HC Deb 27 November 2003 vol 415 cc29-30WS
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

The Multinational Division (South-East) (MND(SE)) in Iraq was successfully instituted on 13 July and the UK now leads a 10-nation contingent in the southern Iraqi provinces of Basra, Maysan, Dhi Qar and Al Muthanna.

As part of our routine management of the UK's land deployment we intend shortly to conduct a roulement of our forces in theatre. This will begin with an incremental replacement of HQ 3 (UK) Division with a composite headquarters for MND(SE), the staff for which will be drawn from across UK Defence and from allies. 1 Mechanised Brigade will begin to replace 20 Armoured Brigade as the foundation for the UK's military commitment inside Iraq in April 2004. We intend that the process will be complete by the end of April 2004. We expect the level of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force presence in theatre to remain broadly stable.

As part of this roulement forces and in line with our policy of employing the reserves as an integral component of the Armed Forces, we shall be mobilizing a further tranche of around 1,100 Reservists to support operations in Iraq. We expect these personnel to deploy from mid February 2004 onwards. Although a significant mobilisation, this is both in absolute terms a smaller number than have been mobilised for previous tranches, and will constitute a smaller proportion of the service personnel deployed to theatre than previously. These Reservists will be employed in a number of roles: about a third in theatre at any one time will be deployed in the infantry role as force protection, a little under a quarter will provide reinforcement to regular infantry units deployed, about a sixth will be medical personnel and the remainder will provide a variety of specialist capabilities.

We aim to issue the majority of call-out notices around 9 January 2004 and begin mobilisation in mid February 2004. Reservist personnel will receive at least 21 days' notice to mobilise. Mobilisation will be followed by a period of individual training to confirm basic skills, theatre specific pre-deployment training, role-specific collective training, integration into receiving units and then a short period of leave before deployment. For the majority of those called-out their deployed tour will last six months; and for most the total period of mobilisation, including post-tour leave, is expected to last between eight and nine months, though for a very small proportion it may be slightly longer.

We intend to spend the period between now and January identifying for selection as accurately as possible those Reservists who are believed to be fit and available for deployment. As in previous practice, to ensure that we successfully mobilise the required number, we will need to issue a greater number of call-out notices than our actual in-theatre requirement.

We will continue to keep the size and mix of forces in theatre under careful review and we can expect to make further adjustments to our force structures and undertake further mobilisations in order to ensure that we continue to have the appropriate capabilities for the tasks in hand. While we remain determined to maintain appropriate forces deployed in Iraq and the wider Gulf region for as long as is necessary, we are equally determined that no forces should remain deployed for any longer than is necessary.