Troops know it is not going to be easy

AS numbers of British casualties in the war in Iraq exceed those suffered during the last Gulf conflict, British troops know the fight against Saddam Hussein was never going to be easy.

By James Fraser

AS numbers of British casualties in the war in Iraq exceed those suffered during the last Gulf conflict, British troops know the fight against Saddam Hussein was never going to be easy.

British forces have so far lost 20 personnel in the first week of Operation Iraq Freedom, 18 due to accidents and friendly fire and two in combat.

Over the entire course of the last war twelve years ago, 18 servicemen died in action – including nine Royal Fusiliers who were killed a single friendly fire incident.

In the latest friendly-fire tragedy yesterday – known as a 'blue on blue' - two tank crewmen were killed when their Challenger main battle tank was hit by coalition fire.

But as the number of dead mount, one veteran of Desert Storm in 1991 said he did not expect the current war to be the pushover that many anticipated – and that politicians, notably Tony Blair, had hoped for.

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Corporal Russ Hewitt, is a signals expert and ground crew specialist who served with 4 Regiment, Army Air Corps, twelve years ago. He said that the tactic of sending in ground troops before bombers before launching a concerted bombing campaign by air in a bid to limit civilian casualties meant that soldiers on the ground had met stiffer resistance as they went across the border.

"In the previous war there was an air campaign that ploughed the ground before us and all we had to was pick up prisoners of war. This time we're flushing them out manually which brings you into closer contact with the enemy.

"I thought there would be few difficulties last time when we were told about the air campaign that was going ahead of us plus the fact that we were fighting on only one front. We were only going to Kuwait – we weren't gunning for Baghdad then.

"I was under no impression that it would be easy this time and I was prepared for a long tour."

The 33-year-old father of two from Hadleigh, Suffolk, said he had the backing of his parents Tom and Marion, who live in the north Wootton area of Kings, Lynn, Norfolk – although he understood some of the anti-war feeling back in the UK.

"My parents probably agree with the anti-war protests but because I'm involved they stand by me and the British Army. "They're very proud and they've always had a yellow ribbon tied around their house when I'm away on duty. I can understand people protest against the war as I myself don't always think it is the best option.

"Last time we had worldwide support as Iraq had invaded Kuwait but now not everyone agrees with what we're doing. But I believe Saddam Hussein is an evil man and his regime needs to be dismantled to allow the people of Iraq to progress as they deserve."

"When British soldiers are in action they should at least get the support they deserve."

Troops from the elite 16 Air Assault Brigade are now taking on bands of Saddam Hussein's ultra-loyalist militia, the Fedayeen, who are hiding among the civilian population in the oilfields of southern Iraq and areas of the western desert.

Lynx pilot, Jay Tee, the nickname of a 38-year-old warrant officer first class whose name cannot be given for operational reasons, also said he was unsurprised by the attritional nature that has come to characterise the conflict.

"I have always been sceptical that we would be able to railroad through this country at the speed we have so far. I thought that pockets of resistance would undoubtedly be there."

Returning to Iraq, however, has brought back memories for Cpl Hewitt

"I must admit that going though the breach brought it all back to me – the burning oilfields in Kuwait last time and now in southern Iraq. But it struck me how fast we moved through the south as opposed to last time. We're now practically on the enemy's doorstep. The brigade had everything in place to move faster towards our objectives."

During this, his 14th tour in 13 years of serving in the army, he volunteered to be work as part of the media operations team, providing close protection for three journalists travelling with 3 Regiment, Army Air Corps.

"I'm finding it very interesting – it's good because I get to see quite a lot of what is going on as opposed to last time when I was here."

The worst thing is being away from wife Katie and children Ashley, 15, and 11-year-old Amy but he is finding looking after the media revealing.

"As long as they report correctly they can help people at home understand the progression of the operation, warts and all."