European nations redeploy troops in face of Iran strikes

Iranian attacks on bases in the west and north of Iraq met by European calls for de-escalation

FILE - In this Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019 file photo taken from a helicopter shows Ain al-Asad air base in the western Anbar desert, Iraq. Iran struck back at the United States for the killing of a top Iranian general early Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, firing a series of ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases, including Ain al-Asad air base, housing U.S. troops in a major escalation that brought the two longtime foes closer to war. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)
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European nations, caught off-guard by the sudden escalation of tensions in Iraq between Tehran and Washington, have announced a series of moves to scale back Iraq commitments following Iranian strikes on coalition bases.

Following the attacks by Iran on Ain Al Asad air base in western Iraq and an airbase near Erbil in the north of the country, Germany said it was preparing to withdraw more troops from northern Iraq having already redeployed its personnel in the south to Jordan and Kuwait.

Also on Wednesday morning Spain announced it would be moving some of its troops to Kuwait while a reduced number of personnel remain in Iraq. Slovenia and Croatia’s own small force numbers have withdrawn from Iraq.

Twenty-five non-essential British personnel were reassigned from Baghdad ahead of the Tehran-ordered ballistic missile attacks. A spokesman for Britain's Ministry of Defence told The National there had been no further changes following the strikes by Iran. A spokesman confirmed all British personnel were "safe and sound".

Britain has placed its warships, helicopters and hundreds of its armed forces on standby for deployment in 48 hours or less should the crisis escalate, The Guardian reported.

The back-up forces, including Chinook helicopters, could be used to quickly evacuate some of the 400 British troops currently deployed in Iraq should the situation deteriorate further.

France has said it has no plans to withdraw its 160 soldiers deployed in Iraq. A French army spokesman previously said there had been no French military casualties in Iraq from the Iranian strikes.

On the diplomatic stage, European nations, particularly Germany, France and Britain, have sought to de-escalate tensions between Tehran and Washington and offer opportunities for mediation.

Speaking in British parliament, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government was doing everything it could “to protect UK interests in the region, with HMS Defender and HMS Montrose operating in an enhanced state of readiness to protect shipping in the Gulf".

He also called on Iran not to not “repeat these reckless and dangerous attacks” but “instead pursue urgent de-escalation".

In France, the country’s Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian made similar statements, once again condemning the attacks and saying Paris was working towards easing tensions in the region.

The US allies were not given prior warning of the US strike against Iranian military General Qassem Suleimani last week, despite the implications for their own forces in the region.

Nato has said the situation in Iraq, where the treaty organisation’s mission consists of several hundred staff from allied nations and non-NATO countries, remains under “under close review".

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