US military retreats after banning troops from city

Click to follow
Indy Politics

The order barring all 12,000 US Air Force personnel stationed in Britain from travelling within the M25 was lifted by US commanders after it was argued that it sent the wrong signal about terrorism.

US servicemen at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath were banned from visiting London, in spite of the solidarity expressed by President George Bush, who said: "In this dark hour, the people of Britain can know the American people stand with them."

Yesterday afternoon, General James Jones, commander of US forces in Europe, lifted all travel restrictions for US personnel in the UK. He said: "While all personnel are encouraged to be vigilant, we cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated by the acts of terrorists. All US personnel are encouraged to continue with their normal routine."

The tourist industry also sought to calm any fears about travelling to the capital. Stephen Dowd, the chief executive of UKinbound, the trade association for the tourist industry, said the US directive was confusing for travellers coming to Britain.

"It is unfortunate they decided to give that recommendation to servicemen and women because we are finding a lot of people are still coming to London, particularly from America," he said.

John Reid, the Defence Secretary, said on BBC's Today that he had checked before going on air and had been assured by the US embassy that the ruling was being urgently reviewed.

The ban was embarrassing for the Prime Minister, and undermined efforts by Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, to put on a show of "business as usual", for which Britain was praised around the world. Downing Street played it down as a "cock-up" rather than a deliberate snub, although it was potentially damaging for the tourist industry. Downing Street officials were not aware of the ban until journalists told them about it on Monday.

The Prime Minister's spokesman pointed out that the US had not warned civilians to avoid the capital. However, the appearance of American tourists on London's streets while servicemen stayed away struck a more discordant note.