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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 October, 2004, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Plan to shift troops 'appalling'
Kevin Morgan, from Dunfermline, on an early morning patrol in Basra with the Black Watch
The Black Watch are currently on patrol in Basra
Pressure is mounting to clarify the role of Scottish troops in Iraq after it emerged the Black Watch may be redeployed to assist US forces.

The plans have been condemned as "appalling" by former SNP leader and North Tayside MSP John Swinney.

It is understood that UK troops have been asked to fill in behind US soldiers.

The most likely candidates are thought to be the Black Watch, who are acting as the reserve battalion in Iraq.

It would mean placing the units involved under direct US command.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed that discussions were taking place with the US but insisted that no decisions had yet been made.

While we are asking troops to be out in Iraq in a very dangerous situation, the Ministry of Defence is stabbing them in the back, back here at home
John Swinney

Speaking on BBC Radio's Newsweek Scotland programme, Mr Swinney said: "Frankly the last people to know anything about what's going on are the soldiers and their families and the first people to know are the spin doctors and the media.

"And it is an appalling way to deal with soldiers who are in a very difficult situation and who are likely, as a result of what the Ministry of Defence are leaking, to be put into an ever more dangerous situation."

Mr Swinney said the situation was made worse by the fact that army colonels are planning to merge Scotland's six infantry regiments to create a single "super-regiment".

He said: "It's the wrong way to deal with people and effectively, while we are asking troops to be out in Iraq in a very dangerous situation, the Ministry of Defence is stabbing them in the back, back here at home.

Election 'gesture'

"I think the Ministry of Defence has got to have a very good look at its plans and its strategy for this issue. It's got to make an urgent statement to the House of Commons on Monday."

Shadow defence secretary Nicholas Soames also called for a Commons statement.

Mr Soames said that he had no objections to British forces serving under US command but he said that they should not be sent simply as a gesture to Washington ahead of the American presidential elections.

"We need to watch the timing of all this and be careful that this isn't just being used as a kind of political gesture to reassure to the Americans of Prime Blair's support for the American efforts," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Although the MoD has ruled out sending British troops to join the attack on Fallujah, Mr Soames said that it was essential that British commanders had a major say in the planning of the operation.

He said: "At the end of the day our soldiers - a large number of them in Basra - will be amongst those who will pick up the bill if it goes wrong."


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