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Monday, 29 October, 2001, 13:44 GMT
Ground troops 'won't be rushed'
British Royal Marines in Oman
Royal Marines may not see action until the New Year
The war in Afghanistan remains on track but there will be no rush into using ground troops, Downing Street has insisted.

Speaking as senior ministers sought to shore up public support for the military action in Afghanistan, a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said "just because we haven't achieved everything, that doesn't mean we've achieved nothing".

I think everyone understands that military conflict is not easy, it is not painless

Downing Street spokesman
The comments came after Royal Marines commander Brigadier Roger Lane warned his troops should not be rushed into action, adding that they had yet to be given a clear remit for any operations.

Meanwhile Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said he accepted that civilian casualties were an inevitable part of military action - but insisted that should not divert the US and its Allies from their objectives.

He said that if cameras had been there to film the 700 Allied casualties sustained in the rehearsals for D-day then "many of us would not... be alive today".

As Mr Hoon briefed journalists in central London, Mr Blair's spokesman defended the continued bombing of Afghanistan as preparation for ground operations.

But he indicated that nothing might happen for a while saying "we're not going to rush into deploying those forces because the media wants a new story".

And he said that there was a need for troops to have some time to complete their preparations for engagement in Afghanistan.

'Tough grind' ahead

Mr Hoon also moved to reject suggestions that there was a groundswell of opposition in the UK to continued military strikes.

Mr Blair's spokesman insisted that the campaign was "working" but he accepted that it would be a "tough, hard grind".

"I think everyone understands that military conflict is not easy, it is not painless," he said.

"People are entitled to criticise but we have very clear objectives and we are achieving against those."

Earlier Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, on his way to Luxembourg for a meeting with his European Union counterparts, said he believed worldwide public opinion was holding steady behind the US-led air strikes.

Jack Straw
Mr Straw insisted public support is holding
But he conceded that he feared the effect of the news media's "short term horizons", and said the government had to keep "on the front foot" in the propaganda war.

Mr Straw stressed that people should remember the motives behind the military campaign.

"It's not only because thousands of people lost their lives on 11 September in the worst terrorist atrocity any of us can recall," he told reporters.

"It's also because unless we take action against this terrorism, these terrorists will come back and strike again."

Ramadan halt

Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that although a halt to the offensive during Ramadan was being considered he did not want to "raise people's hopes on that".

The foreign secretary went on: "I don't fear there is a tide turning away from support so far as the British public are concerned, the American public or indeed the publics across Europe and most of the Muslim world."

The tone of Monday's ministerial comments comes ahead of a keynote speech by Mr Blair in which he is expected to say it is important that Britain "stays the course" in backing the US-led action.

"Whatever our faults, Britain is a moral nation with a strong sense of right and wrong," Mr Blair will tell the Welsh Assembly on Tuesday.

"And that moral fibre will defeat fanaticism, terrorists and their supporters."

The BBC's Brian Barron
"Ultimately everything hinges on reliable intelligence"
The BBC's Paul Adams
"The next stage will take a long time"

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