Thu, Nov 11, 2004 - Page 7 News List

British commanders review strategy in Iraq after killings

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

British Black Watch commanders are reviewing their tactics in the light of attacks on their soldiers that have left four dead and two seriously injured in three weeks.

Three of the dead and the two injured men were victims of suicide bombers, an enemy the soldiers have not experienced before.

Their commanders are looking at how to minimize risks, in a mission which involves securing the area south of Baghdad, reaching out to Iraqis to gain their confidence and gather intelligence, and catching any insurgents and foreign fighters, including those fleeing from Fallujah.

One possibility is to reinforce the Black Watch battlegroup with Challenger tanks from British-controlled areas in southern Iraq.

These might act as a deterrent but would make the troops less mobile.

More British Royal Marine commandos could also be sent as reinforcements.

The UK Ministry of Defence in London could not confirm a report that medics from a Territorial Army hospital in southern Iraq who had been due to return home later this week had been deployed to the Black Watch base, Camp Dogwood.

UK defense sources played down suggestions that the Warrior, the British infantry's basic armored fighting vehicle, cannot withstand improvised roadside bombs. They suggested the killing of a Warrior driver by such a device was not the result of an inherent weakness in the vehicle.

However, a spokesman for the Black Watch said the battlegroup, was "developing its tactics to counter this sort of attack and has been supported by specialist equipment to assist these tactics."

The priority for commanders will be to give their troops as much protection as they can, given their missions.

"There will be more empathy with the Americans," said one defense official. He was referring to the contrast between US soldiers remaining as much as possible in their humvees, with helmets always on, and the British "softly, softly" approach.

The Warrior driver killed by a bomb on Monday was named as Private Pita Tukutukuwaqa, 27, who was described by his colleagues as a trained sniper and outstanding sportsman. He was one of more than 2,000 Fijians serving with British regiments. A spokesman for his regiment said: "He will be dearly missed by his regiment and his friends."

There are contingency plans to send the The Queen's Lancashire Regiment, based in Cyprus, and, subsequently, the Shropshire-based 2nd battalion, Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment to southern Iraq.

An defense ministry spokesman said Tuesday that no decision had been made to deploy the Princess of Wales's Regiment to Iraq. The battalion was put on "very high readiness reserve" on Nov. 1.

"Being at very high readiness reserve does not mean that any decision has been taken for such a deployment to take place," the defense ministry said.

Hundreds of mourners, meanwhile, on Tuesday paid their respects to the first Black Watch soldier to be killed after the regiment's move to central Iraq.

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