WAR DIARY: 'It is crucial to reach British forces in theatre'

As a ground offensive looms, MoD information officer Jonathan

Spencer begins to grapple with the growing band of military strategists

among the news media.



Monday 22 October



The press is full of stories on US ground troops in Afghanistan - with

scenes written in for our own forces. It makes good copy but some facts

are questionable. We have meetings to discuss facts and communication

planning. The MoD is a huge organisation and there are key messages to

straighten out and signals to send down the chains of command. Our

military staff overseas need to know their roles from us before they

read it in The Mirror.



Tuesday 23 October



The BBC's Today programme seems to know more than most. Exercise Saif

Sareea, a training scheme in the Omani desert, ends before Ramadan and

they want to set the agenda for what happens next.



Everyone's a military strategist, but the decision rests with the

Secretary of State, who gets his advice from the military chiefs - not

Sky and News 24. Later at a press conference we push the line for our

own headline - all nine of al-Qa'ida's training camps have been

destroyed - and we update the press on military action.



A soldier is killed in Oman. Here it's also a local story but until next

of kin have been informed we won't give the PA further details. We

always respect family wishes, but take the view that releasable details

can help to dispel the concerns of others.



Wednesday 24 October



There's a single media focus on troops and assets to remain in the

Gulf.



A definitive account in The Times raises a few eyebrows. Their sources

appear to be well-informed. We are not discussing leaks, though - an

announcement will be made shortly and there is little we can add for

now. The TV anchors suggest it's hours before troops go in, but days is

more likely. The expectation intensifies but this is our call, not

theirs.



I am surprised to see Peter Snow appear at the MoD - and not a

swingometer in sight. He's in to see the Army and cram up on detail for

Sunday's War Report. He doesn't recognise me from our overlapping

Newsnight days four years ago.



Thursday 25 October



Defence secretary Geoff Hoon is off to the Gulf. Armed Forces press

officer Paul Sykes flies out on Saturday, cast as media adviser to the

chiefs - more than a walk-on part in the war.



Friday 26 October



Was expecting a day off, but there is no chance of that. Defence

minister Adam Ingram is making a statement to Parliament. We have to

rush copies across to the lobby and we have to run a press

conference.



Ingram announces the UK force contribution, fields questions and does

interviews from our media suite. We include BFBS (British Forces

Broadcasting Services) because it is crucial to reach British forces in

theatre. That's why the Secretary of State is out there.



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