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Friday, 26 October, 2001, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
Ramadan action not ruled out
Marines training in Norway
Marines may need to be prepared for cold weather
The UK government has not ruled out continuing military action in Afghanistan during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, despite a Labour MP's warning that it would be "folly" to do so.

Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram said military operations would continue as he told the House of Commons the UK was in the campaign against terrorism "for the long haul".

It would be absolute folly in terms of the Islamic and Arab world if were to conduct military operations during Ramadan

Tam Dalyell
His comments came during a statement to MPs confirming that 200 Royal Marine commandos will stay in the Gulf, where their current exercise ends on Monday, and be on "immediate" stand-by for action in Afghanistan.

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voiced their support for the move, which Mr Ingram said was a "major enhancement" in the capacity of coalition forces.

Ramadan worries

But senior Labour MP Tam Dalyell wanted a "clear and categorical assurance" there would be no military action during Ramadan, which begins on 17 November.

Mr Dalyell, one of the chief British critics of the coalition's bombing campaign, said: "It would be absolute folly in terms of the Islamic and Arab world if we were to conduct military operations during Ramadan."

The minister replied: "No, I will not state what he's asking. The military campaign will continue."

Adam Ingram, Armed Forces Minister
Ingram says the scope for future action is now wider
Mr Ingram told MPs: "We have said we are in this for the long haul and we mean it.

"The force has been designed to ensure we are will placed to deal with a range of contingencies."

And, explaining that he could not go into the detail of military plans, he urged the media not to speculate about future operations.

Mr Ingram gave a stern response to left-wing Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, who asked what the precise campaign aims were and stressed the humanitarian crisis was equally important.

He was surprised Mr Corbyn still did not understand the operation aims, adding: "He does not have a monopoly on compassion."

Speaking of the changing "tempo" of operations, the minister said no decision had been made to go ahead with a large scale deployment of troops to Afghanistan.

'No faltering'

Shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin stressed Tory support for the government's decision, which kept a range of options open.

"To falter would be a fatal signal of encouragement to the terrorists and those who sustain them, not just in Afghanistan but around the world," he said.

Nicholas Soames, Conservative MP
Soames says the tempo ought to change
Pointing to suggestions that troops could be used to create safe areas in Afghanistan, he underlined the need to reassure aid agency fears about the militarisation of humanitarian work.

Mr Jenkin also urged for leave opportunities to be arranged for the troops on standby, as well as for them to have ways of keeping in touch with their families back home - both things Mr Ingram said would happen.

Cluster bombs

Lib Dem defence spokesman Paul Keetch welcomed the government announcement but asked for reassurance over troop equipment.

He also voiced fears about the use of cluster bombs in Afghanistan.

"These bombs can cause not only a danger to civilians but also to our own forces in areas where they may have been used," Mr Keetch warned

Mr Ingram said he understood the sensitivity over cluster bombs but their use was sometimes necessary, especially against concentrations of armoured vehicles.

The pace of action was a worry for former Tory defence minister Nicholas Soames who, while welcoming the statement, was disappointed there was not a "significant stepping up" in the tempo of the campaign.

Mr Ingram said he would not trade military planning details but stressed that tempo could rise and fall and that the task ahead was different "from anything we have faced before".

The BBC's Guto Harri
"The troops will be based on Royal Navy warships"

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