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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK
Macedonia: Questions grow over UK's role
British troops in Macedonia
Doubts continue over Britain's role
The death of British soldier Ian Collins has focused questions on why British troops are playing such a large part in the Nato peacekeeping mission in Macedonia.

British troops will make up almost two thirds of the final 3,000-strong force, consisting of soldiers drawn from the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment and the 16th Air Assault Brigade.

Sapper Ian Collins, 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers
Sapper Collins was based at Aldershot

British Brigadier Barney White-Spunner is in charge of operations on the ground during the 30-day mission to collect deposited rebel weapons from a series of locations.

Before the troops were deployed, most observers agreed that while doubts remained over the chances for success, the risks of not sending the force were greater than the dangers involved.

But the shaky ceasefire, the short timetable for weapons collection, an increasingly embittered population - and now Sapper Collins' death - have called this conclusion into question.

Hasty mission?

In the past, Prime Minister Tony Blair has shown his willingness to commit British forces to Kosovo, Iraq, Sierra Leone and East Timor.


I am not against British troops being deployed abroad, but until I know what they are being deployed for, I will remain deeply concerned

Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative Party

But this time, Mr Blair's critics say he has hastily led the country into an ill-defined mission where other nations have adopted a more cautious approach.

Opposition MPs from the Conservative party, led by leadership contender Iain Duncan-Smith, have accused Mr Blair of committing overstretched forces to a mission with an unclear timetable and objectives.

"I am not against British troops being deployed abroad. But until I know what they are being deployed for, I will remain deeply concerned about what the government has drifted into," he said.

The British Government has defended the UK's leading role, arguing that Britain is most readily equipped to do so, and has reminded critics of the strong moral case for intervention.

Action not words

The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said: "If we had not been playing this part, I have no doubt that the possibility of bloody conflict, first in Macedonia and then spilling out across the rest of that region, would be very much higher."

NLA rebels
British soldiers make up the bulk of the force

Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commitee Chairman Donald Anderson said: "Most of our partners are great for declarations but less great in terms of making the relevant expenditure and having the troops readily deployable."

Germany has a larger army than Britain, but has recently made swingeing military spending cuts, and its parliament must endorse any commitment of troops abroad.

France's armed forces remain largely outside Nato's infrastructure.

However military readiness aside, some analysts believe Mr Blair's enthusiasm to commit troops may be fuelled by a desire to fully establish his credentials as a world leader.

Others suggest that given Mr Blair's sometimes troubled relationship with Brussels, taking the lead in the Macedonia offers him a chance to boost Britain's influence on the European stage.

There are also suggestions that criticisms of the international community being too slow to react to previous crises in Kosovo and Bosnia has led to a determination to see swift action in Macedonia.

US role

Amid the debate over the UK's role, some observers have raised questions as to why the United States is not playing a greater part in Macedonia.

Washington has given strong backing to the peace deal, brokered by EU and Nato negotiators, and the US is providing some logistical and intelligence support

But BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus says that as the US is in the middle of a strategic review, it is unlikely to want to add to its strategic commitments.

America already has about 9,000 troops deployed across the Balkans, in Bosnia and Kosovo, and Washington has welcomed Britain's willingness to take the lead.


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See also:

27 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Government urged to clarify mission
17 Aug 01 | Europe
UK troops head for Macedonia
22 Aug 01 | Europe
Is Nato's mission impossible?
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