Britain's army chief wants more respect for troops

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LONDON, Sep 21 (Reuters) Britain's top military officer said today the conflicts Iraq and Afghanistan were winnable and the troops fighting there deserved more respect.

General Richard Dannatt, chief of the general staff, also dismissed criticism emanating from Washington over the past two months suggesting that British troops had lost in Iraq. He said nothing was further from the truth.

''We have not lost a single, significant tactical engagement,'' Dannatt said during a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

''The British army in southern Iraq has not been defeated...

Failure is not an option in our current campaigns or in the next ones - for the sake of our nation or our professional reputation.'' Describing the war in Iraq as ''clearly unpopular'' at home, and the conflict in Afghanistan as misunderstood, Dannatt lamented the fact the British public showed far less admiration for their armed forces than Americans do.

In the United States, he said, troops were frequently feted with homecoming parades, free tickets to sports games and discounts on goods in shops and restaurants. In Britain, such outpourings of support are rare.

''Soldiers are genuinely concerned when they come back from Iraq to hear the population that sent them being occasionally dismissive or indifferent about their achievements,'' he said.

''There is not an appreciation, or even understanding, among wide sections of the community of exactly what we ask our armed forces to do, and we're asking an awful lot of them.'' His comments follow concerns raised by Britain's former army chief and the Royal British Legion that the nation is showing scarce care towards its troops, failing to honour what is known as the Military Convenant -- support for troops at war.

Asked why he thought the war in Iraq was unpopular and whose fault it was, Dannatt sidestepped the question, saying he would prefer to leave issues of politics to the politicians.

Britain is in the process of drawing down some of its 5,500-strong force in Iraq, with the expectation that more troops will be deployed to Afghanistan in the coming months.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is due to address parliament on his plans for Iraq early next month, and about 500 troops are due to be withdrawn by November, leaving 5,000 stationed at a large base at Basra airport.

By the end of the year, Britain expects to have handed responsibility for Basra province, the last of four provinces it was originally responsible for, over to Iraqi authorities, despite the fact that tensions remain severe on the ground.

''We have done what we set out to do,'' said Dannatt, adding that it would be ''completely wrong'' to suggest that the British were ''bombed out of Basra'' amid an intensifying battle between competing Shia Muslim factions in the city.

REUTERS GT RK2158

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