February 23, 2007
Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is expected to step aside within the next few months, announced the beginning of a gradual phase-down in the size of the British military force in southern Iraq. A battalion of about 1,600 will return to England in March, and more will leave by the end of the year. Blair explained that the security situation in Basra is good enough to warrant the drawdown, but it runs counter to the Bush administration's new offensive push. Other countries are pulling their forces out of Iraq as well, and before long, American forces will have only the local Iraqi forces to join with them in fighting the insurgents. See Washington Post.
Meanwhile, the British are planning to increase the size of their force in Afghanistan (currently 5,600) by about 1,000 men, almost as many as are being withdrawn from Iraq. Interestingly, the "surge" in Afghanistan still enjoys broad support in Britain, even as the Iraq war is becoming more unpopular. Politicians in Britain are complaining that NATO allies are shirking their responsibilities in Afghanistan, and the Queen's army has become badly overstretched. The total NATO force in Afghanistan is about 35,000, about one-third of whom are American. See BBC.