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Volume 700: debated on Thursday 24 April 2008

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I explained to Parliament on 1 April 2008 (Official Report, Commons, cols. 628-30) that, in the light of the operations launched by the Government of Iraq in Basra on 25 March, we would maintain our force levels in southern Iraq at around 4,000 while we worked with the Iraqis and our coalition partners to review the implications for our own plans. I undertook to provide a further update on our plans this month.

The Iraqi security forces’ (ISF) operation to enforce the rule of law in Basra—known as “Operation Charge of the Knights”—is continuing, with support from coalition forces. We welcome the willingness of the Government of Iraq to take responsibility for delivering security in Basra province and the progress of the ISF operations to date. We have been pressing for firm action since responsibility for Basra’s security was transferred to the Iraqis in December.

The coalition’s strategy in the area has been to encourage Iraqi solutions to Iraqi problems and, through outreach and reconciliation, to isolate those people in Basra who refuse to follow a democratic road. This has helped to set the context for the recent successes and it is evident that the ISF action against criminals and militia elements operating outside the law has the firm backing of the people of Basra. In the initial phases of operations, the ISF have consolidated control over all key routes in and out of the city and over large parts of the city itself. The ISF are continuing to locate and remove significant numbers of illegal weapons, in many cases thanks to information received from local residents. Further phases of operations are planned.

As I said in my Statement on 1 April, it remains our clear direction of travel and our plan to reduce our force levels, as and when conditions allow, from the current number of around 4,000 for the next roulement, known as Operation TELIC 12. But while the situation on the ground continues to evolve rapidly, and while military commanders continue to assess the changing environment in Basra, it remains prudent that we take time fully to consider further reductions.

The focus of UK forces is on completing the task of training and mentoring 14th (Iraqi Army) Division in Basra so that it develops into an effective force, able to ensure security without the need for our assistance; 14 Division is still months away from becoming fully operational. We will continue to ensure that our support is tailored as effectively as possible to meeting its needs. Already, we have enhanced our advisory and operational support by embedding teams of UK personnel with headquarters and operational planning staff in Basra. Sustained improvements in security will also provide a sound basis for further economic development and political progress, including through provincial elections scheduled to take place in the autumn.

The TELIC 12 force package will see the lead formation, currently 4 Mechanised Brigade, replaced by 7 Armoured Brigade, which will provide the majority of the units serving in Iraq; 7 Armoured Brigade will take over the command of UK forces in early June. The forces deploying include soldiers from the following units:

7 Armoured Brigade Headquarters and Signal Squadron (207)

3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery

The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys)

9/12th Lancers (Prince of Wales’s)

32 Engineer Regiment

1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers

2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment

The Highlanders, 4th Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland

2 Logistic Support Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps

3 Close Support Medical Regiment

2 Close Support Battalion, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

111 Provost Company, 1st Regiment Royal Military Police

Elements of 5thRegiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 16th Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 47thRegiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 170 (Infrastructure Support) Engineer Group

Elements of 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal)

Elements of 2nd Signal Regiment, Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 10th Signal Regiment, Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 14th Signal Regiment (Electronic Warfare), Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 21st Signal Regiment (Air Support), Royal Corps of Signals

Elements of 24 Postal Courier and Movement Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 9 Supply Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 17 Port and Maritime Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 27 Transport Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 29 Postal Courier and Movement Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 104 Military Working Dog Support Unit

Elements of 1 Military Intelligence Brigade

Elements of 1 Regiment Army Air Corps

Elements of 28 Sqn, Royal Air Force

Elements of 78 Sqn, Royal Air Force

Elements of Tactical Supply Wing, Royal Air Force

Elements of Joint Helicopter Support Unit, Royal Air Force

Elements of Joint Medical Command

Members of the reserve forces will continue to deploy to Iraq as part of this force package and we expect to issue around 290 call-out notices in order to fill some 220 posts during the TELIC 12 roulement period. Prior to their deployment and on completion of their mobilisation procedures, the reservists will undertake a period of training and integration with their respective units. For the majority, their deployment to theatre will commence in May and most will serve on operations for six to seven months, although some may have shorter tours. The reservists will predominantly reinforce regular units and perform a wide range of activities, including force protection duties, intelligence and logistic tasks. We also expect, as part of this commitment, up to 50 members of the sponsored reserves to be in theatre at any one time.

Force levels will be kept under review and we will look to make further reductions over the course of the TELIC 12 deployment if conditions allow and on the advice of commanders on the ground. I will, of course, keep Parliament informed of developments.