are you going to look now at your experience of this war to rebalance those risks, or are you just totally happy with the risk factor as it is?

Rear Admiral Style: I think we are examining all these lessons in a highly self-critical way. I do not think we are complacent in the slightest.

Q954  Mr Cran: I said you sounded complacent. You have got to try to convince me and the Committee that, in fact, you are not?

Rear Admiral Style: I am sorry if we do. The matter of boots and clothing, yes, there were shortfalls there. There are major lessons to learn and we are examining the holdings, as I think I suggested earlier, and looking at the whole issue of tracking of assets delivery, and so on, but there was a reason why we had that number, whether or not it was the right judgment. This was reviewed, as you know, in the Strategic Defence Review, and the matter of desert clothing, in particular, it was settled in terms of all the balances of capability that we had to spend our money on, that we provide for only the JRRF and the spearhead battalion, that was the judgment, and we provided for that. As Ian suggested earlier, we decided that, because we are not constrained by those sorts of judgments, it is always a balance of risk, this whole business is a risk business, we decided to go for a bigger operation and so, yes, there were shortfalls. That lesson must be addressed and of course we must consider our balance of priorities, but there was a reason behind the levels that we had, that is all I am suggesting in that area.

Q955  Mr Cran: You are the supplier, General, you are the user, as it were, and, therefore, as the user, were you satisfied with the delivery of not just the lessons we got earlier but across the whole board of equipment?

Lieutenant General Reith: First of all, can I say, I have never been complacent and I never will be complacent when it comes to looking after our people.

Q956  Mr Cran: I just said, and I repeat the word, you sounded it, that is all?

Lieutenant General Reith: I would like just to make that point, just for the record. I go back to this point about knowing when we were actually going to go into conflict, to start with, and we did not know. We were working on the basis that when sufficient forces from the coalition were generated a decision would be made according to the circumstances at the time, and, as I said before, if I had not been satisfied that our people were properly equipped and ready to go I would not have let them cross the line of departure. To pick up the point you made, even if there had been more capable forces in front of us, I can assure you that, with what we had with our people, we were capable of dealing with them, and I was sure of that, whatever we met we could deal with. There are lessons to be learned here, you are absolutely right, and at the moment we are going through a very big 'lessons identified' process in the MoD and we will identify those lessons and we will improve procedures, we will improve everything we can to produce the best for our soldiers. Turning to the clothing and the boots, I was not concerned about that at all. The temperate equipment we have, the combat clothing is designed up to 39 degrees centigrade and the boots are up to 35 degrees centigrade.

Q957  Mr Roy: Over what period of time?

Lieutenant General Reith: Any period of time. You can wear them and work in temperatures of that sort of level.

Mr Roy: For how long can you wear them? If you have got a pair of boots on, with all due respect, for half an hour, no matter how warm it is, that is fine, but if you are asked to wear them for 36 hours then that is absolutely different. I take exception to anyone trying to make that out as the normality. We were told by people from 2RTR that there were men in tanks wearing, and I quote, "flip-flops, trainers and even Iraqi boots," because they did not have suitable boots.

Q958  Mr Cran: Let us hear from you, General?

Lieutenant General Reith: I hear that. What I would say to you is that the combat clothing and textiles people have tested these things to death. They can be worn in temperatures up to 35 degrees, and the highest temperatures we had were just over 30, not as far as 35, in fact, the average temperature was 31.

Q959  Mr Cran: General, I would not suggest, and I do not think Mr Roy would suggest either, that you had other than the best interests of your men at heart, I wholly accept that is the case. I do say to you seriously that you should go back and talk to some of the units which we talked to, and I have to say to you that the experts may say what you have just said but, at the end of the day, the user does not see it that way, and that is the truth?

Lieutenant General Reith: I accept that there is a moral component in this, and clearly there was a perception amongst the soldiers - - -

Q960  Mr Hancock: A moral component; there is more than a moral component?

Lieutenant General Reith: No, please, let me finish. Therefore, morale within those units was affected, and I accept that, but the reality was slightly different from the perception they had, that was all. But I accept that we have got to do something about that.

Q961  Mr Cran: Mr Rapson, we have to move on, but just one question before we do. I was astonished when I talked to, and my colleagues did too, some of the units which were in Iraq, to find, and you have referred to it already, I think, this question of traceability. It seems to me quite criminal that if the equipment was there and it was all ready for distribution, what we discovered was that they could not trace some elements of the equipment. What went wrong there because that should not go wrong?

Rear Admiral Style: It is a major lesson, and I am not going to pretend that that was a good story. We did procure an element of an American system to help us with this but it was not a complete solution and we have to put this right. It is probably not much reassurance to you to know that we had identified that as a priority within the equipment programme area, so-called Logistic C4I, but, in any event, we must do better. I hope I will not sound offensive about this but the only point I would make is that it was an enormous logistic effort, to an extremely tight timescale, that, yes, there were failures but there was a much, much greater percentage of remarkable successes. Someone told me that if you put all the logistics that went to Iraq in a bunch of containers, end to end, it went from Southampton to London, it was a remarkable quantity of material that was shifted, and the vast majority of it got where it was meant to go.

Q962  Mr Hancock: Including lots of stuff they did not need, like blank ammunition?

Rear Admiral Style: We attempted to provide what was asked for, and, no doubt, as always in these events when people are doing a remarkably busy thing very quickly, there will be mistakes. I accept entirely that, the tracking point, that is a major lesson and we will attend to it.

Mr Jones: We are concentrating on clothing, which is very important, but also we have been told that in certain circumstances there was a shortage of ammunition and that people were sent into hostile situations with limited amounts of ammunition, including, I understand, when we were at Odiham, Chinook helicopters, which I know are not attack helicopters, which had a limited number of rounds, I think it was 400.

Mr Hancock: Instead of 3,000.

Q963  Mr Jones: Are you aware of this?

Lieutenant General Reith: I can tell you that we had in theatre 30 days' worth of ammunition, with ten of them at intense rates.

Q964  Mr Hancock: From day one?

Lieutenant General Reith: From day one; before we kicked off, that was in theatre.

Q965  Mr Hancock: Are they telling us not the truth then, General?

Lieutenant General Reith: I do not know.

Q966  Mr Hancock: When you get not one, all of these people, that is why personally I found your comments offensive, General, because we listened to these men and women who had been there, and to a man and a woman they were immensely proud of what they had achieved. Then they went on to catalogue the problems as they saw them, as they affected them, and many of them, including people who were working day and night to get aircraft serviced, did not have proper equipment even to clean themselves so they could eat, let alone sleep or go to the toilet properly, for weeks on end. They had boots. The new equipment arrived, the well-tested trousers. The story was that the guy took them back, they said "What's wrong?" and he said "They ripped." "They're not supposed to," he was told, but they did. "What shall I do with them?" "Put them in this pile here," and there was an enormous pile of recently returned, new trousers, which supposedly has passed all of the stringent tests. So these people were not lying or exaggerating, they knew what was asked of them, and, you are right, Admiral, they did what was expected of them and probably far more than that. Now they are complaining, rightfully, about how they feel they were let down. We were told they did not have ammunition, General, they did not have ammunition. They told us, quite clearly, "People were guarding our helicopters, very close to the front line, and they didn't even have ceramics in their flak jackets." You had a duty of care for these people and these people were on the front line, very close to the enemy, and some of them had as little as five rounds of ammunition. Helicopters were sent with only a 40-second burst, 400 instead of 3,000, and you tell us you had 30 days' supply of ammunition in theatre from day one, then why did not these people have it?

Lieutenant General Reith: The answer is, I cannot tell you.

Q967  Mr Hancock: I think we are entitled to know, in Parliament, why that happened, General?

Lieutenant General Reith: You are giving me anecdotes now of which I was not aware.

Mr Hancock: These are not anecdotes, General. Some of these are very experienced service personnel who have done 20 years in the Services, some of them had been in four different theatres in the last three years. These were experienced combat soldiers, men and women. They do not have to tell tales, they were telling the truth, because there were too many of them all to be lying.

Syd Rapson: I am sure it is going to be taken on board, and it has been refuted fairly strongly from the evidence we have received, so there is a difference of opinion. If you can give us anything positive at this moment, if not, we would prefer a follow-up afterwards?

Mr Cran: Mr Rapson, may I suggest, the Committee really is very concerned and exercised about this, and, I do not know about my colleagues, but I, for one, would like to see a note from the MoD on this whole question of equipment shortages but particularly ammunition and the ones we have mentioned, because this is concerning.

Q968  Mr Hancock: Air Marshal Burridge had exactly the same opinion as you did, General, and I find that even more of a - - -

Lieutenant General Reith: Could I make one comment. I am a soldier with 35 years' and considerable combat experience. I find it inconceivable that a commander at any level will give a soldier just five rounds of ammunition. We have a chain of command, we have experienced people in that chain of command who have a duty of care, you are absolutely right, as I do, and I am surprised by what you have said, and clearly we will follow it up and give you a note.

Q969  Mr Roy: I hear what you are saying, General, on the duty of care. One anecdote, if you like, which worried me, for example, was when I spoke to an officer in Germany a fortnight ago, and he told me he was in a Manned Vehicle and, as an officer, he took off his body armour and gave it to the man who was going to be first out of the door. I accept that is a duty of care but it is totally and absolutely unnecessary and just not acceptable, whereby an officer in a Manned Vehicle has got to take off his plates because the poor guy who goes out of the door first, he does not know what he is going out to, he does not have any plates. That is coming straight from the horse's mouth, from people in the front line. Can I ask you, specifically on equipment shortages, what shortages were reported to you during the campaign itself from your subordinate commanders?

Lieutenant General Reith: We were aware of the problem over the plates for the body armour. We knew they were in theatre but it was this asset tracking problem that we had, and there was a conscious decision by commanders on the ground to redistribute to ensure that those that were going to be going out of the armoured vehicles, who clearly were those who were going to be most vulnerable to small arms fire, would be issued with the body armour with the plates. I would be surprised if that changeover occurred while they were going into battle, because, by my understanding, the decision was made some days before to do that redistribution by the commanders on the ground. That I was aware of, and the commanders on the ground were satisfied that, by the redistribution, they had sufficient for the task, working on the principle that those who did not have the plates actually were inside armoured vehicles and were either drivers or gunners.

Q970  Syd Rapson: We were told by Bill Neely, the ITN embedded journalist with 42 Commando in Basra, that 60,000 rounds of heavy ammunition, Belgian ammunition, which the Royal Marines had, failed at a crucial time. It was in a public session, so it quite surprised us. I do not know if you knew about that, or whether it is something else you can look at, and that is quite a serious problem?

Lieutenant General Reith: I am not aware of that particular incident.

Rear Admiral Style: Can I add just one thing. Our perception on this ammunition issue, from the Ministry of Defence end, and I did check this this morning, is exactly as General Reith said. The ammunition we expected to have to deliver, or the DLO expected to have to get out there, got out there, to the very best of our knowledge and information; 36,000 body armour elements definitely got out there, and you can repeat this story in one or two other places. To use your word, there are anecdotes, there are reports, around the bazaars, where those bits and pieces, it seems, did not end up exactly where they were required, and obviously that is a distribution issue, it is a fog of war question. I do not excuse it, but I do say that when operating at high tempo, moving fast, with very complicated and unexpected situations, such difficulties sometimes will arise. I think it is difficult for us to respond to specific reports of specific issues; what I can tell you though is that all these reports are being gathered at the moment and we will analyse them. Sometimes there will be an answer that this was a local breakdown of a truck or a delivery, or something that you would never be able to eradicate entirely, and sometimes I expect we will discover that there was a distribution lesson we really need to learn. All I can assure you is that we are taking that aspect of the 'lesson identified' process very seriously.

Mr Hancock: I would ask you not to treat these as hearsay stories. We were in a room where a young lady, a 19- or 20-year-old RAF regiment airwoman, told us she was wearing a flak jacket which did not have the plates, but what was even more worrying was she did not realise that there had to be plates in there. It was only when she was given another flak jacket that she realised that, for several days, she had been wearing it. She stood up in front of seven Members of Parliament and 40 other members of that establishment and told us that story. That was not a hearsay incident, this was a young lady who had the courage to get up and tell us her own personal situation, and, to be honest with you, I think she was thoroughly cheesed off that she had been let down, she could have been killed.

Q971  Syd Rapson: That is a genuine story and I witnessed it as well, but you cannot be expected to answer that particular one.

Lieutenant General Reith: We have taken that point very clearly and we are as concerned as you.

Mr Hancock: She was not alone.

Syd Rapson: We are taking this particular issue very seriously. It is the sort of thing that, as a Committee, we need to try to hammer into the MoD and planners for next time, if there is a next time.

Q972  Mr Crausby: Can I ask some questions about the robustness of the plan. First of all, how much redundancy did you build into your planning, and could you say something about your satisfaction with the training and readiness of the forces that you were allocating?

Lieutenant General Reith: I can give you a good story on this one. There is no doubt that the quality of the people and the equipment when we were using it was outstanding. Most of the people, particularly in 7 Brigade, had been through (Batus ?) this last year, they were all at collective level five, which means that they were at the highest standard of training, and that was why they were selected to go on the operation. Similarly, with the Commando Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade, because they are lead elements of the JRRF, they were also at that very high level of training all the time. They were extremely effective on the ground, and when the honours and awards come out eventually I think you will see that there was some very, very meritorious action which took place. The equipment states were outstanding, most of the equipment was 90 per cent all of the time, and that is much higher than normally we would expect from that heavy equipment. On the planning side, I would say that I had every confidence in Robin Brimms and his tactical handling. As any good commander, he always maintained an uncommitted reserve and that was available to deal with anything that was unexpected that could have happened. As it was, his plan went extremely well and he made the absolutely perfect, balanced judgment on the moment to enter Basra, so that we had almost no casualties on the civilian side and we were able to take the city without any great damage, and so forth.

Q973  Mr Crausby: What about reserves. What was your role in the deployment and did it work well?

Lieutenant General Reith: The reserves are obviously an important part of our order of battle. I think about ten per cent of the force were reserves, the mobilisation went very well and they were fully integrated when they went into battle. They are particularly important, of course, in the medical areas and some of the logistic areas, where they do provide a large part of the force. We have got some lessons now, on demobilisation, where we need to streamline it and make it more effective, and we are working on that already.

Q974  Mr Crausby: Reinforcements; did PJHQ prepare in case more troops were needed, and on what scale?

Lieutenant General Reith: We were still holding the spearhead lead element available throughout which could have been sent out to reinforce.

Q975  Mr Crausby: If you had been asked to join the United States on a drive to Baghdad, could the UK deployment have shifted its axis and done that?

Lieutenant General Reith: It was never in our planning to go to Baghdad, and I had tailored the logistics according to the plan and I had told the Americans we would not be going to Baghdad with them.

Q976  Mr Crausby: That was not in the plan at all, so it would not have been possible?

Lieutenant General Reith: It might have been possible we could have stretched things, but it was never in our plan.

Q977  Mr Hancock: Did they ask you?

Lieutenant General Reith: They did not ask us, because we said that we had a specific area we would go within.

Mr Hancock: I was wondering whether you were asked, and that was your response.

Q978  Mr Jones: Just about the campaign itself, General, once the campaign started, how closely involved were you yourself, and contact in terms of individual components of the campaign, how did it work day to day, in practice?

Lieutenant General Reith: I was involved very closely, and personally I was doing probably a 16-hour, 17-hour day for the whole period. We had the ability in my Headquarters, through the connectivity, to see where the forces were on the ground, using a thing called Blue Force Tracker, so I could see the deployment of our sub-units on the ground. Which meant I was able to keep a lot of pressure off Robin Brimms, in particular, because we could give the briefing, and everything, in to the MoD direct without having to ask him to give us the information. So this was very much a step forward, in terms of management of information. I had the operational command, and therefore we had agreed a plan with limited tasks; to do anything more or take it further, it had to be referred back to me. I had certain delegated authority from the Secretary of State to do further things, but any things beyond those I would have had to refer, as I did on one occasion, to the Secretary of State to get authority to do more. So it worked in that way. Brian Burridge was my man, alongside Centcom, who was doing obviously the media piece but the local linkage in the Centcom to ensure that what was happening was what we had agreed, and he was holding what is called the famous 'red card', so that if something was happening with which we did not agree he could say, "No, we don't accept this."

Q979  Syd Rapson: Thank you very much. Can I thank you for a very spirited performance this afternoon. Whatever we ask questions on, we are immensely proud of what the troops did and all the back-up staff, the planners, the civilian staff as well, and our intention is to raise questions where we think there can be lessons learned to make things better for the future. Thank you very much for your evidence.

Lieutenant General Reith: Mr Rapson, I am most grateful for that, thank you, and I promise we are not complacent and that we are learning the lessons.

Syd Rapson: Thank you.