British nuclear submarine HMS Triumph and frigate HMS Monmouth passed through the Suez Canal Saturday to join a task force of ships assembling for war games in the Gulf, the British embassy said, cited by AFP.
The ships were heading for exercises off Oman that were announced in July, but British newspapers have reported they are on standby for possible US-led action in response to the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, said the agency.
An Omani military official said mid September that Oman had not even considered postponing the joint military exercise with Britain - Swift Sword 2 - despite the September 11 attacks against the US.
"We have not even considered the subject and have no plans to consider it either," asserted Brigadier Said bin Sueliman Al Habsi, Assistant Chief of Staff in the Sultan's Armed Forces (SAF), during a press conference at the ministry of defense a week after the US attacks.
"We have been planning for this exercise, by far the biggest in Oman's history, since 1998. We are fully prepared to go ahead."
He said 14,000 Omani troops will take part in the 15-day exercise, starting from mid-October, with Britain's 24,000 men, more than 8000 of whom have already arrived in Oman.
"It will be the biggest British troop deployment outside Britain since the 1982 Falklands war and the largest joint military exercise in the region after the Gulf War."
It is the second joint military exercise with Britain but the first in 15 years, according to reports.
AFP added that HMS Triumph and other ships which have crossed the canal were not previously scheduled to take part in the exercises, citing a list of vessels published by the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) Internet site.
Oman is close to where US aircraft carrier battle groups are already gathering for anticipated attacks on Afghanistan.
According to the MoD website, 24 British navy ships and two submarines were listed among the flotilla taking part, but according to Suez canal officials, a total of 28 British navy vessels including three submarines have crossed from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea in the past 10 days.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has vowed to support the United States "without hesitation" in its campaign to root out international terrorism in the wake of the most devastating terrorist attacks on US soil.
The United States suspects Saudi-born extremist Osama bin Laden, believed to be hiding out somewhere in Afghanistan, of being behind the attacks – Albawaba.com
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