Suffolk troops heading for Gulf

TWO Suffolk-based regiments will be part of the huge deployment heading for the Gulf.Army helicopter crews and ground engineers from Wattisham Airfield, near Stowmarket -a total of around 900 men - will be joining the 26,000-strong force, which defence secretary Geoff Hoon yesterday announced would be teaming up with a task force already despatched to put pressure on Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

By James Fraser

TWO Suffolk-based regiments will be part of the huge deployment heading for the Gulf.

Army helicopter crews and ground engineers from Wattisham Airfield, near Stowmarket, will be joining the 26,000-strong force, which defence secretary Geoff Hoon yesterday announced would be teaming up with a task force already despatched to put pressure on Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Troops from 3 Regiment, Army Air Corps, and 7 Battalion, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers will joining other elements of 16 Air Assault Brigade, including Colchester-based units from Parachute Regiment and the Desert Rats armoured brigade, headquartered in Germany.


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Aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, captained by Ipswich man Alan Massey, is leading a naval armada heading for the Middle East.

As news of the county's role in the Iraq crisis broke, Gulfbound British troops are still waiting for equipment, including desert boots, and not all tanks and artillery are ready for the conditions, the Government admitted today.

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But ministers insisted that adequate supplies had been ordered.

As almost a quarter of the British Army prepared for possible action against Iraq, defence procurement minister Lord Bach said contracts were in place for the necessary equipment to be supplied.

The Government and former military commanders said soldiers would have the best kit at their disposal before any conflict against Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime.

Lord Bach assured the House of Lords last night: "There will be good and enough desert boots for everybody."

He added that tanks and artillery would continue to be "desertised'' while in transit to the Gulf and contracts were in place for early delivery of 20,000 pairs of desert boots, 92,650 desert lightweight jackets and 89,700 pairs of desert lightweight trousers.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon yesterday announced the deployment of ground troops to pile more pressure on the Iraqi dictator to comply with UN demands for disarmament of weapons of mass destruction.

Military sources were remaining tight-lipped on the precise timetable for the departure.

Mr Hoon told MPs only that they would be travelling by air and sea "over the days and weeks ahead''.

Along with a 4,000-strong contingent of commandos already sent to the region, they will bring the British ground force to 30,000, alongside more than 100,000 US troops.

Meanwhile, a survey today revealed that the British public are becoming less enthusiastic about the idea of a war with Iraq.

Almost two-thirds disapproved of the way Tony Blair has handled the crisis, the Mori Social Research Institute found.

More than three-quarters of Britons (77%) would oppose military action in Iraq if it did not have UN backing - up from 70% in September last year - the poll found.

And the proportion who would support Britain joining military action, even if it was approved by the UN, fell 10% in the same period, from 71% support in September to 61% now.

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