US asks Britain about possible help in Iraq military operation
* US military formally asked for 650 British personnel to provide cover for Americans and to operate under US command
BAGHDAD: The United States has asked Britain for their thoughts on sending troops on a “particular operation”, but this is a fairly frequent occurrence, a British military spokesman said on Saturday.
The comments came after Britain’s Channel Four television reported that Washington wants London to deploy soldiers in more volatile parts of Iraq, as a new offensive on insurgent-held Fallujah looms. “It is correct that the Americans have asked what are our thoughts are for doing a particular operation,” Major Charles Mayo, spokesman for the British-led Multi-National Division South East, told AFP by telephone from the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
“There is a constant discussion involving a range of activities,” he said, playing down the significance of the request.
British planners reviewed the activities of the country’s 8,000-strong military contingent in Iraq every day, Mayo added.
“In this environment you get requests all the time from MNF-I (the US-led Multi-National Forces in Iraq),” said the spokesman. On Friday, Channel Four cited sources at the Ministry of Defence saying the US military had lodged a formal request for British troops to cover forces which are to be re-deployed for a renewed offensive against insurgents in the rebel city of Fallujah.
“It’s understood that the commanding officer of the reserve battalion of the Black Watch is looking at a request for some 650 personnel to provide cover for the Americans,” it said on its website, www.channel4.com. Britain’s troops are largely based in the relatively quiet, oil-rich south of Iraq, with their headquarters in Basra city.
Despite a widespread uprising by fighters loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr in August, the soldiers have had far less contact with insurgents than their American counterparts in Baghdad and surrounding areas.
Channel Four said its sources had “emphatically denied” that British troops would go into either Fallujah or Najaf, another insurgent hotbed. They suggested instead that the soldiers might be sent to the Iraqi capital or other sectors. “The implication of this is (that) it would mean British forces operating under US command and in areas that have up until now been policed and supervised by the Americans,” it said. afp