The Spearhead of Operation Enduring Freedom HMS Illustrious sailed into Palma yesterday.

The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, which arrived in Palma yesterday at the start of a four day visit, spearheaded the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. It was from the carrier, nicknamed “Lusty”, that the first wave of Royal Marines soldiers were deployed at Bagram airport and in Kabul at the very start of Operation Enduring Freedom. Commanding Officer, Captain Alan Massey, said yesterday that while the Royal Navy was part of a very, very large coalition force, “the British contribution was very big.” It consisted of 12 ships in the Persian Gulf which have been in force in the area since October. The coalition force is currently made up of seven navies, “and the Spanish are on their way.” The Illustrious has been replaced by HMS Ocean which it handed over to on March 3. Captain Massey said “we have put forces into Afghanistan from this ship, in fact we were able to put our own soldiers on the ground very quickly, and that is the point. “It does not matter how many you have as long as you can get them in early.” The first British soldiers into Bagram and Kabul deployed from the Illustrious and the success of that early mission proved vital in the war against terrorism. “Having secured the airfield at Bagram we were then able to fly all the rest of coalition troops into Bagram and Kabul safely by air,” Captain Massey explained in the briefing room. “Tactically, this ship got in very early and made the difference. “I think it's probably fair to say that had we not been there and not been able to do that then the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) in Kabul may not be there now. Because we had to have secured and opened Bagram and Kabul before the winter started so that the Northern Alliance could push through. “It's early, quick, flexible, that is what these ships are for,” Captain Massey stressed. “The principal task of this ship is power projection, putting military force onto the ground either from the air or from the ground with marines.” “They are both extremely expensive assets, but if governments want to have in influence on world events then you have to make these investments. You need to be able to project force...if everything else fails.” One of the key reasons Illustrious was able to act so quickly was that she was already in the area when the Operation Enduring Freedom was launched. She had spent October on exercise off Oman as part of Operation Argonaut. When the exercise finished she was ordered to remain in the Gulf, but had to swiftly be transformed from a strike carrier to an amphibious carrier.