Author Topic: Chemical warning over troops‘ kit  (Read 3554 times)

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Offline Spr.Earl

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Chemical warning over troops‘ kit
« on: March 17, 2004, 01:14:00 »
Chemical warning over troops‘ kit

Shortages in key protective kit would have meant "severe" consequences if UK troops had come under chemical attack in the Iraq war, say MPs.
The Commons defence committee says the Iraq operation was a military success.

But troops had to cope with "real difficulties" caused by hurried deployment and inadequate supplies.

A year on from the start of the war, a new BBC poll suggests 48% of Britons now think military action was right, with 43% opposed and 9% undecided.

The ICM survey for BBC Two‘s Newsnight also suggests that 29% of people think Tony Blair told the truth about weapons of mass destruction.

But 40% of those interviewed said he exaggerated but did not lie, and 22% said he lied about the weapons threat.

Goodwill ‘squandered‘

The committee‘s new report on the lessons of the conflict criticises ministers for a "misjudgement" in failing to plan enough before the war for rebuilding Iraq for fear of making the conflict seem inevitable.

It also suggests the Department for International Development‘s (DFID) role in post-war planning was constrained because of ex-cabinet minister Clare Short‘s attitude towards possible military action.  

Ms Short responded on Thursday by saying that criticism was "completely untrue" and is angry the MPs never put the claim to her.

"I really am surprised by the slovenliness of it and I really think it casts doubt on the quality of the committee," she told BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme.

In the early days after the conflict, argue the MPs, it was a mistake not to have protected key buildings and infrastructure other than oil wells as a priority.

And the "potential goodwill of the Iraqi people was squandered" by not being able to establish troops on the ground quickly enough to prevent lawlessness after removing Saddam Hussein, they claim.

Failure to provide enough forces to guard munitions dumps also "cost Iraqi civilian lives".


Kit shortages have caused controversy for Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, especially over the death of Sergeant Steve Roberts days after he handed his enhanced flak jacket to other troops.

The MPs say enhanced body armour is another example of shortages in critical equipment caused by problems in supply and tracking of equipment.

And they find it "alarming" that a full system to track equipment once it is out in the war zone will not be running for another five years.

  The committee says there were "serious shortcomings" in the supply of nuclear, biological and chemical protection equipment.

Ideally, troops should have been given four protective suits each but instead had only one, although the Ministry of Defence judged that enough.

Combopens, used for inoculations in the event of a gas attack, were also so scarce they had to moved around in Iraq to keep up with troops‘ needs.

The MPs say: "Had the Iraqis used chemical weapons systematically, as employed in the Iran-Iraq war, the operational consequences would have been severe.

"The lack of armoured vehicle filters seems to us to be a matter of the utmost seriousness."


The report also condemns as "unacceptable" that two weeks after fighting began 60% of extra desert clothing and boots had still not arrived.

It also says the MoD has to establish the scale of problems with ammunition supplies and investigate specific cases, such as the six military policemen killed by a mob in Iraq.

Committee chairman Bruce George said: "The fact that this operation was a notable military success should not blind us to the very real difficulties which our armed forces had to cope with in terms of hurried deployment, inadequate supplies and a lack of time for proper in-theatre training."

  Former Desert Rats Lance Corporal Ian Stevens told BBC Radio Five Live he experienced clothing, breathing kit and food shortages in Iraq.

"We didn‘t have enough preparation, we didn‘t have enough equipment," he said.

A spokesman told BBC News Online the MoD welcomed the MPs‘ report, and a formal response would be issued once the recommendations were examined.

He said clothing shortages had been addressed, troops had enough gas canisters to guard against chemical attack, and catering provision was shared with the US army.

‘Avoidable risks‘

But Conservative shadow defence spokesman Nicholas Soames said political indecision had caused delays on kit orders.

"It is disgraceful that commanders were forced to take avoidable risks in putting their men into action," he said.

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Paul Keetch branded the chemical protection shortages "truly shameful".

"With a force massing in the Gulf, it is ridiculous for the MoD to claim that post-war planning was hindered by a desire to respect diplomacy at the United Nations," he added.

One Year On Iraq - A Newsnight Special is screened on Tuesday at 2100 GMT on BBC Two.


What are your views or experiences of kit shortages? Please send us your comments using the form at the bottom of the page

Your comments:

Having served in Desert Storm 1 and various other theatres, this comes as no shock. On balance I understand why we don‘t have the equipment sat on shelves waiting for possible deployments due to shelf life issues; but it does astound me that in this day-in-age we cannot get a better stock control/ ordering / rotation system in place.

Let‘s face it we were always going to go to war, or if not then we would have certainly have to have gone for peacekeeping duties post-conflict, so why weren‘t the orders placed? Gordon Brown and the chancellery are not shy at taking money away from the taxpayers, but do seem reticent at signing any "cheques" for major government outgoings.
Ian K, Hertford UK

  It says something of what the people in government think you‘re worth

Keith D, BFPO  
I was in Kuwait/Iraq last year and although ‘sharp‘, didn‘t get issued desert boots and balistic plates for my body armour until after being in Iraq for a week or so, and didn‘t get desert combats until after the war had ended. It says something of what the people in government think you‘re worth when you are stood around in green European coloured combat kit surrounded with all that sand and ballistic protection given as an after thought. Why do we bother?
Keith D, BFPO

As an ex-reservist I think I have the solution. If memory serves correct I believe that there are 4 civil servants to every sailor in the RN and no doubt a similar ratio applies to both the Army and RAF. So, firstly reduce the civil servants by at least 25%, as although we cut our armed forces we do not appear to reduce the number of associated civil servants. There should therefore be savings for the right amount of kit here. Secondly next time we have to deploy our forces to a war zone take another 25% of the remaining civil servants with them, preferably led by Geoff Hoon. I am sure this move would ensure all the kit is in right place at the right time !
Roger Harris, Cardiff

I am an ex soldier who saw active duty in Gulf War (1) with many friends still serving. A number of these served during the initial fighting in Iraq during Gulf War (2) - Return of the Bush. Many of the issues experienced during the first conflict have been re-experienced during the second. In 1991 Britain went to wage a desert war with next to no desert equipment as it had sold most of it to the country it was about to wage war upon. Troops were stuck in the desert wearing tropical combats whilst all around them were reporters wearing desert equipment. The second time around and no lessons seem to have been learned. Our troops are still under-equipped only this time the British Government added the obstacle of not bothering to ensure an adequate food supply line either, so that many troops were on half rations. The government might have changed hands, but evidently the storekeeper is still the same.
Mike, Birmingham, England

  I really do think Geoff Hoon should consider his position

Dave Harmon, Aylesbury , UK  
There have always been shortages of kit - even 25 years ago when I served, but I don‘t think ever to this extent. NBC items must always be in date and available, ditto body armour - you cannot deal with every situation from the fighting compartment of an armoured vehicle. The MOD seems to be trying to apply "Just In Time" supply philosophies from industry to a theatre of war and there is no comparison. As the buck stops with him I really do think Geoff Hoon should consider his position.
Dave Harmon, Aylesbury , UK

I find it amazing that when my local branch of Tesco‘s has an advanced computer system that can track every purchase down to the last tin of beans that the MoD is STILL 5 years away from being able to adequately computerise its‘ own logistics train.
Geoff, Bangor, Wales

It was not only kit that was in short supply. One tank regiment found itself having to refuel from the Americans who only had aviation fuel for our tanks to use. The unit went all through the campaign on avgas. Suitable camouflage nets were in such short supply that they had to be purchased from Israel. The Israeli nets have a certain heat reflecting property. Up-armour kits for tracked recce vehicles were also sourced from Israel. Also note that we are hearing from the Americans that they were also short of various bits of kit. Not all their troops had desert combats etc. They too ran short of rations and water as they advanced far ahead of their logistics trains.
Rod Woodhouse, Hemel Hempstead UK

Kit shortages are nothing new. As a TA soldier I went to Sandhurst for Officer Selection. On the final ex I carried the GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun), 5 (yes, five) rounds and a football rattle - for when I ran out of ammo. After 15 years in the TA I remain convinced that the only reason we win wars is that for some reason British Squaddies can dig themselves out of the mess they have been dropped in faster than anyone else.
Withheld, York, North Yorkshire

  How can ministers be surprised when they instigated the cutbacks?

Charles, Oxon  
I served for 19 years in the armed forces. From day one I had to supplement my own kit at my expense and this never changed throughout. Decent boots, water proofs, additional uniform, navigation equipment, webbing, etc. The only thing not purchased was a decent weapon. How can ministers be surprised when they instigated the cutbacks? The main problem is that our services are highly professional and adaptable and as such always perform well. As a result the powers that be always think there is scope for more savings to be made. Troops are going from one operational tour to another without rest. Equipment stocks are not being replaced and new equipment being brought into service is delayed or cancelled to save money. When I left the Regulars and joined the TA kit shortages were even worse. We weren‘t even issued with a complete set of combats.
Charles, Oxon

I was a reservist called up for the war in Iraq last February. I was issued with all the kit I needed including body armour combo pens and detector papers. I was based at Ali Al Salem air base and did not require any body armour as our chance of contact was minimal. While I was there a lot of body armour was being collected for the frontline troops from people such as myself. Body armour should be like respirator issue, you sign for it when you get to your unit and hand it back in when you leave to go to your next unit. Like our training before we left for theatre the war was hurried and under prepared. After leaving the army 5 years ago I thought things may have changed but I was obviously wrong
Daz, South Yorkshire

I used to be in the forces, so am acutely aware of the perennial problem of lack of kit even for operational deployments. There was an all too accurate comment that did the rounds: "As a cost reduction measure, in future the military will only procure three sizes of uniform. These sizes will be designated: "Too Big", "Too Small" and "Out of Stock"
Ian, Norwich, UK

The military have always had kit shortages even from my days in the TA. However in this instance they do not appear to have learnt any lessons from the first Gulf War nor have they planned properly for the last knowing in advance that action was likely. The most damming part is the failure of the basic equipment, boots, rifles, clothing, NBC kit and body armour - it appears that the MoD has a low regard for the troops own safety.
Matthew Baker, St Albans UK

It seems absolutely bonkers that time and time again, British Troops are sent into hostile situations without adequate protection. From WW11 when the tanks were not up to the job, through to Falklands when the Anti Aircraft systems and boots were inadequate, and now to Desert Storm (1) - tank filters - remember them? and inadequate non-operating field radios and Desert Storm (2) - insufficient body armour available. Do the politicians who deal with allocation of funds and budgets reckon that Army NCOs are there purely to bail them out by offering superior combat training to soldiers? How difficult is it to work out that if here are 5,000 men in the field, they need 5,000 weapons, 5,000 pairs of boots and 5,000 sets of body armour - or is it me?
Marcus Foster, Kingston, Surrey

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Offline Scotty

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Re: Chemical warning over troops‘ kit
« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2004, 19:36:00 »
How can you go to war after claiming that saddam could deply chimcal weapons in 40 minutes, without the right protective gear?

What is the state of the CF‘s NBC gear?

Offline BeadWindow(Banned)

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Re: Chemical warning over troops‘ kit
« Reply #2 on: March 25, 2004, 09:46:00 »
we have the best gear in the world.
Welcome back.


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Re: Chemical warning over troops‘ kit
« Reply #3 on: March 25, 2004, 16:54:00 »
in the sixties some sections stood beside chalk marks in the parade squre, vehicle and other gear outlined in chalk for inspection. What equip we had was worn out mostly unservicable, no parts and no ammo, we were issued FN C1A1 bayonet and surplus second war clothing and webbing, that was the infantry!