Live Blog – 19 January 2010

Tuesday 19 January 2010


(There were two evidence sessions today, scheduled for 10:00 – 13:00 and 14:00 – 17:00.)

Topic: (The inquiry now only lists witnesses by relevant role, rather than by topic area.)

Geoff Hoon, Secretary of State for Defence, 2001 – 2005
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Today’s hearing, as it happened


Today’s witness was the Rt Hon. Geoffrey Hoon, Secretary of State for Defence, 2001-05, speaking from 10:00 to 13:00 and 14:00 to 17:00.

16.46 Hoon declines opportunity to set out high level lessons learned or further thoughts. Thanks Inquiry for care. Chilcot closes proceedings.

16.42 Discussion of implications of Strategic Defence Review for running two operations. Freedman says that in 2004? Blair says he wanted to move troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. Hoon says he didn’t agree. Freedman asks how it was resolved? Hoon says the decision was taken after 2005 election. His agreement was conditional. Military advice was that military did not want to be involved in two conflicts simultaneously. Decision taken after he left MoD. Concerned about impact. Didn’t say it was unwise. thought better to draw down from Iraq before further draw down from Afghanistan.

16.40 Freedman points out that lack of helicopters means greater use of roads, reliance on snatch Land Rovers. Hoon agrees but says part of ethos/tradition is to get out among people. Getting balance right is difficult. Freedman says consequence of reliance of snatch LRs is large number of British deaths. Hoon talks about what he might ideally like.. Talks about need for specialists and their attractiveness to private sector.

16.29 Discussion of disagreement in 2003. Hoon says it is complicated. Relates to resource account budgeting. It’s already over my head. Eventually the Treasury realised the way MOD was using it to spend more and didn’t like it. MoD were required to cut back. There was a fair amount of correspondence. seems like there was a bit of a row. Question of implications for Iraq? Freedman says it is relevant in terms of e.g. helicopters… Hoon doesn’t think relevant to helicopters in Iraq.

16.26 Freedman asks about budgets. We went in in 2003 and were there for six years. How did you manage discussions with chancellor about how to manage budgetary position? I think it’s right to say we did not have any difficulty securing extra money for operations. treasury were used to process. Freedman asks about effect on defence budget.

16.17 Short break. No more than ten minutes. Not long to go.

16.14 Prashar asks if they were always behind the planning cycle because the planning was inadequate early on. Hoon says catching up and responding is almost inevitable.

16.11 Chilcot looks at lack of UK funding for quick impact projects, while US had funds. Hoon says a lot of money came from DFID. There was a lot of frustration about where the money was going to come from, although congress had voted 18bn USD.

16.05 Prashar asks what mechanisms were put in place to make sure that relationships within govt got better? Essentially the PM made sure that the govt was put on war footing. (Disputes term). Quotes from official about differences between departments requiring hybrid civil/military capacity. Hoon talks about role for some kind of civilian reservist…

16.05 Chilcot asks about Hoon’s role as a cabinet minister. Discussion of different loyalties. US have different approach to co-operation between departments…

16.00 Chilcot asks about Hoon’s “situational awareness”. He describes the mixture of advice that he got. A lot to be gained by going myself.

15.57 Chilcot asks about our ambition to be exemplary giving way to deteriorating security situation. How was this managed? Hoon says one thing that led to the declining deteriorating situation was that we could not deliver.

15.55 Chilcot asks about impact of Abu Ghraib and Fallujah on opinion in UK zone. Hoon agrees that it made it harder to keep people on board.

15.52 Chilcot asks about UK responsibility for Iraq as a whole. Several decisions you have to endorse, including request to pull up reinforcements to Baghdad. Request to send 16 air assault brigade to Baghdad. Refused. How did you judge? Hoon says his focus was on South. Eventually we did decide that because the Americans were conducting a major operation in Fallujah that we would relieve them. Discussion of factors in decision. What were the consequences for our relationship with the US if we didn’t do it? Having turned at least a couple of things down we had to look very hard at this. As it turned out clearing Fallujah made a difference.

15.48 Lyne asks if targets for training Iraqis were realistic or over-ambitious? Hoon says they did not get the help they needed on police training. Agrees the MOD was not the right dept to be in the lead. Lyne asks if Brits are the right people to be training Iraqi policemen? Hoon says the ambition for Iraq was to provide a different type of Iraq. Lyne asks when the message came back from theatre that police training was not working. Hoon refers to previous answer. Lyne asks about army training. Discussion of difficulties… training new officer corps. Harder than just training police. Takes time.

15.46 Lyne says that you cannot do hearts and minds/reconstruction work when the security situation is bad. Hoon says there was some reconstruction work going on.

15.44 Discussion of what Hoon/Britain did about security issues. Hoon plays them down. Lyne asks whether by 2005 there was a feeling that things were slipping out of control. Hoon plays this down again. Actually, I developed a huge admiration for Sistani. he was an immense restraining influence when Shias were provoked.

15.39 Discussion of deterioration of situation in South. How did we react? Was there a discussion about returning troops? There was a discussion about that and getting other troops in from other countries. Security problems not all of one kind. View of troops as liberators does not last for long. There was a sense of Iraqi nationalism, which focused on foreign soldiers.

15.37 They are back. Lyne is asking about how the coalition handled security from the 2003 until Hoon left the MoD in 2005. Discussion of de-Ba’athification and disbanding of army. Hoon says the UK thought there should be a distinction between Saddam loyalists and others. Security difficulties in and around Baghdad were from disaffected people joining the insurgency. Possible military involvement. Hoon agrees that these decisions were mistakes. Disbanding army fuelled insurgency. But arguments not all one way. Lyne asks if UK should have been given more of a chance to participate. Hoon says he did put this case. Lyne asks if Hoon could envisage using republican guard. Hoon says his sense was that they were professional soldiers, despite Saddam’s politicisation.

15.30 Chris Ames taking over the blog. Thanks to Andrew. Any other volunteers?

(Break)

15.14 LF – NBC kit. GH – I understood everyone one was equipped. Very very conscious of threat. LF – out of date kit. GH – No knowledge of it being ineffective. LF – refers to Parliamentary Accounts Committee report re NBC kit/body armour. GH – aware of body armour criticisms.

15.10 Talk of the death of Sgt Roberts.

15.07 LF – what were problems getting armour out? GH – not very good tracking system – some may have got two sets and some none – distribution was not satisfactory. Tracking is a manual paper process – ticking boxes etc.

15.04 Discussion about military judgement. GH – Complains about green kit instead of desert but commanders thought this did not affect ability to fight. Boots? More important than clothing. Doesn’t know percentage of complains re uniform vs boots. LF quotes only 9000 available/30000 ordered. GH – boots did not melt in the sun. Body armour. Difficulty was about enhanced body armour – a relatively recent innovation. Has 15000 sets prior to UOR process. GH – asked for advise – enough for fighting echelon – but not for all in war zone. Further supply was tranche 2 – lower priority – doesn’t know who took decisions but was from logistics team.

14.54 GH – Considerations about “heat” etc were not a central factor. Each unit would have to confirm it was ready – full operational capability. Was achieved 2 days before operations began. Assessment was not his – down to military chain.

14.49 Back to funding. GH – Had treasury approval 4th October so most UORs could be actioned. Putting tanks on ships was politically sensitive. LF – things were getting “tight”? GH does not accept the phrase “cutting corners”.

14.44 GH – Had talks in US – parts of administration were not clear of way to go – 1441 was necessary for legality and military movement could damage UN membership support.

14.38 Talk of timeslip – working six months back – January start date was already missed – but if US schedule slipped we could catch up. Diplomatic process was paramount, at odds with military preparation.

14.32 discussion moves to defence reviews/ budgets. LF – Was Iraq a feature of this? Budget was under pressure. Stores issues? GH – How long can you keep it in stock when it deteriorates? LF – When did you discuss with treasury urgent operational requirements? GH – Discussions underway by October.

14.24 GH – Qn was why did Saddam not comply with UN. GH – quotes from papers. Doesn’t know answer though. LF moves away from this area.

14.21 GH – Was not aware of 45 mins claim until saw draft of dossier. Mentions “guns” that could fire “shells”. “Beyond doubt”? Saw draft but didn’t comment on it. Saw assessments that said Iraq did have WMD. 7 March JIC briefing stated that assessment confirmed possession of stocks etc.

14.14 LF – qns on intell, WMD, dossier. Start with WMD. Did you get separate briefings from DIS? Yes, quite regularly. Impressions? No doubt that they had those capabilities, CW and BW. Had pursued nuclear technology but no fissile material. Dossier, much interest in it? Was aware. Aware of DIS concerns? Yes, but not of the detail. Saw letter from policy director.

14.09 Plan was to draw down quickly? – Yes. Need to return to training role etc. Was there anticipation of us taking Basra? Yes. What would you have done differently. Difficulty of moving that fast was that it left the – not rear – side – unprotected. No big lessons to learn.

14.05 (Sir Martin Gilbert is not on the panel this afternoon) RL – campaign went well? GH – Yes – high tech and successful soldiering. Intel accurate? Not entirely.

(Andrew Mason taking over blogging for this afternoon’s session)

12.50 Break till 2.00

12.48 Freedman asks about what was happening in Baghdad. Was going to be much war of US responsibility. Lots of evidence about concerns about US and how seriously they took it. Was there ever a discussion that said that problems that would result from occupation would represent unacceptable level of risk? Hoon refers to letter to Blair March 2002. Pointed out that we had never successfully identified someone who might replace Saddam or what Iraq might look like without him. More waffle about disbanding of army but not really asking the question, which is whether as the war approached anyone asked if UK should pull out. Freedman asks if a debate was still going on as we went into war as to what it would lead to. No, because we shared the ambition for a democratic Iraq. I remember speculation about Iraq falling apart. By the time the war fighting began it was clear we saw a democratic country as the outcome.

12.46 Lyne asks why more was not done at Cabinet level to plan for aftermath. Hoon says to some extent we did. Says things went wrong when security situation began to deteriorate. May have been DFID’s problem.

12.40 Lyne asks about role of UK troops in Iraq without UN resolutions. Discussion of failure to plan. Hoon again says there was something in place but other departments did not provide people at the time they said they would.

12.36 Chilcot comments on failure to predict collapse of infrastructure.

12.35 Hoon says Iraqis in south blamed UK for Saddam’s neglect of infrastructure.

12.34 Prashar asks if he was aware the MoD excluded DFID from planning because of concerns over security clearance. Hoon says no. Says he invited DFID to meetings Jan 03.

12.32 Prashar asks about Boyce’s criticism of Short as unco-operative. What did Hoon do? He says he wroted to ask

12.30 Discussion of Clare Short. Hoon says she was focused.

12.28 Hoon says he became concerned that UK troops, including reservists were doing too much reconstruction, which was not their job. Incredibly frustrated at failure of other departments to provide the people they were supposed to provide.

12.25 Prashar asks where the lead was within UK government on post-war. Hoon avoids question.

12.22 Prashar asks about what advice he got about what the UK forces might find in the south. No real answer

12.19 Prashar asks about Major General Tim Cross. What instructions did Hoon give him? Hoon waffles. His job was to be part of ORHA. He was our representative in ORHA. Prashar asks if Cross’s information was getting to Hoon? Yes. What steps did you take? Did you inform the prime minister. Hoon says they also had implications for DFID and FCO. Chilcot says it is clear that Cross was dismayed.

12.14 Discussion of Phase 4 and Planning. Hoon says they were concerned to avoid a humanitarian disaster. Prashar asks about Hoon going to US with list of concerns about post-war. Hoon says it was responded to positively post-war. Hoon talks about need for further UN resolution to legitimise presence of UK and other countries.

12.10 Long discussion of targeting decisions.

12.04 Discussion of Hoon’s briefing of Goldsmith pre-war. Hoon talks about legal basis being removal of regime IN ORDER TO DISARM IRAQ.

12.00 Chilcot asks about legal basis for No Fly Zones. Hoon says that the legal basis did not change, the facts did. Chilcot says the military had to pay more careful attention to targeting decisions. Hoon goes back to Iraqis being more sophisticated in use of radar outside NFZs. Potential for civilian casualties. Suspects that there were but we had to make a judgement in relation to the risks to service personnel.

11.56 Chilcot asks about those who had not seen the advice. The discussion in Cabinet was based on something much shorter than the long advice. Would cabinet colleagues have wanted to have seen the longer answer? Hoon says it would not have been appropriate to have a discussion that would question the judgement of the attorney general. Chilcot points out that Short wanted a full discussion but it didn’t take place. Hoon says it wasn’t sensible. Chilcot asks about policy/political risk that is implicit in (longer) legal advice. Hoon says he saw that it was necessary to conclusion for there to be strong factual grounds.

11.53 Chilcot asks about balance between finely balanced advice and need for one liner. Hoon says we all needed the latter. Chilcot refers to Boyce meeting on 11 March 203. Got assurance on 14 March. Did you and he (Boyce) have any discussion of sufficiency of advice or was it seen as good enough? Mike had rightly been pressing for this clear explanation. If there was a no from the AG we would not have gone to war. Says the client wants an answer. Fact that it was finely argued doesn’t come as a great surprise.

11.50 Moving on to 7 March Attorney General advice. Finely balanced view of argument. Touches on risk of prosecution of service personnel (Hoon – and of politicians). Did that make you more concerned about committing troops. Hoon says he read advice and was clear that his conclusion was that there was a legal justification. Quotes from advice. Claims that it supported war.

11.47 Chilcot: moving on to legal dimension. March 2002 interview with Jonathan Dimbleby. This relates to the published documents. Attorney General writes to Hoon to express concern and his own personal difficulties. Did you get legal advice. Hoon is claiming not to remember. Hasn’t read the transcript since writing the letter. I was trying quite hard not to answer any questions. Not sure I went any further than saying UK could respond to an attack by Iraq. Plays down significance.

11.46 Discussion of logistical difficulties of going in through South. Hoon says it didn’t delay things too much.

11.39 Freedman asks at what point Hoon became aware that there might be difficulties going in through Turkey. Around end 2002. Colin Powell had been to Turkey. They were particularly unhappy with UK because of post first world war settlement. Long discussion about the point about when Turkey said no. Freedman says it is quite late in the day to be shifting from one flank to another. Hoon says there was a lot of concern about a lot of concern going through a narrow area.

11.36 Discussion of Blair’s view. Wanted to do the maximum practically possible. Hoon says decision was taken around 31 October.

11.33 They are back. Discussing the late decision (late October 02) to commit to “package 3”. Impact on expectations/demands on Britain post-war.

11.14 Break till 11.30

11.09 Lyne refers to Powell’s evidence that the armed forces needed to make a strong contribution in terms of their self-respect. Lyne asks if the UK military thought there was anything the UK thought it could do better than the US. Discussion about UK contribution was a political decision on the basis of military advice.

11.05 Discussion of concern in 2002 that UK needed to make decision if US plan was to attack in Jan 03. Downing St was engaged in diplomatic negotiations, did not want to do anything overt. Said to Downing St we need to make a decision. As week’s went by meeting a January timescale was impossible. I was saying to PM you have to decide (to offer 3rd option package) Decision taken end of October.

11.00 Discussion of Hoon’s relationship with Rumsfeld. Lyne asks if UK involvement gave influence. Hoon says we persuaded them about northern option. Confident that Piggot was influential in detailed planning…. Keen on requirement for improving aftermath planning. Lyne says it turned out to be disaster. Hoon says took paper to Pentagon Feb 03 setting out concerns. Lyne says ORHA was a shambles. Had they paid any attention?

10.55 Lyne refers to conference at Tampa September 2002. Was land option offered without your agreement? Hoon thinks this was only chat. The Inquiry thinks that the US assumed that UK would be involved.

10.52 Lyne asks if the US had assumed the UK would be there, would that have limited influence? If that had been the case. By October, the Americans had discounted our involvement. Lyne says that Sir John Reith always assumed that UK would be there. Hoon denies it was a done deal.

10.51 Lyne says that, according to Meyer, US thought we were offering the big military package. Were you aware that they thought this. I don’t think so. In a sense we were disappointed that we weren’t immediately invited to Tampa.

10.49 Chilcot asks if it is fair to say that the conditions were the British view of what the coalition would need? Hoon agrees but says we wanted those non-military processes to be successful.

10.47 Lyne quotes Campbell’s options on tenor of letters. Lyne says that is Alastair’s summation. Were you aware? Hoon says that is consistent. Wasn’t aware of that specific exchange. Was aware of our position. If ultimately that require the use of force, we were prepared to contemplate that.

10.43 What did PM tell you about his discussion of Iraq at Crawford? I don’t think he told me anything directly. I saw a record. We were concerned about Afghanistan. Lyne points out that this Inquiry is about Iraq. Lyne says that there are different records of Crawford. Declassified Diptel not exactly informative. To what extent were you aware of Blair’s discussions with Bush in 2002? Saw exchanges with Campbell. There were two sorts of letter? One was a round robin letter. It seems there were other, more private communications. PM was a great note writer… Would have expected notes and discussion.

Lyne asks if Blair was writing notes committing UK to military action, would he expect to have seen them?!!!
Hoon says yes but doesn’t think this happened. Never assumed that we were unconditionally resorting to military action, right up to vote in Commons. Had a discussion with Rumsfeld that day.

10.42 Lyne continues to challenge Hoon on his claim that containment, including NFZs was not working.

10.37 The Inquiry has published new documents, letters between Goldsmith and Hoon on legality in the Spring of 2002. It appears that the two had a row over Hoon’s public statement that Britain would be entitled to take military action against Iraq on grounds of self defence.

10.35 Lyne comes back on sanctions and containment. By 2001 had that contained Saddam? I think it had, it had stopped him acquiring fissile material, nukes. His ambitions had been constrained if not eliminated. Trying to extend range of missiles and get longer missiles. It was not completely successful. Not complete failure either. Lyne very sceptical that sanctions/containment were not working. Hoon says US no longer believed in containment.

10.34 Chilcot asks if he got a sense in summer 2002 that US was getting closer to contemplating regime change by military action? Was getting very real by then. We had no doubt that they meant business.

10.32 Chilcot asks how military planning happened summer 2002. Hoon “learned later” that the US had a plan on a shelf for Iraq. Rumsfeld not happy with it. Piggot went Tampa June 2002 and persuaded US of northern option (i.e. through Turkey.

10.31 Gilbert asks about 23 July Downing Street meeting. Does not recognise as key meeting. Part of iterative process. We were working out what Americans were planning and what we could do. Your contribution to it? No recollection of his specific contribution.

10.29 Discussion of 3 options. Unlikely that we would refuse access to bases. Early on we thought that option 3 (full division/land option) was “quite a big ask” given Afganistan. Gilbert asks if scale of contribution affected influence? Goes without saying that it would make a difference militarily. Gilbert asks if this applies if this also applies to policy. Agrees that that influence extends to the shaping of the non-military policy.

10.27 Gilbert asks what he suggested Blair should look for at Crawford? Hoon says what was Bush getting at in terms of axis of evil speech. Where would we be if called on to take action. US determined not to be taken by surprise again. Did you feel US would give us access to US military planning. Hoon says we suggested that Blair ask. Probably did. Didn’t get very quickly. Iraq planning kept separate from Afghanistan at CENTCOM. Freedman asks whether request for access to planning reflected an expectation that UK would be asked to contribute? Not sure about expectation. Wanted to influence. What we were trying to do was to disarm Saddam… through UN but with threat of force. Freedman asks if assuming that UK might wish to contribute. Hoon says a possibility but not an expectation… Agrees that pre-Crawford his focus was on being able to influence and participate. Says we were clear it was a conditional political process. If necessary, and if conditions were satisfied, might be military action. At what point were you planning for military involvement? Before Crawford. PM took Cabinet Office to Crawford, to which MOD and presumably FCO contributed. Was not at Chequers for pre-Crawford. Knows that there was some quite detailed discussion of what might happen after Crawford.

10.19 Gilbert asks Hoon’s view pre-Crawford how UK should respond to US request for support with regime change? Our first response in MoD was to ask what Bush meant in axis of evil speech. Wrote note to PM saying that Iraq was of concern but Iran was a longer term threat to UK. Talks of shock of 9/11 in US. Not answering the question…

10.18 Hoon says that politically containment was failing. We were being blamed.

10.17 Gilbert asks about no fly zones. Concern in US to keep the action low key. How did you see the issue in terms of containment policy? Hoon says we were seen as attacking Iraqis. Iraqis becoming more sophisticated in their positioning of radar and missile launchers. Made it more difficult. Are they going to ask about the softening up in 2002?

10.12 Discussion of attempt to influence opinion on arab street. Needed progress on Israel.

10.11 Gilbert says we understand that in 2001 Pentagon wanted any new Iraq policy to have the threat of military action. Hoon denies knowledge of any detailed conversations about Iraq prior to 9/11.

10.08 Discussion of different structure in US/UK. Gilbert asks a question about how concerned Hoon was about humanitarian effects of sanctions. Is Hoon writing his questions? Hoon says sanctions were failing. We were getting the blame for things that were Saddam’s responsibility. Was there anything the MoD could do? We could try?

10.07 Discussion of relationship with Rumsfeld. Initial discomfort, got better…

10.03 Discussion of role of defence secretary vs CDS. Hoon brings up his three-legged-stool simile.

10.02 We’re off. The objectives of the session are to cover summer 2001 to May 2005. Sir John says that a number of incidents, like the use of snatch Land Rovers are subject to judicial proceedings so we won’t cover them in detail in this session.16.42
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Archived Comments


By Iain Paton

Submitted on 2010/01/19 at 6:32pm

Hoon is talking rubbish about equipment. The UOR I initiated – a minor one in cost terms to do with systems integration – was delivered *after* the war-fighting phase and was needed *before* operations commenced. There was a frantic rush to get platforms fitted over Christmas and January. Hasn’t Hoon bothered to read the NAO report? More problems than the right colour of uniforms!

Question: it has been said it was decided to go for Option 3…once the op had slipped to Mar 03 from Jan 03. Was the planning/equipment/logistics assumptions for Option 2 and did they have to be changed with inadequate time?

Interesting that Snatch are subject to judicial proceedings…I believe that this is not Hoon’s only legal worry relating to deaths in service.

As suspected, Hoon obliquely blamed Brown and shrugged off responsibility for every issue, passing blame downwards to Service Chiefs (whose hands are tied other than resigning in which case someone else would do it anyway) and upwards to Blair and Brown.

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Submitted on 2010/01/19 at 10:43pm

[…] Today’s Hearing » Iraq Inquiry Digest http://www.iraqinquirydigest.org/?p=6078 – view page – cached * How credible is Turnbull’s explanation for the changed legal advice? * Today’s Hearing * Campbell or Scarlett – FIGHT! * Powell’s spin * So it was an assumption after all… […]

By Lee Roberts

Submitted on 2010/01/20 at 12:44am

Morally equivalent to “the axe murderer failed to select the axe most appropriate to the job”

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