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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 13:03 GMT
UK says Gulf deployment on track
Geoff Hoon meets troops
Mr Hoon says Britain is ready for war
The UK's armed forces are not being prevented from reaching the Gulf in preparation for possible war, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has insisted.

His assurance come after the Ministry of Defence admitted around half of its jets heading for the region are still stuck at bases in Cyprus and Britain because some Muslim countries have refused to allow them to fly over.

But Mr Hoon, speaking at a news conference in Qatar, said the deployment of RAF jets was well underway and claimed a "wide coalition" of countries was supporting the move.

Where are the planes?
Kuwait: 32
UK: 20
Cyprus: 12
Turkey: 10
Total: 74

On a three-day visit to the Gulf region, Mr Hoon claimed Britain was ready for war.

He said he had held "useful discussions with a range of senior contacts" from the governments of Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain.

Mr Hoon added: "We are not being prevented from getting our aircraft here or any other equipment.

"There has been a tremendous effort over a short time."

American rations

The RAF deployment announced three weeks ago was supposed to be its largest for years, made up of 100 aircraft including 75 fast jet fighters or bombers.

Mr Hoon has also met some of the British troops who have been deployed to the Gulf to prepare for war.

He denied they were depending on American rations.

"I was able to talk to them, to see at first hand how they are living, and indeed to establish, contrary to some reports, that they are extremely well-fed," Mr Hoon said.

The UK is in the process of deploying about 45,000 servicemen and women into the Gulf.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, described reports of poorly supplied troops as "misleading and irresponsible".

He added: "The British army is one of the best equipped anywhere in the world."

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