Air raids destroy all nine al-Qa'ida training camps

War on terrorism: Allies
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Every training camp of Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida network has been destroyed in the allied air strikes on Afghanistan, the Secretary of State for defence, Geoff Hoon, said.

US warplanes had hit all nine camps known to be used by the terrorist group, severely damaging their military capabilities, he added.

Mr Hoon did not reveal details of the deployment of British ground forces at a much-trailed press conference held at the MoD yesterday, despite widespread expectations that he would do so.

Senior defence sources claimed it was because he had only received the final list of requirements from the chiefs of defence staff yesterday afternoon because of a delay.

However, any announcement by the defence secretary about any British role in a ground war would have coincided with dramatic developments in Northern Ireland.

Six of the al-Qa'ida camps destroyed were in and around Kabul and the other three were in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar in the south, said Mr Hoon. He added: "We have successfully put all of these camps out of action."

US, British and coalition troops can expect to continue operations through the bitter Afghan winter, the chief of defence staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce stated yestereday.

He acknowledged that the weather would make the campaign difficult, but maintained that "specialist forces" can carry on operating throughout the winter.

Mr Hoon confirmed that some of the 20,000 British armed forces personnel involved in the Saif Sareea II exercise in Oman are being considered for Afghan ground operations. He said "We are in the process of looking at the equipment and people who are engaged in Saif Sareea and deciding which of those we will need to retain in and around the theatre to support future operations."

A sizeable part of the 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marine, which is 3,500-strong with support staff, is likely to be deployed following exercise in Oman. The Brigade includes 40 Commando and 45 Commando – each around 650-strong including expert mountain and winter warfare troops.

The Royal Marines are expected to be deployed on board the helicopter carrier, HMS Ocean, which will also carry Sea King and Chinook helicopters to take them into Afghanistan. The aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious, is also expected to play a supporting role although it is unlikely to take part in direct action.

About 300 members of special forces – SAS and the Special Boat Squadron – will also, it is believed, form part of the British force. They are training on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.