Blair Outlines Plan for British Troop Move in Iraq
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2004 The British Scotland Black Watch Regiment is deploying farther north in Iraq "for a limited period of time for a limited operation," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said during a press conference today in London.
British Secretary of State for Defense Geoffrey Hoon confirmed Oct. 21 that about 850 troops and associated support staff would make the move at the request of Multinational Force Iraq. The move will free U.S. troops for other tasks.
For operational security reasons, U.S. defense officials declined to discuss where or when the troop movements will occur. They said coalition forces have been operating and will continue to operate throughout Iraq in support of Multinational Force Iraq operations and are not limited to specific areas.
Hoon said the British troops will deploy for "weeks rather than months," remaining under the command of a British general and acting under British rules of engagement.
The decision followed what Hoon called "detailed reconnaissance" to determine that British forces were able to carry out the mission and that there was "compelling" military justification to do so, according to a British press statement.
Hoon called the deployment a vital part of the process of creating the right conditions for the Iraqi elections to take place in January.
"We share with the Iraqi interim government and with our coalition partners a common goal of creating a secure and stable Iraq, where men, women and children in towns like Fallujah can feel safe from foreign terrorists, from the kidnappers who murdered (British contractor) Ken Bigley and from other criminals," Hoon said.
Blair confirmed during his press conference that the upcoming elections remain the key issue ahead -- something he said the insurgents are determined to disrupt.
"What they really want to do, these people, is to stop the elections (from) going ahead," the prime minister said. "Why? Because they know, if elections go ahead, that is the end to their propaganda."
Blair said it's "of immense importance" that the elections go ahead as planned. "That is why we have got to stand firm and see it through," he said. "And we have got to be very clear about it."
Great Britain has about 9,000 troops in Iraq, most around Basra. To date, 68 British soldiers have been killed in Iraq.