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Future Fallujah assault likely to be drawn ou -

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Future Fallujah assault likely to be drawn out: expert

Reporter: Tony Jones

TONY JONES: Well joining us now from London is Lord Garden.

He's a former British air marshal and is now a visiting professor at the Centre for Defence Studies
at Kings College in London.

Thanks for joining us.


TONY JONES: A US brigadier general is promising a decisive action against insurgents in Fallujah.

In fact he said, "We will whack them".

This is shaping, how do you believe I should say, this assault on Fallujah is shaping up.

What do you think it's going to be like?

LORD GARDEN: I think it's going to be very difficult to get a conclusive outcome.

They tried in April and failed.

The insurgents have had longer to prepare.

They've got a lot of weapons and they've got alternative towns that they can operate from.

So I think it's going to be prolonged, very bloody.

We've seen the death toll of Iraqi civilians rising significantly and I think it will probably
stimulate greater insurgency.

TONY JONES: How do you think they'll go about doing it?

The US military reckons now there are between 50,000 and 60,000 people there.

That means some 300,000 people have already fled the city.

Does that make their job a lot easier, or is it going to involve the worst possibility, which is
house-to-house fighting?

LORD GARDEN: Well if there are 50,000 left and they reckon there are something between 3,000 and
5,000 insurgents, that means there are about 45,000 people they've got to try and avoid killing.

That'll be very difficult.

They've really started already because they've been pounding from the air with the AC130s and the
helicopter gunships and that will continue.

The biggest problem is the lack of real intelligence.

They don't seem to know quite where the enemy is and presumably the enemy can relocate.

I don't doubt all the streets are wired with explosives as well.

So I think we'll see something similar to what went on in Najaf.

An sort of encirclement, a bit of a siege and then closing in on where they think the real action
can come from.

Of course they can track where the mortars are coming from and where the RPGs are being fired from
- and maybe that will give them some idea of the central location.

But it's going to be a difficult operation, prolonged and it's unlikely to be conclusive in the

TONY JONES: You don't believe they have the ability to occupy and subdue what is effectively the
centre of the insurgency in the Sunni triangle?

LORD GARDEN: Well I think in the end they can certainly take Fallujah, they can flatten Fallujah
from the air, and they can make sure that everybody who is in there is either captured or killed.

That will take a little time to do and it will probably involve a fair number of causalities on
both sides.

But the people who have fled Fallujah will include insurgents, they are in other towns.

There will be a backlash from the general population of Iraq if too many Iraqis are killed and it
will not cure the insurgency.

This is the trouble - expecting that taking one town will solve all the problems.

TONY JONES: So you believe it's possible the insurgents could simply relocate in the face of a
massive onslaught?

LORD GARDEN: Certainly.

This is what they've been doing each time.

We like to fight our battles as set-piece ones using all our technology.

Insurgents prefer to fight a hit-and-run campaign, taking advantage of the fact that they're very
difficult to find.

TONY JONES: You're quite right in saying there's very little intelligence out of there.

The only independent reporting we've seen recently out of Fallujah comes from an Iraqi staff member
of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting who's saying the people there are living under the
capricious rule of different groups of holy warriors, ranging from Islamists to ultra Islamists,
Ba'athists and outright bandits.

Do you rule out that these groups won't decide this is the time to put up a pitched battle against
American forces?

LORD GARDEN: I do rule that out.

It will be very foolish of them, because that is exactly what we want.

I think already some will have dispersed.

It seems moderately clear that al-Zarqawi is no longer in Fallujah, so you'll capture some, kill
some, but the problem will get worse rather than better at the end of it.

It's question of a tactical victory but perhaps a strategic failure.

TONY JONES: It is the interim PM Dr Allawi's who's now issuing ultimatums to the insurgents in

In the end will he really have much say in what goes on in this military operation?

There are Iraqi troops involved.

The question is how deeply involved they will be?

LORD GARDEN: Yes, again, it's very difficult to tell how many well trained Iraqi troops there are.

The coalition was very slow at getting the training program under way last year.

The times that Iraqi forces have been used, they've had rather mixed success rates.

Some are good but those are in relatively small numbers.

I think it would be unwise for the multinational force to depend on the Iraqis as their sort of
shock troops at the front, because they may not be up to it.

TONY JONES: The assault on Fallujah is considered to be absolutely critical at this point by
military strategists on the ground for the election coming up in January.

From what you're saying it doesn't sound like it will be the answer that they're all talking about?

LORD GARDEN: No, they're in a very difficult bind because Fallujah since April has effectively been
a no-go area.

It will be difficult to make the election in January appear to be universal throughout Iraq if
you've got a whole swathe of Iraq which is under insurgent control.

One can see the political pressure on Allawi and the multinational forces to get on and do

I think the real problem is that this is unlikely to make a lot of difference.

I think come January there will be bits of the country that will not be able to hold the elections.

But on the other hand the January elections are not the democratic end game.

They are to elect a transitional government to do the constitutional process toward elections at
the end of next year.

Maybe it won't too much if not all the country can be represented.

TONY JONES: There has been political pressure from another direction, the US presidential election

Do you believe that those politics in the United States have actually compromised this operation
which presumably could have happened during the campaign?

LORD GARDEN: I don't believe that really.

It seems to me that the timetable for the Iraqi elections are so close, it's pretty tight.

If they're going to do something to sort out this area of anarchy and chaos, they'll need to get it
done really before December so that they can start the registration process and so they can get the
elections done in January.

I think they're running out of time anyway.

I don't think the American elections will have made much difference.

TONY JONES: Do they have the capacity to subdue the entire Sunni triangle, in other words, all the
towns and small cities including Fallujah where the insurgents have taken root?

LORD GARDEN: No, I don't think they do.

This is one of the problems.

We've had a political fuss in the UK over the last fortnight about the move of the Black Watch,
about 800 men, out of the British area up to help the Americans.

Really, it's a measure I think of how overstretched and tired - combat fatigue tired - the American
forces are, that they needed to take what was a fairly odd military decision to move a unit well
out of its sector to come and help and relieve some of the American forces.

I think one of the worries is that if Fallujah goes badly and stimulates a lot more violence
throughout the country, that criticism that many have made both in America and in Europe, that
there are insufficient security forces in Iraq, may come back to haunt us.

TONY JONES: Is it also a worry in Britain that those troops have been moved closer to Baghdad to
much more dangerous positions than they were?

Does Britain expect it may have to take more casualties to support the American effort?

LORD GARDEN: Well, the worry is a different one I think in Britain mainly.

It is a growing concern that Britain has remarkably little influence on the overall strategy, that
we now know that it had almost no influence on the coalition provisional authority strategy during
the year and a bit that that was in place.

So, there is a fear that by moving the British troops into the American sector, we'll be swept
along with a strategy which doesn't seem to be the most appropriate.

TONY JONES: That presumably could be a serious problem for Tony Blair coming up to his own

LORD GARDEN: Well, he's had so many serious problems over Iraq, it's dogged him throughout.

It doesn't go off the newspaper front pages and yet he continues and the election which is most
likely going to be in May next year, looks as though he will get re-elected because of our peculiar
voting system and because of the state of the opposition Conservative Party at the moment.

TONY JONES: One of the political ironies of this American election campaign, is that if John Kerry
were to be elected President he's going to expect Europe and Britain presumably to contribute even
more troops.

Here's a critical question - is NATO capable of committing more troops to an unstable Iraq and I
suppose does it have the political will with the Europeans to back such a move?

LORD GARDEN: I think it's a real problem, because Kerry has said he'll convene an international
conference to look for internationalising, which is what all of Europe wants, but on the other hand
the French and Germans not unreasonable say, "We didn't want to go into this in the first place and
we are currently doing a lot in Afghanistan."

I think people forget that there is also the problem of Afghanistan going on.

The Europeans are contributing significantly there and are finding for the NATO side that it's
difficult to provide as many troops as are necessary to stabilise Afghanistan, so it's really if
you want troops in Iraq, you'll probably find that things go worse in Afghanistan.

We are pretty overstretched everywhere.

TONY JONES: What do you think Europe will decide?

Obviously the French have taken the view for a long time this is America's mess, let them get
themselves out of it.

The Germans may be a little more forthcoming in wanting to help out.

If there is a new presidency, will that change the equation?

LORD GARDEN: Well, it will certainly change the strains across the Atlantic a lot I think.

If a new president Kerry put together a conference which gave the Europeans time to discuss ways
forward, I think in practical terms it will be very difficult for France or Germany to deploy
significant troops into hazardous situations in Iraq but what they might do is up their numbers in
Afghanistan to relieve others who were prepared to go and do it in Iraq, so in the end you might
get more troops that way.

TONY JONES: All right, Lord Garden we will have to leave it there.

We thank you once again for coming in to talk to us tonight?

LORD GARDEN: Good to talk with you, Tony.

(c) 2006 ABC