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WAR ON TERROR: MINISTER'S U-TURNS: BUFFHOON; Marines ready to act..no they're not..yes they are Then Hoon says no one wants to question bombing.

Byline: TOM NEWTON DUNN and JAMES HARDY

DEFENCE Secretary Geoff Hoon's U-turns left the country in confusion yesterday over whether the Marines are ready to go into action.

And they were not his only blunders.

Mr Hoon contradicted himself in Parliament after himself being contradicted by the Marines' CO.

He claimed few support The Mirror's determination to ask tough questions about the war when most readers believe we are right.

And he mistakenly blurted out the location of a secret allied airbase in the Middle East to reporters.

In a speech to troops in Oman at the weekend Mr Hoon suggested that action by the Marines was imminent and that they will be used to "smoke out" the enemy.

But Brigadier Roger Lane, head of 3 Commando Brigade, retorted: "He didn't say that to me."

Brig Lane questioned whether the Marines really were in a "high state of readiness" and whether the coalition had enough intelligence on targets.

And he said he would not send his men into battle until he was sure they were ready, adding: "We don't need to be hasty, we need to be right."

Under pressure at a news conference Mr Hoon was forced to admit that it may be "some time" before commandos would be ready to take part in operations.

But just three hours later in the Commons he said they were at the "highest state of readiness".

And he complained to MPs that Brig Lane's comments had been "deliberately taken out of context" by the media.

The row continued when Tory defence spokesman Bernard Jenkin said: "It is essential to avoid the mixed messages that have been causing serious concern about the direction of the campaign in recent days."

Labour MPs are increasingly uneasy at the aims and direction of the war.

But Mr Hoon also wrongly claimed there was no opposition to the US bombing.

Leading a Government fightback against alleged "wobbles" in the media, he picked out The Mirror's hardhitting questions.

He told the news conference: "I don't accept there is a growing voice of dissent. That is not the experience I have had when I have spoken to people in the country.

"I think people are far more aware of the impact of the events of September 11 than perhaps some people who write in newspapers are.

"I read The Mirror and I don't believe that reflects the opinion of most people, who want to see determined action against those responsible for September 11."

But hundreds of readers contacted us to praise our determination to question the US air strikes and the achievability of the aims of the war on terrorism.

Finally Mr Hoon's aides were forced to ring newspapers to ask them not to publish comments he made about where RAF support craft were flying from.

If the news was revealed it would cause the host nation acute embarrassment and possibly lead to riots there.

Tony Blair will today face down "doom merchants" and appeal for people to hold steady in the war.

In a defiant message he will warn that British forces will be in action to the bitter end.

Mr Blair will say: "It is not us who are at war with Islam, it is al-Qaeda and the Taliban who are at war with anyone, whatever their faith, who does not share their maniacal and fanatical view."

There are clear signs of unease in Downing Street over the impact of civilian casualties and emerging cracks in support for military strikes.

CAPTION(S):

CHAOS: Hoon yesterday; TRAINING: Marines on last week's exercise in Oman, where their CO said they will not to to Afghanistan until ready
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 30, 2001
Words:608
Previous Article:WAR ON TERROR: LIVING IN FEAR: I'LL DEFY THE KILLERS; Irish nun's vow to protect her pupils after massacre.
Next Article:WAR ON TERROR: MINISTER'S U-TURNS: ROUTLEDGE finds the spin turns to wobble.


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