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[] PK - Verteidigungsministerium UK,

Press Conference at the Ministry of Defence, London - 21 March 2003

Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon

Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon. I would just like to set the
strategic context for the military operations that are underway in Iraq.
I will then hand over to Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the Chief of the
Defence Staff, to speak about the details of the military operation. We
will then take questions together.

I will start with the helicopter accident which occurred in the early
hours of this morning. As I told the House of Commons earlier, a United
States CH-46 helicopter carrying British and United States personnel
crashed in Kuwait, close to the border with Iraq. I can now confirm that
there were 8 British dead. Clearly our urgent priority is the
notification of the next of kin at the earliest opportunity. The
circumstances of the accident are being investigated, and I cannot
comment further, other than to reiterate that this was not the result of
enemy action. Our thoughts remain with the families and friends of those
who were killed.

As the Prime Minister made clear in his address to the nation last
night, and as media reports of overnight activity in theatre have
confirmed, British forces from all three Services are now engaged in
substantial military operations inside and outside Iraq. These
operations can be best understood in the context of the Military
Campaign Objectives which the Government published yesterday.

I would like briefly to take you through those objectives, and to
explain the logic that lies behind them. To quote the objectives
themselves, "The prime objective remains to rid Iraq of its weapons of
mass destruction and their associated programmes and means of delivery,
including prohibited ballistic missiles, as set out in relevant United
Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs)." The objectives then go
out to set out the legal base for military action which the Attorney has
already set out to Parliament; the military tasks which flow from our
overall objectives and our immediate priorities in the wake of

When we were considering the military tasks, our guiding principle was
the minimum use of force. The tasks we have identified include action to
deny Saddam Hussein use of his weapons of mass destruction and action to
overcome the resistance of the Iraqi security. But the tasks also
explicitly include removal of the Iraqi regime. I make no apology for
this. We identify the Iraqi regime as the obstacle to Iraq's compliance
with its international obligations, and it is right therefore, and
consistent with the minimum use of force, that operations are aimed
directly the removal of Saddam Hussein and his regime. That is why UK
forces took part in missile strikes last night on Baghdad. These strikes
are carefully targeted, and are designed to destabilise the command and
control of the regime. They are not aimed at Iraqi civilians.

Our focus on the minimum use of force makes sense militarily, as well as
being consistent with our obligations under international law. In
particular, for this campaign, we not only have an eye to overcoming
resistance to our forces, but also to the very real need to enable the
rapid reconstruction of Iraq in the wake of hostilities. But we have
made good progress over night in securing the Al Faw peninsula. The
Royal Marines have confirmed that the oil infrastructure on the
peninsula has not been destroyed. Any attempt by Saddam Hussein to
release oil into the Gulf to create an environmental disaster has been
thwarted. This is not just a matter of protecting the oil fields from
sabotage, but more widely make sure that to the greatest extent
possible, civilian infrastructure remains intact.

Our Campaign Objectives are not just about dismantling weapons of mass
destruction or removing the Iraqi leadership. They look forward to a
future Iraq, as a nation at peace with itself and at peace with the
International Community. The Government is committed to rebuilding Iraq.

Admiral Boyce will now brief you on some of the detail of the military
operations of the past days.

Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. As the Secretary of State has told
you, Coalition forces have been engaged in activity across Iraq in the
last 48 hours. I should like to give you some more detail of those

However, before I start I would like to echo the Secretary of State's
words, and those of the Prime Minister earlier today, concerning the
personnel so sadly lost overnight. As the head of the British armed
forces, I would like to extend my deep condolences to the families of
both the British and American personnel who were killed. Whilst those of
us in uniform understand that these tragedies are a sad result of
warfare, it never gets any easier to hear such news. The thoughts of the
British armed forces today are very much with the families and friends
of those who died from both sides of the Atlantic.

As you know, Coalition forces were engaged overnight last night in
attacks on regime positions and infrastructure. Many details, especially
with regard to attacks on regime targets in Baghdad, have already been
made available to you, and I do not intend to go over those details
again. However, I can tell you that those operations included the firing
of several tomahawk missiles from British submarines in the region.
These missiles were targeted at regime command and control centres in
the Iraqi capital and all these weapons hit their targets as planned.

Meanwhile, ground forces have been making very encouraging advances in
southern Iraq. One of the primary aims of these operations has been to
secure the oil infrastructure in that part of the country before regime
forces can sabotage it. It is vital that we achieve this for three

First, the enemy believes that the sabotaging of oil wells, with the
thick smoke such action produces, might degrade our ability on the
battlefield. Second, the environmental repercussions of such action,
especially with regard to oil being poured in the Persian Gulf itself,
are enormously damaging. Finally, and this goes to the heart of the
military planning in this operation as a whole, we are trying to ensure
that the economic infrastructure of Iraq is left as intact as possible
in order to benefit the Iraqi people after the campaign.

Our military approach has been conscious of the need to restructure and
rebuild the country after the fall of Saddam's regime, therefore from a
military point of view we have tailored our plans accordingly. We are
determined not to allow Saddam to do yet more damage to the lives of his
people through a 'scorched earth policy'. Last night royal marines of 40
and 42 Commando launched amphibious and air delivered assaults on the Al
Faw peninsular in order to secure the vital oil infrastructure it
contains. At the same time, a US Marine Corps battalion launched its own
attacks on the port of Umm Qasr. The port will be available to us as
soon as British minesweepers are able to clear the area to allow
shipping in safely.

By the way, we have already seized Iraqi vessels which were ready to lay
mines in the locality. This is a vital objective because once we have
cleared the way into Umm Qasr it will become one of the main routes for
delivering humanitarian aid, hopefully within days, with the help of the
Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

These operations were well-supported by naval gunfire from two Royal
Navy ships in the area, and from the guns of the Royal Artillery on
Bubiyan island, just off the coast. British Marines took their
objectives, despite sporadic fighting, including some stern resistance
that resulted in enemy casualties. I can tell you this afternoon that
the men of 40 Commando are now taking the surrender of Iraqi troops in
significant numbers. British forces took the peninsular earlier today,
and I can now tell you that Umm Qasr is in Coalition hands.

Meanwhile, the United States 3rd Infantry Division has made cracking
progress in its advance northwards. It has already penetrated more than
140kms in to Iraq. A US Regimental Combat Team, supported by a number of
specialist British units, set out during the night to secure some of the
southern oil fields. Elements included the Royal Engineers, explosive
ordnance clearance units and nuclear/biological/chemical teams. Together
they have done very well, encountering determined pockets of resistance
along the way, and have now reached the Euphrates river.

The key components of the southern oil fields are now safe, and I am
pleased to be able to tell you that the latest information I have is
that only seven well heads have been fired, as opposed to the 30 we
suspected earlier today, of the hundreds that make up the fields. We
expect specialist civilian contractors to be in these areas to deal with
the oil fires within a day or two. Part of the reason for this confusion
over burning wells is that the enemy regularly lights trenches full of
oil, and the attendant smoke means that it is only when we get close
that we can finally identify what is burning.

Coalition forces in the shape of another regimental combat team also
pushed forward towards the strategically important city of Basra. This
unit's right flank was covered by two battlegroups of the UK 7th
Armoured Brigade, made up of the Black Watch and the 1st Battalion of
the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. They have moved quickly, and leading
elements are now on the outskirts of Basra itself.

Along the way we have seen evidence of large-scale Iraqi capitulation,
evidenced by many abandoned positions and items of equipment. All of
these actions have been prosecuted under air cover provided by the US
Air Force, and the RAF. The RAF has been extremely active in providing
combat air support, surveillance, reconnaissance, tanking both day and

The attack on the Al Faw area was supported by Tornado GR4 aircraft
which attacked enemy artillery in the Basra area with precision weapons,
along with other military installations as far north as Al Kut.

Meanwhile E-3Ds, Tri-stars, VC10s and Canberras have all been equally
busy. RAF Harrier GR7s provided close air support to the ground
operations throughout the night.

It is early days, but Coalition progess has been very promising. Our
people have performed admirably on land, sea and in the air, and I am
greatly encouraged by the start we have made.

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