Saturday, 29 September 2007

Half Baked Blair let our troops down

Colonel Jorge Mendonca, exonerated at a court martial over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, today launches a devastating attack on Tony Blair and his government. The decorated officer who quit the Army in disgust at his treatment accuses Mr Blair of sending UK troops to occupy Basra after the Iraq invasion "with exactly the sort of half baked plan that gets soldiers killed".

In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail, he pours scorn on the former prime minister's naivety in "sweeping in on America's coat-tails" with no clear strategy or adequate funding for British forces to rebuild the war-torn south of Iraq. And in a stinging assessment of the Government's policy on Iraq he says: "What is happening in Basra now is a direct result of the incompetence that sent us in there."

Colonel Mendonca describes his anger at being "hung out to dry" and made to feel like a "common criminal" by his own commanders, who subjected him to a "show trial" at a £20 million court martial. He voices his intense pride in the men under his command who endured "inhuman" conditions to stabilise Basra after Saddam Hussein was toppled.

But he also vents his fury at those within his battalion who behaved "like bloody animals" in subjecting Iraqi detainees to abuse which left one of them dead.

The stark comments from such a respected military figure will deepen concerns over the Government's handling of the armed forces, amid widespread claims that the Military Covenant which promises fair treatment for troops is being broken.

Colonel Mendonca, 44, commanded the Queen's Lancashire Regiment during a gruelling six-month tour of duty in Basra in the summer of 2003 when the sweltering city was almost torn apart by rioting, suicide bombs and power cuts. On his return he was widely praised, decorated and promoted, but months later he found himself under investigation over a shameful incident when his men violently abused a group of Iraqi detainees one of whom, hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, died in custody. Colonel Mendonca was charged with neglect of duty and stood trial alongside six other soldiers.

All charges against him were dismissed at a court martial earlier this year due to lack of evidence. Many believe Colonel Mendonca fell victim to a political witch-hunt aimed at putting an officer in the dock. He had hoped to continue his promising career but he resigned his commission in disgust earlier this year. Now free to speak out, he told the Mail of his anger at the way politicians set British troops an impossible mission.

"It was breaking the very first rule of military combat you simply do not go into a country without an exit plan. It's something I would expect any military student to grasp." In a further interview next week, Colonel Mendonca condemns what he calls the Army's "politically-neutered" generals for failing to stick up for troops and officers under their command.

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