London, Dec. 1 (ANI): Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair asked his defence chiefs to secretly chart out war strategy in June 2002 - nearly a year before the Iraq invasion, an Iraq war inquiry panel has been told.
Former British foreign policy adviser Sir David Manning told the panel that Blair first talked about the military options in June 2002 after being told that President George W Bush had set up a "cell" dedicated to planning for a war.
"The first time the Prime Minister asked for military options was in June 2002. At this stage we are aware that military planning is going ahead, that this cell had been set up in Florida, and he was anxious to know what sort of options do we have," The Telegraph quoted Sir David, as saying.
The defence chiefs gave Blair three options for a possible war-like situation.
He said the first option would be to provide air support using existing military bases in the region, the second was an "enhanced support package" with extra aircraft and naval support, and the third would involve a land invasion by the Army.
The third option would take at least six months to prepare for.
By October, "there was an acceptance that if it came to military action we would be willing to move to package three", said Sir David.
Sir David also disclosed that Bush and Blair first discussed a possible link between Saddam and the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US just three days after 9/11.
"As far as I'm aware the first time the president mentioned Iraq to the Prime Minister was on September 14 in a telephone call and he said he thought there might be evidence that there was some connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
"The Prime Minister's response was that the evidence would have to be very compelling indeed to justify taking any action against Iraq." (ANI)