Warning on Iraq troop levels

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BRITISH troop numbers in Iraq will only be further reduced "if conditions allow", Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, said yesterday.

Ministers still planned to cut the 4,000-strong force during the next six-monthly rotation, he told MPs in the House of Commons.

However, the Defence Secretary added: "While the situation on the ground continues to evolve rapidly, and while military commanders continue to assess the changing environment in Basra, it remains prudent that we take time to fully consider further reductions."

British forces are focusing on training and mentoring an Iraqi army division based in Basra in the south of Iraq.

But the Iraqi unit is still "months away from becoming fully operational", Mr Browne revealed in a statement to MPs.

He added: "Force levels will be kept under review and we will look to make further reductions over the course of the deployment if conditions allow and on the advice of commanders on the ground."

The next rotation of British troops will take place next month.

UK forces are focusing on preparing the Iraqi troops so the home-grown division develops into an effective force which can stabilise the area without assistance.

When "Operation Telic 12" begins next month and the British troops rotate, 7 Armoured Brigade will take over as the lead unit from 4 Mechanised Brigade.

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