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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 15 January, 2003, 11:39 GMT
Will the UK 'miss the war'?
HMS Ocean
HMS Ocean is preparing to leave with British troops

With tens of thousands of American troops now on the move, observers are wondering why Britain is not in such a hurry.

Are we in danger, as some have suggested, of missing the war?

In a military time span that has slipped closer to the spring, the current British movements indicate that when - and if - the time comes, a significant array of air forces will be ready to join and American campaign.

The Royal Air Force already has assets in place. Tornado and Jaguar jets have patrolled the southern and northern no-fly zones over Iraq for the past decade.

Earlier this month 14 more strike aircraft were sent to Jordan for an exercise.

Estimates of Britain's total commitment to a campaign against Iraq vary enormously. It could ... total almost 40,000 personnel

They are expected to be sent home, but others could be sent to the Gulf rapidly if war looks likely.

The most significant troop movements so far involves the Royal Marines.

Real possibility

A force of some 3,000 is in the process of deploying to the Mediterranean as part of a naval task force of 16 ships.

The first marines left aboard HMS Ark Royal which departed last Saturday.

Some 300 more follow on Thursday on the assault ship HMS Ocean, while the remainder will fly out to join the task force later.

The despatch of the commandos with helicopters to carry them, suggests that an assault in southern Iraq early on in the campaign is a real possibility.

The Marines themselves say they would be delighted to be the first troops into Iraq, but point out that their high-profile deployment could just as easily be a feint designed to keep Iraqi commanders guessing.

London has still not said whether it plans to send more heavily armed ground troops to participate in a possible campaign.

But on Tuesday the defence secretary Geoff Hoon announced that "enabling equipment" was now going to be sent to the region.

Equipment dispatched

The written statement, issued without fanfare, gave the strongest signal so far that Tony Blair intends to send a substantial land force to the Gulf.

Troops
Array of troops will be ready to join US counterparts

The equipment in question, which will be loaded onto ships and despatched to the region within days, will include logistics, engineering, signals and command vehicles.

In other words, it will be everything needed to set up the infrastructure required if troops and tanks are to follow.

It is a hugely costly undertaking, but officials insist that no decision has yet been taken to send "heavy metal" to the Gulf.

But that decision is now imminent - an announcement is expected next week.

Lightly armoured

It is likely to include an enhanced armoured brigade, using troops from 1(UK) armoured division, based in Germany, take hundreds of Challenger 2 battle tanks, AS90 self propelled guns and multiple-launch rocket systems.

Further troops could be sent from a lightly armed, highly mobile 16 Air Assault Brigade.

Last week it was announced that members of the parachute regiment who served with the brigade, were being withdrawn from fire fighting duties.

Estimates of Britain's total commitment to a campaign against Iraq vary enormously.

It could, with all the elements above, total almost 40,000 personnel.


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15 Jan 03 | Politics
20 Jan 03 | Middle East
14 Jan 03 | Politics
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