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 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 10:00 GMT
UK 'fully prepared' as troops deployed
Troops board helicopter carrier HMS Ocean
A quarter of the Army is being sent to the Gulf
Ministers have insisted the UK military is fully prepared for action against Iraq, as 26,000 British troops prepare to leave for the Gulf.

The huge deployment of troops, mainly from 7 Armoured Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade, was announced on Monday and surprised commentators by its size.

The government has admitted that not all the troops have desert kit.

Contracts have hastily been drawn up for 20,000 desert boots, 90,000 light trousers and 90,000 jackets.

UK troops in the Gulf
Royal Navy Task Group has set sail
Personnel include Royal Marines from 3 Commando Brigade
Headquarters 1 (UK) Armoured Division
Support from the Desert Rats
16 Air Assault Brigade
102 Logistics Brigade
120 Challenger tanks
150 Warrior armoured personnel carriers

But armed forces minister Adam Ingram denied suggestions that troops were not fully prepared.

"We have announced what we are going to do and it does take time to plan these major operations," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"We don't keep stocks to meet every eventuality, that would be a quite ludicrous situation.

"Once we decide what logistically we need, then we go... ordering that which is required."

Mr Ingram said troops would have the equipment they needed if they were called upon to take action.

The deployment, which adds to a huge US force of almost 200,000 in the region, involves a quarter of Britain's Army - a far higher percentage than was sent to the Gulf in 1991.

Fire worries

BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan said there were more ground troops being deployed than in both the Gulf War and Falklands War.

He said it would be several weeks, if not months, before the forces would be "combat ready", making action most likely in April or May.

And he said there were "considerable signs" that the deployment was decided upon "late and in haste".

"There's really an extraordinary steep curve of preparation needing to be gone through. A lot of the necessary equipment isn't ready yet."

The Iraqi army isn't going to stand and fight... I do think it will be very quick

General Patrick Cordingley

The deployment comes as firefighters continue with a series of strikes, which are being covered by 19,000 troops.

Mr Ingram called for the main fire union FBU to "be more responsible by getting around the negotiating table".

He said the strike would "put a particular pressure on the armed forces", but added: "the reality is we can deliver".

Shadow defence minister Bernard Ingram said the action of the FBU was "shameful" at such an important time for the military.

He urged ministers to get an injunction against the strike.

He said the 16 Air Assault Brigade was having to interrupt front line training to go firefighting.

"I don't think many people have any idea what a huge fiasco this is causing in the armed forces," Mr Ingram said.

"This is throwing the armed forces into a crisis."

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  Ian Panell reports from Washington
"The US and the UK reserve the right to act alone"
  Bernard Jenkin, Shadow Defence Secretary
"Back the Prime Minister if we think he's doing the right thing"
  Major General Patrick Cordingley, Gulf War commander
"They are significant forces"

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21 Jan 03 | Middle East
21 Jan 03 | Politics
15 Jan 03 | UK
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