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Labor Dispute Threatens British Troop Readiness, say Officials - 2002-11-20

Britain has gotten a formal request from the United States to have troops ready for a possible war with Iraq. But Britain's military chief says he is not as prepared as he would like to be, since thousands of his men are tied down with domestic firefighting duties because of a threatened strike.

The British defense secretary, Geoff Hoon, has confirmed that the United States has asked Britain for troops in case a war breaks out with Iraq.

Mr. Hoon says he will give details during a special debate on Iraq in parliament Monday. "We have had a request for forces from the United States, but can I emphasize that no decision has been taken on that, and it does seem to me appropriate that I should set out in more detail our thinking on Monday in the parliamentary debate," he explained.

At the same briefing, British military chief of staff Michael Boyce said he is extremely concerned about military readiness. Admiral Boyce said the use of 19,000 servicemen to fill in for striking firefighters has upset training plans, led to naval ships being docked, and it is undermining morale.

"We are trying to husband some operational capability, said the admiral, "but clearly we can't perform at the full extent of our operational capability while 19,000 people are tied up, standing by to do the firefighting duties."

The British armed forces filled in last week during a 48-hour firefighters' strike. The troops are standing by in case Britain's 55,000 firefighters go an eight-day strike beginning Friday over a pay dispute.

On another topic related to Iraq, Mr. Hoon said the United Nations Security Council should consider whether Iraqi attacks on American and British planes enforcing a no-fly zone in Iraq constitute a breach of a U.N. resolution.

U.S. officials have said the Iraqi anti-aircraft fire appears to violate the recently passed Security Council resolution that has gotten U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq.