Daily Telegraph

British troops ordered to Gulf

By Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent
(Filed: 04/01/2003)

The Government will order more than 20,000 troops to the Gulf and the
mobilisation of around 7,000 reservists next week in preparation for a
war in Iraq.

Defence chiefs were given plans yesterday for the deployment, which
includes a Royal Navy force led by the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and a
reduced-strength 1 (UK) Armoured Division.

They will brief Tony Blair when he and his family return from holiday in
Egypt. The Prime Minister is then expected to announce the deployment in
the Commons next week.

That will set in motion preparations for war which will reach a climax
by the middle of this month as Britain and America build up the pressure
on Saddam Hussein to try to force him to give up his chemical and
biological weapons.

It follows a spate of announcements of American preparations, which are
part of a deliberately phased build-up, named Force on Mind by British
planners, and intended to avert war if possible.

But with Saddam apparently determined not to back down, there is
acceptance on both sides of the Atlantic that war is beginning to look

President George W Bush told troops at Fort Hood, in Texas, that "if
force becomes necessary to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction .
. . America will act deliberately, America will act decisively and
America will prevail".

With United Nations inspectors due to report on Iraq on Jan 27 and
non-compliance likely to lead to a further Security Council resolution
authorising force, the second half of this month is seen as the key
period if war is to be averted.

The pressure will begin with the departure of the Royal Navy force in
about two weeks. At the same time, roll-on roll-off ferries will start
loading tanks and other armoured vehicles at Bremerhaven in Germany and

Units from 1 (UK) Armoured Division will be training in preparation for
their roles in any invasion, with much of the emphasis placed on
operating in areas contaminated by chemical or biological weapons.

British officers will also take part in Victory Scrimmage, an American
command post exercise under Gen William Wallace, the commander of
America's 5th Corps, which will lead any ground operation in Iraq.

The Ministry of Defence has spent the past month talking to employers to
ensure that reservists are ready for mobilisation. The Army alone needs
to call up 6,500 reservists, including more than 2,000 doctors and
nursing staff.

All will spend a short time at Chilwell, Notts, being inoculated and
having their kit checked. They will then be sent to training centres at
Donington, Shropshire, and Strensall, near York.

The naval force will include a commando battle group made up of 40
Commando, Royal Marine, plus a commando artillery battery and a commando
engineer squadron, which will embark on board the helicopter carrier

That, and attempts by the ministry to rent a semi-submersible ship that
would be needed to take landing craft to the Gulf, suggest the
involvement of British commandos in an amphibious assault on southern

The commandos would operate alongside American marines from the 1st
Marine Expeditionary Force, which was ordered to the Gulf this week.

The US air force and the RAF, which already has 1,100 men and women in
the region involved in patrolling the no-fly zones, are expected to
double the number of aircraft deployed in the Gulf.

They have stepped up their attacks on Iraqi air defences and
communications as part of no-fly zone patrols and the first phase of any
war will begin with a major intensification of allied air raids.