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`Home Guard' force to combat terrorists.

Byline: Gavin Cordon

PLANS for a 6,000-strong reaction force of armed forces reservists, to come to the aid of the civil authorities in the event of a major terrorist attack, were unveiled by the Government yesterday.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said the forces' volunteer reservists could play an ``important role'' in meeting the challenges posed by international terrorism following September 11.

However the Tories warned Britain was already lagging behind the United States in strengthening its homeland defences and said it was essential that the new force was backed by additional cash.

``The UK is miles behind the US and other countries on the issue of homeland defence,'' said shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin.

``The present commitments of the armed forces already outstrip resources. Will this simply add to overstretch?''

Defence sources insisted the UK already had well developed structures in place following decades of Irish terrorism and did not need the sort of radical changes taking place in the US.

While they stressed money would be found to fund the new force, officials acknowledged they would have to wait until next month's Government spending review to find out how much extra cash they would get from the Chancellor.

Under the Government's plans, set out in a consultation document, the proposed force will be drawn from the 50,700 reservists of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and Royal Air Force.

The force would be held at a state of ``graduated readiness'' - with the first elements available to assist the police and other civil authorities within hours of any incident. It would be able to help in dealing with mass casualties, mounting search and clearance operations, restoring transport and communications and operating food and water supply points. It would also have command and control facilities with the capability to operate in the aftermath of a nuclear, biological or chemical attack.

L The US Defence Secretary said yesterday he had seen ``indications'' of al-Qaida activity near the line of control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Donald Rumsfeld is in New Delhi as part of international efforts to calm tensions between the nuclear rivals. He heads to Pakistan today.

The US defence chief said he did not know which side of the frontier the militants were operating on, or how many there were in the region.
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jun 13, 2002
Words:387
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