Mon, Aug 03, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Britain’s war effort being hampered by fat or unfit soldiers

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Britain’s war effort is being hampered by the number of front-line troops who are too fat or unfit to be deployed to southern Afghanistan.

A leaked memo sent to all army units reveals that basic fitness policy “is not being carried out” and highlights concern among military commanders over a “worrying trend of obesity” that is limiting the number of soldiers fit enough to fight in Helmand.

Units are routinely failing to fulfill the army’s basic fitness regime of two hours of physical exercise a week, it added, and the army must “reinvigorate a warrior ethos.” To counter the problem, the army is to introduce a “body composition measurement” policy this October to weed out overweight troops, as well as enforce a bare minimum of three physical training sessions a week.

“The numbers of personnel unable to deploy and concerns about obesity throughout the army are clearly linked to current attitudes toward physical training,” states the emergency memo from Major Brian Dupree of the army physical training corps in Wiltshire.

WARNING

He warned that Britain’s “operational effectiveness” was being undermined and that soldiers’ lives could be placed at risk because some were unable to cope with the brutal conditions of Helmand Province and the stresses of combat.

On Saturday, a leading opposition Conservative member of parliament and retired colonel described the revelations as “disgraceful” at a time when commanders were demanding more British troops be sent to Afghanistan to hold ground recently seized from the Taliban during Operation Panther’s Claw.

Commanders have already sent an extra 125 troops to Helmand to replace those injured or killed in the offensive that saw the highest number of British casualties in Afghanistan since the conflict began.

There are 3,860 army personnel classified as PUD — personnel unable to deploy — with a further 8,190 regarded as being of “limited deployability” for medical reasons. The ministry cannot give a breakdown for how many of these are obese or simply unfit.

NOT IMPLEMENTED

Dupree states in the memo dated July10: “The current army fitness policy states that to be fit to fight requires a minimum of two to three hours of physical activity per week. It is clear that even this most basic policy is not being implemented.”

“To cope with the demands of hybrid operations in Afghanistan and future conflicts, the army needs personnel with that battle-winning edge that sustains them through adversity. It is clear this message has been diluted recently and this attitude must change,” he said. “The increasing PUD list and concerns over obesity in the services are clearly linked to this indifferent attitude.”

He concludes that the army has “not consistently maintained our standards of physical fitness” and needs to “reinvigorate a warrior ethos and a culture of being fit.”

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