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 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 07:06 GMT
Gulf force prepares for deployment
Troops board helicopter carrier HMS Ocean
Some British troops have already left for the Gulf
Preparations for possible military action against Iraq have moved into a higher gear as 26,000 British troops prepare to leave for the Gulf.

Over the next few days equipment will start to be moved to ports in Britain and Germany, from where they will be shipped out to the region.

UK troops in the Gulf
Royal Navy Task Group has set sail
Personnel include Royal Marines from 3 Commando Brigade
Headquarters 1 (UK) Armoured Division
Support from the Desert Rats
16 Air Assault Brigade
102 Logistics Brigade
120 Challenger tanks
150 Warrior armoured personnel carriers
It is expected that troops and other personnel will be flown out and stationed in Kuwait by mid-February.

US troop numbers in the region are also swelling, with another 37,000 troops being sent to join the 150,000 Americans already stationed in and around the Gulf.

The latest UK deployment, which includes the Desert Rats, is the most significant step so far in the British military build-up and far exceeds all predictions by military observers.

It totals a quarter of Britain's Army - a far higher percentage than was sent to the Gulf in 1991.

BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan said the "huge deployment" of ground troops is larger than the entire force in the Falklands War.

No boots

But he said it would be several weeks, if not months, before the forces would be "combat ready".

The government has admitted that not all the troops have desert kit.

Contracts have hastily been drawn up for 20,000 desert boots, 90,000 light trousers and 90,000 jackets.

The defence procurement minister, Lord Bach, also admitted that not all tanks and artillery which failed to work in the desert last year had been sand-proofed.

Troops board HMS Ocean
This is a surprisingly large British deployment of troops

Jonathan Marcus
BBC defence correspondent
But he said mechanics would work on them on the ships on the way to the Gulf.

Announcing the troop deployment on Monday, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon also said that 150 armoured personnel carriers and 120 tanks were being sent to Kuwait.

Britain already has a naval task force with 8,000 sailors and commandos in the Gulf region.

Mr Hoon nonetheless insisted war was not inevitable.

"None of the steps we are taking represents a commitment of British forces to military action," he said.

But the defence secretary did say the new deployment would provide "a high-readiness, balanced and flexible force package, bringing together a wide range of capabilities" for possible action.

UN divisions

Earlier, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, told the United Nations Security Council it should not be scared into "impotence" when it came to dealing with Iraq.

But clear divisions have been surfacing within the Security Council over the prospect of war with Iraq, ahead of a key report on the situation in the country from chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix - to be delivered on 27 January.

The report has been seen as a possible trigger for military action against Iraq, which Washington insists possesses weapons of mass destruction.

Both France and China - permanent members of the Security Council - have called for the inspectors to be given more time.

  Ian Panell reports from Washington
"The US and the UK reserve the right to act alone"
  Bernard Jenkin, Shadow Defence Secretary
"Back the Prime Minister if we think he's doing the right thing"
  Major General Patrick Cordingley, Gulf War commander
"They are significant forces"

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See also:

21 Jan 03 | Middle East
21 Jan 03 | Politics
07 Jan 03 | UK
20 Jan 03 | Middle East
20 Jan 03 | Middle East
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