British troops in southern Iraq start heading north

British troops in southern Iraq start heading north

BASRA – A battle group of British troops in southern Iraq started Wednesday to move northwards on a US-requested mission to more dangerous areas nearer Baghdad, an AFP reporter said.

About 50 tanks were transported from the British base at the airport in Iraq’s second city of Basra. “I can confirm that there has been some movement,” British military spokesman Major Charles Mayo said, although he declined to say specifically that the mission to Babil province, south of Baghdad, had begun.Helicopters were seen buzzing above the convoy as it rolled down the road towards Nassiriyah.Washington has asked top ally Britain to shift some of its 8 500-strong Iraq deployment closer to Baghdad as US troops focus on wresting the restive hub of Fallujah from rebel control – possibly through an all-out military offensive.Britain announced last week that it had agreed and would dispatch 850 soldiers for a limited time to the restive Babil province.The movement came amid uncertainties over the fate of a British-Iraqi aid worker, Margaret Hassan, who was kidnapped eight days ago in Baghdad.A tearful Hassan, 59, was last seen on a videotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera television Friday, pleading with Britons to urge London against the redeployment of British soldiers.Britain’s 850-strong force comprises 500-to-550 soldiers from the Black Watch battalion, coupled with specialists from other units, including experts in reconnaissance, engineering, logistics, and communications.The Black Watch, an armoured infantry battalion based in Scotland, contains some of Britain’s most battle-hardened troops which helped last year in the overthrow of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.The British soldiers operating in the US zone will remain under the overall command of Britain’s most senior officer in Iraq, Major General Bill Rollo, but the US Marine Corps will control their day-to-day tactical operations.This means that if the US military leadership wants to change the battle group’s mission or tasks, they will have to obtain Rollo’s agreement.They will continue to use the British rules of engagements.The redeployment marks the first time since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq that British troops have left southern Iraq for US-controlled areas, where they are considered more likely to come under hostile fire.- Nampa-AFP”I can confirm that there has been some movement,” British military spokesman Major Charles Mayo said, although he declined to say specifically that the mission to Babil province, south of Baghdad, had begun.Helicopters were seen buzzing above the convoy as it rolled down the road towards Nassiriyah.Washington has asked top ally Britain to shift some of its 8 500-strong Iraq deployment closer to Baghdad as US troops focus on wresting the restive hub of Fallujah from rebel control – possibly through an all-out military offensive.Britain announced last week that it had agreed and would dispatch 850 soldiers for a limited time to the restive Babil province.The movement came amid uncertainties over the fate of a British-Iraqi aid worker, Margaret Hassan, who was kidnapped eight days ago in Baghdad.A tearful Hassan, 59, was last seen on a videotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera television Friday, pleading with Britons to urge London against the redeployment of British soldiers.Britain’s 850-strong force comprises 500-to-550 soldiers from the Black Watch battalion, coupled with specialists from other units, including experts in reconnaissance, engineering, logistics, and communications.The Black Watch, an armoured infantry battalion based in Scotland, contains some of Britain’s most battle-hardened troops which helped last year in the overthrow of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.The British soldiers operating in the US zone will remain under the overall command of Britain’s most senior officer in Iraq, Major General Bill Rollo, but the US Marine Corps will control their day-to-day tactical operations.This means that if the US military leadership wants to change the battle group’s mission or tasks, they will have to obtain Rollo’s agreement.They will continue to use the British rules of engagements.The redeployment marks the first time since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq that British troops have left southern Iraq for US-controlled areas, where they are considered more likely to come under hostile fire.- Nampa-AFP

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