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Dannatt: Britain lost focus on Iraq

LONDON, March 30 (UPI) -- British soldiers in Iraq paid a price in dramatically increased attacks when attention was switched to Afghanistan in 2005, a top military official says.

Gen. Richard Dannatt, the British chief of the General Staff, told Monday's Times of London that a 2005 move by military chiefs, under orders from then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, to turn their attention to increasing violence in Afghanistan left British troops in Basra more vulnerable to a subsequent Iran-backed Shiite militia push there.

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Twenty-three British troops died in Iraq in 2005, eight of them after their lightly-armored Snatch Land Rovers were destroyed by a new type of roadside bomb manufactured in Iran and smuggled into southern Iraq, The Times said.

In an interview with the newspaper, Dannatt said Whitehall became distracted after Blair committed Britain to "a bigger effort" in Afghanistan, revealing the military wanted two years to prepare for a refocusing away from Iraq.

The Times said sources close to Blair maintain he made the 2005 decision because of a quickly deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan -- not because he wanted the main focus to switch from Iraq.

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