Black Watch gears up for major new US offensive

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THE Black Watch battalion was preparing today to join US Marines and Iraqi forces in a major new offensive against insurgents.

The operation - codenamed Plymouth Rock because it takes place around Thanksgiving - is billed as the biggest coalition offensive since the assault on Fallujah.

More than 5000 men supported by Cobra helicopters, F-18 hornets and F-16s, will launch raids in and around the so-called Triangle of Death south of Baghdad.

The 850 British soldiers of the Black Watch battle group, based to the west near the Euphrates, are included in the 5000-strong force but will not enter the Triangle of Death.

Their role since they arrived at the camp, south west of Baghdad, nearly four weeks ago has been to block insurgents fleeing Fallujah.

As US attention switches from Fallujah to the trouble hotspots around the towns of Mahmudiyah, Latifiyah and Yusufiyah, The Black Watch is expected to perform a similar function.

Troops will remain within the area they currently operate in but they will ratchet up their operations in close co-ordination with US Marines and Iraqi security forces.

The announcement came as insurgents fired two rockets late yesterday at their Camp Dogwood base but caused no damage or casualties, British officials said.

A senior British military spokesman at Kalsu said The Black Watch would play an important role in the operation.

He said: "We are upping the ante and we are expecting it to be a relatively intense period."

Meanwhile, civic leaders from Black Watch heartlands were today meeting Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon to urge him to spare the regiment from proposed cuts.