500 troops to come home from Iraq

( Excite UK ) - Britain's military deployment in southern Iraq is to be cut by 500 to 5,000 over the next few months, the Ministry of Defence has announced.

A battle group of 250 men from the King's Royal Hussars have been told they will be returning early to the UK within the next four weeks. Further manpower reductions will be implemented in the coming months as part of ongoing reviews.

The announcement of the force reduction comes six days after the withdrawal of British troops from Basra Palace, their last base inside Iraq's second city.

The UK forces remaining at Basra Air Station, about 12 miles north of the city, are now confined to "overwatch" duties, but remain ready to intervene in Basra if local security forces require their assistance.

The MoD said that the announcement implemented a long-standing plan outlined by Defence Secretary Des Browne to the House of Commons in July, when he said that troop numbers would be cut to 5,000 once Basra Palace was successfully handed over to Iraqi authorities.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair paved the way for the move in February, when he announced a cut in Britain's commitment in Iraq from 7,100 to 5,500, adding that the force level could drop below 5,000 once the Iraqis had taken control of the palace base.

A spokesman announced that the MoD was implementing "plans for reducing force numbers in Basra to approximately 5,000 now that Basra Palace has been handed over to the Iraqi authorities, as per our long-standing plan."

He added: "This morning, the Kings Royal Hussars Battle Group - approximately 250 men - were told that as part of these reductions, their tour is being cut short and they will return to the UK over the course of the next four weeks.

"The remaining reductions will be achieved in the coming months as part of ongoing manpower reviews. Achieving these reductions has long been our stated aim."

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