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Military told to revamp its public relations as war looms

LONDON - The Ministry of Defence has been ordered to rearrange its public relations operations by Tony Blair spin chief Alastair Campbell, as the possibility that British forces will be involved in a war in Iraq looks increasingly likely.

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A report in the Sunday Telegraph says that Campbell, director of communications at No 10 Downing Street, has demanded that civil servants take over the MoD's press operations after a series of incidents during the war in Afghanistan.

News management will no longer be the responsibility of military staff, but teams of trained press officers will now be dispatched to the frontline of any conflict to give accurate information to ministers. At the moment, press briefings are given at military offices in Northwood, Middlesex, but this will continue only for a few months more.

When British troops were deployed in Afghanistan, there were accusations that the PR team was exaggerating both the dangers and successes of the task facing the soldiers.

There were several incidents where the press was given inaccurate information about the extent of British involvement in certain incidents.

In one case, what amounted to little more than a military exercise was reported to have been a major assault against Al-Qaeda. On two occasions, the MoD was forced to issue corrections in London.

The fracas ended in Royal Marine commander Brigadier Roger Lane being removed from command. He was personally pillored in the press. Calls were made for his removal after the MoD was forced to correct briefings he had given.

Despite the personal attacks, Lane was last week honoured by the Americans and awarded a Bronze Star for his performance during the war.

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