- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2001

ABOARD THE HMS ILLUSTRIOUS British forces are weeks away from being able to mount major ground operations in Afghanistan of the kind already staged by the Americans, a senior commander said yesterday.
Brig. Roger Lane, of the Royal Marines unit from which British contribution to the ground war will be drawn, said he was concerned about the lack of hard intelligence on which to base the planning for any operation.
The size of the attack force employed would be dictated by the nature of the objective, he added.
Some 200 men from 3 Commando Brigade are to remain on ships in the Arabian Sea in readiness for operations against al Qaeda terrorists and the Taliban when British forces on exercise in Oman return home this week.
Cautioning against suggestions that a British attack undertaken by the U.S. Army Rangers was imminent, Brig. Lane said: "We will be ready when we are ready. I want to be sure the force is totally prepared. We don't need to be hasty; we need to be right."
Brig. Lane said his men were mentally prepared for whatever lay ahead. "There is a great sense of focus, no sense of a crusade, just focus on the prospective operation that may be ahead of them, and, of course, concern for their loved ones."
Asked about comments that the Marines would be sent in to flush people out of caves, he said: "That's not what the Secretary of State [for Defense] told me."
Britain has benefited from the presence in Oman of much of the expertise and equipment needed for operations in support of the U.S. forces. Exercise Saif Sareea, being conducted in conjunction with Omani forces, represents the biggest deployment of British forces outside Europe since the Gulf war.
HMS Illustrious, which had been operating during the exercise in an aircraft-carrier role, is to switch to carrying helicopters.
It has already disembarked its Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Harrier jets, and by tomorrow will be re-equipped with a mixture of Chinook and Sea King transport helicopters and Giselle and Lynx light-attack helicopters.
It is believed that enough helicopters will be transferred for the entire Royal Marine company to attack in one wave.
Illustrious' crew, which was originally scheduled to return to Britain by mid-December, has now been told that it may not be home until the end of March.
The live-firing exercises in Oman will have to be completed by Nov. 17, the beginning of Ramadan, when all British forces are due to leave the sultanate.
Oman, a long-standing British ally in the Gulf, is providing bases for RAF VC10 tankers and Canberra photo-reconnaissance aircraft complementing what has so far been a largely American effort.
Whether these aircraft will leave on Nov. 17 remains to be seen. British special forces would probably prefer Oman as a training ground during the campaign because of its similarity to Afghanistan.

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