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UK announces plans to call-up army reservists

UK announces plans to call-up army reservists

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has issued orders to enable the call-up for 1,500 army reservists for possible operations against Iraq. However he added that this did not mean that a decision had taken to commit British forces to such operations.

Mr Hoon added that extra maritime forces were being deployed later this month, as part of the Naval Task Group, to the Gulf and Asia-Pacific regions. This includes the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and the amphibious ship HMS Ocean.

The Group will conduct training in the Mediterranean with a view to proceeding to the Gulf region 'if and as required' added the Defence Secretary.

Mr Hoon concluded:

" long as Saddam's compliance with UNSCR 1441 is in doubt, as it continues to be at present, the threat of force must remain and it must be real."

Read the statement in full below.

Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on Iraq.

In a written Statement to the House earlier today, my Right Honourable Friend, the Foreign Secretary, set out the Government's Policy Objectives for Iraq. These objectives make clear our commitment both to the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and to the United Nations process.

They set out our vision that Iraq should become a "stable, united and law abiding state, within its present borders, co-operating with the international community, no longer posing a threat to its neighbours or to international security, abiding by all its international obligations and providing effective and representative government for its own people."

This is a vision which I am confident is shared by all members of this House.

Furthermore, the statement puts our policy on Iraq in the context of the Government's wider agenda: our efforts to resolve related issues, including the Middle East Peace Process; wider political engagement with Arab countries and the Islamic World; efforts to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and the elimination of terrorism as a force in international affairs.

These objectives restate the Government's absolute commitment to act in conformity with international law, including the United Nations Charter and international humanitarian law. I commend them to the House.

In publishing these Objectives, the Government is restating its full and active support for UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Authority. Together, these organisations have about 110 inspectors working in Iraq and have already completed over 200 inspections. We are now looking to them to investigate urgently the gaps in Iraq's Declaration of its Weapons of Mass Destruction programmes, which - as my Right Honourable Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear on 19 December - fails to give a satisfactory account of Iraq's activities in this area. UNMOVIC and the IAEA will next report formally to the Security Council on 27 January. This is not necessarily a decision point on Iraqi compliance. In fact, under resolution 1441, UNMOVIC and the IAEA are required to report immediately to the Security Council any Iraqi interference or non-compliance. The Council would then meet urgently to consider the situation. It follows that non-compliance could be declared at any time, either before or after 27 January, as a result of Iraqi failures.

Whilst we want Saddam Hussein to disarm voluntarily, it is evident that we will not achieve this unless we continue to present him with a clear and credible threat of force. So the Policy Objectives also make clear that we must continue with military planning and preparations.

I described to the House before the recess the contingency planning and preparatory activity that we had set in hand for this purpose. I am now setting out two further specific steps that we are taking.

First relating to reserves: On 25 November and 18 December, I explained the preparatory work we were undertaking to identify the potential requirement for reserves. Reservists play key enabling roles in support of all three Services. Reservists, however, cannot be brought into active service instantly. They require notice in order to be able to set their affairs in order and go through a mobilisation process which includes medical checks, the issuing of equipment, and any necessary training and preparation for the tasks that may be required of them.

Against this background, and to keep open a range of military options, I have today made an Order under Section 54(1) of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 to enable the call out of reservists for possible operations against Iraq.

This does not mean that a decision has been taken to commit British forces to such operations. But it is an essential enabling measure to ensure that if such operations become necessary they will be properly supported with the skills and expertise that our reserve forces provide.

Following the making of the Order, the Armed Forces will issue Call Out Notices as required in order to mobilise those individuals who may be needed in the event of operations against Iraq.

This process is likely to be incremental. The overall scale of mobilisation will depend on the continuing evolution of our contingency planning. It should also be borne in mind that experience shows that the number of Call Out Notices issued needs to be significantly larger than the number of individual reservists likely to be required. It would therefore be misleading, as well as undesirable for reasons of operational security, for me to give specific numbers or details at this stage.

However, we envisage initially sending out sufficient call-out notices to secure around 1,500 Reservists, and we will issue further notices as appropriate. The Government takes seriously its duty only to call-out reservists when it is absolutely necessary. We understand the impact of call-out both on Reservists, and on their employers. I pay tribute to the valuable contribution they make to the overall strength of our Armed Forces.

Secondly, in my statement on the 18th of December, I described the long-planned deployment of Naval Task Group 2003 to the Gulf and Asia-Pacific regions, and said that we were also considering the deployment of additional maritime forces early in the New Year. I have now authorised the deployment of a number of additional vessels and units later this month, which will represent a significant amphibious capability. The Group will conduct training in the Mediterranean with a view to proceeding to the Gulf region if and as required.

The objective is to ensure the readiness of a broad range of military capabilities. Preparatory steps of this nature are necessary in order to keep military options open. It is likely that we will want to make further deployments in the coming weeks for this same purpose. We are taking steps to ensure the readiness of units and equipment, and the availability of appropriate chartered shipping and air transport in which to deploy them.

The planned deployments in the next few weeks will now include: the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal; the amphibious ship HMS Ocean; the destroyers HMS Liverpool, HMS Edinburgh, and HMS York; the frigate HMS Marlborough; the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels Argus, Fort Victoria, Fort Rosalie and Fort Austin; the Landing Ships Logistic Sir Galahad, Sir Tristram and Sir Percivale; a Mine Countermeasures Group initially comprising HMS Grimsby and HMS Ledbury; and a submarine as originally planned for Naval Task Group 2003. We plan to deploy amphibious forces in Ark Royal, Ocean and associated shipping, including Headquarters 3 Commando Brigade, 40 Commando Royal Marines and 42 Commando Royal Marines with supporting elements.

None of this means that the use of force is inevitable. And despite the inevitable speculation that will arise as a result of these announcements today, it remains the case that no decision has been taken to commit these forces to action. But, as I said on the 18th of December, as long as Saddam's compliance with UNSCR 1441 is in doubt, as it continues to be at present, the threat of force must remain and it must be real.

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