Thursday, August 10, 2006

UK Troops "Overstretched"

Troops said overstretched in IraqThu Aug 10, 2006 12:12 AM BST

LONDON (Reuters) - British troops in Iraq are overstretched, ill-equipped and underpaid, and the strain of fighting two big wars at once threatens its military effectiveness, a parliamentary committee said on Thursday.

In a strongly-worded report on the Iraq mission, the cross-party Defence Committee accused the government of failing to act quickly enough to provide better armoured vehicles or enough helicopters.

It said troops were being rotated into Iraq and Afghanistan without their normal rest.

"We believe these concerns give rise to a fundamental question: are our Armed Forces structured, trained and equipped to fulfil the roles envisaged for them?" the report said.

Defence Secretary Des Browne responded that the military was "stretched, but not over-stretched".

Browne announced plans last month to buy more armoured vehicles for Iraq and Afghanistan, where more British troops have been killed as guerrillas have deployed deadlier roadside bombs.

Britain has lost 115 troops in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 and 10 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan in the last two months.

The report said "Snatch" armoured Land Rovers used in Iraq were not safe enough and it was "unsatisfactory that the lack of capability was not addressed with greater urgency much earlier".

As for aircraft, it said: "We are deeply concerned at the shortage of helicopters in the theatre and believe that unless measures are taken to increase the number of helicopters and reduce pressure on crews, the effectiveness and coherence of UK operations on the ground will suffer."

The military has exceeded its normal guidelines for deployment since 2003, when 45,000 British troops joined the United States for the invasion of Iraq, in the biggest British deployment since the Korean War half a century ago.

Between 7,000 and 8,000 British troops have remained in Iraq since then. This year, Britain also added a big new mission in Afghanistan although hopes were not realised that its commitment in Iraq would taper off first.

Commanders say they can take the strain for now. But the report said those assessments might not be candid.

"The Ministry of Defence's confidence that the UK Armed Forces are not overstretched contrasts with what we are hearing on the ground," the parliamentarians said.

"We are concerned that the 'can-do' attitude of which our services are rightly proud may be leading service commanders to underplay the pressure on service personnel and their families."

And it said that troops in Iraq should be better paid.

"It is not unreasonable that our servicemen and women should expect some financial recognition for active service overseas. We intend to pursue this issue further."

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