Straw's tribute to dead troops

FOREIGN Secretary Jack Straw paid tribute today to the eight British servicemen killed when their helicopter crashed in the desert of Iraq.He said their sacrifice demonstrated the risks "our very brave young men and women" were facing.

FOREIGN Secretary Jack Straw paid tribute today to the eight British servicemen killed when their helicopter crashed in the desert of Iraq.

He said their sacrifice demonstrated the risks "our very brave young men and women" were facing.

Mr Straw, speaking in Brussels where he is attending an EU summit, also said there was no doubt the crash was an accident.

He said: "I'd like first to express my personal, and the British Government's, condolences to the family and loved ones of the service personnel who perished overnight in the helicopter accident.


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"This is an illustration of the risks which our very brave young men and women and those from other countries, particularly America, face when going into active service.

"And it gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to all of those thousands of young men and women and their commanders out in the region.''

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The Foreign Secretary added: "I can tell you literally no more than what is being briefed by our representatives on the ground.

"It's obviously an accident and a serious one and our hearts and prayers go out to those who perished and their loved ones.

"We all hope and pray that the campaign will be over quickly but you can never tell, so we do also have to show great patience.''

Mr Straw also signalled that he does not want to see the threatened "Shock and Awe" attack unleashed on Baghdad if it can be avoided.

The US military had indicated that the military campaign against Iraq would be commenced with a massive cruise missile and smart bomb attack on the capital in a bid to intimidate Iraqi forces into a rapid surrender.

That onslaught has yet to materialise - and Mr Straw said he hoped that it might yet prove unnecessary.

It appeared that the early stages of the conflict were going well, he said, but he warned that it might take some time to achieve the ultimate objective.

"It is the early stages of the military campaign, so it is hard to say how long this will take. We all hope and pray that it will be over as quickly as possible, but at the same time people have to have patience,'' Mr Straw said.

"Obviously very much depends on the reaction of the Iraqi regime itself. So far there is little resistance being shown to our troops in the south, but it remains to be seen what will happen over the days and weeks ahead.''

Asked about the "Shock and Awe'' attack, Mr Straw said: "The purpose of any military campaign is to minimise casualties, not only for your own side but also in respect of the other side ...

"I very much hope that it will not be necessary to use any kind of massive bombardment but it remains to be seen whether it will be.''

Mr Straw acknowledged that the EU was divided over the Iraqi issue.

Referring to the continuing EU summit in Brussels, Mr Straw said: "The reaction in Brussels was very far from frosty.

"Six of the 15 countries of the existing European Union and 12 or 13 of the 25 which will be in the room in less than a month's time are active in their support for the military action which is being taken by the US and UK.

"The Union is split, but it is a pretty balanced split."

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