Mon, Aug 21, 2006 - Page 6 News List

British Army faces weapons crisis in Iraq, Afghanistan

TROOPS ENDANGERED A leaked memo from the UK Ministry of Defense has revealed a cash shortfall that is putting its forces in harm's way


The full extent of the financial crisis affecting the British army has been revealed in a leaked British government document obtained by Observer newspaper. The internal memo, written by the UK Ministry of Defense's second most senior civil servant, has sparked fears that requests by commanders for vital equipment to save the lives of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq may not be met.

Ian Andrews admits that the budget for the acquisition of new equipment for soldiers is the worst affected and that "painful measures are required." He has even ordered ministry staff to cut travel expenses as the department attempts to cope with the cost of an army which is enduring its busiest period of operations since the end of World War II.

Union officials on Saturday warned ministers that more troops will be killed in Iraq and Afghanistan because of the budgetary crisis.

"These cuts could eventually see more body bags returning to Britain as a result of inadequate equipment," said an official who specializes in defense logistics from the Public and Commercial Services Union.

"The cuts and plans to move logistics and procurement work pose serious risks to the effective provision of battle-winning equipment to troops on the front line," he said.

In the Aug. 1 memo, Andrews revealed he had imposed an immediate moratorium "on increases in military manpower ... including temporary posts, or by the employment of full time reserve service individuals."

The drastic decision comes at a time when the army is accused of lacking the manpower to cope with its responsibilities in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Andrews, writing to senior defense officials in charge of funding for procurement and logistics, also called for "existing contracts for agency and casual staff [to] be terminated after the requisite period of notice."

Defense staff are told to avoid air travel and use e-mail or telephone. Overspend in the procurement and logistics departments is now running at £100 million (US$188 million) over budget every three months, the document reveals.

"Equipment, support, fuel and utilities costs are causing real pressures across the department and all [budgets] are having to take painful measures..." it stated.

The concerns come at a sensitive time for the ministry with British commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq requesting more helicopters and tougher armored vehicles to reduce fatalities.

A recent report by an all-party parliamentary committee concluded that British troops are having their safety compromised by aging or inadequate equipment which urgently needs replacing. In particular, it identified the failure to replace lightly armored Land Rovers, leaving soldiers vulnerable to roadside bombs which have killed more than 20 in recent months, the committee concluded.

A ministry spokesman said: "Our over-arching priority is to ensure that the front line is properly supported."

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