19 October, 2006

Did the Guardian misquote Brigadier Butler?

The Ministry of Defence has an item reporting that the commander of the British forces in Afghanistan, Brigadier Ed Butler, has written to a national newspaper to deny making remarks attributed to him by the paper. Butler writes,

Your front page story paints a misleading and mischievous picture of what I said at a media briefing on Tuesday. It omits some of my comments, and extrapolates meaning and intention from others which is completely false.

I did not say the operation in Iraq had cost "years of progress" in Afghanistan; I did not say it had left "a dangerous vacuum" and I did not say that British soldiers faced a tougher task now because of it.

I made clear that the operation in Iraq had concentrated UK resources and focus for a time; this is hardly rocket science, nor is it news. I also made clear, however, that the coalition had not slipped back in Afghanistan as a result, nor would it affect its ability to get the job done (emphases added).
The MoD does not identify the newspaper concerned but after an extensive research project, lasting at least five seconds, Crumbling Spires came across this in the Guardian, under the headline "Iraq war cost years of progress in Afghanistan - UK brigadier":
The invasion of Iraq prevented British forces from helping to secure Afghanistan much sooner and has left a dangerous vacuum in the country for four years, the commander who has led the attack against the Taliban made clear yesterday.

Brigadier Ed Butler, commander of 3 Para battlegroup just returned from southern Afghanistan, said the delay in deploying Nato troops after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2002 meant British soldiers faced a much tougher task now (emphases added).
The emphases match in both and neither phrase can be found in other reports. In addition, Brigadier Butler did not say British soldiers faced a tougher task because of the invasion of Iraq. According to the Independent, hardly a mouthpiece for either the government or the military, he actually said the decision to make Iraq a priority had delayed a successful completion of the Afghanistan mission, hardly the same as making it a tougher task.
"We could have carried on in 2002 in the same way we have gone about business now," said Brigadier Ed Butler. "Have the interim four years made a difference? I think realistically they have. It doesn't mean that we will not achieve what we set out to do."
I think the Guardian's anti-war brigade have been nailed on this one.

Methodological note: it was odds on to be either the Independent or the Guardian and I got lucky, saving 5 seconds.

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