RAF squadron celebrates a safe return.
The men and women who spearheaded Britain's bombing raids on Iraq made a triumphant return to their home base yesterday. About 150 members of 12th Squadron, whose Tornado jets pounded Iraqi military sites last month, touched down at RAF Lossiemouth - just two and a half minutes behind schedule after a journey of nearly 3,000 miles from the Ali Al Salem base in Kuwait. Watched by delighted members of their families, Defence Secretary Mr George Robertson and air force Commanders, the RAF personnel were led off the Lockheed Tristar jet by Wing Commander Steve Barnes, who took part in three bombing missions. Commander Barnes was greeted by his wife Zoe and they kissed and hugged as a lone piper played Scotland the Brave. Mr Robertson shook hands with every man and woman leaving the plane and personally thanked each one for their efforts during the four-day Desert Fox campaign against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's capacity to produce and store weapons of mass destruction. Tornados from 12th Squadron took part in 28 sorties during which 61 Paveway laser guided bombs - six of them weighing 2,000lbs - were dropped on targeted sites. The RAF claims their bombs were more than 75 per cent accurate. It was a day of celebration and relief for both the RAF personnel and their families as they rushed towards each other on the runway. Squadron Leader Andy Box, aged 34, said it had been two months since he saw his wife Lesley, their two-year-old daughter Emma and son Christopher, aged four. He added: "It's fantastic to be back - it's like Christmas when you're four years old." His wife, Lesley, said: "The kids have set out all the things they got for Christmas so that they can show them off to dadd. There's even a few presents waiting for Andy. "I just wanted to cry when I saw him coming off the plane. It was a great relief." Junior Technician Colin Redfearn, aged 31, kissed and hugged his wife Samantha, aged 29. Mr Redfearn, from Wigan, said: "I am going to have more than a few drinks when I get home. It's great to be back." Squadron Intelligence OfficerKate Ansell, aged 23, from Bristol, said: "I'm just looking forward to seeing my boyfriend Dave again. It's been a tough, long campaign. "It's been a strain on us all and it's really good to be back." Mr Robertson said he was delighted to welcome 12 Squadron home safely. He was proud of the job it had done and praised the accuracy of its bombing. Both he and Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, had shared the families' anxiety while the Tornados took part in sorties under enemy fire, said Mr Robertson. He refused to rule out the possibility of using force again, if necessary, to ensure Iraqi compliance with UN wishes. The Iraqi dictator's appeal for Arabs to unite against their governments, and recent military engagements since the campaign ended on December 20, smacked of weakness, he said. Mr Robertson added: "Saddam appreciates how much his regime's war machine has been damaged and he now stands isolated. "The call on the Arab masses to rise up against the governments of the Arab countries is a very clear sign that he's isolated among the Arab countries in that region. "We will no doubt see more of these indications of petulance and desperation, not signs of strength. "We remain alert. We remain ready and if action is necessary it will be taken and taken without notice."