Britain to send new Gulf naval flotilla Gulf

Britain is sending an aircraft carrier group into the Persian Gulf next month, the first time a British carrier has been there since 1992. It is a gesture of support for the Americans who, according to naval sources, have been feeling somewhat "lonely" in the region.

The group, primarily designed to deal with hostile aircraft, will comprise the carrier HMS Invincible, escorted by two or three Type 42 destroyers and two Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships. Early next year another large British force, centred on the carrier HMS Illustrious, will pass through the Gulf region en route for exercises in the Far East.

Armed Forces Minister Nicholas Soames, who is visiting the Gulf states, said it was "important for countries like Iran and Iraq to see that it's not only Americans who are prepared to pull their weight in this region in pursuit of stability and peace". He added that Iran in particular "needs extremely careful watching." The US says Iran is a state which supports international terrorism, and there is widespread concern that ex-Soviet Kilo-class submarines in Iranian hands could cut off the supply of oil from the Gulf. Iraq also remained "a real problem for us", Mr Soames said. "Saddam shows no sign of diminishing adventurism. Until he conforms entirely to all UN Security Council resolutions it will remain a most unsatisfactory state of affairs."

The Invincible group will take part in manoeuvres known as "Gulfex", which will last throughout November, and return home for Christmas. Britain has maintained a naval presence in the Gulf in the form of the Armilla patrol, and was one of the few countries to support US cruise missile attacks against targets in southern Iraq at the beginning of last month. The French also have a naval force in the area but have been less active in co-operation with the US.