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UK forces members respond to the plans
"Where will they get them from? We are too undermanned"
 real 28k

UK Shadow Defence Secretary, Francis Maude
"Designed to give the EU yet another of the trappings of statehood"
 real 28k

UK Defence Secretary, Goeff Hoon
"The Americans have welcomed this"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 21 November, 2000, 06:05 GMT
Talks to widen EU force
UN troops in Sierra Leone
UK forces in action with other nationals in Sierra Leone
European Union defence ministers are holding talks to try to spread the net of the new Rapid Reaction Force as widely as possible across the continent.

They are meeting their counterparts from non-EU countries such as Poland on Tuesday to try to get them involved.

The EU's 15 member-states agreed on Monday to create a new force involving 100,000 troops, planes and ships.

UK commitment
12,500 troops
Eight warships
72 combat aircraft
The UK will provide one in five of the troops for the new force.

But several senior military men - and some politicians - have come out against the idea.

General Sir Peter de la Billiere, a former commander in the Gulf War, argues that the new force undermines Britain's role within Nato.

Others are worried whether Britain has the military capacity to meet its new commitment.

Soldiers based at army camps in Wiltshire told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme they were too undermanned to supply troops.

"Losing 12,500 men plus logistics can only put much more strain on," one soldier said. "I don't think it will really work out."

UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has pledged to contribute 12,500 ground troops to the 60,000 strong force.

Under the plans, the EU troops will be capable of being deployed at 60 days' notice by 2003.

Sir Charles Guthrie
Sir Charles Guthrie: Force will strenghten Nato
The force is intended for military operations ranging from small-scale rescue missions and conflict prevention to the full-scale separation of warring parties.

Along with 12,500 troops, Mr Hoon has also pledged eight warships and up to 72 combat aircraft to the force.

Germany and France are expected to provide roughly similar numbers with smaller EU countries contributing the remainder.

The plans drew criticism from the Conservative Party which argues the new force will undermine Nato and is another step towards the creation of a European superstate.

But the Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Charles Guthrie said the force would strengthen Nato rather than make it weaker.

He said he did not believe that the decision would mean a "huge new commitment" for British military personnel.

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See also:

20 Nov 00 | Europe
Euro army explained
14 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Minister denies Euro army move
20 Nov 00 | Talking Politics
Euro army widens political splits
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