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Saturday, 27 October, 2001, 08:20 GMT 09:20 UK
War on terror 'may last 50 years'
Admiral Sir Michael Boyce and Adam Ingram brief the media
Sir Michael (left) and Adam Ingram brief the media
The campaign against terrorism might last half a century, according to the Chief of the Defence Staff.

Admiral Sir Michael Boyce compared it to a new Cold War and said the conflict in Afghanistan was the most difficult Britain had faced since the Korean War in the 1950s.

He said the war against communism had taken 50 years of constant pressure during which time the West "did not blink".

Echoing Sir Michael's views, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, who is with British troops in Oman, said no-one was in any doubt about the difficulty of the operation in Afghanistan.


This is the most difficult operation we have undertaken

Admiral Sir Michael Boyce

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Saturday, he said: "This will take as long as it takes.

"We recognise the military difficulties of this operation, but that does not undermine in any way our determination to carry it through."

But Mr Hoon would not be drawn on his expectation of how long the war would continue.

He said: "I don't think it's possible to put a timetable on this.

"It could be that the Taleban's fanaticism takes them through to the New Year.

"But it could equally be that as a result of the sustained pressure that's being brought to bear on them that they collapse overnight."

Sir Michael said the initial campaign in Afghanistan could last three to four years.


We recognise the military difficulties of this operation, but that does not undermine in any way our determination to carry it through.

Geoff Hoon

He said there had been identifiable enemies during the 1982 Falklands war and the 1991 Gulf War - but said: "The al-Qaeda organisation is not tangible - you are fighting against this thing called terrorism".

"We are fighting a concept not a state and are having to re-write the rule book," he continued.

Sir Michael admitted it would be "extraordinarily difficult" to achieve the military objectives unless the Taleban regime "folded".

"This is the most difficult operation we have undertaken," he added.

War uncertainties


40 Commando does regular Arctic training

The assessment comes at the end of a week of setbacks for the alliance against terror.

On Friday US Navy fighters and B-52 bombers mistakenly bombed six warehouses used by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), destroying vital stocks of food.

The blunder came a day after the United Nations confirmed that nine people had been killed when a US cluster bomb landed near a village in western Afghanistan on Monday.

Standby commandos

On Friday, UK Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram committed 200 troops from 40 Commando to ground offensives in Afghanistan.

They are already in the region following a training exercise in Oman.

The troops on standby will form part of a "large and flexible" force, totalling 4,200 personnel, and supported by a substantial amount of hardware.

Aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, a submarine armed with cruise missiles, the destroyer HMS Southampton and the frigate HMS Cornwall will remain in the region.

HMS Illustrious
HMS Illustrious is part of the "powerful force"
The minister said seven Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and four support aircraft - Nimrod maritime patrol and Hercules transport planes - will stay behind too.

Another 400 troops from 40 Commando would be on standby in Britain when they return to their base in Taunton, Somerset from Oman next week.

Sir Michael said the marines could be used to mount "precise surgical raids" against targets such as Taleban control-and-command centres or ammunition dumps.

40 Commando is part of the Royal Marines' 3,500-strong 3 Commando Brigade, all of whom are trained for winter warfare and Arctic fighting.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Gilligan
reports on a warning that the campaign against terrorism could last 50 years
Geoff Hoon, UK Defence Secretary
"We recognise the military difficulties of this operation"

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See also:

26 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair outlines UK troop decision
26 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Bin Laden's 'nuclear threat'
26 Oct 01 | UK Politics
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25 Oct 01 | South Asia
Blair predicts Bin Laden killing
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