Britain has ‘lost’ Basra

Britain has “lost” southern Iraq, a US intelligence official has claimed.

The unnamed official said British troops have lost control of Basra, blaming disorder on Britain’s troop withdrawal.

In an interview with the Washington Post, he described the 500 British troops at Basra Palace as being “surrounded like cowboys and Indians”.

“The British have basically been defeated in the south”.

The official blamed the continuing violence on troop withdrawals. This had created a security vacuum exploited by the various religious, tribal and criminal factions.

The Ministry of Defence, however, maintains it has had success in southern Iraq.

The chief of the defence staff sir Jock Stirrup said in a recent interview: “Our mission there was to get the place and the people to a state where the Iraqis could run that part of the country if they chose to and we’re very nearly there.

“Our mission was not to make the place look like somewhere green and peaceful because that was never going to be achievable in that timescale and in any event only the Iraqis can fulfil that aspiration.”

The UK is committed to reducing troop numbers in Iraq and wants to move to over-watch operations only. Troop numbers peaked at 40,000 at the height of hostilities.

The British army is scheduled to hand over Basra Palace to the Iraqis later this month. This will leave 5,000 British troops at Basra airport, which houses international consultants and reconstruction workers.

The government maintains the pullout has been enabled by improving security, although Gordon Brown has been under increasing political pressure to set a timeline for troop withdrawal.

A former British defence official now based in Baghdad has said the US administration is increasingly concerned of the political and military impact of a British pullback.

The US is reportedly keen for troops to remain in southern Iraq for another year or two, despite increasing domestic pressure on Washington to scale down troop numbers.

Security analysts say Afghanistan is set to become the focus of the UK’s counter-terror operations abroad.

Defence secretary Des Browne made a surprise visit to Afghanistan today to meet with troops in Helmand province.

He said: “Britain can be proud of what our brave people, military and civilian, have already achieved in Helmand in little over one year since they first began their mission.

“Helmand remains a challenging, complex environment, and it will take time to make the progress we all seek in security and development.”

Mr Browne argued a military solution alone would not bring security to Afghanistan and spoke of the importance of development and representative governance.