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EDITIONS
Saturday, 8 February, 2003, 16:34 GMT
British tanks readied for Gulf
AS90 self-propelled 155mm artillery being loaded in Emden, Germany
Vehicles are painted in sand colours during preparations
Hundreds of British tanks and armoured personnel carriers are being loaded on to ships in Germany, ready to set sail for the Gulf.

Around 2,900 military vehicles - including Challenger II tanks - are being despatched from Emden military base on the north coast of Germany.

Should it come to it we have a potent force ready to be used

MOD Spokesman
These will be deployed over the next 10 days, with 10,000 army personnel also being flown out to join the equipment.

It follows the earlier deployment of 2,900 artillery vehicles and further prepares the UK armed forces for a possible war with Iraq.

The equipment is officially being deployed for training exercises, but the Ministry of Defence admits it will be used if required for action against Iraq.

A spokesman told BBC News Online on Saturday: "Should it come to it we have a potent force ready to be used."

'Substantial force'

Among the main equipment being loaded are Challenger II tanks, AS90 self-propelled 155mm artillery and Warrior armoured personnel carriers.

Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Jim Bowden is spokesman for the 1st Armoured Division based in Herford, near Hanover, which is responsible for the preparation and shipping of the military machinery.

Army driver in AS90 self-propelled 155mm artillery, Emden, Germany
The vehicles we are transporting today will be 100% ready for battle.

Major Alun Powell

He said: "The government has made the decision to deploy a substantial force to the Gulf.

"Their role at the moment is to move the equipment to the theatre of operations and to marry them up with the troops who'll be flown out there.

"Of course we hope for a peaceful resolution but we need to be ready if there is a war."

Vehicles prepared

During the transportation process the military vehicles undergo "desertification" treatment to prepare them for action in the conditions they may face in the Gulf.

It includes painting them in sand colours and fitting the Challenger II tanks with special filters capable of handling the sand.

The Challengers came under criticism when they broke down during the recent Operation Swift Sword exercises.

But, according to Major Alun Powell of the 7th Armoured Brigade, known as the Desert Rats, the budget restrictions have been dropped to allow all vehicles to be ready for war.

He said: "This is a totally different scenario, we do not have the budget limitations and the vehicles we are transporting today will be 100% ready for battle."

British troops stand guard behind a CND slogan displayed on a banner
Anti-war protesters staged a campaign at the base

The massive loading operations at Emden involve transporting the 6,000 military vehicles from across Germany using the roads and the rail network.

Saturday's deployment provoked an anti-war demonstration by a small number of German protesters waving banners with slogans against the possible conflict in Iraq.

Student Sandra Anna-Lena Kurre, 26, from Emden said: "Now I have seen all these tanks I am more scared than before, it's not that I am just scared I am sad and angry also."

Earlier this week, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon announced that 75 more RAF aircraft will be flying to the Gulf region as part of its preparations for a possible war with Iraq.

Some 27 helicopters and another 7,100 personnel would be going to the Gulf, bringing the UK's overall contribution to about 42,000.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Ray Furlong
"6000 military vehicles have been transported by road"

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