By Martin Evans, PA News, in Muscat, Oman.
The largest deployment of British armed forces since the Gulf War is currently taking part in a huge military exercise in Oman and will be at the disposal of the allied forces. Operation Saif Sareea - Swift Sword 2 - involves some 23,000 men and women from the Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
The exercises, which began last month, were planned over four years ago at the invitation of the Sultan of Oman and were designed to test Britain's capability to deploy heavy armour and large troop numbers quickly at times of international crisis.
Following the terror attacks in the United States, there was some question whether the 93 million exercise would go ahead, but military top brass believed it was important to carry on with the plans.
For the last six weeks, land-based forces have been carrying out a range of military operations deep in the Omani desert, while Royal Navy ships have been undertaking manoeuvres in the Indian Ocean.
Aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, which carries Harrier jets, heads up the Royal Naval taskforce, which consists of 24 ships.
Also part of the taskforce are at least two submarines, which Prime Minister Tony Blair tonight confirmed had taken part in the attacks on Afghanistan using cruise missiles.
Illustrious, which has 1,200 men and women on board, is likely to act as a floating command centre for any seaborne attacks.
Harrier jets, with their midair refuelling capabilities, will also have the capacity to strike at targets in Afghanistan while providing air support for the naval taskforce.
Stationed at several air bases in Oman are Tornado jets and Harrier fighters.
The RAF also has Hercules and Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft and a large number of Chinook and Puma helicopters in the region for the exercises.
Operation Saif Sareea was due to continue until later this month but at this stage it is unclear whether the exercises will all go ahead as planned.
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