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Contingency preparations: deployment of land forces

UK Ministry of Defence Release


The Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon MP, announced in the House of Commons on 20 January that, as part of further contingency preparations in relation to Iraq, a substantial land force of some 26,000 personnel were to be deployed.

The force will be formed under the headquarters of 1(UK) Armoured Division, and will comprise 7 Armoured Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade. Logistics support will be provided by 102 Logistics Brigade. Mr Hoon emphasised that no decision to commit these troops to military action had been taken, nor was such a decision inevitable.

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With permission Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on further contingency preparations in relation to Iraq.

It may be helpful to remind the House of the preparations announced previously. On 25 November and 18 December, I described the measures we were taking to ensure that our forces were prepared and had the training, equipment and support they might need, as well as the consideration that we were giving to the potential requirement for reservists and additional maritime deployments.

In a statement on 7 January, I announced the making of an Order enabling the call-out of reservists, and the deployment of maritime forces including 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines. I explained that it was likely that we would want to make further deployments in the coming weeks to be able to keep military options open, and that we were taking steps to ensure the readiness of units and equipment, and the availability of appropriate chartered shipping and air transport. In a written statement on 14 January, I described the details of continuing preparatory activity, involving the movement and deployment of enabling equipment, including tracked vehicles, exploratory visits and liaison with other military staffs in the region.

When I made a statement on 7 January, a number of honourable Members pressed me to say what other forces the Government intends to make available. In particular, I was invited to set out the nature of any land force that might be deployed. I explained at that time that I could not do so, for the simple reason that no decision had by then been taken.

Mr Speaker, I am now in a position to be able to tell the House that we have reached a view on the composition and deployment of a land force package to provide military capabilities for potential operations against Iraq. This force will include Headquarters 1 (UK) Armoured Division with support from 7th Armoured Brigade, 16 Air Assault Brigade and 102 Logistics Brigade. Its equipment will include 120 Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks, 150 Warrior Armoured Personnel Carriers, 32 AS 90 Self-Propelled Guns, 18 Light Guns, and a number of reconnaissance and other vehicles. The total number of personnel involved in this land force will be approximately 26,000. And in addition we are already deploying 3 Commando Brigade, with around 4,000 personnel including their supporting elements.

The House will not expect me to discuss the specific tasks that might be undertaken by our forces in the event of military operations. But this is a high-readiness, balanced and flexible force package, bringing together a wide range of capabilities. The Chiefs of Staff and I are confident that this is the right group of forces for the sort of tasks that may be necessary.

The House will recognise that a force package of this size cannot be deployed without notice. As the written statement on 14 January explained, to keep this option open, we have already started the movement and deployment of enabling assets, including logistics, engineering, signals and command vehicles and equipment. We will now begin to deploy the combat equipment and personnel of the formations comprising the land force package. This will involve significant movements from units in both the United Kingdom and Germany before their deployment by sea and air over the days and weeks ahead. Headquarters and support staffs will also deploy to liaise with other military staffs in the region and to take forward planning and preparatory activity.

In the coming weeks, we will also need to call out additional reservists in support of these land forces. The details of our overall reservist requirement are continuing to evolve, and I expect to be able to provide further information on this in due course.

None of the steps we are taking represents a commitment of British forces to military action. These are measures necessary to provide a range of options which we may require. A decision to employ force has not been taken, nor is such a decision imminent or inevitable. But I must also emphasise, as all Members of this House will recognise, that the deployment of forces on this scale is no ordinary measure.

Whilst we want Saddam Hussein to disarm voluntarily, it is evident that we will not achieve this unless we continue to present him with a clear and credible threat of force. That is why I have announced these deployments - in support of the diplomatic process to which we remain fully committed. It is not too late for Saddam Hussein to recognise the will of the international community and respect United Nations resolutions. Let us all hope that he does so.

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