Best Defense

British and Iranians in Basra: a report

A friend sent along the text of a speech given earlier this month in London by Col. Patrick Sanders, the last British commander in “palace” in downtown Basra, that contains these four interesting nuggets: Iranians seemed to be directly involved in fighting there in the late summer of 2007. “[T]owards the end of our time ...

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BASRA, IRAQ - FEBRUARY 09: British airmen from 51 Squadron RAF Regiment conduct a dawn airborne counter insurgency patrol on February 9, 2009 in Basra, Iraq. Using a RAF Merlin helicopter airmen set up vehicle checkpoints close to the main British base at Basra Airport where they are primarily used as force protection for the base but also regularly patrol the outlying areas. British Forces are looking to leave Iraq later this year and the recent peaceful elections have been seen by many as an indicator of how secure and stable the country has become. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

A friend sent along the text of a speech given earlier this month in London by Col. Patrick Sanders, the last British commander in “palace” in downtown Basra, that contains these four interesting nuggets:

  • Iranians seemed to be directly involved in fighting there in the late summer of 2007. “[T]owards the end of our time in the Palace we received multiple reports of IDF [indirect fire — I would guess mortar] teams speaking in Farsi.” Also, in one attack, “we subsequently discovered evidence linking this…to Hizbollah.” 
  • The British presence in Basra was extraordinarily tenuous, especially because of the number of bombs placed along major routes. “[A]ny operation in the city entrailed a lengthy, bloody and attritional break-in battle. …effectively a deliberate minefield breaching operation under direct and indirect fire.”  
  • Sanders offers an endorsement of alcohol that likely would get him charged in the U.S. military. “I found it had a very important role to play in easing grief and helping people unwind. And I found a glass of whisky at the end of an operation helped me unwind. We should not be too prudish about the small vices: drinking and smoking — they can be great comforts in times of danger.” (That said, I am amazed at the amount of trouble alcohol causes for commanders in the U.S. military.)
  • But his thoughts on leadership reminded me of the bright, argumentative team Gen. Petraeus assembled in Baghdad early in 2007. “[D]o not fall into the trap of surrounding yourself with yes-men. These decisions should be hard-surround yourself with difficult, awkward men whose judgement and integrity your trust and who will stand up to you, but who will also support you when you make your decision.” 

Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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