Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Britain held secret war talks with U.S. general 11 months before Iraq invasion

By Jason Lewis
America's most senior general flew into Britain for top secret talks on the invasion of Iraq 11 months before the attack on Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Details of the classified meeting, held at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, suggest Tony Blair’s Government was involved in detailed discussions about toppling the Iraqi dictator earlier than previously disclosed.
American General Tommy Franks flew in to the base in April 2002 to attend a summit meeting called by the then Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.
Geoff Hoon
General Tommy Franks
Meeting: Former Defence Secretary had talks with General Tommy Franks in 2002
It followed similar meetings Gen Franks had in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Secret Pentagon documents reveal Mr Hoon asked about ‘US plans for Iraq’.
Exactly what was said has been censored, but declassified sections of the documents show Gen Franks had a separate meeting with Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, then Britain’s chief of defence staff, and senior officers.
At that meeting, ‘regional issues’ including Iraq were discussed, and Gen Franks was told the Ministry of Defence had ‘put together a small cell’ for ‘thinking strategically about Iraq’ and ‘what courses of action are available to handle the regime’.
Mr Hoon did not mention the meeting when he gave evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry on Iraq earlier this year. And Admiral Boyce, now Lord Boyce, told the Chilcot panel he had set up an Iraq planning group, but only in May 2002.
Location: Talks took place at RAF Brize Norton where dead troops are repatriated to
Site: Talks took place at RAF Brize Norton, where Iraq dead were later flown to
Last night Mr Hoon said: ‘I do recall meeting [Gen Franks] at Brize Norton but I am pretty confident that the primary purpose was to discuss Afghanistan.
'Whether in the course of that meeting there were discussions about Iraq wouldn’t entirely surprise me, but I am confident that there wasn’t anything more specific other than questions like, “What’s going on?”  ’
He added that he did not ‘hide or disguise meetings’ from Chilcot, saying he volunteered as much information as he could recall.
Researcher Chris Ames, who helped secure the documents’ release under Freedom of Information laws, said: ‘The memo contradicts the evidence of other Chilcot witnesses, who said British collaboration with US war plans did not begin until the early summer of 2002.’