London 2012: U.K. Government Calls in More Troops to Fill Olympics Security Gaps
LONDON - The U.K. government has called on 3,500 additional soldiers to help fill security gaps during the upcoming Summer Olympics here, raising questions about the British capital's preparations for the Games.
Previously, concerns were raised about the ability of immigration officials at Heathrow and other London airports to cope with the big numbers of foreign visitors expected for the Summer Games.
Tens of thousands of foreign media and athletes alone are expected to converge on London in addition to sports officials and tourists. Organizers previously said that they expect 21,000 media representatives, 10,500 athletes and as many as 8.8 million ticket holders to come out for the Olympics.
The Daily Telegraph reported Thursday that many of the additional British soldiers notified only recently returned from Afghanistan and may be used for menial security tasks.
Olympics security firm G4S will be stripped of some of its £500 million ($770 million) payment amid the need to draft in soldiers, the paper added.
British media immediately wondered if the capital was really ready for the Olympics, which starts in two weeks.
Home Secretary Theresa May said in a statement Thursday though that the British government is ready for the expected masses of visitors.
"The government's over-riding priority is to use all resources necessary to deliver a safe and secure Olympic Games," she said. "The security operation has been meticulously planned. It will be the largest and most complex security operation in this country since the Second World War."
She emphasized that "there remains no specific security threat to the Games" and that the additional soldiers are being called in as a "prudent" measure that signals that there is "no question of Olympic security being compromised."
May added: "Contingency planning has always been central to our security work, should any changes be needed at this late stage. The Games security picture can change rapidly and so we have deliberately built in flexibility to respond to any challenge."
She said the plan was always for 7,500 military personnel to support the venue security operation organized by the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, LOCOG, or 13,500 when including military deployed for broader functions beyond venue security.
And she emphasized that the government remains "confident that we will deliver within that budget" that has been set for security functions.
"As the venue security exercise has got underway, concerns have arisen about the ability of G4S to deliver the required number of guards for all Olympics venues and within the timescales available," May concluded. "In consultation with LOCOG and G4S, we have now agreed that it would be prudent to deploy additional military support to provide greater reassurance."
The Summer Olympics kick off on July 27.