Britain to Send Troops to Aid in Battle at FallujaBy PATRICK E. TYLER
Published: October 22, 2004
LONDON, Oct. 21 - Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon announced Thursday that 850 British troops in southern Iraq would advance toward Baghdad to replace American fighting units that are expected to mount an assault on Iraqi insurgents west of the capital, near Falluja.
"The government has decided that we should accept the U.S. request for assistance," Mr. Hoon told Parliament. He said that the deployment would take "a matter of weeks, not months," and that it would be "limited in scope, time and space."
Gen. Sir Michael Walker, chief of the defense staff, speaking at a news conference later, said there would be a 30-day limit on the deployment.
Mr. Hoon's announcement ended weeks of speculation about the role of British forces in American-led efforts to suppress an insurgency that is threatening to delay and disrupt Iraq's first national elections, planned for January.
"After careful evaluation, the chiefs of staff have advised me that U.K. forces are able to undertake the proposed operation, that there is a compelling military operational justification for doing so, and that it entails a militarily acceptable level of risk for U.K. forces," Mr. Hoon told the House of Commons.
Opposition members of Parliament have asked why the United States, with 130,000 troops in the Iraq theater, needs 850 British troops for the Falluja mission. Mr. Hoon said the number of armored combat troops in Iraq was a small fraction of the total deployment. He added that British troops would be drawn from the Scotland Black Watch Regiment, which is among the most experienced and best equipped.
British officials have also emphasized a determination among their commanders to play a strong supporting role in any new American operation to end the insurgency.
Several lawmakers questioned the timing of the operation, saying it would put British and American troops in a major combat operation just as Americans were voting in their own election. Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday that any redeployment would have nothing to do with the American elections.