Army's mock attack is mocked

War in the Balkans: Preparations
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The Independent Online
IN THE heart of Macedonia yesterday, British troops were preparing for any eventuality. It wasn't quite Kosovo but the terrain was similar so the Irish Guards, in Warrior armoured vehicles, attacked a hillside with live ammunition.

Firing from 30mm cannon, chain guns and machine-guns, they pounded the wrecks of old lorries, meant to represent Serb tanks, and cardboard figures posing as Serb soldiers or paramilitary forces. But local pro-Serb Macedonians were not impressed. "When he sees this on CNN, Milosevic will sleep like a log tonight," said Dragan, a Macedonian who had driven a foreign TV crew to the site of the mock attack.

The driver was hardly being fair. The members of the Irish Guards Battle Group, based in Muenster and Osnabruck in Germany, were only calibrating their weapons and getting used to the noise and recoil of live shells. In combat, or implementing a peace accord, they'd be backed by Royal Artillery field guns and Challenger tanks.

Still, the Guardsmen got off to a bad start. The machine-gun fired from the first Warrior got nowhere near its target. "Gas regulator's too loose," Drum Major Geoff Johnson assured us. "It's a new weapon. Got to warm up the barrel," insisted the gunner, Sergeant Major Sean Murphy.

The next Warrior ensured the cameramen moved well back after its gunner decapitated a clump of thistles 20 yards ahead of him, rather short of the target 1,000 yards away. Then someone noticed that a mounted machine- gun was pointing sideways, directly at the media group, while Guardsmen were trying to find out why it had been firing off-centre. "Point the gun!" yelled Drum Major Johnson. Unable to hear him, the gunner leaned forward until his helmet was right in front of the barrel. "Just kidding," he told us later. "There were no rounds in. Safe as 'ouses, mate."