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 SCOTLAND'S ROLE IN MODERN CONFLICT

A number of military facilities in Scotland played a direct role in the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Troops, air and naval forces based in Scotland took part in the invasion of Iraq. In the run up to the war, facilities in Scotland also played an important part. The munitions depot at Glen Douglas in Argyll is used for stocking up munitions, shells and weapons prior to conflict. In January 2003, two of the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers berthed at the adjacent Glen Mallan jetty to stock up on armaments before heading to war. Glen Douglas is a huge munitions depot, covers an area of 650 acres, employs 150 people and stores an unknown amount of 'conventional weapons'.

In February 2003, just prior to the invasion of Iraq, almost 200 DU shells were fired at Dundrennan by British Challenger II tanks before departing for Iraq. The Kirkcudbright range near Dundrennan, in south-west Scotland, is the only open air testing area for depleted uranium munitions in the UK. The range covers 4,500 acres and has a danger area extending over 120 square miles of the Solway Firth. Since 1982, over 6,000 depleted uranium munitions, mainly anti-tank shells have been fired on the range into the Solway without any having been recovered. British Challenger II tanks almost exclusively fire DU shells. As a chemically toxic substance, depleted uranium dust contaminates land and causes ill health and cancers to many, including the soldiers who deploy them, the armies they target, and civilians caught in the middle.

Just over 50 miles west of the range at Dundrennan, is the QinetiQ owned bombing range and weapons facility at West Freugh in Luce Bay. Activities that take place at the range include a number of bombing activities and short-range weapons trials including the testing of cluster bombs. Cluster bombs are a major armament of the RAF's Tornado GR4 attack aircraft, 64 of which are based at RAF Lossiemouth, on the east coast of Scotland, making Lossiemouth the largest Tornado base in the UK. Cluster Bombs are munitions that on explosion hurl hundreds of pieces of metal fragments and shrapnel in all directions. Civilian casualties and injuries are a common occurrence when they are used. On the 22nd March 2003 at least 50 Iraqi civilians in Basra were killed as a result of an aerial bombardment that included the use of cluster bombs.

Luce bay is also used for NATO training exercises. In September 2003, the RAF contributed to a NATO training exercise called Northern Light, that was a huge mock amphibious landing involving nearly 50 ships and submarines and 34 aircraft from UK and foreign forces.

And, also in Scotland there are a number of important NATO communications and intelligence stations. At Aird Uig on Lewis, the radar station there forms part of NATO's monitoring of the North Atlantic. The station had been expected to close, but work was completed in 2003 to reactivate it, a decision partially connected to the prospect of terrorist attacks on Britain.

In Kinross, the 'Golf Ball' radar station at Balado Bridge is a satellite ground station for the NATO-IV communication satellite, providing long distance secure communications between NATO forces. Next door to the 'T-in-The-Park' music festival site, Balado Bridge had been linked to the Scottish command centre at Pitreavie in Fife by microwave transmitter. When Pitreavie was closed in the mid-1990s, its functions were transferred to Faslane. A microwave link between Balado Bridge and Faslane could be in operation today.

Scotland was exploited by the military during the Cold War and that situation remains. Cape Wrath is the only ship-to-shore bombardment range in Europe and since the United States Navy was forced to withdraw from a similar range in Puerto Rico in 2003, Cape Wrath can unwittingly claim to be the most important area for naval training in the world, or at least in the Northern Hemisphere. The range also contains the only place in Europe where aircraft can release live one thousand pound bombs. For a country as small as Scotland, it is staggering that it contains:

· All of Britain's nuclear weapons at Coulport and the strategic nuclear submarine fleet at Faslane
· Britain's biggest Tornado base at Lossiemouth
· The largest and most frequently used low flying area in Britain in the north west Highlands
· The only open air live depleted uranium weapons test range in Britain at Dundrennan

The utilisation of Scottish based troops, aircraft and equipment in the 'War on Terror' in Afghanistan and Iraq, highlights that Scotland still has an active role in present world conflict. Scotland's Cold War legacy is still being felt today, and without concerted effort by those who believe Scotland should play more of a role as a force for peace in the world, this situation is unlikely to change in the near future.

 

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