US National Guard for airbases

SUFFOLK'S two American air bases are to be protected by armed troops from the United States National Guard as the threat of war with Iraq deepens.The troops, according to U.

SUFFOLK'S two American air bases are to be protected by armed troops from the United States National Guard as the threat of war with Iraq deepens.

The troops, according to U.S. forces newspaper Air Force Print News, are being sent to help protect the thousands of staff and millions of pounds worth of military hardware at RAF Lakenheath and nearby RAF Mildenhall

It is thought the troops, which are a reserve force within the U.S. army, will be sent to the two Suffolk bases by the end of March after training at Fort Dix in New Jersey.

Tech Sgt Claudette Hutchinson, public affairs officer at RAF Lakenheath, could not confirm whether the troops were coming to protect the bases in the event of a war against Iraq.

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She said: "I have had it confirmed by our headquarters that the National Guard is coming to Lakenheath by the end of March.

"We believe the troops will be coming here to help our own security services, who have been working 12-hour shifts to protect the base so these guys are being brought in to ease the strain.

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"The National Guard will be very beneficial to the existing security service here and may mean they can end up working some shorter hours."

The public affairs officer added: "The National Guard has two missions - one for the state if there is a national emergency such as a flood or a hurricane and the other is a federal mission for when they are needed to be called on by the President in the event of emergencies such as 9/11 or the War on Terror.

"The guard can be mobilised to any area they are needed."

An RAF Mildenhall spokesman said the deployment to bolster security at the base was believed to be imminent.

"At the present time we're still waiting for conformation on when and how large the force will be," she added.

More than 300 soldiers look likely to be involved in protecting the bases and will search vehicles and check visitors' identification as they enter.

The Ministry of Defence has confirmed the troops will not patrol country lanes or get involved in enforcing the law.

It is also believed the National Guard will help protect RAF Molesworth, a US military intelligence-gathering and assessment centre near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

The news came as it was revealed the US expects to spend up to £60 billion if war is declared on Iraq.

Military planners said the figure included funds to rebuild the country after a conflict and to fight the terror threat which is expected to rise if the invasion goes ahead.

The cost could be £40 billion depending on how long the war lasts, whether American allies contribute to reconstruction and what damage Saddam Hussein does to Iraq to retaliate against conquering forces.

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