UK Marines get war on terror role
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Britain is deploying 200 Royal Marine commandos to support the U.S.-led military campaign against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram told Parliament on Friday that the elite commandos will be based on HMS Fearless.
The marines are part of 3 Commando Brigade, the Army's elite mountain and winter warfare specialists.
The fleet, including the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, the destroyer HMS Southampton, the frigate HMS Cornwall and "a submarine presence able to launch Tomahawk missiles," are already in the Gulf.
The troops, which he said will be available to enter Afghanistan immediately, are ending training exercises in Oman, called Operation Swift Sword Two, the largest deployment of British forces since the Gulf War.
A senior British defence official told CNN the troops would work in raiding parties in Afghanistan and not form part of any major invasion force.
Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, said the raiding parties will search out targets such as drug fields and factories, munition dumps, clusters of military personnel and communications systems.
Another 400 Marines will return to Britain from the training exercises, "but will be held at a high readiness," Ingram said. "This arrangement will permit us to rotate companies aboard ship and so guarantee the whole Commando remains fresh and fully prepared for operations."
He said Britain is also reassigning warships, submarines and planes as part of its effort to create a large, rebalanced and flexible force in the region. The force announced on Friday amounts to about 4,200 personnel.
Ingram said the name of the deployment was Operation Veritas -- the Latin word for "truth."
He said the force "was a demonstration of our resolve to see the campaign against international terrorism through to the end."
He told Members of Parliament: "We have said we are in this for the long haul, and we mean it.
"The force has been designed to ensure that we are well placed to deal with a wide range of contingencies and to maintain operational flexibility for as long as necessary.
"It also allows us to accommodate the inevitable changes in the tempo of military operations."
"The House (of Commons) will recognise that the deployment of our Armed Forces is a grave step," he said.
Prime Minister Tony Blair later echoed that sentiment, saying that the commitment of forces was a "huge responsibility."
"Of course it is a huge responsibility that we only take in circumstances where we believe there is no other alternative," he said.
"It is a huge responsibility to commit our armed forces but in my view it is justified in circumstances where our people are at risk."
But he said the move was essential for the defence of national security and of civilised values around the world.
Ingram also announced that seven Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and four support aircraft, consisting of Nimrod maritime patrol and Hercules transport planes will be part of the force.
He added: "In addition, some 200 men of 40 Commando Royal Marines, based in Taunton (Somerset), will be aboard HMS Fearless as a lead element of an immediately available force to help support operations.
"The remainder of 40 Commando, in the region of 400 men, will return to the UK and will be held at high readiness to return to the theatre should our operational needs make that necessary."
Ingram said the entire force of 4,200 personnel represents "a major enhancement of the coalition's capabilities."
Britain already has participated in the U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan that began more than three weeks ago.
This has included a British submarine firing cruise missiles, refuelling planes and aiding surveillance missions.
Sources also have told CNN that there had been a periodic presence of U.S. Special Forces and British Special Air Service (SAS) forces on the ground in Afghanistan.
Speaking on British Forces radio on Friday, Blair said that if the prime suspect behind the September 11 attacks on the U.S., Osama bin Laden, and his al Qaeda network was not stopped, there was a danger they could acquire nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction.
"It is only in circumstances where I believe it is absolutely essential that we commit British forces," he said.
"I do believe that this is a fight worth undertaking because of what is at stake in the world."
He added: "It is only after we have looked at every possible alternative of meeting our objectives that we make a deployment such as this.
"It is necessary to do it. This a battle that we have to undertake for the defence of civilised values everywhere and for the free world."
NATO -- which for the first time ever has invoked Article 5 of its charter, which recognises that an attack against one member should be considered an attack against all -- has already deployed a naval force to the eastern Mediterranean.
The naval force is part of NATO's immediate response forces and includes ships from Britain, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey and the U.S..
The enormity of any ground operation has been underlined by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
He has said tracking down Osama bin Laden in the mountainous Afghan terrain would be like trying to find a "needle in a haystack."
British ground troops on standby
October 26, 2001
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