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Seems we are all sharing the same boat:
Sunday, November 25, 2007
"Out of kilter"
Experts agree, the British forces are hurting because of neglect. Before you read, keep my four questions in mind:
1) How could they let it get this bad?
2) How come we're only hearing about it now?
3) Are our own troops facing any of these same problems?
4) What can we do to make sure our own forces don't face the same trouble?
British troops are facing "operational failure" in Afghanistan due to years of chronic Government under-funding, according to former heads of the armed forces.
The lives of hundreds of soldiers could be lost unless the Government starts to fund the military properly, they argue.
General Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, who served as the Chief of the Defence Staff in 2001, said: "Operational and tactical failure in Afghanistan is now not impossible to believe."
Their warning follows one of the most damaging weeks for the Government since Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair in June.
The Prime Minister and his Defence Secretary were accused of failing the services in one of the most extraordinary political events of recent times when five lords attacked the Government's defence-spending policy.
Gen Lord Guthrie, who launched a blistering attack on Gordon Brown during the defence debate in the House of Lords last week, told The Sunday Telegraph: "The Prime Minister could be presiding over damaging one of the really great institutions of our state.
"It [the military] is about to break if he is not careful. By this I mean no one will want to join the Armed Forces and the operational consequence of this is a failure in Afghanistan. It could well mean that the Taliban actually win a battle and kill a lot of our soldiers. Operational and tactical failure is now not impossible to believe."
Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, who served as the Chief of the Defence Staff at the start of the Iraq war, echoed his fears, saying that the persistent under-funding was "bound to have operational consequences".
The former head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Jock Slater, also warned that the military could fail in Afghanistan if it was not properly supported.
Liam Fox, the shadow secretary of state for defence, who has just returned from visiting troops in Afghanistan, said: "There is no doubt that frontline shortages, particularly in battlefield helicopters, will put us at a significant disadvantage despite the heroic efforts of our forces. Responsibility for this has to lie with the Government."
Defence sources claim that relations between the Government and the military are at an all-time low with both sides being deeply mistrustful of each other.
Although Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence, said he welcomed the debate, he was said to be at first stunned then furious that he was given no prior warning of the intensity and the personal nature of the attacks.
Mr Brown, who returns from the Commonwealth leaders' summit in Uganda tomorrow, attempted unsuccessfully to quell the growing dispute by insisting that he had nothing but praise for the Armed Forces and pledged to match their professionalism "with the resources they need".
The Lords debate followed revelations in last week's Sunday Telegraph that a report written for the head of the Army said that British troops felt "devalued, angry and suffering from Iraq fatigue".
General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army, also admitted in the report that the military covenant was "out of kilter" and that more needed to be done to improve standards of pay, accommodation and medical care.
"Troops are having to deploy without having had the equipment and training to properly prepare," said Admiral Boyce yesterday. "You have people leaving because of low morale and no Army infantry battalion is fully manned. That is bound to have operational consequences. The unintended consequence of all this could be some kind of operational failure."
Sir Jock added: "We have poor support, poor training and an equipment programme looking shaky. If you don't fund properly, the initial result is that people begin to complain and then people begin to lose. You only have to look at Afghanistan and Iraq to see that if troops are not properly supported … then one day things will go extremely, badly wrong, militarily."
Admiral Sir Henry Leach, who served as head of the Royal Navy in the Falklands War, said: "Our people in Afghanistan have to be absolutely impeccably equipped. The consequence otherwise will be an endless campaign with a steady rate of casualties."
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, said: "Recruitment remains robust and we are taking action. The recently announced Command Paper is tackling a number of areas for our brave personnel."
They've also got this handy side-link to a breakdown of the key issues for British forces.
According to Gen Dannatt, in the report revealed in last week's Sunday Telegraph, this is a "key issue" in getting more young men and women to join the Army. Pay is determined by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, which bases its recommendations on interviews with servicemen.
The general also states that he will ask the pay review board whether it believes a soldier's pay is "sufficient to compete with less demanding and safer professions".
The headline figure in last year's pay increase was 9.8 per cent, however, the majority received only 3.3 per cent, which, the document makes clear, caused anger.
Private soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq take home little more than £1,000 a month, while senior officers above the rank of brigadier now routinely earn six-figure salaries.
The most aggrieved in last year's pay round were middle-ranking officers - the so-called backbone of the Army - who felt "undervalued".
Gen Dannatt said, in the report, that the different pay structures within the Army for different personnel were "unfair and divisive". The pay system was "very complex" and needed to be reviewed.
Pace of life
The report states that the "current level of operational commitments is "unsustainable". It adds that the "work-life balance is a growing concern", and "the high level of operational commitment, high activity levels between tours and a dearth of time for personal interests and career development all contribute to a sense of being undervalued and overworked."
This area probably worries defence chiefs most. While young, single men and women tend to enjoy the ferocious pace of life in today's military, older married men and women are fed up and leaving. The report states that most soldiers enjoy operations but morale is undermined by a series of inspections and pointless tasks back home.
Gen Dannatt describes the demanding pace of life in the Army as "mortgaging the goodwill of our people" and accepts that the long-term effect of this is "damaging".
Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan last for six months, but soldiers spend nearly three months away from home training for the mission. Many soldiers argue that, in reality, the operational tour lasts nine months, not six, but this is not recognised by the chain of command.
Many in the Army strongly believe that much of the accommodation is poor. Soldiers routinely complain that they are living in damp houses without proper heating or insulation. The number of military police has also been cut, allowing gangs of youths to roam military estates.
One soldier told the report's authors: "We do not have enough military police in this area. We have a great problem with gangs on motorbikes causing trouble, but our police force has been cut."
Another soldier added; "Our estate is in s**t order at the moment. We need help." Soldiers' accommodation in barracks is also poor but improving and is now the subject of a multi-million pound spending process.
The Ministry of Defence sold its entire supply of married quarters - about 57,000 homes - to Annington in 1996 for £1.6 billion. The Army was not given the cash, instead it went into Treasury coffers and, thus, there was no reinvestment in the military estate.
The homes will be leased back to the MoD until it no longer needs them. Then Annington can refurbish and sell them at market rates, with no obligation to give priority to military families. A private company, Modern Housing Solutions, was given the contract for maintaining service housing.
Training and equipment
Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have had a heavy impact on the Army's equipment and the amount available for training. The report states that Challenger Tank engines are in a "parlous state". The majority of the RAF air transport fleet is being used to resupply troops and this has taken a heavy toll on parachute training, a problem that, the report says, will continue for five years.
More than £60 million is spent on new equipment monthly, but this is available only for soldiers on operations or those training for operations. The report says that there are not enough tanks, armoured vehicles or time available to train with new machine guns, grenade launchers or the Army's Apache attack helicopter, which has proved to be a crucial weapon in Afghanistan.
One senior Army instructor said: "A lot of the equipment we have is out of date and is never used on operations, so it is irrelevant, but we are still training people to use it." Much of the Army's equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan is also being worn out from constant use.
A lack of training areas in Britain is also a problem. Salisbury Plain is booked up for three months with exercises for troops going to Iraq or Afghanistan.
The demands on the Army are now so great that many soldiers are not taking their full leave entitlement, or are being restricted to local leave - Gen Dannatt says he is troubled by this.
Last year, 52 per cent of officers and 32 per cent of soldiers could not take their full leave. This put pressure on families and causes soldiers to resign - this is all linked to what the Army calls the "high tempo of operations".
In the report, Gen Dannatt says: "Leave is the key method for recuperation of individuals, supporting relationships and the strengthening of family ties." He has ordered that it can be changed only with the approval of a general.
Other soldiers have complained to this newspaper that they have been under pressure from commanders not to take leave, but have also been refused permission to carry it over into the following year.
Posted by Jarrett at 10:08 AM