Woeful Shortages put [British] soldiers' lives at risk


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Thin Black Line
June 16, 2007, 08:33 AM
You know it's bad when the brits have to borrow from the NG and worse
yet the Estonians....I post this here for our UK friends who frequent THR:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/06/15/nafg115.xml

'Woeful' shortages put soldiers' lives at risk

By Thomas Harding in Helmand province

Last Updated: 3:18am BST 16/06/2007

The British Army is operating with "woefully inadequate" resources in Afghanistan that are putting soldiers' lives in danger, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Despite Tony Blair's promise last year that the Army would be furnished with whatever equipment it needed there are still glaring and dangerous gaps in what is being delivered on the ground.

The Daily Telegraph spent three weeks on the front line with troops in Helmand province and discovered a number of alarming kit deficiencies that are making one of the world's most hostile environments even more perilous.

A total of 55 British soldiers have been killed in Helmand since troops were deployed there last year - many of them in their late teens or early 20s.

The Prime Minister pledged that frontline commanders would be given whatever they needed to fight Taliban insurgents yet the kit shortages revealed yesterday paint a very different picture of the reality for British troops in the province.

The Daily Telegraph can disclose that:

Just 50 per cent of Apache helicopter are working


Only 70 per cent of Chinooks are available


A garrison was down to its last 200 mortar rounds because no helicopter resupply


Only 16 of 96 new armoured vehicles have been delivered


Engineers are forced to travel in soft-skinned trucks while carrying high explosive


Soldiers have bought their own binoculars to replace inadequate Army sights.

The revelations come at the end of a week in which services were held to remember the 255 British servicemen who lost their lives in the Falklands conflict 25 years ago and will raise questions over the Government's true level of commitment to funding the Armed Forces.

During an interview on British Forces radio last October, Mr Blair said: "If commanders on the ground want more equipment - armoured vehicles, for example, more helicopters - that will be provided. Whatever package they want, we will do."

Then in a later newspaper article Mr Blair later wrote that frontline commanders would get "I promise… whatever they need to complete their job."

For the last year commanders have been calling for more transport helicopters but, at a time when thousands more troops have deployed, there are still not enough. This forces the military to make dangerous road trips instead.

The shortages have been illustrated by a series of incidents. In one, a British garrison was down to its last 200 mortar rounds because there were no helicopters available to resupply it.

In another, the first visit to the front line by a member of the Royal Family, the Duke of Gloucester, embarrassingly had to be cancelled last week because there were no Apaches available.

There is such a shortage of vehicles that British troops borrowed a Unimog truck off the small Estonian contingent. "It's unbelievable that we have to scrounge off Europe's smallest army," one officer said.

The Ministry of Defence has known for weeks that while it has doubled the number of troops to 7,700 this have not been complemented by a similar increase in vehicles. By the end of this month the Helmand battle group was meant to have 96 armoured vehicles but so far only 16 have been delivered.

Convoys facing hazardous trips through the desert are increasingly vulnerable to anti-tank mines yet they have to make do with an eclectic collection of vehicles.

Another glaring example of soldiers' lives being endangered by inadequate equipment came when combat engineers were forced to drive in a lightly armoured trucks carrying a heavy load of high explosive.

One hit from an RPG round or a mine would blow the crew and any nearby vehicles into oblivion.

"These guys are ready to give their lives for the job but all we are talking about is a little protection," said one officer. "The constraint on equipment is increasing the dangers faced by our soldiers. This is not right."

But it is the helicopter situation that is becoming the biggest hindrance to success in Afghanistan. It is not just the insufficient number of eight Chinooks or 12 Apache attack helicopters but the crews are being called on to do so many tasks that they are running out of flying hours each month.

However it is the lack of spare parts for Apaches that is causing the most serious problems as the heat and fine dust wear down machines.

Pilots in Helmand believe that with very few spares purchased by the MoD, Apache coming off the production line are immediately being cannibalised for their parts to be shipped to Afghanistan.

The lack of Chinooks means there has been no air assaults, which could take the Taliban by surprise, since the Paras left last year. Operations also have to be stopped across the province when there is a casualty because of the number of helicopters required to evacuate the wounded.

"They are really struggling to keep the serviceability of Apache going," one pilot said. "The lack of helicopters is certainly proving a constraint on what we can achieve."

During an exercise in America the pilots had to be given spare parts from the US National Guard reserves in order to continue flying.

The danger of not enough pilots or flying hours became only too apparent when I joined A Company, Royal Anglians, for a night attack into the village of Lwar Malazi.

Because it was May 31 we were told there would be no close air support from the British Apache attack helicopters as we went into the village where a suspected 25 Taliban lay in ambush.

"It's the end of month and the aircraft have used up all their flying hours," we were told.

The MoD said it was spending £230 million on getting 14 more helicopters in two years time but it was satisfied that commanders currently had enough for operations. However, it was hinted that other Nato countries could do more.

"Our commanders will always be able to achieve more with more resources – this is inevitable in any operation," a MoD source said. "But we cannot be successful in Afghanistan on our own. Success can only be achieved through a committed coalition effort."

Further shortcomings were exposed after we were ambushed by a Taliban unit using mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.

Because the artillery detachment from 19 Regiment Royal Artillery did not have enough of what are called Rover terminals that can call in precision fire, the F15 fighter called to destroy the enemy position took 45 minutes before starting the bomb run.

But with friendly troops just 400 yards from the Taliban, the US pilot was extremely hesitant to bomb and strafe the wrong position.

If the enemy had been in greater numbers and the situation more desperate there would have been an increased risk of a friendly fire incident.

Soldiers manning the hills overlooking the Kajaki dam, vital in supplying electricity to southern Afghanistan, have been forced to buy telescopes with greater magnification because their Army sights are not good enough after the Taliban have been pushed further back.

New optics are hoped to be flown in next month after an "urgent operational requirement" was issued. After sustaining substantial losses on the battlefield the Taliban are expected to resort to the Iraqi insurgent tactics of using roadside bombs.

There have been dozens of mine strikes in the last month, including one that killed Cpl Darren Bonner in the back of a Viking, and commanders are critical that not enough effort has been put in to counter the threat.

The lack of available air power has meant that helicopters or unmanned aerial vehicles cannot watch the route ahead and deter bombs being planted. In Northern Ireland it was standard to have this cover.

While American forces have employed a specialist civilian contractor with specially fitted vehicles to clear a path for convoys the British have not adopted the system.

Although the Viking armoured vehicles were praised when they came to Helmand last autumn it is now clear they are not robust enough to prevent fatalities and do not offer enough firepower to the infantry.

The near windowless metallic cabins are also incredibly uncomfortable to travel in during hot summer weather. While Warriors will provide some extra protection just 14 are being sent to a climate and terrain which is ruthless in claiming vehicles.

They have no air conditioning. There are also some justifiable gripes over pay when the soldiers sometimes work 48 hours in one stretch while risking their lives.

I met an engineer who had decided to leave the Army after 11 years service because the only pay rise he received from being promoted from senior corporal to a junior sergeant was an extra 80p a day.

"It's just not worth staying on," he said. "I will have to spend £400 on a new mess kit and £60 a month on the mess bill rather than the £16 I currently pay."

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