October 21, 2004 850 British troops to replace US forces in 'death triangle'BY PHILIPPE NAUGHTON, TIMES ONLIN
Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, told MPs today that 850 British troops will redeploy from Basra to an area south of Baghdad.Mr Hoon finally confirmed the decision to accede to a US request for an armoured battle group after receiving advice from army chiefs that there was a "compelling military operational justification" for it.
Soldiers from the Black Watch battalion will replace a US Marine unit earmarked for "other purposes" - widely understood to mean a US offensive on the rebel stronghold of Fallujah.The Cabinet earlier unanimously supported the redeployment on the recommendation of Chief of Sir Michael Walker, the Chief of Defence Staff.His approval came after receiving the report of a British reconnaissance team which had scouted the area, which is believed to be around the town of Iskandariya, some 20 miles southwest of Baghdad, in an area dubbed the "Triangle of Death" General Walker said that the troops would remain under British command, but would be under the tactical control of the US Marines - a joint command arrangement that had been tested before in Iraq and elsewhere.He also said that the agreement with the US Military was for a 30-day limit, although contingency planning was already under way in case that limit was exceeded. "The Black Watch are a highly capable, well trained and hardened battle group and well suited to the tasks they have been asked to undertake," he said."In sum, it represents an important and a viable military task that we are well placed to carry out and that is why I recommended acceptance to the Secretary of State."Mr Hoon gave no timetable for the redeployment, which would involve 850 troops including support units, but said it would last "weeks rather than months".The Black Watch battlegroup will include three companies of armoured infantry, totalling some 500 men, equipped with 50 Warrior armoured troops carriers.They will be supported by an armoured reconnaissance unit from the Queen’s Dragoon Guards, with about 100 men and 12 Scimitar armoured fighting vehicles, and around 50 light infantry from 40 Commando. In addition there will be back-up support from logisticians, communications experts and medics.More than 40 Labour backbenchers, supported by the Liberal Democrats, have signed a motion calling for any redeployment to be put to a parliamentary vote because it would significantly widen Britain's role in the conflict.But Mr Hoon said the decision had been an operational one and commanders on the ground had deemed that involved an "acceptable" level of risk.