Latest News - Latest News

Ministers to start defence review

Britain has ordered two new aircraft carriers
The first "root and branch" review of Britain's defence policy for 10 years has been announced by the government.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said he wanted to "ensure the armed forces are fit for the challenges of tomorrow".

He promised a Green Paper in early 2010 setting out initial thoughts followed by a more substantive Strategic Defence Review after the next general election.

Government sources said the initial review would not consider making cuts to the £36bn defence budget.

Instead, the review will examine defence policy as a whole - its purpose, the way it works, what the services expects, its technological priorities.

This means that the government appears to be putting off any substantive spending decisions about defence until after the election.

It will be the first full-scale review of the armed forces since the strategic defence review of 1998.

In a written statement, Mr Ainsworth said: "The government's current priority for the armed forces is to ensure they have the equipment and support they need for operations in Afghanistan.

It is right that we address with urgency the challenges facing defence in the future

Sir Jock Stirrup, Chief of the Defence Staff
"We have approved over £2.2bn from the reserve for urgent operational requirements in Afghanistan.

"Overall spending from the reserve, above costs met from the MoD budget, was over £2.6bn in the last financial year.

"But, in parallel, we must ensure the armed forces are fit for the challenges of tomorrow."

He said the first stages of the review would cover the "strategic context" for defence, including the lessons learned from recent operations and the "changing character of conflict".

It will also look at how the Ministry of Defence works with other government departments and the contribution the armed forces can make to international diplomacy and the projection of "soft power" to prevent conflicts.

The review will also examine changes in technology and internal processes, including acquisitions.

Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said: "The 1998 strategic defence review has served us well.

"But much has changed since it was published, and it is right that we address with urgency the challenges facing defence in the future."

An influential think tank report published last month suggested the UK should consider slashing defence spending by up to £24bn and revisit plans to renew its Trident nuclear weapons system.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report said Britain cannot afford much of the defence equipment it plans to buy and urged the government to consider possible alternatives to Trident or extending the life of the system.

Its authors include former defence secretary Lord Robertson and the ex-Lib Dem leader, Lord Ashdown.

The government and the Conservatives back renewing Trident when it expires in 2024, at an estimated cost of £20bn, but many Labour MPs oppose it.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has also called for it to be scrapped, saying it is too expensive and no longer meets the UK's defence needs.

The defence review also comes after news of a £1bn cost overrun on two new aircraft carriers.

The original budget for the two carriers for the Royal Navy was £3.9bn but the BBC has seen a memorandum revealing the programme will come under "severe pressure" because of the cost escalation.

The cost of war

The cost of war
Money is scarce but there is no excuse for conducting a battle with inadequate equipment. The nobility of the troops demands more than thisThe British Army has always shown that the virtue of nobility is not confined to the officer class. Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe and Trooper Joshua Hammond died the death of heroes, in the service of their country. It would be naive to suppose that any conflict, especially one with such a tenacious enemy as the Taleban, could be conducted without casualties. The sacrifices made by these two young men, and by their many colleagues before them, are the tragic concomitant of a military commitment that, in the view of this newspaper, is in a just cause.

That said, these deaths cannot simply be ascribed to doomed heroism. It is now clear that the Taleban are directly exploiting the weakness of the Viking, the Army’s favoured personnel carrier. Huge roadside bombs, sometimes two placed together, can rip through the weak underbelly of the Viking. When the carrier was first sent to Afghanistan in 2006, its versatility and manoeuvrability made it a great addition to the armoury of the troops. But the increased strength of Taleban bombing exposed a hitherto concealed weakness. The Viking cannot bear sufficient armour to protect its occupants.

Last December, after a great deal of pressure, Gordon Brown agreed to spend £150 million on replacement vehicles, known as Warthogs. But these will not arrive until 2010. In the meantime, our troops will sit in the stifling heat, vulnerable in the knowledge that their defences are not nearly sufficient.

It should have come as no surprise, in a dynamic combat zone, that the enemy has adapted to our technology. It is true that any reinvention of British equipment will take time. A thousand armoured vehicles have been on order since 2006: only 440 have been delivered. But the imminent redundancy of the Viking was predictable. This is one more example of the unacceptable fact that British Forces in Afghanistan have not received adequate funding and support. The most conspicuous example of this lack of support goes right to the top. In April this year, despite the pleas from the Defence Secretary, from military chiefs and from commanders on the ground, the Prime Minister refused to commit 2,000 more troops to the region. The American surge, which should have been a reason to send more troops to support our ally, was instead used as an excuse to avoid the costs.

The state of the public finances is parlous, of course. There has been a less than enlightening argument about which of health or education should be protected from the cuts to spending that everyone except Mr Brown accepts are inevitable. The defence budget has not been mentioned. It is obvious where the Prime Minister’s priorities lie and it is hard not to think that those priorities reflect not just his calculation of political advantage but also his sympathies.

There are some tough decisions to come on spending. But the defence equation is clear. Either this country desists in considering itself a major player in world events or it commits itself to the cost of engagement. Five men have been Defence Secretary since 1997 and none of them has been especially successful in his negotiations with the Treasury.

The decade-long dispute between Tony Blair and Mr Brown was debilitating to good government, regardless of the department into which it spilt over. But perhaps nowhere was it more important, because nowhere are the consequences so material, than at the Ministry of Defence. It is invidious to say that any particular tragedy is directly the product of miserly funding. In war, death has so many doors to let out life. But we cannot let noble men and women go into battle in vehicles that are patently inadequate for the task. Their nobility demands more of us than that

Daily News

We are now adding the news which is updated daily on our Forum / chat.

Troops are coming home to a battle weary Britain.

Troops are coming home, but to a wounded, battle weary Britain
Hannah Simpson, the six-year-old sister of Private Luke Daniel Simpson, follows the procession away from his funeral service in at Howden Minster, East Yorkshire

Ben Macintyre
After six years of fighting in Iraq, the last soldiers are coming home: but “home” is a very different place. Britain has changed, through the experience of that war, in ways both subtle and profound, positive and painful, transitory and permanent. We are not the same people that we were six years ago: the war has changed us too.

Britain today is more sceptical of politicians, divided and paranoid than it was in 2003. We are subject to closer surveillance, more cautious, and perhaps more suspicious. Security looms, for many, as a greater concern than defence of civil liberties. We are, as a direct consequence of the “War on Terror” and war in Iraq, less free, and less carefree.

The Iraq war, its potential physical and psychological trauma as well as its political ramifications, echoes into every corner of our culture, from books, cinema and plays to poetry and art. War has even penetrated the language.

Britain kept the home fires burning, but they do not burn as brightly as they once did. Returning soldiers face a very different reception from the one that welcomed veterans of the Gulf War and the Falklands conflict, let alone the homecoming victors of the Second World War. And the soldiers themselves have been changed by war - often war of the most brutal sort. The effect on society of reabsorbing thousands of war veterans is hard to predict, but certain to be profound and long-lasting.

More than 100,000 British men and women have been deployed to the battlefields of Iraq in the past six years. For some, the experience will have been enriching and life-enhancing. But others will return hollowed out in mind and crippled in body. The social after-effects will still be felt in Britain decades from now.

How these former soldiers are treated will speak volumes about the state of what is often referred to as the “military covenant”, the unofficial but enduring notion that British society has a special bond with, and obligation towards, its soldiers.

The war has permeated our culture, from high to low. Theatre, in particular, has embraced the politics and reality of war with fascination and fury, from Black Watch, Gregory Burke's play about Scottish soldiers serving in Iraq, which won four Olivier Awards this month, to David Hare's Stuff Happens, reconstructing the events that preceded the war.

Writers have grappled with the issues of war in fact and fiction: Ian McEwan's Saturday ruminated on the pending war, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City vividly portrayed life in the Baghdad green zone.

The sensitive, angry poetry of the First World War has found a latter-day counterpart in the “milblog”, an entirely new literary genre: blogs written by soldiers in real time, an unfiltered and violent sort of poetry from the front line. The war has also produced more traditional forms of poetry, including Simon Armitage's deeply moving poems of soldiers returning to a changed society. Pop music has joined the chorus. In Middle Eastern Holiday Hard-Fi lamented the fate of the squaddie, dispatched to the alien Iraqi desert: “I've got to go, but what a prize to give/ Package deal to the sun, everything is inclusive/ where bullet holes scar the minarets/ smoke on the horizon a beautiful sunset.”

Colonel Tim Collins's exhortation to the troops of The Royal Irish Regiment - “We go to liberate, not to conquer ...” - is now more widely known and quoted than any battlefield oration since Churchill's promise to “fight them on the beaches”. At the same time, the terminology of war has permanently entered the language: “shock and awe”, “collateral damage”, “extraordinary rendition”.

British politics has been transformed by the Iraq war. The so-called dodgy dossier, the death of David Kelly, the debate over Guantánamo Bay and the allegations of torture have changed the political landscape. The perception, whether justified or not, that the British Government went to war under false pretences has seeped into public consciousness, and poisoned politics. Tony Blair's reputation will be judged on the Iraq war. The next election will be fought, in large part, on the issue of political trust, with the war as a backdrop.

More than half of British voters supported the war in 2003, earnestly believing that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. When that turned out to be untrue, the nature of British politics was changed for ever, increasing political mistrust in Britain to a level that may be higher than it has ever been. It is hard to imagine what level of justification will be necessary, in the future, to persuade the British people to back a “just war”.

On a broader plane, the war helped to foment a culture of anti-Americanism that is only now beginning to abate. Among the British intelligentsia, it became fashionable to condemn all things American, to see the US as a nation of warmongering polluters and religious fanatics.

The extreme language of anti-Americanism on the intellectual Left reached a peak with the late Harold Pinter's Nobel prize acceptance speech in 2005, in which he declared: “The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism ... The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless ...” The war has left deep divisions within British society, and race relations have undoubtedly suffered. A minority of British Muslims regard the war as illegal, racist and brutal. That cleavage was dramatically demonstrated this month when protesters jeered at soldiers of The Royal Anglian Regiment at a homecoming parade in Luton, waving placards denouncing them as “butchers of Basra”, “murderers” and “baby- killers”. People who had come to cheer the soldiers returning from a tour of duty in Iraq reacted with fury, shouting “scum” at the demonstrators and waving Union Jacks.

Britain might well have faced terrorist attack without the Iraq war, yet the argument that there is no link between the invasion and the increased threat of domestic terrorism is hard to sustain. The consequences of the increased security are visible in ways large and small: lengthy queues at airports, increased surveillance, security cameras on every corner.

Britain has long prided itself on its military traditions, yet the war has raised important questions about the relationship between civilians and the military. The number of parades has increased in recent months, yet many soldiers face a chilly homecoming.

David Cameron, the Conservative leader, refers to the “unbreakable common bond of identity, loyalty and responsibility” between Britain and its Armed Forces, but a long, unpleasant and unpopular war has put that bond under unprecedented strain.

There have been well-publicised incidents in which soldiers have been abused or insulted, including the episode when local people objected to injured servicemen using a swimming pool at a leisure centre in Surrey. Last year personnel at RAF Wittering were told not to wear their uniforms in Peterborough, as they might be subjected to verbal abuse.

Beyond these isolated incidents, military leaders fear that soldiers are regarded by the public with something far more dangerous and intractable: shrugging indifference. General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army, has spoken of the “growing gulf between the Army and the nation”.

That sense of isolation is just one of the possible psychological strains facing returning soldiers. It is hard to quantify the after-effects of combat, but statistics appear to indicate that the worst effects of post-traumatic stress disorder do not emerge until 13 years after active deployment.

Many soldiers will slip easily back into British and then civilian life. Some thrive on the demands of war, and will find the experience gained on the battlefield valuable in later life. But some experts warn that Britain could face substantial problems with divorce, depression, alcohol and drug abuse among ex-servicemen. Combat Stress, the welfare society for former servicemen, has reported a 53 per cent increase in the number of veterans with mental health problems in the past three years. In five years, the number of former soldiers in prison is reported to have doubled.

Many of the effects of the Iraq war will fade with time. Anti-Americanism is waning with the arrival of a new president; writers and artists are turning to new subject matter; with British soldiers no longer occupying Iraq, the anger of some British Muslims may fade; as soldiers return, and their experiences are absorbed into the national memory, perhaps the military covenant will strengthen.

But Britain is not the same place that it was when the country marched to war. Six years later, like the soldiers themselves, this is a nation toughened and more realistic perhaps, but also conflict-weary and battle-scarred.

Out of Iraq – but will army ever recover?

Out of Iraq – but will army ever recover?

Gordon Brown in Iraq, where he said UK troops would leave by July Picture: Getty Images

« Previous « PreviousNext » Next »View GalleryADVERTISEMENT Published Date: 18 December 2008
By Tanya Thompson
IT WAS never a war that would capture the hearts and minds of the British public, or of the brave men and women who have risked their lives for the cause in Iraq. Fought on foreign soil, with an ambiguous set of goals, it was never going to muster the patriotism witnessed during the Second World War.
Yesterday, in a historic statement made in Baghdad, Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, said our military personnel had "completed their tasks" and would be out of the country by July next year. All operations, including patrols, will end in May and security in the Basra region will be handed over to US forces.

His pledge heralds the end of a six-year campaign that has cost the lives of 178 British service personnel – and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis – leaving veterans to reflect on the lasting damage caused to the armed services by fighting such an unpopular war.

Regarded by critics as the most shameful episode in modern British history, it was described last month by Lord Bingham, until recently the UK's most senior law lord, as a "serious violation of international law" and a humiliating fiasco for the invading powers.

So, what of the long-term damage to the British Army from our travails in Iraq? Clive Fairweather, a former lieutenant-colonel in the SAS, has deep concerns about the impact on morale, and retention, within our armed forces. After numerous tours of duty all over the world, he cannot recall another conflict in which personnel have been at a loss as to what they were fighting for.

He said: "We knew why we were in Northern Ireland, we knew why we were in Korea and the Falklands. But after the regime change, when you kicked out Saddam and there were no weapons of mass destruction, you had six years of scratching your head thinking, 'what are we doing here?'

"The plus side is that the army has learned how to deploy in harsh conditions and how to use modern technology. But there are huge costs. This has been an open-ended commitment and it has had a huge effect on marriages and on the mental health of soldiers.

"Successive governments have gone to the well too often, and if they want to be involved in conflicts on that scale, they will have to have a bigger army, and that's not something that will happen overnight."

Former servicemen and women continue to pay the price, suffering psychological trauma after harrowing tours in combat zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. About 8,000 veterans across the UK are receiving treatment from the charity Combat Stress; more than 140 of them are veterans of the current conflict in Iraq. Hollybush House, in Ayrshire, is one of three centres run by the charity.

With back-to-back tours of duty for many soldiers, Mr Fairweather fears for the future of the army. He believes politicians have to learn that, if they are going to embark on a war of this magnitude, they simply have to invest.

Worryingly, he has seen the "backbone" of the army lured away to private security work, after years of serving Queen and country. "They have traded their experience in Iraq for private security work, where they get better paid, with less time away from home," he said.

"The lasting damage is for retention, because we will have lost far more experienced junior leaders that are the future; they have quietly walked away."

While military leaders and politicians presented a united front during previous conflicts, this was a war that saw deep divisions come to the fore.

In November last year, a leaked internal report from General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, voiced concern about poor morale among troops and the strain placed on resources by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. An internal survey of views at all ranks of the army prompted him to stress the need for improvements in accommodation, pay and medical services.

Sir Richard said troops felt "devalued, angry and suffering from Iraq fatigue", and he claimed the "military covenant is clearly out of kilter". The military covenant states that British soldiers should always expect their commanders and the nation to treat them fairly, and to value and respect them as individuals.

The treatment of our troops was brought into sharp focus earlier this year by the author Frederick Forsyth at the launch of the interim report of the Military Covenant Commission. The report warned that the relationship between government, society and the armed forces was "under serious and unprecedented strain" because of complaints over accommodation, healthcare, leave and military overstretch. Forsyth said the treatment of servicemen and women was "inadequate" in virtually every respect.

While at the end of the Second World War, politicians promised a land "fit for heroes", today, government ministers are forced to quietly usher in legislation to stop people abusing and discriminating against British servicemen and women. Numerous examples of negative attitudes towards troops in uniform have been cited in recent years, including an army officer refused entry to Harrods when he arrived in uniform after a Remembrance Day ceremony.

Nor do soldiers enjoy anything like the compensation given to civilians, despite the risks they face on a daily basis. This disparity was graphically illustrated by the award of only £152,000 to paratrooper Ben Parkinson, who lost both legs after being blown up by a landmine in Afghanistan. His payout was pitiful compared with the £484,000 awarded to an RAF typist who developed repetitive strain injury in her thumb.

In the United States, troops have always enjoyed an honoured place in society. They are cheered in the street and given priority in queues and on public transport. The British public's failure to show the same appreciation for our veterans of Iraq – whatever the rights and wrongs of their deployment – is something servicemen find hard to stomach.

Andy Black, who served in the first Gulf war, believes Iraq has left the armed forces damaged. "The government is not showing its appreciation and that creates a knock-on effect with the public.

"When you sign up for the army you know there's a chance you won't come back. Everyone knows that, but it's galling when you return and nobody is interested in what you've been through. If you're a soldier in the States, you come back to a ticker-tape parade. You just never see that kind of appreciation in this country," he said.


years British forces spent in Iraq

British servicemen killed in Iraq

British deaths as a result of hostile action

deaths as a result of illness, non-combat injuries or accidents or pending the outcome of an investigation

British troops in Iraq

200 to 300
military advisers likely to remain in place to help the Iraqi government deal with continuing insurgency and terrorism

civilians killed since the invasion, according to a study by a non-governmental organisation

civilians a day killed in violence in Iraq, according to the United Nations

extra troops sent to Iraq from the United States in 2007, as commanders tried a military "surge" to stamp out resistance

Snatch Land Rovers to stay in Afghanistan

Snatch Land Rovers to stay in Afghanistan

Snatch Land Rovers will remain on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq despite their use on patrol being allegedly responsible for the deaths of dozens of British soldiers, the defence secretary John Hutton will announce.

By Thomas Harding, James Kirkup and Andrew Pierce
Last Updated: 1:10AM GMT 16 Dec 2008

Snatch Land Rovers are to remain use in Aghanistan.
The lightly armoured vehicles have been linked to the deaths of at least 38 British service personnel and The Daily Telegraph recently disclosed that an SAS major had resigned because of the "gross negligence" shown by defence chiefs in allowing their continued use.

However, military chiefs have continued to insist that the vehicles are "mission critical" in Afghanistan.

In a written ministerial statement on Tuesday, Mr Hutton will say that he has taken "urgent and comprehensive advice" from military operational commanders over whether continued use of Snatch on operations is necessary.

He will tell MPs that steps are being taken to replace Snatch with heavier, better-protected vehicles, but that Snatch will not be withdrawn from use. The decision to continue using it has been taken by military leaders including General Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the general staff.

"Snatch will not be withdrawn. The judgement of commanders is that there remains an operational case for it," said one source. "This is a military decision."

Despite a wealth of evidence from soldiers on the ground - including the Snatch nickname of "mobile coffins" - military chiefs have continued to insist that in "the current circumstances Snatch is essential to operations"

The Defence Secretary will say that the Snatch is to be rapidly replaced by the allegedly more robust Snatch Vixen of which there is "no better vehicle in the world". The Snatch 2A - the current model - will be reduced in numbers "until it is used only in our camps", he will say.

Mr Hutton will also risk angering the families of those of who have lost their lives in the vehicles by ruling out an independent inquiry into their use.

However, The Daily Telegraph has learned that the families will now seek a judicial review of that decision. Many had wanted a public inquiry.

There have been at least 38 deaths in attacks on Snatch Land Rovers since their introduction to Iraq in late 2003. The Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this year that Major Sebastian Morley, an SAS commander in Afghanistan, had resigned following the death of four of his soldiers in one of the vehicles.

A petition on the Downing Street website calling for an inquiry has already raised 1,000 signatures of people calling for an investigation.

The petition campaign at has been led by Sue Smith who lost her son Phillip Hewett in a Snatch bombing in Iraq three years ago.

"I think this inquiry is long overdue because they only look at the problems with these vehicles when people die and that has been going on for five years now," she said. "No one has learned lessons here because they sent Snatch out to Afghanistan after so many were killed in Iraq."

The SAS commander in Afghanistan Major Sebastian Morley resigned last month following the death of four of his soldiers in a Snatch in Afghanistan in June despite numerous requests for alternative vehicles.

Des Feely, the father of Cpl Sarah Bryant one of those four soldiers, said the MoD had been warned "umpteen times" that patrols using Snatch were "virtually on a suicide mission".

"The British public needs to ensure that this government is held accountable for the way it has chosen to unashamedly disregard the security of our troops."

The Lib Dem MP Paul Holmes, said he signed the petition because his Chesterfield constituent Ben Ford was killed in a Snatch

"An inquiry could get to the bottom of why the Government sent soldiers into battle without proper equipment from which people have died as a result."

The decision to go on using Snatch will come alongside an announcement on the introduction of new generation of armoured vehicles, which will reduce the use of existing vehicles like Snatch and Viking.

In one of his last acts before being sacked as Defence Secretary, Des Browne won a battle with the Treasury to spend £500 million buying 600 new armoured vehicles.

Those vehicles include 100 Mastiffs, a the UK variant of the US Army's Cougar troop-carrier, 100 Jackals and new 300 "light-support" vehicles with armour to protect against IED blasts.

The statement on Snatch Land Rovers comes after the Prime Minister announced that an extra 300 soldiers will be drafted to Afghanistan until at least August next year bringing the total to 8,300.

It has also been disclosed that urgent military spending in Afghanistan has increased by 54 per cent with the campaign costing £2.3 billion this financial year, the Commons defence committee said in a report.

Iraq: after Basra, a new reality

Tearing through Basra in the back of an Iraqi army pick-up truck last week, with no body armour and no British soldiers nearby, it struck me as the most foolish thing I had done in five years of covering southern Iraq. On every previous visit – and I have made a score or more – it would have been evidence of a death wish to set out without a troop of heavily armoured vehicles, and a platoon of heavily armed soldiers, for company.

But even a few minutes into the drive to downtown Basra, the change in atmosphere was tangible. No longer was there a wince of fear on hearing the detonation of a bomb, or while contemplating where precisely incoming shells would land.

This week, Defence Secretary John Hutton confirmed that the situation in Iraq was “infinitely better” than a year ago, and that most of our 4,100 troops will be home by the end of June. There is, in other words, a sense that our time in the country is drawing to a close – hence the Conservatives’ renewed demand for a full inquiry into the war, once our withdrawal is complete.

So what has happened to bring a rapid end to a mission that was only recently bogged down in a quagmire of insurgency? Amid the drama of Afghanistan, the transformation of Iraq’s second city, which was given to the British to protect and administer after the fall of Saddam Hussein, has gone largely unnoticed. But it is a remarkable one.

“The highlight for me has been going into a mosque in Basra at 10pm with no body armour or pistol, when previously I’d have needed a whole battlegroup of Warriors and Challenger tanks,” Lt Col Simon Browne, whose 2006 tour with the 2nd Bn The Royal Anglians saw some of the worst urban fighting, told me. “Basra is a different city.”

Yet despite Lt Col Browne’s pride in his men’s efforts, it’s difficult to judge how much of that difference is due to the British. From the outset, our campaign was handicapped by its questionable legitimacy, as well as a lack of political will to see our troops take risks. Although we bored the Americans senseless about Northern Ireland, we ignored many of the hard-learned principles of counter-insurgency. Our pacification efforts descended into an effort to preserve British lives, of which 178 have been lost in total, while somehow trying to persuade the Jaish al Mahdi militia (JAM) that they were not in full control of the city. By the end, when we were down to just a single base at Basra Palace, the main task was simply keeping the base going, via weekly supply convoys that ran a lethal gauntlet of armour-piercing devices.

Then, in September 2007, we withdrew from the city after an “accommodation” was made with the insurgents. In the spring of this year, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – perhaps galvanised by American criticism – ordered his own army into the militia’s strongholds. It was a rout. Out of 3,000 men from the Iraqi brigade, almost 1,000 deserted within the first 48 hours. The prime minister had called on a unit straight out of training.

The tide turned when Maliki, sensing defeat, sent for the army’s crack 1st Division, along with its 800 American mentors. For seven days, gun battles echoed throughout the city, but while the bulk of British forces remained in their base on the city’s outskirts, the Iraqi army persevered, killing 150 insurgents and sending the rest scuttling over the border to Iran.

Basra was among the most liberated, secular and artistic cities in the Arab world, and it seems that with JAM’s strict Islamic stranglehold gone, better times have arrived. Couples can walk the streets holding hands, women have replaced face veils with liberal coatings of make-up and shops openly sell curvaceous evening gowns. On Thursday evening, the start of the Muslim weekend, the streets and restaurants were filled with people keen to enjoy nights now free from bomb blasts and gunfire. Two floating restaurants have even taken station on Basra’s famous cornice, where couples and families happily wander to the fairground.

“Last year we would have been dead at least 10 minutes ago if we had sat here,” said Col Richard Stanford, as half-a-dozen British officers shed their body armour and deposited themselves at a table in the once notorious Hayyaniya district. Across the street was a long wide strip of green that the insurgents had used as a firing point for rockets and mortars. In fact, this was the scene of some of the toughest street-fighting the British Army has experienced since the Second World War. Yet here we were, chatting to the locals and sipping sweetened black tea.

Basim Mizshed, the owner of the café, spoke of a “terror” under the JAM, with murders, rapes and kidnappings. He added: “I want the British to go, because we are free and civilised people and we now have our own army to protect us. We extend our thanks and appreciate what you have done, but now we would like you to leave us.”

Despite the current calm, what will do most to secure Basra is economic revival, and an administration that uses the area’s vast oil wealth to deal with the problems known as “Sweat” – sewage, water, electricity and trash. Then there is the intelligence that JAM is drifting back to the city and is ready for a campaign of political assassinations centred around the provincial elections on Jan 31.

But those are issues for the Iraqis now. British minds are turning to the lessons that can be learned from our time here – and many are drawing the worrying conclusion that the British Army is struggling to adapt to the new realities of warfare. While the Americans reformed their army into a well-honed counter-insurgency force, we looked on. We are spending billions on aircraft carriers, submarines and advanced technology when today’s fight is right in front of us.

Support for this argument comes from the fact that our greatest success in Basra was largely a copy of an American model: the Military Transition Teams (MiTTs). Under this system, platoons of 30 British troops looked over the shoulders of 600 Iraqis, providing training, professionalism and reassurance without belittling the Iraqis’ strong sense of national and personal pride.

Nigel Haywood, the Consular General in Basra, argues that despite the setbacks, there would have been no army to fight the insurgents without the training provided by British troops. “We beat ourselves up about this, but the military have done an astonishing job in appalling circumstances,” he told me.

We might indeed come to look upon Basra as a success story – but if we are to win out in the far more challenging arena of Afghanistan, then the Army had better change, and change soon.

Gurkha hero’s widow facing deportation

Campaigners are rallying to stop the widow and children of a Gurkha killed in action in Afghanistan from being deported.

Colour Sergeant Krishna Dura, of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, based at Shorncliffe Barracks, Folkestone, died last month in the Musa Qala district of Helmand.

The vehicle in which he was travelling was struck by a roadside bomb.

Now the soldier’s family face the threat of leaving the country which has become their home.

They live in Canterbury MP Julian Brazier’s constituency, and the Tory politician has given his backing for them to be allowed to stay in the UK.

He said: “I am appalled and outraged that anyone could think it fair or humane even to think of treating the family of a fallen hero this way.

“Krishna Dura, who has made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of his country, should be able to rest in the knowledge that that country will treat his dependants in a fair and honourable manner.

“His wife has long been settled here and both his children were born here.

“This is therefore their home and I urge the Government to treat their case with the compassion and humanity that it deserves. I have written to the Home Office minister myself, urging that they should be allowed to stay.”

The motion was proposed by two councillors at a meeting of Canterbury council last week, one of whom, Cllr Brian Staley, is a long-time supporter of the Gurkhas and is aiming to set up a new charity to support war victims and promote peace.

He said the situation facing the dead soldier’s family was bleak unless British supporters stepped in to help them.

“The soldier who was killed was his parents’ only child. There is no pension in Nepal – it is a very poor country, so now they will have no means of support.

“It is up to us to help people in this situation.

“It is always women and children who suffer most in wartime, and I would like this foundation to help victims of war in all situations.”

Shepway councillor Peter Carroll of the Gurkha Justice campaign, which in September won a High Court battle for veterans’ right to stay in the UK, said the MP would receive the group’s “wholehearted support”.

He said: “The family should be allowed to stay, there’s no question about it. The Government were given three months after the High Court ruling to come up with a new policy and we are awaiting what the outcome will be.

“I just hope it’s not a fudge or a half measure, such as requiring Gurkhas and their families to stay only after serving for a particular length of time.

“This demonstrates how Gurkha families have been treated horrendously. The man died, for God’s sake!”

Colour Sergeant Krishnabahadur Dura, 36, came from the Lamjung
district of Nepal and was enlisted into the British Army in 1992.

He was quickly promoted through the ranks and then selected for the Gurkha Reinforcement Company with 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment. He served with distinction before joining The Royal Gurkha Rifles in 1997.

An experienced senior non-commissioned officer, he had tours in Bosnia Herzegovina, East Timor, Sierra Leone (twice) and was on his third tour to Afghanistan.

He was promoted to Colour Sergeant last year and singled out for selection to form the battalion’s sniper platoon.

Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Chris Darby said at the time of C/Sgt Krishan’s death that he was “an exceptional soldier, a gifted leader and consummate professional.”

Taleban tax: allied supply convoys pay their enemies for saf

The West is indirectly funding the insurgency in Afghanistan thanks to a system of payoffs to Taleban commanders who charge protection money to allow convoys of military supplies to reach Nato bases in the south of the country.

Contracts to supply British bases and those of other Western forces with fuel, supplies and equipment are held by multinational companies.

However, the business of moving supplies from the Pakistani port of Karachi to British, US and other military contingents in the country is largely subcontracted to local trucking companies. These must run the gauntlet of the increasingly dangerous roads south of Kabul in convoys protected by hired gunmen from Afghan security companies.

The Times has learnt that it is in the outsourcing of convoys that payoffs amounting to millions of pounds, including money from British taxpayers, are given to the Taleban.

Related Links
Armed Services take first big public spending hit
Taleban extract heavy tribute to let vital Nato supplies pass
Islamic militants strike at US supply chain
The controversial payments were confirmed by several fuel importers, trucking and security company owners. None wanted to be identified because of the risk to their business and their lives. “We estimate that approximately 25 per cent of the money we pay for security to get the fuel in goes into the pockets of the Taleban,” said one fuel importer.

Another boss, whose company is subcontracted to supply to Western military bases, said that as much as a quarter of the value of a lorry's cargo went in paying Taleban commanders.

The scale of the supplies needed to keep the Nato military operation going is vast. The main British base at Camp Bastion in Helmand province alone requires more than a million litres of diesel and aviation fuel a week. There are more than 70,000 foreign soldiers in the country for whom food and equipment must be imported, mostly by road. The US is planning to send at least 20,000 more troops into Afghanistan next year.

Other than flying in supplies, the only overland route is through Pakistan and Taleban-controlled areas of Afghanistan.

A security company owner explained that a vast array of security companies competed for the trade along the main route south of Kabul, some of it commercial traffic and some supplying Western bases, usually charging about $1,000 (£665) a lorry. Convoys are typically of 40-50 lorries but sometimes up to 100.

Asked whether his company paid money to Taleban commanders not to attack them, he said: “Everyone is hungry, everyone needs to eat. They are attacking the convoys because they have no jobs. They easily take money not to attack.” He said that until about 14 months ago, security companies had been able to protect convoys without paying. But since then, the attacks had become too severe not to pay groups controlling the route. Attacks on the Kandahar road have been an almost daily occurrence this year. On June 24 a 50-truck convoy of supplies was destroyed. Seven drivers were beheaded by the roadside. The situation now was so extreme that a rival company, working south of the city of Ghazni, had Taleban fighters to escort their convoys.

“I won't name the company, but they are from the Panjshir Valley [in north Afghanistan]. But they have a very good relation with the Taleban. The Taleban come and move with the convoy. They sit in the front vehicle of the convoy to ensure security,” said the company chief.

The Taleban are not the only ones making money from the trade; warlords, thieves, policemen and government officials are also taking a cut.

A transport company owner who runs convoys south on the notoriously dangerous Kabul to Kandahar highway said: “We pay taxes to both thieves and the Taleban to get our trucks through Ghazni province and there are several ways of paying. This goes to a very high level in the Afghan Government.

“Mostly the [Afghan] security companies have middlemen to negotiate the passage of the convoys, so they don't get attacked. They pay on a convoy by convoy basis to let the convoy pass at a certain time. They have to pay each of the Taleban commanders who control each part of the road. When you hear of an attack it is usually because a new small [Taleban] group has arrived on the road.”

Lieutenant-Commander James Gater, a spokesman for Nato forces in Afghanistan, said that the transport of Nato supplies was contracted to commercial firms and how they got them into the country was their business.

“I can confirm that we use two European-headquartered companies to supply food and fuel, though for contractual reasons it is not prudent for us to name them. They provide their own security as part of that contract. Such companies are free to subcontract to whomsoever they wish.

“We are aware they do prefer to subcontract from the countries in which they are operating. In Pakistan they prefer to use Pakistani trucking companies, in Afghanistan they prefer Afghan trucking companies. That is a commercial decision for them.”

A representative for the Swiss-based Supreme Global Solutions confirmed that the company held supply contracts with the military in Afghanistan.

However, last night the company denied paying protection money. “We categorically reject any suggestion that we now, or have ever, paid money to any individual for the safe passage of our convoys. Furthermore, we do not permit our subcontractors to do so on our behalf,” it said.

MoD orders spending clampdown

The general in charge of the country’s £16bn-a-year defence equipment and support budget has ordered an unprecedented crackdown on spending in a sign of the cash crisis at the Ministry of Defence.

In an internal memo sent to MoD officials earlier this month, a copy of which has been obtained by the Financial Times, General Sir Kevin O’Donoghue, chief of defence materiel, says that with immediate effect “the default position is that no business cases are to be put to the approving authorities for approval”.

Iceland sees red over RAF mission - Nov-14Delays hit MoD armoured vehicle plans - Nov-03Defence chiefs to press for clarity - Oct-27US defence industry attacks delay to UK pact - Oct-04Navy budget fears after destroyer’s early exit - Sep-29Forces will come back to UK after Basra - Sep-27“Projects that have already received approval are not to incur financial commitment,” he adds.

The stark message is the latest reminder of the severe budget strains at the department. It has an estimated deficit of £2bn in 2008-09. John Hutton, the defence secretary, indicated earlier this month it was unlikely the department would receive any additional funds in the government’s coming pre-Budget report.

In the spring, Des Browne, Mr Hutton’s predecessor, launched an “equipment examination” in a bid to reprioritise the MoD’s spending commitments.

The department said it wanted to move away from purchasing equipment for the long term – equipment that could be out of date by the time it comes into service – and concentrate on supporting its troops in the near to medium term. The examination was intended to be finalised before the summer but it has yet to be concluded. Mr Hutton has, however, indicated the conclusions are expected to be published before Christmas.

In the memo, Sir Kevin says the MoD should have a “clearer view of the implications of the examination soon”. “While the examination continues, and for the foreseeable future, it is important that we strengthen and broaden the existing . . . regime to ensure adequate control is maintained on expenditure.”

Sir Kevin goes on to list a number of exceptions to his edict. These include: proposals that support current operations of Britain’s armed forces over the next three years; proposals that support the future deterrent programme; ones that are necessary to satisfy contractual or international obligations; and ones where the MoD has already signed a production contract.

While the list of exceptions means two new £4bn aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy are safe, they do not, for example, cover the aircraft that are destined to fly off the ships. Britain has so far not signed a contract to buy the F-35 Lightning II or Joint Strike Fighter aircraft from Lockheed Martin of the US. A £16bn programme to buy a new generation of armoured vehicles for the army which has stalled in recent months also remains under threat.

Even if no programmes are cut or curtailed, they will face delays as decisions are pushed to the right, something Sir Kevin admits in the memo. “These measures will inevitably have an impact on the delivery timescales for some of our outputs,” he says. “I recognise this, but as it happens we must ensure that we continue to provide the best possible support to current operations.”

The MoD said on Sunday: “Spending has not stopped. We are rightly prioritising spending for operations and that continues – we announced £700m for new vehicles recently. The examination of our equipment programme is about reprioritising spending towards support for operations and driving down costs. While this continues, no decisions have been taken but we hope to conclude the exercise shortl

Morale is damaged, head of Army is told

General Sir Richard Dannatt has been told that thousands of soldiers are falling into poverty while many more are struggling to provide a basic standing of living for their families.

The report also reveals that many soldiers were found not to be eating properly "because they had run out of money by the end of the month".

More than 1,000 single-income soldiers with families now receive tax credits, but the report tells Gen Dannatt that "many junior soldiers feel that they are being forced to leave because they cannot afford to raise a family on current pay".

Entitled the Chief of the General Staff's Briefing Team Report, the document adds that soldiers are suffering from "complaint fatigue", a "frenetic" pace of life and increasing amounts of "nugatory" bureaucracy when they should be training for war.

It is also disclosed for the first time in the report that at there were at least "10 entirely avoidable deaths" on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007 caused by training failures.

These include three killed when a US aircraft dropped a bomb in the wrong location during a battle in Afghanistan's Helmand province and two killed in southern Afghanistan because electronic counter measures had not been properly fitted onto their vehicle.

The report states that a decent level pay is vital to the maintenance of Army morale, but crucially it adds that low salaries are "the number one issue of dissatisfaction for both soldiers and officers".

The report also adds:

* Thousands of single-income soldiers in the UK are now close to the government's definition of poverty

* Poor pay is the number one area of dissatisfaction in the Army

* Many soldiers were not paid for six months

* Army is suffering from complaint fatigue

* Gen Dannatt is "hugely irritated" over standard of accommodation

* Loss of leave is widespread

* Quality of life is being eroded

The maintenance of service housing is singled out for particular criticism by the General, who states that he is "hugely irritated" by the failings of the contractor responsible for dealing with accommodation complaints.

Soldiers also complain that the "tempo in barracks" is greater than that on operations, and under manning often results in soldiers not being able to take leave.

In response, Gen Dannatt writes: "I recognise that the pace of life is frenetic and this brings considerable challenges. I will do all I can to control operational commitments and mitigate the inevitable impact that change programmes have on the Army".

In a new departure for the head of the Army, Gen Dannatt invites soldiers to come up with their own solutions to the pressures of service life.

He writes: "I also look to all of you to come up with innovative ideas to de-heat the programme between operational tours."

Under the heading "Pace of Life", the report states: "There is a perception that when one activity is reduced it is replaced with another. It is viewed that the "pace of life" has been compounded by undermanning, the amount of change being implemented and the lack of support and expertise to deliver that change.

The report continues: "The loss of leave is still widespread. Few soldiers blame their commanding officers as they believe they have little room to manoeuvre."

A new computer system called Joint Personnel Administration, which was designed to streamline soldiers' pay and allowances, has also been beset with chronic failings.

The report says that every unit consulted "has considerable evidence of individual errors" which included many soldiers not being paid for up to six months.

Gen Dannatt accepts that there have been some "teething problems" with the system and adds: "Indeed a member of my own staff was discharged from the Army by JPA when he had just signed on! I sorted it out for him. Rest assured – I am on the case."

This year troops were given a pay rise of 2.6 per cent and Gen Dannatt and other senior commanders will be hoping for a greater increase next year.

The report also reveals that there are not sufficient funds to modernise single soldiers' living accommodation, and instead of providing new accommodation much of the cash available is being spent on keeping barracks "habitable".

Complaints about the company responsible for maintaining service homes, Modern Housing Solutions (MHS), are at an all-time high. The reports states this is the "single biggest issue" for families.

The British Armed Forces Federation, which campaigns on behalf of servicemen, said: "The comments contained within this report demonstrate why this country's servicemen and women need to be represented by a non-political independent body."

An MoD spokesman said: "The CGS's Briefing Team canvasses views from all ranks of the Army on a variety of issues to help the Chiefs stay in touch with all aspects of Army life when making decisions. The report contains the unedited views of individual soldiers, some of which reflect widespread opinion, while others are isolated views. This allows us to identify the issues that need addressing."


There is something sinister about the Chinook helicopter, like a giant, dark insect bearing down from the skies to disgorge battle-weary soldiers amid clouds of hot dust. When I think about war, whether it be ones I have reported in Iraq or Afghanistan or seen in Vietnam movies such as Apocalypse Now, the soundtrack in my head is always that of the throbbing blades coming closer and closer.

Last week I sat perched inside a Chinook flying over Helmand, trussed up in flak jacket and helmet, squashed between some Royal Marines arriving for a six-month tour. Unable to talk over the loud rotors, some had earphones attached to iPods. Others, like me, had to make do with yellow military-issue earplugs and spent the journey watching the gunner scour the parched land below through the open back.

For long distances there was nothing to see but our dark shadow skimming across the desert. On the horizon was a camel train, perhaps carrying the opium that will end up as heroin on British streets. Temperatures can exceed 50C out here, and the one mudwalled settlement we see seems to be sinking into the sands like an ancient ruin. Miles and miles from anywhere, we fly low over a man with a cloth turban wrapped round his head and a small herd of ragged brown sheep. He does not even look up.

What does he think about these foreign soldiers flying back and forth, I wonder. I wonder the same as we swing round into a patch of green trees and the Helmand River, swooping low over compounds where I can see colourfully dressed women and children. We have come to help them but it looks like anger in their faces.

Related Links
Taliban chief killed by SAS was Pakistan officer
The Chinook comes down to land in our own heavily fortified compound in the centre of Lashkar Gah and the marines and I jump out and run, trying to escape the burning powdery dust that gets in through the bandannas and goggles we all wear. Thirty-two British soldiers were killed during the last six-month tour – another 170 were injured – and I study the eager faces of the troops, many of whom are young enough to be my son, knowing that some of them probably won’t make it back home.

Until recently I used to argue confidently that we needed more troops – and more helicopters – in Afghanistan. As a novice reporter based in the Pakistan border town of Peshawar in the late 1980s, I had grown to love this harsh but beautiful country and felt personally betrayed at witnessing how we abandoned Afghanistan after backing its mujaheddin to oust the Soviet Union.

We paid for it with 9/11 and shouldn’t make the same mistake again, I declared to anyone who would listen. And, unlike the Iraqis, the Afghan people wanted us there.

When British troops arrived in force, in what we all described as “the lawless province of Helmand” in 2006, I was one of the first reporters out here. Embedded with the paras, I felt it was a worthy mission and a great adventure, until one afternoon we were ambushed by Taliban in a muddy field. I realised then that politicians back home might be talking of reconstruction and not firing a single shot, but this was war. Two and a half years, a doubling of troops to more than 8,000, and several million bullets later, British forces may hold five small districts in Helmand but the local governor himself says the Taliban control at least half the province.

As for the rest of the country, in all but the north the picture is unrelentingly grim. An aid worker smuggled me security maps compiled by the United Nations (no longer made public because they reveal just how bad things are). These show the relentless sweep from Helmand and the south across the country of pink, which represents “uncontrolled hostile environment” – no-go areas. In 2005, when the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which included British military personnel, was active in the country, there was not a single pink patch; today more than half the country is pink.

Violent incidents have gone up from 44 a month in 2003 to 573 this year, and more than 4,500 people have been killed this year. In June and July the Americans lost more troops in Afghanistan than Iraq.

Most alarming is the way Kabul has been encircled by the Taliban, prompting a sense of being under siege both among Afghans and foreigners, behind their concrete blocks and armed guards. Of four highways into the capital from the south, east, west and north, built with hundreds of millions of foreign aid money, only the northern route is considered safe. Even that has become prone to rocket attacks.

So as I jumped out of the Chinook in Lashkar Gah, lugging my kit, I wondered what we British are actually achieving in this faraway country where all our previous engagements, since our first military expedition 170 years ago, have ended in disaster.

That evening I had dinner in the cookhouse with Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, who has just finished his tour as commander of British forces in Helmand. He told me over turkey escalopes and chips washed down with Ribena that we should stop thinking in terms of defeat and victory.

“We need to lower our expectations,” he said. “We’re not going to win this war; it’s about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that’s not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army.”

In his view we should be concentrating on building up the Afghan army so it can defend itself – and trying to achieve a political settlement that might well involve giving some power to the Taliban.

It was refreshing finally to hear some openly expressed realism. Over the past year diplomats and military officials have been saying much the same privately. One Foreign Office official confided that he had written in a Whitehall memo that Afghanistan was “going to rats”. Publicly, however, everyone still insisted on painting a rosy picture. With the fiasco of the war in Iraq, no one wanted to own up to the fact that it was going even more wrong in the land of the Hindu Kush.

Carleton-Smith’s remarks were quickly dismissed as “defeatist” by Robert Gates, the American defence secretary. But the Old Etonian is a former head of the SAS with stories of derring-do in Iraq and Afghanistan to make the hair curl and described by those who know him well as one of the bravest men in the British Army.

The brigadier’s candour ignited a worldwide discussion that was even taken up in last week’s presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. His assessment was backed by the draft of an American National Intelligence estimate leaked to The New York Times. The report, which combines the views of all America’s 16 security agencies, describes Afghanistan as being in a “downward spiral”. Accusing President Hamid Karzai’s government of “rampant corruption”, it casts serious doubts on its ability to stem the rise of the Taliban.

“We are spending our blood and treasure for what?” asked a senior Nato officer angrily. “For an Afghan government that is spending its time lining its pockets? It’s time to think about what we are doing and what we are really trying to achieve.”

Back in Kabul, the sensation of the Taliban approaching the gates of the city has led to a frenzied fin-de-siècle atmosphere. Among the foreigners in their ever more fortified homes, every night seems to be party night, with people drinking heavily and bemoaning the fact that their cooks are leaving because they fear they will be targeted for working for foreigners.

One night I even lay on cushions in a friend’s garden drinking Chilean merlot and watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull projected onto the back wall while surrounded by armed guards and barricades.

It was odd to think that the Taliban were patrolling villages only an hour away, switching off music at wedding parties and threatening anyone who worked with the infidels.

One morning I met Abdul Karim Khurram, the rotund information and culture minister, who comes from a village an hour and a half from Kabul. “I used to go home every weekend,” he said, shaking his head. “But the security situation is so bad I haven’t been able to go for the past year.”

Khurram may be the information minister but he is definitely not on message with the new Afghan Presidential Media Centre. Funded by America as well as with £1.7m from Britain’s international development department, this was a Nato idea, emerging from belated recognition that the Taliban were far better than the international community at getting their message out.

The Taliban may be known for smashing up television sets when in power, but they have developed a sophisticated communications operation with websites in Afghan languages and English and mobile phone videos that they send out. Their spokesmen use satellite phones to speak to Afghan and international journalists and are adroit at exploiting Nato errors, such as airstrikes that kill civilians.

Nato officers complain that the Taliban exaggerate or simply lie. Increasingly frustrated by the Afghan government’s slowness at responding, as well as differences in message between them and their international backers, they turned to new Labour’s masters of spin and brought in Allan Percival – a retired civil servant who was deputy to Alastair Campbell at No 10 and then press minder for Derry Irvine, former lord chancellor, to help draw up plans for the centre.

Apart from polite signs asking visitors to leave their weapons outside, it looks like a modern media centre complete with conference hall with plasma screens (and plastic flowers), a garden with chairs, rooms full of computers and even a lounge for visiting journalists. “The words ‘white elephant’ spring to mind,” said a UN official.

The problem is, there’s not much good news to put out. This does not deter Thomas Niblock, an irrepressibly up-beat American who is senior adviser at the centre. “You’ve got to distinguish between perception and reality,” he said. “The perception may be bad but the reality is there are millions of Afghans getting on with their ordinary Afghan lives.”

I pointed out that it is Afghans as well as foreigners who say it is too dangerous to travel on the roads. I listed examples such as the information minister I talked to and a friend at the Afghan Women’s Resource Centre who can no longer visit her projects in provinces neighbouring Kabul.

“It’s a two-sided coin,” he replied. “Yes the highways have security issues but on the plus side the drive time has reduced.”

Noting that the plaque on the centre’s door describes it as the Presidential Media Centre, I asked if President Karzai would be carrying out the official opening next month. “No, security is not good enough,” replied Niblock. The presidential palace is just a mile down the road, mostly through streets closed off to the public.

The Niblock thesis that insecurity might simply be perception is not much consolation to the terrified man I met secretly the next day. For 15 years Ahmed Bachar looked after the children of the province of Logar – orphans and those whose fathers had lost legs or eyes to the war that has gone on for three decades. Bachar made sure they got to school, had something to eat and had somewhere to sleep every night.

After the fall of the Taliban regime, he started receiving international aid money. This enabled him to arrange a proper building, books, clothes and occasionally even balloons and kites for the children to play with. Two months ago masked Taliban came to his house one night and accused him of working with foreigners and threatened to kill him if he did not stop. It was no idle threat. One British aid agency estimates that there is now a beheading every other day.

“I was terrified,” he said. “But I look after around 200 children aged from five to 16 and didn’t know what would happen to them if I stopped.”

So he went to the mosque and told the local community. It was a risk: among those gathered for prayers were local shopkeepers and farmers who he knew donned masks at night and joined the Taliban patrolling the streets. The Eid holiday collection of 50 afghanis (about 58p) per head, which usually goes to the poor, had been commandeered by the Taliban.

But the people beseeched him to stay. “We need you to look after our children,” they said. “We will talk to the Taliban and ask them to let you continue.”

A few nights later the Taliban again dragged him out of his house and told him he could stay as long as he broke off all association with foreigners.

Bachar was not convinced. Now in hiding in Kabul with his five daughters and two sons, he said: “Maybe 80% they leave me alone, but 20% chance they kill me. The problem is, I cannot trust the government forces to protect me. The police only want bribes from us. We are caught between the two.”

Tears spilling from his eyes, he is clearly racked with guilt. “I have sacrificed the orphans for the safety of my own children,” he said. “Who will care for them now?”

Bachar’s case, in a town just an hour’s drive from the capital, is typical. Although the coalition can defeat the Taliban in direct battle, what the Taliban do is control the terrain psychologically.

Complicating matters is the fact that the Taliban are not the only source of violence. Like a franchise of the disgruntled, there are also militants from the Hezb-i-Islami of the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Al-Qaeda militants from the Jala-luddin Haqqani network based in the Pakistani tribal area of Waziristan, drug networks, armed criminals and corrupt elements inside and outside the government. With most of the population unemployed, there are plenty of people who will happily fire a rocket for a few dollars.

“It’s not the Taliban that are winning – it’s the government who are losing,” says Haroun Mir, deputy director of the Afghan Centre for Research and Policy Studies.

“The Taliban are mining in a sea of acquiescence, a sullen, frightened acquiescence,” agrees a western diplomat gloomily. “If you ask people, they don’t want Taliban; but if it’s a choice between them and corrupt, predatory government, they prefer Taliban.”

If there is one positive to be found in the mess, it is that from London to Washington all agree that the situation is critical and things have to change. The Bush administration is conducting its biggest review of Afghan policy since 2001, with the intention of coming up with a new strategy. Both US presidential candidates are falling over each other to say which would do more. Karzai is coming to London next month for his third meeting with Gordon Brown in a year.

Concentrating minds is the fact that an Afghan presidential election must be held next year. Registration is just getting under way but most concede that in the current security situation this will be impossible in large swathes of the country.

Everyone from Carleton-Smith to the Danish foreign ministry is now advocating talks with the Taliban. Contacts began last month under the auspices of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who invited delegations from the Afghan government, the Taliban and Hekmatyar’s group to an iftar dinner to break the Ramadan fast. The next meeting will be in Germany.

The contacts so far have been informal. Although Mullah Motaqi, deputy to Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, took part in the Saudi meeting, some within the Taliban leadership argue that they have no need to talk because they are winning and will soon exhaust the stamina of Nato countries.

“They know they can’t outfight us but they clearly believe they can outlast us,” says Carleton-Smith.

The government is not the only one talking to the Taliban. Former mujaheddin leaders under the command of the religious figure Pir Gailani have begun their own negotiations with the aim of forming a united front for the elections.

The other hope is that with General David Petraeus taking over at US Central Command – which covers Afghanistan – after his “surge” success in Iraq, he will be able to focus minds and resources on this other war. America has already indicated that it will send three more combat brigades, the first by Christmas. This is expected to go into Logar, where the governor was assassinated last month and three US soldiers were recently killed.

“We don’t have the resources to hold the ground,” says one Nato officer. “The enemy is out-producing us and that’s got to stop.”

He points out that while Iraq is a third smaller in population and terrain, it has an army of 600,000 and more than 160,000 coalition forces. “By contrast, Afghanistan has only 80,000 indigenous forces and 51,000 Nato – of which, when you consider those who are here for the fight, not just tree-hugging, that’s 28,000.”

The United States is investing heavily in training the Afghan army, but even if it meets its targets, its strength will be only 134,000 in two years. On Friday the Pentagon resorted to agreeing to tribal militias, despite fears that this will further empower warlords.

This is not to say that there have been no successes since 2001. The number of Afghans with access to basic health facilities has risen from 9% to 85%; the number of children enrolled in school from 3.7m to 5.7m (although there are 12m under 15); and 8,170 miles of roads have been built. Private television stations and newspapers have sprung up and many Afghans have mobile phones. But it is not enough.

Much of the capital remains without water and light, and Kabul’s once-sparkling river through the centre is clogged with garbage and sewage.

It is easy to point out mistakes such as not having enough troops to start with, when the Taliban were still weak; allowing the warlords to remain powerful; not engaging in enough nation-building; and letting the Afghan government get away with corruption. But it is less easy to see the solution.

Amid the atmosphere of fear and loathing in Kabul, almost all the lead-ing actors are engaged in the blame game. Karzai spends weeks on end cooped up inside the Arg, the presidential palace where so many of his predecessors were horribly murdered.

Two months ago he stormed out of a meeting with both the British and US ambassadors and the Nato commander over highway security when they refused to fund his idea for creating a highway police force and empowering communities along the roads.

So bad is the situation that British and American forces are indirectly funding the Taliban as they get their own fuel and water supplies through. The private contractors they use estimate that 25% of the $4,000 per truck paid for security ends up with the Taliban.

Karzai’s relations with the British have long been strained over what he saw as their support for Pakistan. They sank to a new low last Christmas following what he regarded as their freelance attempts to talk to the Taliban in Helmand and his refusal to accept Lord Ashdown as special envoy after having previously agreed to it.

Recently he also took on the United States, going so far as to threaten to expel American forces in his fury over the killing of as many as 90 civilians in a bombing at Shindand, which America initially denied.

Karzai believes that an article in The New York Times last week, which repeated allegations that his brother Ahmed Wali is a drug lord and was based on a briefing by American officials, was deliberate retaliation for his criticism.

It is hard to find anyone in the international community with a good word to say about the man they chose to lead Afghanistan because he spoke good English and looked good. Influential Afghans echo their dismay.

“He’s so indecisive that he will offer X a post in the morning, then give it to Y in the afternoon,” said one former deputy governor.

Ashraf Ghani, his former finance minister, said: “Instead of the order that people wanted after 30 years of conflict, they have uncertainty and corruption where just a few become obscenely wealthy. Two individuals in the interior ministry have just declared assets of $21m and $35m. In what country can you gain that in four years?” Even Karzai’s closest friends and relatives admit that only by acting tough now to sack the worst culprits might he save himself and the country.

The name-calling is not restricted to Karzai. Nato members are also bickering. There is resentment that Germany, Italy and other countries refuse to do any fighting.

Meeting in Budapest last week, Nato countries refused Gates’s entreaties to commit more troops. They also clashed over his calls for them to target drug traffickers, arguing that this would further endanger their troops. Britain’s military commanders in Helmand insist that they cannot open up another front.

For its part, Washington believes that Britain set back talks with the Taliban when its two negotiators in a private exercise last year were expelled by the Afghan government.

“You’d think that after 160 years of being outplayed by the Afghans, London would have learnt its lesson,” said one US official. Perhaps, as the Taliban fled across the border in December 2001, someone should have remembered the words of Sir Olaf Caroe, the last British governor on the northwest frontier.

“Unlike other wars,” he said, “Afghan wars become serious only when they are over.”

Army school set for £3bn overhaul

The Army's Royal School of Engineering (RSME) is set for a £3bn overhaul of its training and accommodation after signing a major contract.

The Ministry of Defence has signed a 30-year contract with Holdfast, a private sector consortium, led by Wolverhampton builder Carillion.

From next January, private sector trainers will teach Royal Engineers skills such as bricklaying.

The RSME has 12 sites at Medway, Kent, and two in Minley, Hampshire.

The RSME trains about 5,500 military personnel every year in courses ranging from construction to bridge-building and mine-sweeping.

The public-private partnership scheme will also mean bomb disposal and search training moving to Bicester, Oxfordshire, so two of the Kent sites can be used for housing development in the Thames Gateway.

The MoD hopes using private sector trainers will free up about 300 RSME staff for the frontline.

Lt Gen Nick Parker, commander of regional forces for the Army, said: "The RSME-PPP contract combines our best military engineering training with best practise in the commercial sector.

"This will deliver improved training, for the Royal Engineers in particular, that will feed directly into front-line support."

Holdfast will also spend more than £150m on new accommodation for about 1,700 soldiers during the first seven years of the contract.

Leasing RAF planes wastes nearly £500m

The government squandered almost £500m by leasing RAF transport aircraft that it could have bought outright for less money.

The Ministry of Defence wanted to buy the four Boeing C17 Globemasters for £520m but was told by Gordon Brown, then the chancellor, to lease them because it would be cheaper.

New figures show the MoD paid a total of £769m to lease the aircraft and then had to buy them anyway for an additional £220m. The final payment was made last month, putting the total price over eight years at £989m.

The MoD’s financial problems are now so great that the prime minister has still not signed off on its spending plans for this financial year.

The giant C17 transporters, flown by 99 Squadron based at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, can carry three Warrior armoured vehicles or a dozen Land Rovers. The MoD has since bought two more for £130m each, putting the total for the RAF’s six-aircraft fleet up to £1.25 billion.

Gerald Howarth, the Conservative defence spokesman, said the lease deal had been “an absolute shocking waste of public money when our troops are going without the equipment they need”.

The MoD said the decision to lease the aircraft was taken to meet a short-term need. Buying the leased aircraft to cope with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan was subsequently seen as “the best value-for-money option”.

Record numbers of ex-soldiers in UK jails as combat trauma b

The number of soldiers who end up in prison for violent offences has increased dramatically in the past four years, according to a report that has raised concerns about the mental health of military personnel returning from war zones. Compiled by probation officers, the report estimates that at least 8,500 former soldiers are in custody - 9 per cent of the UK prison population and nearly double the estimate of a previous study by the Home Office in 2004, which put the figure at 5 per cent.

But even the estimate by Napo, the probation trade union, may be on the low side. In a sign that the Ministry of Defence is increasingly aware of the problem, it recently carried out its own assessment in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice and ex-services charities. A pilot study at Dartmoor prison concluded that almost 17 per cent of inmates had been members of the armed forces.

'It is of real concern that thousands of soldiers are in prison and many more are on parole or community service orders,' said Harry Fletcher of Napo. 'In virtually every incidence the former soldier served in either the Gulf or Afghanistan, became involved in excess alcohol or drug-taking, and was subsequently convicted of an offence of violence.'

The Napo report was compiled from more than 70 case studies. Whatever the true figure, it is apparent that soldiers comprise by far the largest occupational group in the prison system. 'It is clearly worrying that a significant proportion of people in the penal system are ex-servicemen and it doesn't say much for the support given to those leaving the military,' said Andrew Neilson of the Howard League for Penal Reform.

'An inability to cope with civilian life, particularly for those who joined the services on leaving school, can certainly lead to offending and see someone swapping one institution for another.'

Often it is those closest to the soldiers who are victims of their violence. The report cites the example of one serviceman who struggled to adapt to civilian life after six years in the army. His relationship with his partner broke down and she stopped him seeing his children because of his heavy drinking. Verbal abuse turned to physical abuse, which led to a jail sentence.

Another soldier ended up in a prison in Humberside for actual bodily harm. According to his probation report, he started drinking heavily after he returned from having served in Bosnia at the age of 19. The soldier said he had not been prepared for what he saw while on peacekeeping duties. For years he could not get the image of people nailed to trees out of his mind.

'The number of soldiers in prison is definitely on the rise,' said Tracey Johnson of Veterans in Prison, which believes there is a link between the intensity of the army's current missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and the number of soldiers currently in jail. 'They're fighting in back-to-back conflicts, coming out and going back again; they haven't got time to recover. There are not enough of them. They don't have the right cover or equipment and they're absolutely knackered.'

The organisation has been inundated with letters from soldiers in prison. In virtually every case it believes that the writers were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One father said that before his son was jailed for threatening to shoot another soldier, he had been wetting his bed and in floods of tears because 'he couldn't get Iraq out of his head'.

'He told me they often had to raid buildings where they believed terrorists were hiding,' the man wrote. 'Because he is a big strong lad, he had the heavy machine gun and so had to enter these buildings first and in his words "was shit scared". I told him anybody would be in that situation, but I got the impression he felt it was a sign of weakness.'

David Bradley, 43, developed post-traumatic stress after serving in Northern Ireland. In 2006, he shot his uncle, aunt and two cousins at close range with a pistol he had smuggled into the UK after serving in Bosnia. Several hours later, armed with a nail bomb, a sawn-off shotgun and a pistol with silencer and ammunition, Bradley walked into his local police station in Newcastle and calmly said: 'I have killed four members of my family.'

As the incidence of post-traumatic stress becomes more prevalent there are suspicions that some soldiers will cite combat fatigue as an excuse for their criminal behaviour. 'There are those who say they have it as some sort of amelioration for their actions,' conceded Peter Poole, director of welfare services at the charity Combat Stress.

The Napo report provides some of the most credible evidence to date that stress is a major factor behind the rise in the number of soldiers going to jail. Dozens of clinical psychiatric assessments speak of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress when they attack others. Often the disorder is not identified until the soldier enters the prison system.

'Military operations in recent years have placed the armed forces under increased pressures,' said Derek Howard-Budd, head of welfare at the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association. 'Associated issues like PTSD can take a long time before symptoms develop and much longer to be diagnosed.'

Post-traumatic stress has been dubbed 'the hidden wound' - the injury that is never talked about because of the stigma attached to soldiers suffering psychological problems. 'The idea that it is not a "real" condition is inherited from the First World War, where shell-shock among troops was thought to be a sign of weakness,' said Bridget O'Connell, of the mental health charity Mind. 'Now, with a better understanding of the way trauma affects us, this notion is long-since outdated.'

It was not until he was serving life for murder that Tracey Johnson's husband, Jimmy, who was the victim of a bomb attack while serving in the army in Northern Ireland, became aware he had problems. She fears that many more soldiers will end up going the same way. 'Many of them don't even know they've got it,' she said.

Despite heightened concerns about the prevalence of the condition, there are claims that little is being done to assess soldiers' mental health when they return from war zones. What help is available is usually on an ad hoc basis and often available only when they have been incarcerated. Staff at Everthorpe prison in Brough, East Yorkshire, have become so concerned at the lack of support traumatised soldiers receive upon release that they have taken to issuing them with information packs giving details of mental health charities.

Groups such as Combat Stress can be effective, but have limited resources. 'We can only help those who seek help,' Poole said. 'And there are more people than we are equipped to deal with.'

In a statement to The Observer, the MoD said that counselling was available to service personnel at all times, and pointed out that all troops receive briefings before and after deployment to help them recognise the signs of stress.

'We have launched six pilot schemes of community-based veterans' mental health therapists which will be rolled out across the UK,' the MoD said in a statement. 'Veterans can also receive free mental health assessments from a consultant psychiatrist with a military background. This service is also available to veterans in prison.'

But politicians said it was clear that more needs to be done to identify and treat post-traumatic stress at an early stage. The Labour MP John McDonnell, who is secretary of the Justice Unions All Party Group, said it was time for the government to urgently review systems for supporting serving and retired members of the armed services.

Elfyn Llwyd, a Plaid Cymru MP who has become alarmed at the number of his constituents who have served in the armed forces and are now in prison, said that service personnel and their families were being let down. 'If better treatment was available for these servicemen, hundreds, maybe thousands, would not have offended,' he said.

Veterans In Prison draws comparisons with the United States, where soldiers returning from war zones are put through 'decompression courses' where they are assessed by mental health experts before leaving the base.

'Here they just get them altogether in the barracks and ask them who wants to see a shrink,' Johnson said. 'Nobody's going to put their hand up to that.'

Tory MP Douglas Carswell ‘punished’ for damning army kit

Conservative MP has been thrown off a parliamentary body after speaking up for Britain’s “poorly equipped” troops in Afghanistan.

Douglas Carswell, MP for Harwich and Clacton, was excluded from the armed forces parliamentary scheme (AFPS) earlier this year for making outspoken attacks on the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and arms contractors following a trip to Kandahar as part of the scheme.

He revealed in parliament that troops are left without air cover because of inadequate helicopters. Carswell said the parliamentary scheme, which is financed by defence contractors and uses MoD resources, had attempted to censor him but he refused to be silenced.

“Having learnt from our troops on the ground some of the serious problems with helicopter shortages, and then raised the issue responsibly, I found myself slung off the scheme,” he said.

Leasing RAF planes wastes nearly £500m
“Worse, I discovered the scheme is funded by big businesses that might not want too many questions asked about the way the defence budget is currently being misspent.”

The scheme was created more than 20 years ago by Sir Neil Thorne, a former Conservative MP. Its aim is to improve the quality of parliamentary debate on defence issues by giving MPs and peers some first-hand experience of the armed forces.

Last week Thorne said that Carswell was free to criticise who he liked. But the MP’s membership was withdrawn after he suggested that defence companies were attempting to buy influence in parliament by giving money to the scheme.

“I haven’t gone to all this trouble to build something up over 20 years to have it destroyed because somebody insists on dragging the AFPS name through the mud,” Thorne said.

Carswell, 37, joined the armed forces scheme two years ago. He was given an honorary rank and was expected to wear a uniform while on visits to war zones. During the Kandahar trip in March 2007, he had a conversation with an RAF member about an “ancient” grounded Lynx helicopter. He was told that many Lynx craft were not compatible with the Afghan heat.

Back in the UK, the MP learnt that the MoD could have replaced the Lynx with US Black Hawk helicopters, but had already committed to a new Lynx generation apparently costing twice as much.

The Lynx are to be made in Britain by AgustaWestland, one of the three defence companies sponsoring the armed forces scheme. They each give £45,000 a year.

“The defence budget is being spent in the interests of some contractors, not our armed forces,” Carswell claimed.

Afghanistan Puts Germans Off Military Career

Afghanistan Puts Germans Off Military Career
The German army is facing a shortage of recruits. Demographics play a role in the problem, but so too do poor pay and conditions. However, army representatives say the biggest problem is the dangerous mission in Afghanistan.

A memorial service for the German soldier killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday.
German political pundits are fond of pointing out that, should Barack Obama be elected as the next president of the United States, it will be much more difficult for Germany to turn him down should he ask Berlin for help in the world's hotspots. But recent statistics show that even should the political will exist, the German army might have trouble mustering the soldiers necessary.

According to a Friday report in the daily Die Welt, demographic trends in Germany may lead to a dwindling number of young Germans willing to join the military. Consistently low birth rates in Germany mean that the number of high school graduates in Germany will fall from 974,000 in 2007 to 781,000 in 2020 -- a drop of 20 percent.

That, though, isn't the only problem facing the Bundeswehr, as Germany's army is called. There are indications that the army is already losing its shine as a career choice, with the German Army Federation -- a kind of trade union for the armed forces -- claiming that the country's Afghanistan mission has led to a 50 percent drop in applications in 2008. The German Defense Ministry on Thursday dismissed these figures, but admitted that in the first half of 2008 it had seen 16 percent fewer applicants to become officers and 11 percent fewer for lower grades. The ministry argued that this was a normal fluctuation and that it expected application numbers for all of 2008 to be similar to the previous year. The ministry also said that while around 10 percent of officers break off their careers early, these numbers are consistent with previous years.

Still, the army is still facing that future demographic dip and Bernhard Gertz, the chairman of the German Army Federation, told the Frankfurter Zeitung that the Bundeswehr has to "draw serious conclusions from the growing problem of finding a younger generation."

For Reinhold Robbe, the German parliament's military commissioner, demographics are not at the root of the problem. He told the Berliner Zeitung that it was more an issue of the "attractiveness" of a life in the army. He said that highly-qualified officers have to work under dangerous conditions and increasingly long hours, and at the end of the month they come home with less in their pockets than if they worked in the civilian economy.

Sign up for Spiegel Online's daily newsletter and get the best of Der Spiegel's and Spiegel Online's international coverage in your In- Box everyday.

"There has to be a sober analysis of who earns what doing which tasks," he said in comments published on Friday. Robbe, whose job involves speaking regularly to soldiers about their concerns, believes that another reason for the drop off in Germans pursuing a military career is the toll it takes on family life. "The Bundeswehr has obviously been too late in realizing that the balance between family and career is becoming increasingly important."

Gertz's deputy at the German Army Federation, Ulrich Kirsh told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung on Thursday that economic concerns are not the only reason for a drop in applications. A soldier serving in Afghanistan gets a tax-free bonus of €92.03 for every day served, he pointed out, "but pay isn’t everything." It is the danger of the mission in Afghanistan that is making prospective soldiers think twice about a military career. He said that the latest German casualty in Afghanistan -- the death of a 29-year-old master sergeant in a bomb attack by the Taliban on Wednesday -- brought home the fact that death and injury was a part of that mission.

MoD struggling to maintain aircraft and supplies to troops

The Ministry of Defence faces such a critical shortage of civilian staff, engineers and technical expertise that it is struggling to maintain its aircraft, and the supply of equipment to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq is under threat, leaked memos reveal.

Senior commanders are also warning that the nuclear submarine deterrent could be confined to docks within 18 months unless a shortage of submariners and nuclear technicians can be resolved. The revelations came to lightin the week that the civil service union Prospect began a High Court action claiming plans to cut 5,000 MoD jobs are illegal.

A memo sent last month from the head of the MoD's supply department reveals that the organisation is struggling to process urgent orders for land and surveillance equipment to be sent to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The memo calls for staff to be co-opted from other departments for 12 months to plug the gap, a move it admits is a "sticking plaster" solution.

A second memo, from the MoD's Aircraft Maintenance Policy Board, circulated widely in the MoD in May, warns that years of privatisation and staff cuts have left the ministry without the expertise to maintain its own aircraft.

"This paper argues that recent and future changes in the employment of crown servant engineers will soon leave the MoD unable to fulfil its intelligent customer remit and hence jeopardize airworthiness," it says. "[Engineering teams] are punch drunk with additional requirements... and there is evidence that they do not have the capacity to comply with existing regulations...."

Several crashes have been attributed by insiders to either a lack of know-how or loss of experience, most significantly the Nimrod aircraft which blew up in Kandahar, Afghanistan, after a fuel leak in September 2006, killing all 14 men aboard.

In a meeting with the victims' families earlier this year, the Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth admitted that a lack of trained engineers was responsible for the delay in bringing the remaining Nimrod fleet up to minimum standards.

There is also widespread concern at the shortage of nuclear engineers, with warnings that the Clyde nuclear base in Scotland will be unable to apply for a licence to operate unless the shortage can be addressed.

Earlier this month Commodore Chris Hockley, commander of the base, launched an 18-month review to address staffing concerns which will look at the possibility of privatisation.

Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, a former Army commander in Bosnia, said that naval officers had told him that Britain's nuclear submarine fleet would not be able to go to sea unless the shortfall in mariners was addressed. Steve Jary, National Secretary of the civil service union Prospect, said the MoD is "stretched to breaking point".

The MoD maintains that its aircraft, including the Nimrod, are safe to fly. "The Ministry of Defence does not comment on leaked documents," a spokesman said. "However, we recognise that there are a number of pinchpoint trades within the armed forces and are taking steps to mitigate any future impact through targeted recruitment campaigns and retention measures."

Afghanistan: 76 civilians die in airstrike, ministry claims

US-led coalition forces killed 76 Afghan civilians in western Afghanistan yesterday, most of them children, the country's Interior Ministry said.

The coalition denied killing civilians. Civilian deaths in military operations have become an emotive issue among Afghans, many of whom feel international forces take too little care when launching air strikes, undermining support for their presence.

"Seventy-six civilians, most of them women and children, were martyred today in a coalition forces operation in Herat province," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Coalition forces bombarded the Azizabad area of Shindand district in Herat province on Friday afternoon, the ministry said. Nineteen of the victims were women, seven of them men and the rest children under the age of 15, it said.

US-led coalition forces denied killing any civilians. They said 30 militants had been killed in an air strike in Shindand district in the early hours of Friday and no further air strikes had been launched in the area later in the day.

Air strikes took place after Afghan and coalition soldiers were ambushed by insurgents while on a patrol targeting a known Taliban commander in Herat, the US military said in a statement.

"Insurgents engaged the soldiers from multiple points within the compound using small-arms and RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) fire," it said. "The joint forces responded with small-arms fire and an air strike killing 30 militants."

A senior police commander in western Afghanistan confirmed the incident but could not say how many civilians died.

"More than 30 people have been killed. I cannot say how many of them are civilians," General Ikramuddin Yawar told Reuters.

A spokesman for the Defence Ministry in Kabul said US special forces and Afghan troops had been carrying out an operation against a commander named Mulla Sidiq, who was planning to attack a US base in Herat. "Twenty-five Taliban were killed, including Sidiq and one other commander," said spokesman General Zaher Azimi.

"Unfortunately, five civilians were killed in the bombing."

Afghanistan has seen a surge in violence this year as the Taliban steps up its campaign of guerrilla attacks, backed by suicide and roadside bombs, to overthrow the pro-western Afghan government and drive out foreign troops.

Meanwhile, soldiers from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) fired artillery rounds into Pakistan from the eastern province of Paktika yesterday in a coordinated attack with the Pakistani military, the Isaf said.

The rounds were fired at militants across the border who the Pakistani military said were preparing to fire rockets at an Isaf base in Paktika, Isaf said in a statement.

MoD scraps £227m Phoenix spy drone that hated heat and lande

As a spy drone, it had its disadvantages. To land, it had to flip on its back. It could not operate in extreme heat or in thin air and became known as the “bugger off” because it frequently did, never to return.

The Phoenix unmanned air vehicle, which cost an estimated £300,000 each and was brought into service with the British Army in 1998 after a protracted development programme, is now officially dead.

MPs on the Commons Defence Committee revealed in a report published last week that the Phoenix, which provided target information for the Army's artillery regiments from an operating height of about 9,000ft, was unable to cope with the heat in Iraq when it was deployed in 2003. It had to be used only in the cooler months. The Ministry of Defence also confirmed that it was never sent to Afghanistan because the air was too thin there.

The Phoenix has now been taken out of service and replaced by a more sophisticated aerial spy platform called Hermes 450. The MPs said that the Hermes had to be acquired as a “stop-gap” filler because the Phoenix “could not be operated effectively in a hot and high climate”.

The rise and fall of the Phoenix has been one of the more quixotic stories in the history of MoD equipment purchases. The total cost of the programme was £227 million. The development took so long and involved so many technical hitches that there were some moves to abandon it.

The biggest problem was landing. The surveillance pod was slung under its belly, so the spy drone had to flip on to its back to avoid damaging the equipment on landing. But too many crash-landed and bits fell off.

The answer, the technical wizards decided, was to fit an airbag on the top of the fuselage to cushion the impact after the flipover process had been completed. The solution worked but the Phoenix began to look like a Heath Robinson contraption, and its reputation as a reliable enemy gun spotter took a hammering when many of them were “lost”, either having been shot down by sharpshooters as they buzzed noisily overhead like a model airplane or having taken off and failed to come back.

Phoenix's first operational tour was in Kosovo in 1999 when Nato took on the Serbs to protect the province's Albanian majority. Initially there were problems with its satellite link, which prevented real-time pictures from reaching the Royal Artillery's ground station. Eventually, though, it proved that it could work. Ten Phoenixes, however, were lost or destroyed in Kosovo in 1999 and three more were lost during operations the following year.

An MoD spokeswoman said that the Phoenix was used in Iraq, “but it was designed for the Cold War to operate in the temperate conditions of the north German plain - it had difficulty operating in hotter temperatures. She added: “It was used for a time in the cooler months in Iraq but withdrawn over the summer as it could not cope with 50C [122F] temperatures. It was not designed for extreme heat or for the thinner air of higher altitudes.”

3 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan

Three Canadian soldiers were killed Wednesday after a roadside bomb detonated near their vehicle on a notoriously dangerous stretch of highway in southern Afghanistan, the Canadian military said Thursday.

The soldiers were conducting a patrol in the volatile Zhari district in Kandahar province when an improvised explosive device exploded around 10:30 a.m. local time, Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson said at a news conference late Thursday morning in Kandahar.

A U.S. marine convoy was bombed in roughly the same spot on April 15, an attack that left two marines dead and two seriously wounded.

Wednesday's attack killed Sgt. Shawn Eades, Sapper Stephan Stock and Cpl. Dustin Roy Robert Joseph Wasden.

Another Canadian soldier was wounded, and is said to be in serious but stable condition.

The four soldiers were members of the 12 Field Squadron, 1 Combat Engineer Regiment based in Edmonton and were attached to the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry battle group while in Kandahar.

The names of Wasden and Stock were released later on Thursday, and information about the two men was not immediately available.

But Thompson described Eades, 33, as a veteran soldier and a devoted father, one who always shared stories of his two children with his colleagues and friends,

"[He] was respected by his subordinates, peers and superiors for his outstanding professionalism and his operational experience and his competence," Thompson said.

'He loved his girls'
Eades, who grew up in Hamilton, Ont., and joined the military at 18, was on his third tour in Afghanistan.

Sgt. Shawn Eades was a combat engineer with 12 Field Squadron, 1 Combat Engineer Regiment from Edmonton, Alberta. (DND)
Interviewed before departing for the country in 2005, he told CBC News: "We are just raring to go. We've been basically building up to this point for the last 3½ months. We just want to get going, get working on our job and come home."

Lisa Eades told the Canadian Press that it was her husband's dream to help people by serving in the military and that he believed strongly in the Afghanistan mission.

Still, she said it was hard for him to leave his family, especially his two daughters, Breanna, 7, and Nyia, 4.

"He loved his girls and it was very hard for him to go away," she said when reached in Edmonton.

Eades and the other two slain soldiers were part of a tight-knit crew of combat engineers who were en route to a site to survey a route for use in a future operation, said Thompson.

Combat engineers perform one of the most dangerous roles in battle — clearing paths and roadways of mines so infantry and support convoys can safely move through the area. Combat engineers also hunt through vehicles and the countryside looking for planted explosives.

"As combat engineers, they were proud, resourceful and armed with the technical knowledge that they generously used to assist the mission in helping the people of Kandahar province," said Thompson.

Taliban more aggressive: Thompson
Thompson said the three deaths, and other NATO deaths this month, are not a sign that the Taliban are gaining strength, but he acknowledged they have become more aggressive.

He said roadside bombs planted by the Taliban, which account for many foreign soldier fatalities, inflict casualties, but don't indicate that the Taliban are holding that ground.

"They're not holding any of the ground that they attack us on," he said.

"So really the net effect is zero, other than it whittles away at our resolve," said Thompson, but he added that it is not affecting Canadian soldiers who remain resolved to continue the mission.

Deadly month for foreign troops
The latest deaths come during a deadly month for both Canadians in Afghanistan and foreign troops stationed in the war-torn country as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

Ten French soldiers died Tuesday in a gun battle near the capital, Kabul, in the largest single loss of life for any of the international forces engaged in combat in Afghanistan in more than three years. Three Polish soldiers also died Wednesday in the central Ghazni province.

Word of the Canadian deaths came as troops gathered in Edmonton for the funeral of another soldier killed in Afghanistan earlier this month, Master Cpl. Erin Doyle.

Doyle, of B.C., died Aug. 11 when insurgents attacked his combat outpost in the Panjwaii district in the province of Kandahar.

His death came two days after Master Cpl. Josh Roberts of Saskatchewan was killed in a firefight with insurgents in Zhari district.

On Aug. 13, two Canadian aid workers were shot dead when insurgents ambushed their SUV in Afghanistan's eastern Logar province. Jacqueline Kirk of Montreal and Shirley Case of Williams Lake, B.C., were killed, along with Trinidadian-American aid worker Nicole Dial and the group's Afghan driver, Mohammad Aimal.

With the latest three deaths, the number of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan has now risen to 93. Canada launched its Afghan mission in February 2002, and about 2,500 Canadian soldiers are now serving in the war-torn country, most of them in the volatile south.

With files from the Canadian Press

Sarkozy makes Kabul crisis visit

President Nicolas Sarkozy has arrived in Afghanistan to support French troops a day after one of the deadliest attacks on France's forces abroad.

Ten French soldiers were killed and 21 injured in an ambush by Taleban fighters east of the capital, Kabul.

Mr Sarkozy said France was committed to the fight against terrorism, and the mission in Afghanistan would continue.

France plans to send in 700 troops by the end of August, bringing its presence in Afghanistan to 2,600.

Tuesday's deaths brought to 24 the number of French troops killed in Afghanistan since 2002, the AFP news agency reports.

The loss of life is thought to be the heaviest suffered by the French military since 58 paratroopers were killed in Beirut in 1983.

The arrival of Mr Sarkozy, who was accompanied by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Defence Minister Herve Morin, was marked by a flurry of helicopters across Kabul on Wednesday.

He visited the mortuary at the French camp in the capital, spoke to injured soldiers who were involved in the battle, and is due to hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

His message is one of support not just to the troops, but also to the Nato alliance and Mr Karzai, says the BBC's Alastair Leithead in Kabul.

The French deployment is not popular at home and the decision was made in April to send extra fighting troops to an even more dangerous part of the country, our correspondent adds.

In a statement, Mr Sarkozy said France had "been struck severely", but that France was "resolved to pursue the fight against terrorism, for democracy and liberty".

Mr Sarkozy said: "The cause is just, it is the honour of France and its armies to defend it."

The French troops were caught up in fighting that started on Monday in the area of Sarobi, some 50km (30 miles) from Kabul.

French defence officials said about 100 soldiers - from France, the US and Afghanistan - were on a reconnaissance mission when bad road conditions forced them to stop their vehicles.

A group of French soldiers was sent ahead on foot to check the terrain, but they were ambushed by Taleban fighters and nine were killed.

A tenth French soldier was killed when his vehicle overturned on the road.

An Afghan intelligence officer told the BBC the troops were ambushed from several directions by heavily armed Taleban and al-Qaeda forces.

The fighting went on for 24 hours and it is understood that reinforcements had to be called in to airlift the troops to safety.

The deaths came amid warnings that insurgents are closing in on Kabul.

The French recently took over control of the Kabul regional command, which includes Sarobi.


Countries contributing more than 1,000 troops

Australia - 1,100
Canada - 2,500
France - 3,000*
Germany - 3,370
Italy - 2,350 Netherlands - 1,770
Poland - 1,140
UK - 8,530
US - 14,000*

Sources: Isaf, June 2008. *France and US government statistics.
Figures are approximate

Afghan ambush kills French troops

Ten French soldiers have been killed in an ambush by Taleban fighters east of the Afghan capital, Kabul, the French president's office has confirmed.

A further 21 French soldiers were wounded in one of the heaviest casualty tolls suffered by international peacekeepers in Afghanistan.

The soldiers were part of the Nato-led peacekeeping International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).

President Nicolas Sarkozy will go to Afghanistan shortly, his office says.

The loss of life was the heaviest suffered by the French military since 58 paratroopers were killed in Beirut in 1983, the French news agency AFP reports.

News of the deaths is bound to provoke anger back home where around two-thirds of French people say they are opposed to any French involvement in the conflict, the BBC's Emma-Jane Kirby reports from Paris.

But President Sarkozy insisted France remained committed to the fight against terrorism and that the mission in Afghanistan would continue.

'Extremely violent'

The French troops had been caught up in fighting that started on Monday in the area of Sirobi some 50 km (30 miles) east of Kabul.

19 August 2008: 10 French troops killed and 21 wounded in ambush east of Kabul
13 July 2008: Nine US soldiers killed and 15 wounded in attack on base in Kunar
28 June 2005: Rocket-propelled grenade downs US helicopter in Kunar, killing all 16 servicemen aboard

They were killed "during a joint reconnaissance mission with the Afghan National Army", Mr Sarkozy said in a statement.

"Serious measures, notably in the air, were taken to support and extricate our men caught in an extremely violent ambush."

The French leader said his visit to Afghanistan would be to show his support for French troops there.

France has 3,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan. Tuesday's deaths bring to 24 the number killed since 2002, AFP says.

"The French were ambushed in a village after they left the Ozbin valley," an Afghan intelligence officer told the BBC.

"They were ambushed from several directions. The Taleban and al-Qaeda forces used heavy machine guns and other weapons. They fired from mountains and gardens."

The fighting went on for 24 hours.

The French recently took over control of the Kabul regional command which includes Sirobi.

The ambush came amid signs of deteriorating security in Afghanistan.

Despite increased security in Kabul, two rockets were fired on the city overnight, landing close to the Isaf headquarters.

In the southern province of Kandahar a Nato patrol was struck by a roadside bomb.

And in the south-eastern province of Khost six suicide bombers were killed while attacking a Nato military base, Camp Salerno, Nato says.

Isaf confirmed that Camp Salerno had been attacked by rockets or mortars, and that a number of suicide bombers had tried to storm the base.

On Monday, nine Afghan civilians were killed when a suicide bomber rammed a car into the gate of the same base.

Isaf said the numbers involved in Tuesday's attack were a lot smaller than the Taleban claimed.

However, the governor of Khost, Arsala Jamal was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying that two children were killed in the fighting and two more, along with a woman, were wounded.

Army suffering from officer shortfall as wars in Iraq and Af

For the past three years the military academy at Sandhurst has been unable to attract enough recruits and has been short by about 20 out of the 250 cadets needed to keep up numbers each term, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

It comes as the military is desperately short of troops, with 2,500 more people leaving the Services each year than those being recruited, while more than 10,000 soldiers are unfit for frontline duty because of "tour fatigue".

The head of the Army's officer training says politicians need to "sell" the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq better to help make up for the current shortfall in young leaders and the "nation needs to grasp" their importance.

Major Gen David Rutherford-Jones, the commandant of Sandhurst, told the Daily Telegraph: "Just because we are out on operations is a factor to our strength, not a negative.

"I understand that some people may not find that easy but look at our history. I don't think anything has changed and we are just doing what we do and doing it exceptionally well. And people like to be part of an organisation that is winning, professional and fun.

"I think my job is to sell not necessarily what we are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq as a reason why you want to join the Army, but to sell the value of being in world-class organisation called the British Army."

Military commanders are also debating whether to boost the numbers in Afghanistan next year to approximately 12,000 following the likely withdrawal of troops from Iraq next summer.

But it is feared that efforts to recruit more officers and soldiers are being hampered by the hardships that troops face with critics saying that the Army is dangerously overstretched and that soldiers on the frontline lack vital equipment and are poorly treated when they return home.

A string of inquests into the deaths of frontline soldiers have exposed equipment defects and shortages, prompting the Government to launch a doomed bid to gag coroners' critical language.

Last month a former Parachute Regiment commander, Colonel Stuart Tootal, disclosed that he had quit the Army after 20 years because of the "shoddy" treatment of troops who he said endured low pay, appalling housing and poor treatment on mixed-sex wards at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.

However Major Gen Rutherford-Jones, 49, who led 20 Armoured Brigade in the early days of the Iraq insurgency in 2003, insisted that while recruiters might need to rework their strategy, it should be "incredibly easy" to sell a career in the Army.

The general said he would refuse to lower the quality level in order to play the "numerical game" in filling up numbers

"Quality is what interests me. Are we falsely going to try and raise the game numerically and risk quality? Absolutely not. This is an Army that needs the best in the world because it wants to be the best in world. We cannot trade on quality."

Despite the fall in numbers the general said young men were "inspired" by seeing similar aged peers interviewed in the press while on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although civilians were better paid in commercial work it was an "extremely humdrum life" living through a BlackBerry with little chance of adventure.

He added that Sandhurst was still taking in "exceptionally talented people" with graduates making up 80 per cent of cadets and 14 of the 221 officer passing out this summer had degrees from Oxbridge. The parade also included the first Chinese People's Liberation Officer and two Palestinians.

As part of Sandhurt's staging of the Music on Fire event to raise money for the Army Benevolent Fund, the general said people should support their Armed Forces because it was "very hard for public to ignore what we are involved in."

From Sept 18th to Sept 20th Sandhurst will host Britain's biggest firework spectacular organised by Major Sir Michael Parker, the architect of the Queen's Golden Jubilee display.

The money raised by the Army Benevolent fund will go to veterans and families of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For tickets visit or call 0844 847 1657


THE HEARTBROKEN mother of a British soldier killed in Afghanistan in 2006 is calling for the inquest into her son's death to be re-opened.
Elaine McCulloch-Brandt, of Wisbech, is also calling for an investigation as she claims items belonging to her son, L/Cpl Luke McCulloch, have been lost.

Luke (21), from the 1st Battalion of The Royal Irish Regiment, was killed in action following a contact with Taleban forces in the Helmand province on September 6, 2006.

The inquest concluded in November 2007 that Luke had been unlawfully killed while on active service by a terrorist attack on a British Military base, when a mortar exploded close to his position.

However, Mrs McCulloch-Brandt claims important information about where Luke (pictured right) was able to take off his armour hadn’t found its way to him.

She said: “I have said to them that I will sit outside their office and wait until the inquest is re-opened. I won’t rest until I have it re-opened.”

However, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said they do everything they can to reduce the risks faced by soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

She said: “We ask a great deal of our servicemen and women. They work in often-dangerous conditions around the world, and current operations in Afghanistan and Iraq continue to present real challenge and risk to them.

“This was the case when Luke was killed. We do all that we can to reduce risks, and the safety of our service personnel is of paramount importance, but conflict operations can never be risk free.”

According to Mrs McCulloch-Brandt, Luke’s personal belongings including photos, clothes and electrical equipment, have also gone missing since his death.

And she is again threatening a sit-in protest by camping outside the regiment’s barracks in October as she refutes claims from Luke’s fellow soldiers who say he sold the items to pay off debts.

Mrs McCulloch-Brandt also believes that a document signed by Luke detailing the amount of personal belonging boxes he had before he went to Afghanistan has gone missing.

She added: “Luke didn’t sell his stuff, I know he didn’t. I spoke to someone who confirmed his boxes had been left in Colchester. They were taken there because they were supposed to be moving down there.”

In response, a spokesperson for the MoD said investigations by the First Royal Irish, the Third Parachute Regiment and the Royal Military Police had been completed and found nothing untoward.

She said: "These investigations have not found any evidence of the missing belongings or theft. The most recent investigation was completed in September 2007 and nothing new was discovered.

"One explanation offered is members of 1 Royal Irish have confirmed Luke sold some of his electrical equipment and clothing to pay off some debts.

“It is normal practice for any personal military uniform and equipment belonging to Luke to be returned to stores – this would not have been sent to his next of kin with his other personal possessions."

UK troops 'kill Afghan civilians'

An investigation is under way after four civilians were apparently killed and three injured in Afghanistan in a rocket attack by British troops.

The incident involving the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment happened on Saturday in the Sangin district of Helmand province.

An International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) spokesman said the patrol launched the rockets in self-defence.

The Ministry of Defence said: "A full investigation will be carried out."

The MoD spokesman said: "Our sympathies are with the families of the killed and injured civilians at this time."

The incident happened on Saturday morning when a patrol picked up a radio message calling for insurgents to converge on the area to attack the patrol, an Isaf spokesman said.

The enemies of Afghanistan have yet again shown a complete disregard for the lives of the innocent who they claim to fight for

He said the patrol identified insurgents with weapons on the roof of a building preparing to attack.

In order to protect themselves the patrol launched three rockets, all of which hit the target, he added.

The spokesman said they later discovered civilians were inside the building at the time.

He said the casualties were treated at a nearby Isaf medical facility where two of them, both children, remain seriously ill.

"The enemies of Afghanistan have yet again shown a complete disregard for the lives of the innocent who they claim to fight for," he added.

British troops have been engaged in Afghanistan since September 2001 and there are now approximately 7,300 British troops across the south of the country.

The number of UK troops killed on operations in Afghanistan since 2001 stands at 115, following the death of a soldier after a suicide bomber drove his car into a convoy on the outskirts of Kabul, on 11 August.

MoD blamed over Marine's death

A Royal Marine was killed by one of his own colleagues in Afghanistan, a damning report has revealed.

Lance Corporal Matthew Ford, of 45 Commando, was shot by his own colleagues as they stormed a Taliban fort in southern Helmand province.

Tragically, following the withdrawal from the fighting, it was discovered that L/Cpl Ford's body had been left behind and a rescue mission was launched to retrieve it.

The Board of Inquiry report has cleared individual soldiers of any wrongdoing and has firmly blamed the MoD for the series of events on January 15 last year.

It said there was "no suggestion of negligence" on the part of the gunner who shot L/Cpl Ford, whose actions were attributed to a "momentary error of judgement".

Rather, it says lessons had been "learned the hard way" because L/Cpl Ford's company were operating in an environment "quite different for which they had trained".

Major General Jerry Thomas Royal Marines, who commanded 3 Commando Brigade from October 2006 to April 2008, said: "While the death of LCpl Ford was a tragic incident, the courage and professionalism of those men that recovered his body was exemplary and in the best traditions of the UK's Armed Forces.

"All operations carry an element of risk. The decision to mount this offensive was made after careful judgement, accepting that, while risk can be minimised, it can never be removed entirely."

Majority of British troops out of Iraq by spring

Just a few hundred soldiers will remain after spring 2009 effectively bringing to an end this country’s involvement in Iraq after six years of fighting.

The Ministry of Defence insisted the move was backed by the US which it said is “intimately involved” in discussions about the British withdrawal.

There are still currently more than 4,000 British troops stationed in southern Iraq despite pledges from the Prime Minister that numbers would have reduced by now. Mr Brown has been careful over the past few months not to put a timetable on British withdrawal but sources gave the clearest indication yet that our involvement is poised to end.

The Iraqis are now close to agreeing a deal with the Americans - which could see all US soldiers leave within three years starting next summer.

Major Gen Barney White-Spunner, who has just completed a six month tour in charge of the British force in southern Iraq, said that Gordon Brown’s hope for a “fundamental mission change” in Iraq would now be able to “take place next year”.

However, many soldiers are set to be redeployed quickly in Afghanistan where fighting has intensified against the Taliban. Yesterday, the Ministry of Defence announced that Signaller Wayne Bland was the 115th member of the armed forces to be killed in the country after his convoy was attacked by a suicide bomber.

Col Tim Collins, who commanded an infantry battalion during the 2003 invasion, said for Britain to win back the respect and trust of the Americans after the “defeat” in Basra it would need to “step up to the mark” in Afghanistan.

“We now have to really pull our socks up in Afghanistan with greater numbers, more commitment and a better plan and then get in step with the Americans. We have a chance of winning in Afghanistan and we should not flinch from achieving it.”

Senior sources have said that it was now “fairly clear” that there would be a “pretty major reduction in troops” in Iraq early next year.

“We have achieved what we set out to achieve in Iraq,” an official military source said. “So it is possible to envisage a mission next year which is in the early hundreds”.

The precise details of the remaining number of troops, who will be based at Basra airport, is still to be agreed with the Iraqis although detailed talks are understood to have been held with the Iraqi Foreign Minister in London earlier this month.

The Prime Minister has left any withdrawal of British troops from Iraq with military planners. He had previously promised a substantial reduction in manning levels when he was considering holding a snap election last autumn in a move which was criticised for political opportunism.

However, Major Gen White-Spunner said that a bilateral arrangement was being discussed with the Iraqis that would include a “military training element”.

In the coming months the British will concentrate on training the Iraqi 14th Division which was “not quite there yet” after its weaknesses became apparent during the operation to retake Basra from the rogue militias in March which required American involvement.

“Bear in mind next year there is going to be a big change in the American mission,” the general said.

The British Army insists that conditions in Basra have improved markedly over the past few months following the showdown with the insurgents. House prices in the area have increased sharply - with a moderate home tripling in value to about £45,000 since March.

Every week, about 30 civilian flights are now landing at Basra airport and the port of Um Qasr is handling 24,000 tonnes of goods a week.

The Mahdi army, the rogue Shia militia that is blamed for the majority of British deaths, is no longer regarded as a military organisation. “They have now gone from an insurgency to terrorist campaign,” the commander of the Army’s 3rd Division said. “I really am confident that it [the peace] is going to last and we are not going to see bits of Basra go back under militia control.”

But he warned if there was not significant economic progress in the coming year “unrest and an increase in criminal activity” would return.

The general, who commanded a brigade in Afghanistan, believed there would be a “lasting friendship” between Britain and Iraq because “we were prepared to stand by the Iraqis at a very difficult time. We were prepared to get rid of tyranny.”

He said there were “despicable elements” within Iran, whose supply of arms and cash to the insurgents was responsible for many British deaths,

”We condemn those elements in the Iranian regime who facilitate violence in Iraq,” he said.

The Ministry of Defence refused to be drawn on numbers.

An MoD spokesman said: “Although it is hoped that the UK military presence in Iraq will decrease significantly in the future, it is still too early to discuss the size and shape of a reduced UK forces’ footprint. As a key Coalition partner, the US is intimately involved with the development of our future plans.”

Teenage sister of youngest soldier to die in Afghanistan fol

A year ago they lost their 18-year-old son, when he became the youngest British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan.

Today, Trevor and Jane Ford watched with a mixture of pride and trepidation as their teenage daughter courageously followed in her brother's footsteps at an army passing out parade.

It's probably only a matter of time before Emma Ford, 17, is posted to the war zones of Iraq or Afghanistan
When that day comes her parents will no doubt be desperately worried about their only remaining child.

But they were putting on a brave face as the teenager successfully completed the first stage of her army career on a day of high emotion.

After a rain-soaked parade at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, Emma said:'Today meant a lot to me, I wanted to make my brother proud.

'This last year has been fine physically but emotionally it has been a bit difficult.

'What I want to do now is get on with my life in the army but I will always be thinking of my brother.'

Ben was a private serving with the 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment in Helmand Province when the vehicle he was in was blown up during a routine operation on September 5 last year.

Another 23-year-old soldier also died in the explosion. Ben had joined the army at 16 and was on his first overseas posting when he died.

Emma had already decided to join the army as well and was due to start her year at the military college when news of her brother's death came through.

She delayed starting the course for several weeks and after much soul-searching continued with her chosen career.

Emma was among 600 young soldiers passing out at the college

She will now join the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and hope for the long and rewarding career which was so tragically denied to her elder brother.

Mrs Ford, 50, of Chesterfield, Derbyshire, said:'It's been Emma's day today and we are both so proud of what she has done. She's a star and despite the terrible weather, she looked good on parade.

'Obviously as well as being very proud of Emma, we were also thinking of Ben and he is in the back of our minds a lot.

'Looking at those young boy soldiers, standing there in the rain with their ears and noses red from the cold and not sure what the future holds for them did remind me of Ben.'

Asked about the prospect of their daughter also going to a war zone, she said:'We talked about this when Ben joined the army but they had both wanted to join up since being little.

'Ben always said he wanted to fight and he did but his death took a lot of coming to terms with.

'Now it is Emma's career and if she is posted out there then obviously we will be concerned but at the end of the day it is what she wants to do and we will support her all the way.'

Mr Ford, 55, added:'It has been a very special day for Emma, she has worked so hard after what happened to her brother and has battled through it.'

In a bid to help British troops abroad Emma and her mother are taking part in a sponsored parachute jump on the first anniversary of Ben's death.

My son is a casualty of war

Behind the statistics lie countless tales of courage and pain. Here is one mother's story..

Fran Shine has lived every military mum's nightmare.

Her son Stephen, 24, a tank driver with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, lost a leg in an explosion in Iraq on April 6 last year.

Here the divorcee describes how she and her other children - Tommy, 26, Brian, 22, Louise, 19, and 10-year-old Christopher - coped with the shock of Stephen's injuries and their aftermath.

It was 2am when they knocked on my door. My son Brian woke me - two men from the Army were in the kitchen and needed to see me.

Tommy followed me. But Brian didn't want to hear what they were going to say, and he hid upstairs.

The officers said, 'At 1200 hours, Stephen was involved in a terrorist incident. He has lost a limb. He is in a critical position.' I thought, 'This isn't happening.' I'd spoken to him only hours beforehand. My last words were, 'Be careful. It's getting bad out there.'

My first words to the officers were, 'So how do I get to Iraq?' I'd have been straight there. But I had to stay at home. Those hours were hell, waiting to hear if he'd survive. When I told Louise what had happened she vomited. We all just sat there, barely speaking.

When the phone rang at 7.30am I picked it up and said, 'Is my son alive?' When the man said yes I dropped the phone and started screaming and crying, 'He's alive! He's alive.'

Christopher, who was only nine at the time, slept through that night. When I told him Stephen had lost a leg he sobbed and said, 'Will he play football with me again?' Seeing him in Selly Oak hospital, Birmingham, is something I'll never forget. It wasn't his missing leg I noticed first. He was blackened from the blast and I could smell the burning of the explosion.

His body was swollen, two of his fingers had been stitched back on and he was on a ventilator.

I thought, 'I couldn't protect my son when he was in Iraq but I won't leave him now.' The nurses hid me in intensive care outside visiting hours as I wouldn't let him out of my sight. As well as losing his left leg Stephen's right leg was severely damaged. It looked like a shark had taken a big bite out of it and surgeons didn't know if they could save it. Thank God they did.

But back then they said there was no point in glossing over anything - Stephen could die.

I sat with him, holding his hand and talking about everything for the four days he was unconscious.

When doctors brought him round he said, 'Are you OK mum? Is everyone OK?' Then he said, 'My leg's gone, hasn't it? Oh well, there's no point crying about it. Let's get on with things.' From then on, that was the attitude we had.

I tried not to think about the day he took his first steps with wobbly little legs as a toddler in a nappy, seeing him ride his bike without stabilisers for the first time.

Stephen can recall the explosion clearly. He was driving the lead tank through Basra when they they were hit. As he was sitting so low, Stephen was hurt the most.

His headset was blown off and he heard lots of shouting and screaming. He felt the pain in his legs and saw one was blown off. Apparently he told the medics to make sure his mum was OK. That's Stephen all over.

He was at Selly Oak for eight weeks. It was so humbling - not one of the patients complained.

Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, visited one day and I told him the staff were so overworked. He asked me to write to him, but by the time I'd got home he'd already written to me, asking if I'd come and see him. I did and told him it would have been helpful to have spoken to someone who'd been through the same thing.

He said, 'You're right. We do tend to forget about families and they need to be supported.' He told me about the SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association). There are good facilities at Selly Oak for the families, but the SSAFA is buying a house. They opened a similar home near Headley Court and help like that is invaluable. I now work with SSAFA to set up support groups for other families. Only those who've been through something similar can really empathise.

Meanwhile, we are coping well. We get our strength from Stephen's strength. Of course he was very different when he first came home.

He could be snappy and a real pain. And I didn't want to shout at him because I nearly lost him.

But he attended Headley Court rehab centre until Christmas and pushed himself so hard.

Last summer we met Prince Charles at Highgrove with other injured military men and no one complained about their luck. They all felt lucky.

Now Stephen makes jokes about his lost leg.

He returned to his regiment as a fully serving soldier in January.

How will I feel if he's sent to Afghanistan or Iraq? Hellish. But if he has his way he'll be there.

I was always proud of Stephen but now I want to shout from the rooftops, 'That's my son - look at him! Do you know what he's been through?' But Stephen hates it when we talk of him as a hero.

To him, the heroes are the guys who pulled him out of the tank and battled to save his life. He was just a soldier in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I feel so much pain for parents who have lost sons out there. I have only touched on that grief. I'm so grateful I've still got my Stephen. My son's lost a limb, not his life

To help SSAFA please go to or visit


47 Service personnel who lost limbs since the start of the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001

176 British Armed Forces personnel or MoD civilians have died serving in Iraq since March 2003

94,487 Iraqi civilians killed since the start of the conflict (Info from as no US or MOD official stats kept)



I tried not to think about the day he took his first steps, and rode his bike without stabilisers for the first time


Lee Clegg returns to frontline in Afghanistan

The 39-year-old, originally jailed for life in 1993 for using unlawful force but then cleared five years later, has been secretly deployed to Afghanistan as a fighting medic, according to reports.

The former corporal is said to have repeatedly braved Taliban fire to rescue wounded comrades and bring back the dead.

Last night General Sir Antony Walker, ex-Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, told the Sun newspaper: "Fifteen years ago he was in a prison cell serving a life sentence.

"Today – as Sergeant Clegg – he's back at the sharp end of war, providing essential support to soldiers of his battalion who are wounded in action."

Sgt Lee was jailed amid outrage for murdering 18-year-old Karen Reilly at a checkpoint and wounding Martin Peake, 17, who also died.

He was among eight Paras who opened fire on the stolen and speeding car.

A 1998 retrial finally cleared him. Lee, from Bradford, is serving with 2 Para in Helmand province.

One insider said: "All his comrades are delighted he is with them.

"It was always Lee's dream to see proper action again and it has finally come true."

The regiment has lost ten men since its deployment in April. More than a dozen have been wounded.

The decision to send out Lee was personally approved by 2 Para's commanding officer Lt Colonel Joe O'Sullivan.

A senior military added said: "Being a medic is no cosy back seat role, especially for a 39-year-old NCO like Clegg.

"He has come under direct fire and has often shot back.

Georgia conflict: Screams of the injured rise from residenti

For two days, Georgia has been convulsed by a Russian air and ground assault in a conflict that has escalated rapidly from a localised war against separatist rebels in South Ossetia into a full-scale military confrontation.

But this was the first time that Russian bombs had struck a residential area.

The fighter jets responsible for the devastation had been targeting a military barracks in the built-up outskirts of Gori, a Georgian town 15 miles from the Ossetian frontier. They missed.

Just one of their bombs struck the base. At least two others fell in a compound of long, low-slung apartment blocks, five of which were quickly reduced to blackened shells. A third hit a small secondary school, which crumbled to the ground in a pile of rubble and twisted girders.

From the gutted buildings, survivors began to emerge, some hobbling, others bleeding from shrapnel and flying glass, all covered in a cloak of soot and dust.

Then they brought out the dead.

In front of a row of garages, a corpse, covered in a chalk-like film, lay on the ground. Kneeling beside the body of her son, a middle-aged builder identified by neighbours as Iano, the white-haired woman cursed the Russians, then cursed God. Then she beseeched his forgiveness and cursed the Russians again.

"You have taken my boy, you pigs, you criminals," she said in a low voice, before turning her face towards her dead son as she tenderly stroked his matted hair. "I loved you like I loved no other. Now be with God."

Standing to one side, her frail husband propped himself up on a walking sticks and stared into space, blank incomprehension in his eyes.

Up a small flight of steps in a nearby courtyard, a young man, bare-chested and kneeling on the ground, cradled the head of his brother in his lap. Shaking off hands offered in comfort from neighbours, he moaned in agony and begged - in ever more frantic tones - for his brother to live.

Still wailing, he was hauled away from the body by Georgian troops who bundled the corpse into the back of a Lada. His face streaked in his brother's blood, the man raced to keep up with the car, his hand repeatedly pawing the rear window.

Slowly, his legs buckling beneath him, he began to fall behind. Giving up the chase, he knelt unmoving in the middle of the road, his face staring in the direction of the receding car.

More dead were brought out of the buildings, among them a mother and her daughter who were laid side by side in the back of a military truck.

Those who survived stood in small groups on the road outside their shattered homes, bewilderment etched on their faces.

Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians, and insists that the offensive in Georgia is not war but a "peacekeeping mission".

Few of the people of Gori believe that. So powerful were the bombs aimed at the barracks that they shattered windows in a half-mile radius. Even if all had hit their intended target, the chances of collateral damage would have been high.

As a lone fire engine battled the inferno, with flames spreading across the roofs of two blocks of flats, this small part of Gori began to resemble another scene of Russian military retribution: Grozny.

The Chechen capital was pounded into submission in 1999 on the orders of Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, with little regard for civilian life. By the time Chechen rebels lost the city, barely a single building stood intact, forcing residents to eke out an existence in cellars and basements for six years until Moscow finally began serious reconstruction in 2006.

While the bombing of Gori has not been remotely comparable, Grozny was in the back of many peoples' minds as they took shelter.

"We know what the Russians are capable of," said Nina Kogiddze, a teacher who was flung to her kitchen floor by the force of the blast as she was brewing coffee. "Do you think that when they fight wars, they abide by civilised rules? They hate Georgians. They would be happy to kill us all."

No official death toll from the apartment bombings has been released as yet, but there can be no doubt that the casualty rates would have been much higher if most of Gori's residents had not fled the previous day, after the first Russian bombs fell.

It was fortunate, too, that the school holidays were under way.

"If classes were in progress, we would have a hundred children dead," said Givi, the headmaster of the Lyceum College, as he surveyed his devastated school.

Other Russian bombing raids in Gori killed at least two civilians in another block of flats in a nearby suburb.

On the road to Tskhinvali, South Ossetia's ramshackle capital, and the main stronghold of the Moscow-backed rebels, Russian jets maintained their bombardment, strafing Georgian artillery positions in the fields near the frontier.

The rebels, who have been reinforced by Russian tanks and ground troops, claimed to have retaken the town after intense hand-to-hand fighting. Georgia says it still controls a significant portion of Tskhinvali and claims to have shot down four Russian jets yesterday. Georgian officials showed to Western reporters the papers of one Russian pilot they claimed to have captured.

Russia also launched air strikes across Georgia's wider territory for a second day, striking an airport at Kutaisi in the west and the country's main Black Sea port of Poti.

"The Russians are now bombing civilian targets at will, including a port, an airport and a railway station where 17 people were killed," said Shota Utiashvili, an interior ministry spokesman.

Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's pro-western president, was preparing to declare martial law, a process that would involve the full mobilisation of every man of fighting age, Mr Utiashvili said.

Against the might of the million-strong Russian army, it is unclear how effective such a strategy would be. Reservists have already been drafted onto the front line, but few have any battle experience and most have had just a week's training.

When a bomb fell close to their positions, one company of new recruits scattered frantically for cover, ignoring pleas and orders from their commanders to remain in place.

"On Tuesday I was a bank clerk," one fresh-faced reservist said. "Then they woke me up in the middle of the night and gave me half-an-hour to report. I've been up on the front line and I've never been so scared in my life."

Given the challenges, it may prove difficult for Mr Saakashvili to sustain morale.

Already his tactics seem to have back-fired, analysts and diplomats say that he may have launched military actions with the intention of forcibly reclaiming South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgia in a short but brutal war 17 years ago. His gamble may have been that Russia would not intervene militarily.

Moscow, increasingly belligerent on the international stage and long at loggerheads with Georgia over its pro-Western policies, has given financial and military support to the rebel republic, but there have been rumours of a fall-out between the secessionist leader Eduard Kokoity and the Kremlin.

It was suggested that Russia was fed up with the tiny state, just one-and-a-half times the size of Luxembourg, that has largely sustained itself on smuggling, the counterfeiting of money and alleged pension fraud against the Russian authorities. US diplomats say that half the fake dollar bills on the American east coast are manufactured in South Ossetia.

Instead Russia was said to be concentrating its support on helping Abkhazia, another, much larger, breakaway region that has long been a popular holiday destination and has a much more advanced economy than South Ossetia's. Russian planes yesterday bombed the Kodori Gorge, a region of Abkhazia still under Georgian control, raising the prospect of the conflict spreading to a second front.

Yet from the Russian perspective, the reincorporation of South Ossetia would bring Georgian accession into NATO, a move strongly opposed by Moscow, closer. European members opposed a US push earlier this year to bring Georgia into the alliance on the grounds that the frozen conflict of South Ossetia and Abkhazia had yet to be settled.

Russia, which has repeatedly punished Georgia with economic and diplomatic sanctions for its pro-western Rose Revolution in 2003, is determined not to lose one of the last few holds it has over its querulous neighbour, analysts said.

Mr Saakashvilli may also have banked on support from his closest ally, US president George W Bush, whose administration is said to have given tacit support for a Georgian assault on South Ossetia in the believe that the territory could be recaptured within 48 hours.

But as events have unfolded differently, Washington has offered Georgia - one of the largest contributors of troops in Iraq - little more than lukewarm vocal support.

In a demonstration of the fact that Georgia could be abandoned by its chief ally, President Bush warmly embraced Mr Putin at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing on Friday.

With the West apparently unwilling to participate in a proxy war with Russia at a time when relations with Moscow are already highly strained, Georgia now faces potential isolation in its conflict with its giant neighbour.

Already the economic consequences of the war are being felt as Western specialists involved in helping Georgia develop its infrastructure began to flee.

Americans and Britons gathered in hotels in the capital Tbilisi to organise road convoys into neighbouring Armenia after Russia closed its air space and most airlines cancelled flights after a military base close to the airport was bombed on Friday.

"Its the last straw," said a British architect who was preparing to leave Georgia for good. Three days ago we were making promising progress but now two thirds of our staff have been called up and its simply too dangerous to stay in Tbilisi."

The Georgian government yesterday ordered the evacuation of the country's parliament and all official buildings amid fears that they could become new Russian targets.

By a swimming pool in one hotel, a nervous American clutching a Blackberry read out the latest advice from the US Embassy to her friends. All dependants had been ordered to evacuate and anyone in the country for "non-essential" reasons was also urged to leave.

At the news, one of her friends sank his head into his hands.

"The Georgian dream is over," he said

British commanders call for more troops to stave off Taliban

Senior British commanders are to warn ministers that unless thousands more troops are sent to Afghanistan the Taliban will win back control of the country.

They are recommending a rapid reduction in the 4,000 troops in Iraq so that more can go to Afghanistan. American and British commanders in Afghanistan want an Iraq-style surge “within months” to fend off a Taliban victory before next year’s presidential election there.

One senior officer said the Taliban were now operating in areas where they had not been since the allied invasion in 2001.

“Unless the West commits serious numbers of extra troops soon, we are looking at a Taliban victory,” another officer said.

Confusion 'put lives at risk' in Taleban attack
Commanders in Helmand need at least one more infantry brigade, which would increase British numbers from 8,000 to about 12,000, he added.

British officers fear that having been accused of failing in Iraq, they will face a second defeat caused solely by the failure to provide sufficient troops.

They have already begun lobbying to persuade Gordon Brown to back the idea of a surge. The prime minister, however, is looking for a “peace dividend” from the Iraq withdrawal that would cut the £1.7 billion annual cost of the two operations.

Des Browne, the defence secretary, ordered his officials last week to deny that there were any plans to send more troops. Nato chiefs in Afghanistan, however, including General David McKiernan, the American commander, and his British deputy, Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley, are “screaming out” for more troops, sources said.

They see the presidential election as a strategic “tipping point” and are concerned that worsening security will make it impossible to hold a meaningful vote. They are said to be backed by senior British officers in charge of planning Afghanistan operations, including Lieutenant-General Nick Houghton, chief of joint operations.

Browne insisted last week that he had always increased troop numbers when asked by commanders, pointing to a 230-man increase in June. Commanders say that is nowhere near enough.

One senior officer said: “We can beat them face to face; we just can’t be everywhere, and that has allowed them to gain ground.”

- Troops flying home from Iraq and Afghanistan face delays after it emerged that two of the RAF’s three Tristar C2 transport aircraft have to be taken out of service so that cracks in their wing flaps can be repaired. The Ministry of Defence insisted it can maintain an “air bridge” by civilian charter.

Secret deal kept British Army out of battle for Basra

A secret deal between Britain and the notorious al-Mahdi militia prevented British Forces from coming to the aid of their US and Iraqi allies for nearly a week during the battle for Basra this year, The Times has learnt.

Four thousand British troops – including elements of the SAS and an entire mechanised brigade – watched from the sidelines for six days because of an “accommodation” with the Iranian-backed group, according to American and Iraqi officers who took part in the assault.

US Marines and soldiers had to be rushed in to fill the void, fighting bitter street battles and facing mortar fire, rockets and roadside bombs with their Iraqi counterparts.

Hundreds of militiamen were killed or arrested in the fighting. About 60 Iraqis were killed or injured. One US Marine died and sevenwere wounded.
US advisers who accompanied the Iraqi forces into the fight were shocked to learn of the accommodation made last summer by British Intelligence and elements of al-Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia Muslim cleric.

The deal, which aimed to encourage the Shia movement back into the political process and marginalise extremist factions, has dealt a huge blow to Britain’s reputation in Iraq.

Under its terms, no British soldier could enter Basra without the permission of Des Browne, the Defence Secretary. By the time he gave his approval, most of the fighting was over and the damage to Britain’s reputation had already been done.

Senior British defence sources told The Times that Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, who ordered the assault, and high-ranking US military officers had become disillusioned with the British as a result of their failure to act. Another confirmed that the deal, negotiated by British Intelligence, had been a costly mistake.

The Ministry of Defence has never confirmed that there was a deal with al-Mahdi Army, but one official denied that the delay in sending in troops was because of the arrangement agreed with the Shia militia.

A spokesman for the MoD said that the reason why troops were not sent immediately into Basra was because there was “no structure in place” in the city for units to go back in to start mentoring the Iraqi troops.

Colonel Imad, who heads the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, the most experienced division, commanded one of the quick-reaction battalions summoned to assist British-trained local forces, who faltered from the outset because of inexperience and lack of support.

He said: “Without the support of the Americans we would not have accomplished the mission because the British Forces had done nothing there.

In Afghanistan even our successes are failures

The British Army is rightly proud of the new road that runs through Musa Qala's teeming bazaar. After all, they built it - or, more accurately, it was built by the Afghans and paid for with British taxpayers' money.

Having just spent three weeks embedded with British troops in Helmand, I can report that, by Afghan standards, the road is pretty impressive. It is relatively straight and flat and, I was assured, has transformed the lives of many among the local population.

Musa Qala is supposed to offer hope
Quite what the bazaar's shopkeepers think of it, however, I do not know. On the occasion that I entered, flanked by soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment, it was simply too dangerous to stop and chat.

The very real threat posed by suicide bombers put interacting with the locals off the agenda, even though the soldiers were supposed to be on a "reassurance" patrol. The tension was tangible, the atmosphere threatening and deeply unpleasant. As far as the soldiers were concerned, they were in enemy territory.

But Musa Qala is supposed to be secure. It is supposed to be the model town from which insurgents have been cleansed and where even the local governor, Mullah Saalam, is a reconciled former member of the Taliban.

Put simply, Musa Qala is sold to us as the future; it is supposed to offer hope. So what has gone wrong?

In effect, Musa Qala is Afghanistan in microcosm. As in the rest of the country, there are not enough troops in the town to secure it properly. Without enough troops there can be no security, and without security there can be no meaningful governance, development and reconstruction.

There is of course the Afghan National Army, but its capability is limited. Although it is growing daily (it numbers 70,000) it has no armour, air power or medical support, and limited command and control. It will be many years before it can function effectively on its own.

The truth is that Nato's entire strategy in Afghanistan is being undermined by its inability to generate the resources that would enable any real progress to be made. Rather than moving forward, Nato is treading water. In the meantime, the Taliban are regrouping.

On the frontline: British soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan
Following two years of bitter fighting, during which the insurgents suffered unsustainable casualties, they have changed tactics. The Taliban have learned from their mistakes and are now showing that they can adapt.

Only last week, aid agencies in Afghanistan warned they may be unable to operate in parts of the country that were once seen as safe, because of the spiralling violence.

Last month, in the east of the country, an isolated US base was virtually overrun by the Taliban in an attack that left nine American soldiers dead. The base was later abandoned.

In May, more US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq for the first time since 2003. In Helmand in July, more than 20 vital supply convoys were ambushed by insurgents and in the past eight weeks 16 British soldiers have been killed on operations in the province.

Despite the increasing number of attacks and the ever-growing casualty lists, many senior officers believe that the British and US governments simply do not appreciate the scale of the task in Afghanistan.

The country is as big as France, and has an estimated population of 32 million, yet the Nato force stands at 52,700 and only a fraction of those are involved in combat.

Afghanistan has no functioning economy and corruption is rife - the brother of President Hamid Karzai is reportedly a notorious drug lord.

One evening during my embed, while chatting over coffee, a senior frontline commander painted a stark picture of the challenge ahead: "If the size of the force was increased to 200,000 troops, and the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan became the main foreign policy objective of every Nato country for the next three decades, and if the Taliban could be persuaded to give up their arms, then, in 30 years' time, Afghanistan might reach a level equivalent to that of Bangladesh - if we are lucky."

If he is right, then we might ask whether Afghanistan is worth the effort. But that's a question for another article.

There is also growing concern about Britain's ability to sustain its force in Afghanistan. Service in Helmand makes huge demands on soldiers. Fighting in 50C, in arduous conditions - the threat from improvised explosive devices has increased by 400 per cent since April - exacts a price.

Of those who return, too many are at their physical and mental limits. Some continue to serve but many, especially those with families, leave - and many more I spoke to on my trip plan to do so. Who can blame them? The average pay for a private soldier in Helmand is around £900 a month and his bonus, if he survives, is £2,300.

None of this should, however, be any surprise to the Government. In 2001, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, then chief of the defence staff, warned Tony Blair of the dangers of Britain getting its "hand caught in the mangle of Afghanistan". The "hand" of Britain and Nato is now well and truly trapped.

Does failure beckon? In recent weeks both Barack Obama and Gordon Brown have promised to make Afghanistan the main focus of "the war on terror". But Afghanistan need more than words. It needs deeds, and it needs them now.

RAF sends air rescue helicopters to Afghanistan

The RAF is being forced to pull a fifth of its helicopter crews out of Britain’s search and rescue service and send them to Afghanistan in an attempt to stop soldiers being killed by roadside bombs.

The move will drastically reduce the number of RAF Sea King helicopters available to rescue people in trouble at sea or caught in disasters such as last year’s floods.

The RAF crews respond to an average of 1,000 emergency calls a year, varying from rescuing holidaymakers in difficulties to the 2004 floods that devastated the Cornish village of Boscastle.

Cutting one of the five crews from each of the six RAF search and rescue stations around Britain will put at risk the current ability to respond to any emergency within an hour.

The cuts, due to come into effect over the next few months, will leave most RAF search and rescue stations with only one helicopter on call instead of two, leaving no back-up for big incidents.

Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, whose North Devon constituency includes the RAF’s Chivenor search and rescue base, said: “There have to be grave concerns they will be left shorthanded.”

It is the first time search and rescue crews have been cut to help frontline forces.

Extra helicopters and crews in Afghanistan are seen as vital if the number of soldiers dying there is to be prevented from escalating. Twenty-seven of the last 33 soldiers killed in Afghanistan died as a result of roadside bombs or landmines.Commanders say unless they get them, more soldiers will die.

Just 16 transport helicopters serve British troops in Helmand, an area five times the size of Northern Ireland. Concern over rising numbers of victims of roadside bombs led to an emergency meeting on Thursday chaired by Des Browne, the defence secretary, to raise helicopter numbers.

Merlin helicopters bought from Denmark and revamped special-forces Chinooks, previously deemed too dangerous to fly, will relieve pressure in the short term. However, budget cuts could mean total helicopter numbers dropping from 525 to 220 within eight years.

The importance of rescue helicopters was highlighted this weekend when an RAF crew saved a family of two adults and four children. The family had become stranded yesterday afternoon while travelling in an inflatable boat down the River Tees at Dalton-on-Tees, North Yorkshire. With the boat trapped on an island in the middle of the rising river, the helicopter was scrambled and winched all six to safety.

The MoD confirmed the cuts in crew numbers but said the RAF’s search and rescue would still have “at least one committed standby helicopter at six bases . . . This will not affect normal capability”.

Soldiers cleared of Cyprus brawl

Nine British soldiers have been acquitted of starting a mass brawl in a bar in Ayia Napa, Cyprus.

The defendants were all from the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, based at Dhekelia, in the east of the island.

They had been celebrating finishing tours of Iraq and Afghanistan when a fight broke out in the Bedrock Inn.

All pleaded not guilty to charges ranging from grievous and actual bodily harm to breach of the peace.

The bar owner, a customer and two soldiers were left injured and needed hospital treatment after the incident.

One soldier, Darren Mason, 28, from Manchester, suffered a fractured skull.

The Bedrock Inn bar is "out of bounds" for military personnel because of previous violent incidents.

The nine servicemen went on trial at Famagusta District Court in Paralimni.

Lance Corporal William Sewell, 21, from Manchester was acquitted of grievous bodily harm, malicious damage and breach of the peace.

Lance Corporals David Ramage, 21, from Manchester, and Daniel Brayne, 22, from Birmingham, were cleared of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, along with malicious damage and breach of the peace.

Damien Heywood, 27, Andy Evans, 21, both Lance Corporals, and Dean Rushton, 21 - all from Manchester - Gary Farrell, 23, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Christopher Wenham, 19, from London, and Ashley Hughes, 19, from Birmingham, were found not guilty of malicious damage and breach of the peace.

Some 3,650 British personnel and civillian workers are based in Cyprus at military bases on the island.

Marine dies after punishment run on hottest day

A Royal Marine died on a gruelling training exercise as he tried to fulfil his dream of becoming a crack SBS commando, it was revealed yesterday.

Signaller Benjamin Poole, 26, collapsed from heat exhaustion during a 18-mile yomp on one of the hottest days of the year.

Just hours earlier he and other special service trainees had been forced to complete a punishment drill for dropping litter.

Determined Benjamin was carrying his rifle and 55lbs of kit across the Brecon Beacons as the temperature hit 81F (27C).

He was reported missing after failing to arrive at a checkpoint on Monday afternoon. An Army search team found his body after tracking down his personal location device.

The superfit squaddie was nearing the end of four weeks of rigorous physical and mental selection tests for the SAS and SBS.

As police launched an investigation yesterday, defence ministers called for an "urgent and thorough" inquiry.

It is believed Benjamin was among dozens of soldiers on the selection course who were given a dawn punishment run before setting off on the hike.

They were ordered by an instructor to do two laps round their camp in Mid-Wales at 6am after one of them dropped a chocolate wrapper on a 14-mile march the previous day. Last night fellow soldiers backed calls for an inquiry - and claimed Benjamin may have been pushed too hard.

One source said: "Everyone is absolutely gutted about Benjy's death. He was just a good solid guy - a good lad. I believe he served in Afghanistan.

"There should definitely be an inquiry. They didn't take into consideration the fact that the weather was so hot. We know the selection process has to be hard - that's why the SAS and the SBS are the best in the world.

"But all the lads on the selection exercise had already proved themselves in theatre - and they're all fit. The chief instructor would have had the power to stop this exercise.

"Benjy was absolutely exhausted. He should not have started the walk. The recruits were all f*****.

"There were up to 40 soldiers taking part and they were absolutely knackered after three weeks of day and night exercises.

"But the mentality is you have to crack on. The Royal Marines have a different way of thinking and nobody is going to give up." The source described the hike as "a really stiff test". He added: "The lads had to go over a series of hilltop checkpoints using only rough ground. They were not allowed to use paths.

"They had to average 4kms an hour, which is really tough. The maximum time allowed is seven hours. During the selection process you are allowed one red - you can fail one task but on the second red you are out." Around 200 soldiers from Army and Royal Marine units began the latest selection process. Only a handful will be chosen for the SAS or SBS

'Beasting' death soldiers cleared

Three soldiers have been cleared of the manslaughter of a junior colleague at a barracks in Wiltshire.

Pte Gavin Williams, 22, of Hengoed, Caerphilly, collapsed and died at Lucknow Barracks in Tidworth in 2006.

Sgt Russell Price, 45, Sgt Paul Blake, 37, and Cpl John Edwards, 42, were found not guilty by a jury at Winchester Crown Court.

The court had heard that Pte Williams died after being made to do an informal punishment known as beasting.

During the trial the prosecution alleged Pte Williams was put through an intense session of physical exercise, or beasting, to punish him for his drunken high jinks.

The soldier, of the Second Battalion the Royal Welsh Regiment, collapsed and died on one of the hottest days in 2006.

Lessons have to be learnt from this case by the regiment and the Army

Mr Justice Royce

'I was beasted in army training'
He was admitted to hospital where tests showed his body temperature was 41.7C, higher than the norm of 37C.

Tests subsequently showed he had ecstasy in his body when he died.

Following the acquittal, trial judge Mr Justice Royce attacked the Army for allowing beasting to take place.

He also criticised the fact that the three non-commissioned officers were placed in the dock while their commander, the adjutant Captain Mark Davis, who ordered that Pte Williams be brought to him "hot and sweaty", was in the process of being promoted.

In his summing up, the judge had asked the jury to consider whether the defendants had been "hung out to dry" while Capt Mark Davis was not prosecuted.

Pte Gavin Williams' mother reacts to the decision
He went on: "Lessons have to be learnt from this case by the regiment and the Army.

"This sort of activity should not be condoned and mustn't be allowed to happen again and this lesson must be clearly relayed to those in charge."

The court also heard there was likely to be a board of inquiry into the practice of beasting.

After the verdict the director general personnel of the British Army, Major General Andrew Gregory, said: "The Army deeply regrets the death of Private Williams and my thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.

"The conclusion of the trial allows the Royal Military Police now to conduct a full investigation into his death.

"This will examine whether there were any breaches of military law. A decision can then be made on further action. I am unable to comment further until this investigation concludes.

A statement was read outside court from Pte Williams's mother Debra expressing her anger at the treatment of her son.

It said: said: "We are devastated with the outcome of the verdicts today.

"We have come this far, we owe it to Gavin that nobody else's child goes through what happened to Gavin.

"I will continue fighting for justice for Gavin. I will go through my options with my lawyer."

Supt Steve Hedley, from Wiltshire Police, said they had conducted a "professional and thorough investigation" over almost two years.

"My aim was to establish the truth surrounding the death of Gavin Williams, a young soldier, and during this period the investigation team has left no stone unturned in their effort to establish the full circumstances," he said.

Patrick Mercer, the former shadow minister for Homeland Security, has previously served as an officer in the army.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live that robust punishments were not necessarily a practice to be avoided in the military.

"There is no place on the battlefield for softness, I'm not talking about compassion, there is no place for physical standards which are below par," Mr Mercer said.

"But there's a very, very strong and sensible and clear dividing line between where robust encouragement stops and bullying starts.

"And that was something that as a former infantry officer myself I was intensely conscious of, with the precious commodity known as my men."

Troop shortages force Navy to plug gaps in Afghanistan

The biggest Royal Navy deployment on land for half-a-century will happen this autumn when up to a 1,000 sailors will be used in Helmand province to help fight the Taliban.

Naval ratings have been retrained as radio operators, drivers, medics and in numerous other posts to make up the 8,000 strong force that deploys for the six month tour in September.

Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, Commander in Chief Fleet, speaking at the end of a gruelling exercise for the sailors on Salisbury Plain, said: "Clearly this is an indication of how taut our business is across defence at the moment."

But the Navy was proving that "if you are short" in specialist areas then "I can make a driver out of a an Able Seaman."

But some of the training has still been hampered by a lack of equipment in Britain to train with, the Navy said.

Brig Buster Howes, the commander of 3 Commando Brigade which is leading the deployment, said his men were ready to embark on operations in what he expected to be lethal environment.

"The casualty figures bear testament to the fact that is a dangerous environment but we are well trained and well equipped for that."

The force could always do more with more helicopters "and if you gave me more I would be happy" he said, but denied that troops' lives were endangered by lack of the aircraft.

He said the dangers faced by the Taliban had increased with bomb-making expertise that was witnessed after a Danish Leopard 60 tonne tank was blown apart by a mine last week.

Afghanistan was a "tough old nut to crack" but the British force was determined to make a difference after hearing reports of Taliban atrocities such as beheading 12-year-old boys or skinning alive a 27-year-old woman and throwing her down a well.

"The insurgents have been defeated en masse and in detail in every engagement. They have now changed tactics and are beginning to ape the tactics of insurgents in Iraq but not with the same sophistication."

3 Commando Bridge will replace 16 Air Assault Brigade which has suffered a high number of casualties through Taliban bombs.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "In addition to the Royal Marines, Naval personnel regularly contribute to operations on land and the forthcoming deployment reflects both the joint nature of modern operations, the flexibility and wide ranging skills of our armed forces. "

Commentary: why British public accepts rising Afghan death t

The British casualty rate in Afghanistan is continuing at a relentless pace, with four killed this month already and a total of 28 dying so far this year, mostly from enemy action.

No military commander would expect the Taleban to reduce their activities during the hot summer months but the deaths are a bitter blow for the forces now out in Afghanistan.

It is the fighting season and in a province as large as Helmand in the south where the British troops are based, the Taleban have little difficulty in concealing themselves in the communities where the British troops, serving alongside their Afghan counterparts, cannot maintain a permanent presence.

The 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, one of the main combat units in 16 Air Assault Brigade which arrived in Helmand in April, has had a particularly tough tour, losing seven soldiers.

The number of wounded, some of them suffering serious disablement, has also been high. Between January 1 2006 and June 30 this year, 380 military personnel have been wounded in action. Fifty of these are categorised as being “very seriously wounded” and 74 as “seriously wounded”. Many will have lost limbs or will have been severely burned from explosions.

The general public has become accustomed to having British troops fighting in overseas campaigns. There have been enough of them in the last two or three decades. But at what point does the casualty toll begin to have a real impact on the way the public views the justification for war?

In Afghanistan, the steady flow of casualties, followed on each occasion by glowing tributes from the Ministry of Defence and condolences from ministers, has yet to provoke serious doubts in the public’s mind that this campaign has value and that the sacrifices made by the troops have been for a good cause.

Remarkably, the reaction from the families of those killed is nearly always intensely stoic, with responses invariably focusing on the pride felt for the husband or son or daughter.

The latest phase of Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan which began in early 2006 when more than 3,000 troops were deployed to Helmand - rising to 7,800 last year - has produced mixed results. While progress has been made in keeping the Taleban at bay and trying to improve the lives of the Afghan people, each rotating brigade sent to the province for six months at a time discovers that the challenges are in many ways unchanged. The Taleban have not gone away, they have not been defeated, and they still have the ability and capability to mount attacks and cause casualties.

The fighting in Helmand is not on the same scale as when 16 Air Assault Brigade was last in Helmand, in 2006. Then, the Taleban launched conventional formation attacks against British military outposts, and although they were always driven back, the casualty toll was high.

Today, the Taleban resort more to asymmetric warfare, targeting British troops with roadside bombs and mines. But, as recent incidents have demonstrated, the Taleban have not given up on ambushes and firefights, and several British soldiers have died recently while coming under fire.

British military commanders and the Taleban have learned lessons since the large-scale firefights in 2006. The campaign is less kinetic, but the combination of roadside bombs and gun battles has produced a steady flow of fatalities and serious injuries.

The statistics tell the story. Last year in the first six months, 23 died, compared with the 28 this year. June was the worst month this year, with 13 killed. Personnel from the Armed Forces have died in every month this year in Helmand. It’s what the military expects, and, so far, the public has gone along with it

Soldier found hanged in barracks after bullying, inquest tol

Scots born L/Cpl Derek McGregor, 21, left a note saying he was a failure before before his death at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, in July 2003.

His father Joseph, who did not attend the hearing, has claimed his son had been badly beaten and received facial injuries before killing himself.

But a senior army medical officer told the court in Harrogate it was more likely L/Cpl suffered "emotional bullying" through "ribald comments" from other soldiers rather than anything physical.

He was the top recruit during training, had been picked for the Army skiing team had been in the service for just four years when he died at Gaza Barracks, Catterick.

L/Cpl McGregor had drunk the equivalent of two and a half times the legal limit of allcohol before the hanging and left a suicide note which read: "I am sorry to say, this is my last words.

"I am tired of living as I can never seem to do anything right in my life and my family could never be truly happy. I don't have any friends and people laugh at me.

"I have only had one love and I was not good enough for her. Please tell her that I love her to this day.

"I have three sisters and I hope they don't grow to feel ashamed and of me as I love them with all my heart and soul and I will be watching them and guiding them."

He had recently been in hospital, telling staff that he could not sleep and that he was having nightmares and hallucinations.

L/Cpl McGregor added: "They said I was lying and I just hope they believe me now and help other people like me. I won't miss this world and I am sure it won't miss me."

He had served with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Omagh where he was regarded as a proficient hard working soldier.

But Lt Col Simon Bloodworth, the medical officer in charge, said that after the soldier had been to see him, he arranged for him to be seen by a community psychiatric nurse.

He told the hearing: "He was hard working and popular but he set himself very high standards which I don't think he achieved to his own satisfaction.

"Also, he took the ribald comments from other soldiers a little too personally and I believe be brooded on some of the things that were said."

After leaving Omagh in 2003, L/Cpl McGregor went to Ballymena where he went absent without leave and there was an investigation over a quantity of missing diazepam tablets.

At the start of the hearing Geoffrey Fell, the North Yorkshire coroner, said certain unfounded allegations had been made regarding the soldier's death.

The hearing continues

Commander of Gulf hostage warship HMS Cornwall loses his job

The commanding officer of the frigate involved in the Iranian hostage drama, when 15 sailors and Marines were captured by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, has been removed from his post.

Commander Jeremy Woods, former captain of HMS Cornwall, a Type 22 frigate, was not singled out for criticism in the official investigation into the affair. However, a parliamentary inquiry described the hostage-taking as a “national embarrassment” and there was public outrage after two of the captured sailors were allowed to sell their stories to the media.

The Royal Navy insists that the removal of Commander Woods from command is unrelated to the incident in the Gulf in March last year.

However, senior Royal Navy officers decided that, after about 17 months as commanding officer of the frigate, he was not of sufficient calibre to continue in the job.

Commander Woods is not expected to be given another warship to command and will be assigned to an on-shore appointment, “where his talents and experience can be used to best effect”, the Royal Navy said.

He will keep his rank but his prospects for future promotion will be affected.

Commander Woods took command of HMS Cornwall in November 2006, having commanded HMS Bangor, a minehunter. He has been in the Navy for 23 years and served in the Gulf War in 1991 and in Nato operations in Bosnia.

The 15 personnel from HMS Cornwall had been boarding a cargo vessel in the international waterway when they were surrounded by Iranian gunboats and then detained for 13 days. Tehran claimed that the British party had entered Iranian waters, which the Ministry of Defence denied.

The warship returned from her Gulf deployment in late summer last year and recently, after a period of recuperation and retraining, the crew was preparing for another mission.

Commander Woods has been replaced by Commander Gordon Abernethy, who has already commanded HMS Campbeltown, another Type 22 frigate.

Commander Woods’s removal from HMS Cornwall was described by the Royal Navy as an “internal administrative matter”. It did not involve “any disciplinary issues”, the Navy said.

About two thirds of the crew have moved into other roles since the incident last March. However, Able Seaman Arthur Batchelor, who sold his story and described how the Iranians confiscated his iPod, is still serving in HMS Cornwall.

Leading Seaman Faye Turney, the other hostage who was authorised to talk to the media, has moved into a shore-based job.

An inquiry into the capture of the eight sailors and seven Marines, carried out by Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Fulton, a former Commandant-General of the Royal Marines, said that there had been “serious shortcomings” in military judgment.

General Fulton said officers had failed to assess all the risks of operating in the complex environment of the Gulf and recommended “specialist rather than composite” teams be selected for boarding parties. He said that there was no case for disciplinary action against any individuals. The hostage drama was the second incident of its kind in three years.

In June 2004 six Marines and two sailors were captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and held hostage for three days.

The incident in March 2007 received more adverse publicity, however, because of the decision to allow two of the hostages to sell their stories

Afghanistan: Second British soldier killed in two days

A British soldier has been killed in an explosion in Afghanistan. The Ministry of Defence said the serviceman, who was from the 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, died in Helmand province yesterday.

He is the 114th member of the British armed forces killed in the country since operations began in November 2001, and the 17th since the beginning of last month.

The MoD has not released his name but his next of kin have been informed.

His death comes a day after Sergeant Jonathan Mathews, 35, was shot dead by Taliban fighters while on foot patrol in the same region.

Officials said the soldier who died yesterday was on a routine early-morning patrol that clashed with Taliban forces.

During the fighting he was seriously injured by an explosion. He died while being flown out for medical treatment.

Lt Col David Reynolds, an army spokesman, said: "Everyone in Task Force Helmand is affected by the death of a soldier, and the thoughts and sympathies of us all are with the family at this most difficult time."

Beleaguered troops 'deserve better wages'

Europe needs a wake-up call. Bosnia is on the edge again

As the arrest of Radovan Karadzic is celebrated, we ignore warnings that the politics of his country are increasingly fractured

MPs cast doubt on Iraq torture denials

Sergeant Mark McKay promoted after judge rules he did not st

A staff sergeant accused of stealing £100,000 from SAS cash reserves and hiding it under a flower pot was cleared of any offence yesterday and given an immediate promotion.

Mark McKay, 35, of the Adjutant General’s Corps, was found not guilty of stealing $200,000 in cash from an office at the Hereford base of 22 Special Air Service, to which he was attached in February 2003 at the start of the war in Iraq.

Sergeant McKay, who was transferred from the SAS in 2004, told a court martial that he had made the money legitimately by selling alcohol, toiletries and even Viagra to the 5,000 US, 70 Australian and 200 British troops at a base in the Gulf. During the five-day hearing at Bulford in Wiltshire, the prosecution admitted that it could not prove the money came from regimental funds or that anyone had noticed such a sum was missing.

The sergeant was arrested in April 2006 after a tip-off that led military police to search his home in Ballykelly, Northern Ireland, where he had been posted. The officers found $200,000 in sequentially numbered $100 notes in plastic bags hidden in a terracotta plant pot outside his front door, the court martial heard.
Sergeant McKay maintained in court that the sum was just part of the $371,000 profit he had made from his private “tuck shop”, which he ran in addition to his official role as a finance clerk. He claimed that during his deployment with the SAS, from February to May 2003, he bought, among other things, cases of beer for $20 and sold them on for $100. He broke down as he gave evidence, saying that he felt ashamed at having made so much money out of colleagues. He said he had hidden the cash in a flower pot to keep it from his wife, from whom he was separating.

John Mackenzie, Sergeant McKay’s barrister, said outside court: “Mark will now be promoted to sergeant-major, a promotion that has been on hold since the money was found.”

During the trial a representative from the Director of Special Forces made an unsuccessful attempt to have certain operational details about the SAS’s 2003 deployment to “a country bordering Iraq” kept secret.

Grenade hero awarded George Cross

A Royal Marine who threw himself on a grenade to save his comrades' lives is to receive the George Cross.

UK soldier dies in Afghanistan

A British soldier has died and two others have been wounded in southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence has said.

The Radovan Karadzic trial will be a travesty

Karadzic 'worked in Serb clinic'

Captured war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic was living in Serbia's capital Belgrade and practising alternative medicine, Serb officials say.

'Clerk stole SAS £100k and hid it'

AN Army clerk stole £100,000 from the SAS and stashed half in a plant pot, a court martial heard yesterday.

German Shepherds trained to parachute with SAS troops

A team of dogs is being trained to accompany SAS troops on parachute missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has been reported.

Marine sniper ace is killed

TRIBUTES were paid yesterday to an ace sniper in the Royal Marines who was killed when his Land Rover overturned during a training exercise.

SAS plotted hostages' rescue - but then scrapped plans

before one allegedly took his own life

Army 'may recruit from Jamaica'

The British Army is considering a recruitment drive in Jamaica to help boost its depleted numbers.

Figures show the UK military is currently 4,900 short of its fully-trained requirement, with the Army needing 3,330 more troops.

There are currently 600 Jamaicans serving in the Army.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman added: "The Armed Forces are proud to recruit high quality soldiers from countries with close historical ties."

Over and out: former para on why he quit the Army after Afgh

It was supposed to be a straightforward operation. A Taliban commander was apparently holed up in a mudwalled compound just outside Naw Zad in northern Helmand province, and about 100 paras and Gurkhas were sent in to cordon it off and seize him. The plan was for the Gurkhas and Patrols Platoon to drive in from opposite sides and secure the outer perimeter, then A Company would be dropped in by helicopter, search the compound, grab him and get away.

Supervising from the air was Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart Tootal, commander of 3 Para, the first British battle group to go into Helmand in southwest Afghanistan. As he peered from his helicopter to see the three Chinooks bringing in A Company, he felt a glow of satisfaction.

“I thought, it’s all going like clockwork,” he recalled. “We’re going to move in, surprise the guy, might even catch him. Then I heard, ‘Contact, contact, contact!’”

The Gurkhas had been ambushed in a wadi, or desert valley, as they drove in from the north. At the same time Patrols Platoon had come under attack in the south. Vicious firefights were under way
“The plan had all gone to rats,” said Tootal. “We thought there might be one or two Taliban. In fact there were 70. We were being attacked on three sides and all my vehicles had been ambushed.”

The supposedly simple Operation Mutay turned into a six-hour running battle. “I was circling round in my helicopter and all I could hear was ‘Contact, contact, contact’ and it was ‘what do I do, land in this confused situation and get my helicopter shot up or go back to Bastion [headquarters] and get reinforcements?’”

“Then my pilot said, ‘Colonel, we’re five minutes to bingo on fuel’, which means just five minutes flying time left, so I followed my intuition to land.”

Before deploying to Helmand, the soldiers had been trained to operate in the desert. “But this was close country with patches of orchards, irrigation ditches, high compound walls so you couldn’t see more than 50m, and there were Taliban popping up all over the place. I did think, we’re not going to get out of this.”

It was evening by the time Tootal and his paras got air support from an American A-10, which flattened a line of trees with cannon fire, enabling them to get out. They had killed more than 20 Taliban and taken no casualties, but it had been close.

Tootal identifies that moment on June 4, 2006 as the time he realised that his masters in the Ministry of Defence had underestimated what British forces would face in Helmand. “I always knew it would be a challenge, but this was the real deal,” he said. “Everything changed after Mutay. Every time we went out was potentially going to be like that and it often was.”

By the time 3 Para left Helmand four months later, 15 of his men would be dead and 46 badly wounded. Far from the hope of John Reid, then the defence secretary, that “not a single shot” would be fired, Tootal’s men fired 479,236 rounds in their six months in Helmand. That figure does not include rockets, cannon rounds, missiles or bombs from supporting aircraft.

This week Tootal starts a new life as a civilian after 20 years in the army. A wiry 42-year-old with grey hair and piercing blue eyes, he spoke to The Sunday Times in his first newspaper interview since dramatically resigning from the service.

Last month Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of defence staff, warned that British armed forces were “very stretched” by fighting on two fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tootal, a high-flyer who had been told he was in line to be made a general, reveals the mounting frustration of commanders on the ground about lack of equipment, poor pay and conditions for his men and their families, and “shocking” treatment of the wounded.

Looking back, Tootal is angry at what he describes as “wishful thinking” about the Afghan mission by senior military and politicians. “They weren’t really thinking it through,” he said. “If you read about the battles faced by the Russians in Helmand only 20 years ago, we should have been ready to face that level of opposition. Yes, they were different conflicts, different rationales, but . . . there’s this pattern of tenacious resistance. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be there, but we should have thought more about what we were getting into.

“We confused ourselves – and the public – that this was a peace support mission but that presupposes parties signing up to a peace deal. The Taliban had signed up to nothing. This was counterinsurgency.”

As fighting intensified in Helmand, with the controversial strategy of sending soldiers to hold district centres such as Sangin, Naw Zad and Musa Qala, Tootal says his forces were “stretched almost to breaking point”. Something else was becoming clear. “I always knew we didn’t have enough helicopters.”

There were just seven Chinooks for his 1,200-strong battle group in a theatre where it was highly risky to move by road.

“The lack of helicopters meant I had to make some very hard decisions,” said Tootal. At times he was left playing God, particularly during heavy fighting in Musa Qala when he had to organise eight casualty evacuations in just six days. Musa Qala was the most dangerous place to land, and each time Chinooks approached to collect wounded, they would almost be shot down and would have to abort.

“I would then get my doctor in Bastion to talk to the medic in Musa Qala and get advice on how long the casualty had to live,” said Tootal. “If the doctor said four hours, I’d say he has to wait four hours because I needed time to plan, and arrange supporting fire-power to create a safer window.

“My biggest fear was we’d lose a helicopter – I thought it was a question of when not if. One of my men was left for nearly seven hours with his throat ripped out, but the doctor was telling me I had that long. I had no choice – I was balancing 16 lives against one life.”

Tootal believes that kit has improved and progress has been made in places such as Sangin and Musa Qala. However, despite the addition of a few more aircraft, he points out there are now far more troops, making the lack of helicopters even worse, and the Taliban are taking advantage by increasingly using roadside bombs. “We had seven Chinooks for a battle group of 1,200; now there are only eight Chinooks for four battle groups. If you’re not flying you’re driving, and if you’re driving when you should be flying you’re vulnerable to roadside bombs. That’s one of the reasons the Taliban are doing that; they know we don’t have enough helicopters.”

Figures released by the government this year suggest that only 17 of the 26 Chinooks that comprise the total “forward fleet” of operational aircraft are “fit for purpose”. Eight new Chinooks bought from Boeing in 2001 will not be ready to fly for a year or more because of software problems.

Equipment shortages aside, Tootal thinks the greatest mistake in Helmand was the failure of government agencies – particularly the Department for International Development – to carry out reconstruction. He says he could have achieved far more with money than weapons.“I was allowed to spend just $250 a month [on reconstruction], then I even lost that, but I could expend millions of pounds’ worth of ammunition in a single day. Just one Javelin missile cost £60,000-70,000,” he said.

“While I think there was a need to do some fighting, had I been empowered to have that money in bags of gold to put on the table and known who to talk to, we could have brought over some of the guys who ended up fighting against us.”

The task of motivating his troops became difficult for him after he visited wounded men in Selly Oak hospital, Birmingham, while home on leave. “I was shocked to my core by what I saw,” he said. “I’d expected to see a military ward with military staff and patients, but instead they were mixed with all sorts of civilian patients, young paras next to 80-year-old geriatric women.”

One para sergeant major had been shot through the arm leaving it shattered in 14 places. When Tootal asked how he was, he replied: “Pretty shit, sir.”

“He motioned to a civilian patient next to him who couldn’t control his bowels, he was urinating and defecating, no one was clearing it up,” said Tootal. “It got so bad my warrant officer would get out of bed and clean it up with his hands.” A para with a damaged back had been waiting days for a CT scan, and nobody had told him that the machine was broken. Another soldier whose lower leg had been amputated was left, unattended, in agony.

Tootal was horrified. “It was those stories that I had to carry back to theatre with me, knowing I was about to lead people back into combat. It filled me with foreboding every time we flew on a helicopter, thinking if one of my guys gets hit they’re going to go back to that.”

Since returning from Helmand, Tootal has created a charity, the Afghanistan Trust, to look after the more seriously wounded and next of kin. “I’ve heard other regiments are doing the same, which is really disturbing – we shouldn’t be having to set up charities to look after our people.”

He also found he was losing a number of promising soldiers because of the poor pay and conditions, particularly the accommodation for families. “We definitely lost some good soldiers who said, ‘I love the regiment but I don’t want to be divorced.’”

His personal experience confirms a Ministry of Defence survey this month which found that 47% of servicemen regularly think of resigning. Tootal recently lost a good man to the Post Office because his take-home pay would be £1,000 a month more. “We can’t ignore the fact that for the risks they take and return we get, our soldiers are not paid enough,” he said.

Despite a recent 9% rise for the 13,000 most poorly paid, the basic wage for a trained soldier is only £16,000. Operational allowances can push pay up to £20,000. “For that he’s on call 24 hours a day, being shot at, living in a hole, not washing clothes for weeks on end. Compare that to a fuel-tanker driver who earns £32,000 and no one shoots at him.”

Afghanistan left Tootal with great pride in his men, as well as disturbing memories such as having to cut the burnt-out bodies of some of his soldiers from a vehicle after an ambush. This makes him infuriated by reports from the Foreign Office that it was a mistake to send an aggressive force such as the paras first into Helmand.

“[We] did not go looking for trouble and anyone who thinks we did has never been in sustained combat, never risked life on a daily basis, never had to make possibly the last phone call home to loved ones, never had to pick up the body parts of one of your friends, never spent the day covered in the blood of one of their men. You don’t go looking for trouble when you know.”

Last November after long discussions with his girlfriend and with no job to go to, he decided to put his concerns in a letter to the army chief and resign. “I had been promoted and told if I stayed I had every chance of making general and commanding a division and going further. But I felt being a good soldier was not just about rank but about how you treat people and look after them.”

For all that, he insists, “commanding 3 Para was awesome – if I was 18 I’d do it all over again”. He firmly believes Britain should be in Afghanistan, though with more troops – and more helicopters, but he warns we need to be prepared to be there for decades. “Ten years, 20 years, 30 years . . . Northern Ireland took 30 years. But it’s an investment that’s worth making.”

My biggest regret about Afghanistan is over a washing machine,” says Stuart Tootal. The machine in question was in a hospital in Gereshk in the south of Helmand and was discovered by Tootal’s men on their first patrol in May 2006.

“The hospital sheets were filthy and the doctor said they couldn’t wash them,” he explained. “But we said, ‘You have an industrial washing machine sitting there in cellophane.’”

The US aid agency that had donated it withdrew when the British arrived so it had never been installed.An engineer with Tootal said that could be rectified, but they had not reckoned with the Department for International Development. It saw aid as its area and disliked “quick impact” projects.

“They didn’t want the military going into hospitals and they said we would tread on the toes of an aid agency even though it wasn’t doing anything,” said Tootal. “I said, ‘It doesn’t have to be done under the cloak of 3 Para. We can dress ourselves up as Afghans, do it at night. We just need to fix it.’”

The government officials refused, so for the whole of 3 Para’s six months in Helmand, the machine sat there in its plastic wrapping.

Tootal believes failure to carry out such “hearts and minds” operations has cost Britain in the long run. “It would have made us stand apart from the usual Afghan experience of foreigners constantly promising and not delivering,” he said.

My biggest regret about Afghanistan is over a washing machine,” says Stuart Tootal. The machine in question was in a hospital in Gereshk in the south of Helmand and was discovered by Tootal’s men on their first patrol in May 2006.

“The hospital sheets were filthy and the doctor said they couldn’t wash them,” he explained. “But we said, ‘You have an industrial washing machine sitting there in cellophane.’”

The US aid agency that had donated it withdrew when the British arrived so it had never been installed.An engineer with Tootal said that could be rectified, but they had not reckoned with the Department for International Development. It saw aid as its area and disliked “quick impact” projects.

“They didn’t want the military going into hospitals and they said we would tread on the toes of an aid agency even though it wasn’t doing anything,” said Tootal. “I said, ‘It doesn’t have to be done under the cloak of 3 Para. We can dress ourselves up as Afghans, do it at night. We just need to fix it.’”

The government officials refused, so for the whole of 3 Para’s six months in Helmand, the machine sat there in its plastic wrapping.

Tootal believes failure to carry out such “hearts and minds” operations has cost Britain in the long run. “It would have made us stand apart from the usual Afghan experience of foreigners constantly promising and not delivering,” he said.

Cadet and MoD settle injury case

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has settled a legal action brought by an army cadet who claimed she was scarred for life during a training camp.

Claire Huntington, 22, had been seeking £20,000 damages after being hit in the face with a rock during a climbing exercise in Perthshire.

Ms Huntington, from Shetland, felt the sergeants in charge should have foreseen such problems.

An out-of-court settlement was reached for an undisclosed sum.

'Mood swings'

Ms Huntington had been on an exercise at Craig A Barnes, near Blair Atholl, in April 2003 when the accident happened.

In her original claim, she said she instinctively looked up when a warning was shouted from above and was struck by a rock which had fallen 30ft.

She was taken to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee and needed stitches to a 6cm cut across her cheek.

She claimed she has been left with "a permanent facial deformity" because of the accident.

Ms Huntington believed her superiors should have inspected the rockface for loose sections ahead of the exercise and should have kept cadets at a safe distance away from the area when others were climbing.

Her action also claimed that the accident left her suffering "mood swings" and a "loss of confidence".

Part of her claim was for £62.99 for the top and jacket paramedics cut from her at the scene.

The MoD initially defended the action but Perth Sheriff Court has now been told that the parties have agreed a settlement.

General Sir Richard Dannatt: British troops should be traine

British soldiers should be trained to rebuild war-torn countries and not just fight conflicts, Britain's top soldier is expected to say.
Military training should be broadened so that service personnel spend time working for local councils to learn how to establish democratic governments in developing countries. General Sir Richard Dannatt will say.

Sir Richard, the Chief of the General Staff, will use a Westminster speech to propose a shake-up of the way the Army trains its personnel and runs its operations, to put more focus on reconstruction and development work.

His suggestion comes amid concern in Whitehall about the way the British military mission in Afghanistan is fitting into the wider Western effort to develop that country's government and economy.

British generals insist they are making progress in the military battle against the Taliban, but doubts remain about how effective Western development work is.

Only a fraction of the billions of pounds spent on development in Afghanistan ever reaches local projects, officials say.

The 8,000 British troops in Afghanistan include hundreds working in on civilian projects as part of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, but insiders say their can be friction between the military, the Department for International Development and charitable aid groups.

Military planners admit that unless and until Afghanistan reaches relative stability and prosperity, British forces will have to remain in the country.

Against that background, Sir Richard will insist the Army must increase its development work.

The Army must learn to deliver "civil as well as military effects within areas as diverse as governance, town administration, finance and banking, law and order and sanitation", he will say.

To achieve that, he is considering creating "permanent cadres of stabilisation specialists" which would specialise in the training and mentoring of indigenous forces.

Establishing the new "stabilisation force" would require a change in traditional career paths for soldiers.

That could mean "an officer spending a tour with indigenous forces, followed perhaps by an attachment to the Department for International Development overseas, or a local council at home or a police force in Africa or elsewhere".

The new approach could also see British military personnel placed under the direct command of the Foreign Office or Department for International Development.

The general has been an outspoken critic of the Government's treatment of defence issues in recent years, prompting ministers to block his possible promotion to Chief of the Defence Staff next year.

Some Labour MPs are privately critical of the general and suspect him and other commanders of political bias.

In a speech to Progress, a Labour think-tank, Sir Richard will tacitly answer those suspicions, even arguing that the military is in many ways a "socialist" organisation.

"I often get the impression that there are those who will almost automatically subscribe to the 'Lions led by Donkeys' view of the Army," he will say. In fact, the military "espouses many recognisable socialist ideals - in a very philosophical rather than party political way".

In the wake of scandals including the US abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, the general will also say it is vital for British forces to retain "the moral high ground."

He will say: "It is therefore incumbent on our leaders not only to look downwards, to the needs of their people, but also to have the courage to stand up to their superiors who may not know, or may not wish to know, the implications of the orders they have given

Ex-soldiers 'struggle on leaving'

Servicemen and women leaving the forces after just a few years struggle more to settle into civilian life than those of many years' service, MPs have found.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) helps people leaving to find housing and jobs - with priority given to long-servers.

But the Commons public accounts committee found those leaving sooner and getting less support were "more vulnerable" to homelessness.

The MoD said resettlement was a "reward for longer service".

The cross-party committee of MPs said more should be done to help those who decided to leave earlier, and recommended the MoD provides them with "more targeted support".

It is the younger service personnel leaving early who often cannot find work or somewhere decent to live

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said MoD resettlement support was "by and large well received".

"But those who need it most receive less support.

"The leavers with the longest service histories in most cases cope with life after the forces with ease.

"But it is the younger service personnel leaving early who often cannot find work or somewhere decent to live."

The MoD's resettlement is handled by the Career Transition partnership and private company Right Management.

Leavers with more than six years' service can start getting help two years before they leave.

It includes one-to-one career advice, vocational training grants, help in writing a CV and finding a job and courses on civilian life from business start-up to filing a tax return.

But those employed for less than six years are sent to the Jobcentre and charities for help.

An MoD spokesman said: "Resettlement is both a reward for longer service and an encouragement to remain in the armed forces for a full career.

"For those who choose to leave the armed forces early, we still offer resettlement support but of a more limited scope."

He added that the Regular Forces Employment Association, a member of the Career Transition partnership, is developing a special job-finding service to address the needs of early leavers, but it is the individual's responsibility to sign up.

The Royal British Legion said it felt "concern that those that are often most in need are provided with very little".

Director of welfare Sue Freeth said the charity heard from early service leavers (ESLs) who did not have interviews with resettlement officers, "where an assessment of vulnerability to social exclusion is made".

"It is likely that vulnerable ESLs are slipping through the net and so not receiving the extra help they may be entitled to," she said.

The legion backs MPs' call for more support, and also improved training for "first line" resettlement officers.

I see people in dire straights, really struggling to find employment

Former soldier Adrian Cheesman set up his recruitment company Demob Job two years before he left after 24 years of service.

He now finds jobs for 60 to 70 former service personnel with "lots of qualifications who are highly employable" each year.

He agrees the longer a soldier, sailor or airman is in service, the more organised they will be about what to do when they come out.

"If you have a full career like I did, you're thinking about getting yourself in order, especially if you have a family. And you get a pension and a lot of cash when you leave which gives you a cushion while you find work.

"But I see people in dire straits, really struggling to find employment. Some of them consider rejoining.

"I had a guy in here who had been in the RAF for six years and thought the grass was greener. Now he wants to go back."

The Royal British Legion can offer forces leavers vocational assessment, training grants, business loans and other services.

Better support for Forces and Families

A new cross-government strategy to improve support to the Armed Forces, past and present, and their families has been presented to Parliament by Defence Secretary Des Browne today, Thursday 17 July 2008.

The new cross-government strategy includes 40 new measures that will improve support to the Armed Forces and their families
The strategy, in a Service Personnel Command Paper (entitled The Nation's Commitment: Cross-Government Support to our Armed Forces, their Families and Veterans), was initiated by the Prime Minister to improve the level of support given to Service personnel, their families and veterans and is the product of extensive consultation and close involvement with other Government Departments and Devolved Administrations.

In the eight months since the Command Paper was commissioned, Minister for the Armed Forces Bob Ainsworth has been supported by a team made up of personnel from all three Services and MOD civil servants, who have consulted with current and former Service Personnel, their families, Service charities, and Service Families Federations.

They have worked closely, in developing the strategy and the new measures, with other Government Departments and the Devolved Administrations.

One of the key strands of the strategy is that the Armed Forces should not be disadvantaged by the military lifestyle, while also making provision for unashamedly special treatment for those who make exceptional sacrifices in the course of duty.

Defence Secretary Des Browne talks to Armed Forces personnel at RAF Northolt today, Thursday 17 July 2008, at the launch of the new support strategy. From left; Leading Logistician (Pers) Kerry Wallis, Defence Secretary Des Browne, Senior Aircraftman Nicole Dunkley, Lance Corporal Ray Richardson and Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Personnel) Vice Admiral Peter Wilkinson.
The strategy includes around 40 new measures. These include:

• Improved Armed Forces Compensation Scheme. The upfront lump sum compensation payment for the most serious injuries suffered by our soldiers, sailors and airmen in the course of their duties will be doubled. This is in addition to the index-linked, tax-free guaranteed income payment which, for example, might be worth £20,000 pa for life to a seriously injured 25-year-old. Combined, the increased lump sum and the ongoing guaranteed income payment wil take maximum individual total compensation to in excess of £1.5 millon;

• Retention of NHS waiting list places across the UK. Service families will, all things being equal, retain their relative place on NHS waiting lists wherever they move to in the UK;

• Free further or higher education for Service leavers. For Service leavers with more than six years' service, the Government will fund in full the tuition fees for either a first Level 3 (broadly A level or vocational equivalent) or a first Foundation or full degree;

• Improved access to educational opportunities for Service children. Including uninterrupted Special Educational Needs support and a review of admissions policy which will ensure that Service children are not disadvantaged in the allocation of school places;

• Expansion of options for finding homes. Steps to make it easier for Service leavers to find a home, either through the purchase of their own properties or through improved access to social housing;

• Improved support to Foreign and Commonwealth personnel. Dependants of F&C Service personnel will be eligible to apply for settlement when the Service member has completed five years' service.

As a Private, Johnson Beharry (right) was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery on operations in Iraq in 2004
Speaking at the launch of the strategy in London, Defence Secretary Des Browne said:

"Our Armed Forces are truly inspiring – every day they risk their lives to keep us safe – and it is a fundamental duty of government to support them and their families. I think this Command Paper presents a package of measures that will make a real difference to the everyday lives of our forces and their families.

"It will improve their access to public services and for the most seriously injured it will ensure a significant increase in the amount of compensation that they get paid. I think it offers significant progress and we now have to make sure we deliver that change."

Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup added:

"Our Servicemen and women achieve great things on a daily basis in testing conditions all over the world. They, and their families, also face unique demands that make their achievements all the more remarkable.

"As a nation, we have a duty to make sure that our Armed Forces are treated fairly whether they are home or abroad, and that is why this Service Personnel Command Paper is so important. My fellow Chiefs and I welcome this paper. It will ensure our Armed Forces and their dependants are not disadvantaged by their Service life, and in some cases enjoy special treatment befitting of their daily sacrifice on behalf of us all."

This is the first time the Government has taken a strategic cross-departmental approach to the support of our people. Many Departments have worked together to produce these improvements and each will follow through with guidance, policy and legislation as necessary to ensure implementation

MoD admits loss of secret files

More than 100 USB memory sticks, some containing secret information, have been lost or stolen from the Ministry of Defence since 2004, it has emerged.

The department also admitted that more than 650 laptops had been stolen over the past four years - nearly double the figure previously claimed.

The Liberal Democrats condemned the latest security breaches as evidence of "shocking incompetence".

But the MoD insisted its policies were "generally fit for purpose".

Previously the MoD had confirmed that 347 laptops were stolen between 2004 and 2007.

The Mod said it has no idea on when, where and how the memory sticks were lost.

Defence Secretary Des Browne issued revised figures after "anomalies in the reporting process" were discovered.

The official total is now 658 laptops stolen, with another 89 lost. Just 32 have been recovered.

Sarah Teather MP: This government simply cannot be trusted with keeping sensitive information safe
In a separate response, ministers said 131 of the department's USB memory sticks had been taken or misplaced since 2004.

Some 26 of those went this year - including three which contained information classified as "secret" and 19 which were "restricted".

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said the incident was "embarrasing" for the MoD as they had no idea how or when they had been lost or stolen.

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather received the information after tabling a question in parliament.

Ms Teather said: "It seems that this government simply cannot be trusted with keeping sensitive information safe.

"This shows a shocking degree of incompetence."

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said: "To treat national security in such a cavalier fashion is unforgivable."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said any loss of data was subject to a full inquiry and measures were being put into place to improve data protection.

This is the latest in a series of data loss incidents:

November 2007 - Revenue and Customs officials lost the personal details of 25 million people

June 2008 - A computer was stolen from the office of Communities Secretary Hazel Blears and files on counter-terrorism were left on a train

January 2008 - The MoD revealed that one of its laptops - containing the details of 600,000 people - was stolen from a car
Ms Teather added: "How can they expect us to trust them to keep our personal information safe in their unnecessary and expensive ID card scheme?"

Last month the MoD was heavily criticised by a review of its data procedures which warned that basic security discipline had been forgotten and there was "little awareness" of the danger of losing information.

But an MoD spokeswoman said officials were taking the situation very seriously: "Any loss of data is investigated fully.

"The recent report on data losses by Sir Edmund Burton found that MoD policies and procedures are generally fit for purpose, but also identified a number of areas where MoD needs to do better in protecting personal data.

"MoD has developed, and is now working through, an action plan to address all of the report's recommendations and bring the department's handling of personal data to an acceptable state."

Since the Burton report in June 2008 the MoD has recalled 20,000 non-encrypted laptops and are now encrypting them.

So far half have been through the process. About 2,000 are unable to be encrypted so have been taken out of service

Army of Poles could fill manpower gap in British military

Army recruitment officials are calling for a review of the rules on foreigners serving in the British forces after a surge of interest from Poles.

Foreigners are currently barred from joining up unless they first live here for five years and become British citizens, while those from Commonwealth countries can sign up at any time.

But with the Army struggling against a serious manpower shortage, senior officers revealed yesterday that the level of interest from Polish immigrant workers has prompted them to consider changes in the regulations
Current ad: But soon the army might recruit citizens of non-Commonwealth countries

The news emerged as the Army launched its latest £2million recruitment campaign.

It unveiled research showing nine out of ten members of the public support Britain's soldiers - although only four out of ten back the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Meldon, head of Army recruitment in London, said a significant number of Poles had made inquiries and voiced interest in joining up.

He added: "Currently, they can't join up unless they live here for a few years and get a British passport - and it would need legislation to change that.

"There is a precedent for having battalions of foreign soldiers in the British Army, in the form of the Gurkha regiments.

"Or there is the French approach, where they have the Foreign Legion."
Colonel Meldon stressed that officials had only just started considering the issue and any change is some way off.

But he said such a move could make huge numbers of potential recruits available.

It would also raise significant security and vetting issues, particularly for foreigners wanting to join the most sensitive Army units, such as the Intelligence Corps.

The Army needs to recruit around 15,000 soldiers a year just to maintain numbers, and for every ten people who visit recruitment offices or express interest, only one goes on to complete training and join an Army unit - meaning recruiters must attract 150,000 interested individuals every year.

In the past ten years, the Army has become increasingly reliant on Commonwealth soldiers - from Fiji, South Africa and dozens of other countries - who now make up around 10 per cent of all British recruits.

But allowing Poles and other non-Commonwealth recruits to join would need a significant change in the law, whether they were incorporated into existing regiments or formed into distinct Polish units, as they were during the Second World War.

Launching the latest recruitment campaign yesterday Brigadier Andrew Jackson, Commander of the Army Recruiting Group, admitted his staff are on course to miss their targets this year.

The campaign will include a series of TV advertisements that feature victims of war in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sierra Leone thanking British soldiers for saving them.

Poland's education minister has ordered all primary schools to begin mandatory English classes at the start of the new term in September.

Katarzyna Hall said: "English should be the basic language. Other foreign languages will be offered as an additional option only."

An education ministry spokesman said all pupils must learn English because it is "the global language of commerce".

The government would not say whether the move was influenced by the financial benefits of emigration to Britain.

Poles in the UK sent home an estimated £1.8billion last year.

MoD to double troop compensation

The Ministry of Defence is to double the level of compensation offered to the UK's most gravely wounded troops.

The maximum payment will increase to £570,000, on top of a guaranteed income payment for life.

There will also be a smaller rise in the awards to service personnel who have sustained less serious injuries.

The measures are part of a wider package aimed at ensuring personnel and their families are better looked after in areas such as education and housing.

Defence Secretary Des Browne is due to unveil the Command Paper setting out the new strategy to Parliament.

It comes after a Royal British Legion campaign demanded service personnel and their families receive fitting treatment and recognition from government and society.

The forces charity maintained the Military Covenant - which guarantees soldiers fair treatment in return for forgoing other rights - was not being upheld
Relatives of those severely injured in recent years such as Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson and Private Jamie Cooper have campaigned for greater compensation.

Ben Parkinson's family have campaigned for greater compensation

Until now, the highest lump sum payment to soldiers like Lance Bombardier Parkinson - who lost both legs and suffered brain damage in a landmine explosion in Afghanistan in 2006, was £285,000.

That is expected to be doubled as part of a move that should help at least 80 of the most seriously wounded troops. Another 80 or so men and women with less serious injuries should also see their payouts raised.

The most seriously wounded will continue to receive an annual income on top, meaning that their overall lifetime payout could be more than £1.5m.

The new strategy, co-ordinated across government departments, is aimed at delivering better access to public services and greater welfare support.

Other measures in the Command Paper are expected to include priority access to social housing for the injured, and moves to ensure service personnel and their families retain their place on NHS waiting lists even if they are posted to a new base.

It will also offer free university education for servicemen and women leaving after at least six years of service, as well as better access to school places for service children
With the Army struggling to retain key personnel, such as young captains and experienced senior officers, it has become clear that more needs to be done for personnel.

Britain's forces have been serving on two medium-sized operations for longer periods than anticipated in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A recent MoD survey of opinion across the Army, Navy, RAF and Royal Marines suggested that 47% of the Armed Forces had thought regularly about leaving.

Among the biggest complaints were accommodation and long periods spent away from friends and families.

Some 40% said they were not satisfied with military accommodation, while 55% said they were not satisfied with the maintenance of their accommodation.

The MoD has already said it was committed to high-quality military housing, with £8bn being spent in the next 10 years

Two British soldiers killed by Taliban after mix-up over rul

Two British soldiers died in a fierce firefight with the Taliban after an astonishing one-hour delay while officers discussed different rules of engagement, an inquest was told.

Sergeant Craig Brelsford - later awarded a posthumous Military Cross for his bravery in Afghanistan - was killed when he led his patrol into the teeth of enemy fire to retrieve the body of a dead comrade.

But the night time mission behind enemy lines, dubbed "Operation Certain Death" by one surviving soldier, in which British and Taliban forces were sometimes just 15 yards apart, had been delayed by a mix-up over rules.

Confusion arose when Major Jamie Nowell, leading the operation to destroy Taliban vantage points, told his air support to open fire on four militants spotted in a trench.

He was then told over the radio that his airborne colleagues were not permitted to engage the enemy.

Maj Nowell told the hearing in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, that his men were under "429 A" rules of engagement, allowing them to engage identified enemy
But the men in the air were on "Card A" - permitting them to fire only in self-defence.

"I could not understand how it had happened," he said. "Eventually the aircraft was put on 429A but it took 60 minutes. The opportunity to engage the Taliban was lost."

Maj Nowell said the mix-up "dented the confidence of commanders on the ground" but had "no real impact" on the operation as a whole.

Wiltshire coroner David Masters said it would have "put lives at risk", adding: "It seems to me fundamental that those who are being asked to deal with an operation like this should be on the same rules of engagement. That should be known from the outset."

The coroner also expressed concern that not all the men on the mission with equipped with night-vision goggles.

The officer told him: "The ideal was that every soldier had their own monocular (night sight) but not every soldier had them. We did not have enough for every man."

The coroner, glancing at soldiers' statement about the incident, said: "The impression I get is one of fear. One describes the operation as 'Operation Certain Death'."

Maj Nowell replied: "I've not heard that one."

A short time after the mission in Helmand province eventually began, one of Maj Nowell's platoons came under heavy Taliban fire.

Sgt Brelsford, 25, from Nottingham, died trying to recover the body of Private Johan Botha, also 25, from Pretoria, South Africa.

Both men were serving with the 2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters).

The battle, near Garmsir, lasted several hours and resulted in a series of awards for gallantry, including three Military Crosses, a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross and five Mentions in Dispatches.

Because of the intensity of the in-cocoming fire, Pte Botha's body had to be left on the battlefield until the following morning.

Private Johan Botha who was killed alongside Sgt Brelsford in the firefight
Several others soldiers were injured, two seriously, and a number of the enemy killed in the fire-fight in September 2007.

Captain Simon Cupples, 25, later awarded the CGC, graphically described to the inquest crawling in the darkness, trying to locate casualties, as Taliban fire came in.

He helped pull two colleagues to safety, including Private Luke Cole - awarded the Military Cross - but could not find Pte Botha.

He said he briefed Sgt Brelsford to push forward to try and locate him. A few minutes later, after the sergeant had gone forward, he heard a cry "Man down".

Capt Cupples said: "All the blokes that night, they all went forward, there was incredible bravery."

Taliban militia had concealed themselves in a tree-line, some only 15 yards from the Mercian Regiment soldiers during the battle.

Second Lieutenant Michael Lockett was awarded the MC for leading a team to rescue four wounded soldiers, after being knocked unconscious by a blast.

Afterwards he spent a few moments alone with Pte Botha, paying his last respects.

He told the coroner: "During this incident my life, and that of my colleagues, were in danger more times than I can remember."

The hearing into the deaths of Sgt Brelsford and Pte Botha, who left a wife and young child, was adjourned until Wednesday.

The Ministry of Defence declined to comment on the rules of engagement mix-up until after the inquest.

A spokesman said: "Rules of Engagement are not a simple cover-all. They are designed to protect service personnel and civilians in an extremely complex and dangerous environment.

"It is possible for there to be different rules for different forces, whether land, air or sea."

A soldier who died following an explosion in Afghanistan was unlawfully killed while on military duty, an inquest in Norwich ruled.

Lance Corporal Alex Hawkins, 22, of East Dereham, Norfolk, was a front-seat passenger in a convoy of military vehicles travelling in Sangin last July.

The soldier, who joined the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian regiment in 2003, died shortly after a "large device" exploded under his Vector patrol vehicle.

In a statement after the inquest, his family said: "He died doing a job he loved, surrounded by his friends."

Message for the troops

On Sunday 13 July Andrew Marr interviewed Sir Jock Stirrup, Chief of the Defence Staff
Numbers in Iraq will fall, but not until next year - says the Chief of the Defence Staff.

ANDREW MARR: Thank you for coming in Sir Jock.


ANDREW MARR: Can I start by, by going back over the question as to whether the army is overstretched, four thousand or so still in Iraq.

The plans have been to come down to two thousand or thereabouts, two and a half thousand. Eight thousand I think there in Afghanistan now. Do we need a bigger army?

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: Well you mentioned that the remarks when I made them attracted some headlines which was a bit of a surprise since I've been saying the same thing for the last two years, including to the House of Commons Defence Committee in March 2007 and the Defence Secretary has said very similar things.

I mean this is no secret. We are structured and resourced for a certain level of commitment on an enduring basis. And we're doing more than that at the moment. It doesn't mean that we can't do what we're doing. But it means we can't keep on doing it indefinitely. So we do need to get ourselves back down to a more sustainable operational tempo as soon as we can. And subject to delivering success on current operations that has been and remains my top priority.

And we've made some progress in that regard. But just at the moment in Iraq we have some important parts of our mission to, to complete, particularly with regards to training, admitting the relatively new fourteenth division of the Iraqi army. And while I wouldn't want to put any timescales on it I would expect us to see further substantial progress towards more substantial, erm? more sustainable tempo in the course of the next year.

ANDREW MARR: So we would expect perhaps to go down by a couple of thousand troops in Basra during the, during this current year?

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: No over, during the course of next year.

ANDREW MARR: So into 2009.

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: Into two thousand and nine.

ANDREW MARR: That's quite a delay given where we thought we were going to be isn't it?

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: It is. But it's a, it's a delay that's caused by a number of factors, the principal one of which is that we trained the tenth division of the Iraqi army in Basra.

But then the Iraqis decided to move the tenth division out of Basra and form a new division, the fourteenth division. And we're now busy training and mentoring that one.

ANDREW MARR: So the army has to cope with overstretch for another year and a bit at least. Do you think, as was being said by Liam Fox in the papers today, we actually need a bigger army?

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: Well the question of the size of the armed forces as a whole - and it's, it's all of the armed forces that we have to focus on - is one that we keep regularly under review. There is of course a lot of attention paid to infantry battalions. And that's very understandable.

But to be perfectly frank with you, that's not the area where we're experiencing greatest stretch. It's in the key enablers, the key enablers that we require whatever force we deploy for each theatre and ..

ANDREW MARR: Just explain "key enablers".

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: Well key enablers such as, such as helicopters for example, such as the reconnaissance assets that are so crucial to operations. Engineers, signallers and people like this. The strategic transport. These are in great demand.

ANDREW MARR: Not enough of those at the moment?

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: The - sustaining two theatres at the level of which we are at the moment is a stretch on us. And we need to get back down to a sustainable tempo so that we reduce the stretch, not just on infantry battalions who are doing a fantastic job and who are very busy but all of those key enablers as well.

ANDREW MARR: Now what, what Doctor Fox was saying is that taking all of that into account we simply need a larger army.

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: Well the first thing we need to do is to man the army we have and ..

ANDREW MARR: You're five thousand or so below where you want to be?

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: We're, we're just over five thousand short across the armed forces. I would, I would point out that in each of the armed forces the level of under-manning today is actually less than it was ten years ago. So this is not a new problem. But we do have plans for manning each of the services.

They're going to take some time to put into effect and they encompass a range of measures. But the first thing to do is to get our manning for each of the armed services up to where it needs to be.

ANDREW MARR: Part of the problem clearly is how people in the army and the armed forces generally feel. There was, to, a lot of people were quite shocked by a survey, an official survey that the army carried out and twenty four thousand service people were interviewed.

Nearly half had low morale and were thinking regularly about getting out. That's a pretty shocking figure.

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: Well I could trade statistics with you all day. I could point out as I say that the under-manning today is less than it was ten years ago. I could point out, I could point out that the City and Guilds recent survey shows that, that job satisfaction and happiness at what they do is higher amongst the military than almost any other professional group within the United Kingdom.

But that would of course be to miss the point. And the point is what do these statistics we, what do we think they actually tell us. And as you said we defence commission these surveys precisely so we can answer that question. And I would, I would point out two things that I think are really significant. The first is that nearly half of our people feel that the pressure of operations and operational tempo makes them more inclined to leave. And therefore we need to deal with that.

And I've explained how we're are planning to deal with that. But the second point is that nearly two thirds of our people feel that the impact of service life on their families and on their personal life makes them more inclined to leave. And we have to deal with that. But those issues are not within the gift of defence or, or of the armed forces - very much to do with the disadvantage that our people tend to experience because of the mobility we expect from them and ..

ANDREW MARR: What more can you do? Because you've got a, you've got a, I think it's called a command paper coming out through parliament ...

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: The command, the, the command paper on service personnel is the way that we're tackling this because it has to be dealt with across government. And what I expect to see from that paper are the disadvantages that our people suffer in terms for example of access to NHS dentists, of retaining their place on NHS waiting lists, access to educational places for their children and so on to be dealt with.

I expect to see a firm plan for dealing with those and I expect to see a firm commitment to deliver. That's what I expect from the command paper and that's what I think we will see. And that tackles the issues that our own families tell us are the top of their concerns.

ANDREW MARR: What about things like pay and what about housing conditions? Because those have been the two other really big sources of irritation and worry.

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: Well as far as pay is concerned, um, you know our people are fantastic and they do incredible things. So if you ask me, you know, you can never pay them enough. And how do you measure the contribution that they make in monetary terms? You just can't do it. So, so no level of pay for me is ever going to be enough for them. But the critical point is that our salaries are determined by an independent pay review body and then the recommendations implemented by the government.

I'm one of the few people still serving old enough to remember the days before we had an armed forces pay review body. And let me tell you, it was not good. So the critical issue for me is retaining the independence of that pay review body and for the government to implement its recommendations in full each year as it has done in recent years. On housing, er, yeah, our accommodation is not where we would like it to be. This is the result of decades of under investment, decades.

And it's a massive problem. And remember we have in terms of single living accommodation alone over a hundred and sixty thousand bed spaces across sixteen countries. So getting those up to the standard that we need them to be is a long term endeavour and we're doing it. We're putting in billions of pounds over the next ten years. And each year we are delivering a greater number of improved bed spaces for our people. But of course that's not much consolation ..


SIR JOCK STIRRUP: .. if you're in one of those that has not yet been improved.

ANDREW MARR: Absolutely. And just one final point on pay, General Dannatt pointed out that the guys on the ground in Afghanistan, in Iraq, are in many cases getting less than a traffic warden. That can't be right can it?

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: Well, um, first of all, as well as their basic pay they're getting operational allowances ..

ANDREW MARR: ... but nonetheless ..

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: .. and all of those things. But, but the critical issue for me, as I said earlier, is to have an independent pay review body that looks at the salaries of our people, compares them across the public and private sectors, and comes up with a recommendation for them which they think is equitable. And it's that independence of the pay review body that is critical and that's what we have to sustain.

ANDREW MARR: I mentioned General Dannatt. Lots of stories over the last week or so suggesting that he might go early because he's not going to get your job because he's been too outspoken. He stood up for the army too vociferously and ministers are angry with him.

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: Well Richard Dannatt is a very dedicated soldier and a very good man and I expect to see him serve his time out.

ANDREW MARR: So he won't, you don't think he'll leave early?

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: I think he will do his duty as he always has done throughout his career.

ANDREW MARR: And do you endorse the things that he's been saying about the way the army's been treated?

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: Well I think that the important thing to recognise in terms of the military covenant is that the public has always appreciated its armed services. There's no doubt about that in my mind. And all the surveys show us that. But from time to time it could do with expressing that appreciation a bit more tangibly. And that's what we've been seeing over the last year or two. And I very much welcome that.

ANDREW MARR: The army's faced some pretty grim stories recently. A three million pound pay out to the family of an Iraqi man who was beaten and killed. Another story in today's paper about a sexual assault in Basra. Are we going to see, sort of flood gates opening to lots of legal challenges to the army and a great deal of your budget going on lawyers and going on pay outs?

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: Well I don't know what will happen in the future in terms of legal challenges. But I would make a couple of points. The first is that we have had tens and tens of thousands of military people going through operational theatres, operating in the most dangerous and most difficult and most stressful conditions. And virtually all of them have behaved impeccably.

That has not universally been the case. And when it is not the case we are first amongst those who want to see it dealt with. Because we cannot accept people failing to live up to the high standards that we set. I mean that's the first point. The second point is that with regard to one or two of the cases that you mentioned they are of course subject to ..

ANDREW MARR: Sure. We understand that.

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: .. a public enquiry, subject to proper police investigations. We need to see what they come up with.

ANDREW MARR: More tough news from Afghanistan the last few days again. We're going to be there for decades?

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: The international community, I think, if the enterprise is to be successful will need to be engaged for decades.

ANDREW MARR: But that means us?

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: As far as the ..

ANDREW MARR: 'Cause the rest aren't coming in are they?

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: Are but, but, but, but what I'm, what I'm talking about here is across the full spectrum of effect. I'm talking about in terms of reconstruction, governance, finance and the economy and all the rest of it.


SIR JOCK STIRRUP: In terms of the military, in terms of the military we will be there for a few years. But the key for us is to develop the Afghan indigenous security forces, the Afghan National Army, to the stage where they can take on the lead for these responsibilities themselves. That's one of our key roles in Afghanistan and that's going well.

ANDREW MARR: Well the reason I press that is that every time we're told that the Taliban are on the run and we're really getting things under control they're back again killing even more people. I mean it wasn't, it's only a few months ago we've been told oh there's been no spring offensive from the Taliban. We seem to be in charge. And then the last few weeks have been bloody.

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: If you listen to what I say, I say that we tactically defeat the Taliban every time we engage them. Does that mean that they are defeated over all? No. Does it mean they will not come back at us hard from time to time? No.

ANDREW MARR: So on it goes.

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: Does it mean we won't suffer more tragic losses? No. I have always said that. I mean we, we cannot be distracted by the short term vagaries of, of tactical fortune.

ANDREW MARR: Do you know how and when we'll ever get out?

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: Yes I do. We will get out militarily when we have developed the Afghan indigenous security forces to the level where they can take on the responsibility themselves. And they will be able to do that.

ANDREW MARR: And in terms of who's going out to fight there, the stories about the Territorial Army, the TA, suggesting that people who have joined up because they like what they do at the weekends and they like wearing the uniform, are going to get a shock, because they are going to absolutely have to go out and fight and take, take their turn in these dangerous and difficult theatres.

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: I don't think we've got very many of the kind of people you describe any more if any. Because they've been doing that for years now. But they are an integral part of our force structure.

ANDREW MARR: But if you join the TA you're going to have to go out and fight in a, in Afghanistan or Iraq?

SIR JOCK STIRRUP: If you join the TA you're joining the military and you take on the responsibilities that the military assumes.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Sir Jock Stirrup thank you very much indeed for joining us.



Army commanders David Richards and Nick Houghton to jump que

Two senior army commanders with unrivalled experience in Iraq and Afghanistan have been identified as the top candidates to become the next head of the Armed Forces.

The choice of General Sir David Richards, who commanded Nato troops in Afghanistan, and Lieutenant-General Sir Nick Houghton, who was deputy commander of the US-led Multinational Force in Iraq, means that the next generation of top army officers are deemed by ministers to be more suitable to take on the role of Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) than any of the present Service chiefs.

The decision amounts to a revolution within the Ministry of Defence, with a deliberate move to bypass the ones who would, traditionally, be the most eligible candidates — the heads of the Royal Navy, Army and RAF — and to wait for the new breed of commanders to take the top spot.

To ensure that the present Service chiefs - Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, First Sea Lord, General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy, Chief of the Air Staff - do not feel too miffed by being overlooked for the CDS role, Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, has asked Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the encumbent CDS, to stay on until 2011.

This will make Sir Jock the longest-standing CDS in history, remaining in the top post for five years. He was due to have retired next year.

The MoD insists that Sir Jock was asked to stay on as CDS to maintain continuity while the Armed Forces are engaged in such high-tempo operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the real reason is that ministers had decided that the next CDS should be someone who has had command experience in either or both of these campaigns, and that meant waiting for another two years, because the best candidates are still working their way up the promotion ladder.

There are also good candidates for the top job coming up through the Royal Navy and RAF, but the two army commanders are viewed as the chief rivals to succeed Sir Jock in 2011. The Royal Navy candidate would be Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, Commander-in-Chief Fleet, and the RAF man would be Air Chief Marshal Sir Clive Loader, Commander-in-Chief Air Command. But General Richards, 56, Commander-in-Chief Land Command, and General Houghton, 53, the Chief of Joint Operations in charge of all overseas missions, are considered to be the best candidates, with the former edging ahead because of his experience as commander of Nato's International Security Assistance Force in 2006-07.

Every member of the Armed Forces who has completed six years' service will be entitled to free tuition at university or further education college under a new proposal to be announced on Thursday.

The fees will be paid even if personnel do not stay in the Services. The new deal will be included in a command paper on Services' welfare and social benefits, after a nine-month MoD review

Nine US soldiers killed in Afghanistan as Taleban attacks ba

Western forces in Afghanistan suffered their biggest losses in a single battle since 2001 yesterday when Taleban forces stormed a remote American base, killing nine US soldiers.

Nato said that the small American “combat outpost” in the Dara-I-Pech district of Kunar province came under heavy fire at about 4.30am. US forces called in mortars, artillery, Apache helicopters and fighter jets.

Nato confirmed the nine deaths in its ranks and said that 15 US soldiers and four Afghan soldiers had been injured. It also claimed that the Taleban had sustained “very heavy losses”.

A spokesman for the Taleban claimed that the insurgents had overrun the base. “From yesterday till now the fighting is going on,” said Zabiullah Mujahed. “We have destroyed the whole base. We don’t know how many Americans or Taleban have been killed.” Nato said that insurgents used homes, shops and the mosque in the village of Wanat for cover.

The governor of neighbouring Nuristan province, Hazrat Noor, said: “After the attack the US troops decided to move their base to the district centre of Wanat and they tried to build shelters there in the bazaar overnight. Now the Taleban have attacked again.” US strategy in Afghanistan has focused increasingly on the use of smaller and more numerous bases, called combat outposts. They aim to give US forces greater influence in local communities. However, American military commanders have privately admitted that such small bases could prove vulnerable if the Taleban was able to concentrate enough fighters and take the base by surprise, as apparently happened yesterday.

The terrain in Kunar and Nuristan, with steep valleys, few roads and dense pine forest, has proved ideal for insurgent movements and ambushes. One Afghan official said that 400 insurgents, including Arab and Chechen fighters, had crossed the frontier from Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas into Nuristan in recent weeks.

Afghanistan is experiencing a rising tide of violence this year, with a sharp increase in Taleban attacks, especially in the east, where Nato says militants have taken advantage of peace deals in Pakistan to cross the border.

The storming of the outpost was likely to provoke louder calls in the US for a change in strategy. Even before details of yesterday’s battle emerged, Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, accused Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, of allowing his country to slip towards chaos.

“I think the Karzai Government has not gotten out of the bunker and helped organise Afghanistan and government, the judiciary, police forces, in ways that would give people confidence,” Mr Obama said.

“A big chunk of the issue is that we allowed the Taleban and al-Qaeda to regenerate itself when we had them on the ropes. That was a big mistake, and it’s one I’m going to correct when I’m president.”

The battle in Kunar province comes as the Taleban’s summer offensive gathers pace. Heavy fighting was reported yesterday in a broad swath of southern and eastern Afghanistan.

In Helmand a US soldier was killed in clashes around the town of Sangin and along the Helmand river. “At least 40 militants have been killed in the last two days, while over 30 enemy boats and several . . . bridges were also destroyed on the Helmand river,” the US military reported.

A Hungarian soldier was killed in the northern province of Baghlan in a roadside bomb attack.

In the southern province of Uruzgan a suicide bomb attack on a police convoy killed 24 people, including four policemen, in a crowded bazaar in the town of Deh Rawood. Another 27 people were injured.

Nato accused the Taleban of using a child to mount a suicide attack in Helmand on Saturday when two Afghan soldiers and another child were killed.

Territorial Army soldiers to be ordered to fight in Iraq and

All Territorial Army soldiers are to be required to risk their lives on the front line in Afghanistan and Iraq, the head of the Armed Forces has saidAt present, overseas service for the part-time soldiers is voluntary, with only half of the TA's 25,000 troops making themselves available for active service.

Instead of being asked to volunteer for Iraq and Afghanistan, part-time soldiers will in future be warned that they may be asked to resign if they fail to respond to a call up.

A review has now been launched which is expected to slim the service down to around 15,000 men and women, who will all be required to go on a tour of duty at least once every six years.
Ordered by General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the Defence Staff, the review is designed to ensure a slimmed down, more professional TA in future.

In a BBC interview, Sir Jock Stirrup, Chief of the Defence Staff, denied that some members of the force, which is in its centenary year, were more interested in showing off in military uniforms than fighting for their country - but insisted everyone in the TA should be prepared to serve.

He said: "I don't think we've got very many of [that] kind of people ... any more, if any. They are an integral part of our force structure.

"If you join the TA you're joining the military and you take on the responsibilities that the military assumes."

Troop levels in the Territorial Army fell rapidly in the years immediately following the invasion of Iraq, when nearly 7,000 TA soldiers were called up to join in Operation Telic, with many "weekend warriors" deciding that they did not want to put their lives on the line.

Around 6,000 left between 2004 and 2005 alone, and the TA is now at its lowest level since it was founded in 1907.

Before the invasion, recruitment had been running at around 150 a month, but this dried up after the war, as civilians were unwilling to sign up to participate in an increasingly unpopular conflict which involved the real possibility of loss of life.

The situation has been compounded in recent months as the conflict in Afghanistan has entered a particularly bloody phase. Last month three members of the TA were killed when their armoured Land Rover was hit by a roadside bomb.

The incident was the biggest loss of life for the TA since the second world war. Seven members of the TA have been killed in Afghanistan and five in Iraq since 2003.

There are now 850 reservists serving overseas, including 700 members of the TA, more than at any time since the Korean War.

Garrison town fears slump as army pulls out

Six decades after the British Army parked its guns in Osnabrück, the Tommies are leaving this week. The retreat will punch a hole in the earnings of the town's small businesses and end a bittersweet relationship between old enemies and new friends.

Osnabrück was a ruin in 1945 when the British army took up tenancy in undamaged Wehrmacht barracks. Down the years exuberant Saturday nights sparked cultural misunderstandings which, fuelled by good beer, led to a bit more damage in the surrounding hostelries.

But Osnabrück, where Erich Maria Remarque - author of the milestone anti-war novel All Quiet on the Western Front was born - nevertheless took the squaddies and the officers to their hearts and was the army's largest garrison after Aldershot. The news that the Last Post is sounding is bitter to legions of barkeepers, shop owners and others who have come to rely on the army pound.

The official exit on Saturday is part of a general MoD drawdown that will see the once mighty British Army of the Rhine - now British Forces Germany - reduced from 58,000 soldiers in the 1980s to just 15,000. Andreas Haasler, owner of the Onion pub in town, is downhearted. 'They are an important prop of the local economy, especially for the corner shops, the pubs, the little supermarkets. Yes, there will be pain here when they go. It is the little guy who will feel it most.'

Personnel of Fourth Armoured Brigade are quartered in the bases where the troops of Kaiser Bill and, later, Adolf Hitler trained, ate and slept.

When the British pull out, 1.6 million square metres of land and more than 1,250 buildings will be available for use. Many of them are owned by the government in Berlin, which is frantically trying to find buyers or renters to turn them into apartments, business or leisure parks.

Troops are also leaving behind family houses and flats, not to mention school buildings and community centres. For Osnabrück, which was where the peace ending the Thirty Years' War was signed in 1648, the opportunities to reinvent itself with this windfall of land are both exciting and daunting.

Osnabrück wants to turn some of the army's training fields into athletics and sports facilities. Workshops have been held for locals to come up with ideas - and hopefully cash - to convert the military white elephants into projects. Professor Claus Rollinger, president of the University of Osnabrück, sees a 'unique chance' to build a science park on 55,000 square metres of land. Others hope that some of the barracks - many of which have original wartime signs pointing to air raid shelters and the like - can be turned into affordable homes to rent.

Mayor Boris Pistorius, a Social Democrat, says the soldiers' departure 'changes the dynamics of the city substantially'. But he thinks the economic impact will be limited to a few hundred Germans employed directly by the garrison.

Peter Heinrich Konermann, managing director of the local retail trade association, said: 'In 15 years time, with new homes and shops, I believe we can really see business booming here.'

That is in the future; the immediate impact will be felt in the pockets of an estimated 2,000 local people, some self-employed, but 500 locally employed civilians being made directly redundant. 'It will cost me money,' says a wholesale drinks supplier, Karl Lenz. 'I supply pubs and restaurants that have a high number of British soldiers as clientele. When they go, profits go, orders go down and I have to cancel the foreign holiday.

'We have grown alongside each other, the Germans and the British. I know there have been isolated problems down the years, but taken all in all they're a good bunch. The town will certainly miss them.

The most beautiful wedding of the year as scarred soldier ma

Forget spoilt footballers and minor Royals. Yesterday, Miss Michelle Clifford married Lance-Corporal Martyn Compton.

And the terrible injuries he suffered in Afghanistan could not diminish the towering, inspirational love they share

The walk down the aisle yesterday was only a matter of yards. Yet for Martyn Compton it meant everything. Indeed, his determination to make the distance was matched only by that of the beautiful young woman he was about to marry.

And when he falteringly held out his hand for her to slip the gold ring on his finger, they both finally fulfilled the dream they had fought desperately against all the odds to make a reality.

It was so nearly destroyed when, two years ago, Martyn, a Lance-Corporal in the Household Cavalry, was badly burned in an ambush in Afghanistan. Suffering from 70 per cent burns, he was in a coma for three months
When he regained consciousness, his once handsome face and honed body were ravaged. His eyelids had been fused inside out and he had lost his ears, nose and hair. He was told he might never walk, nor use his arms, again.

His catastrophic injuries came to represent the tragic cost of British troops being sent to the Middle East, and his heroism in overcoming them made headlines around the world.

Among those ‘humbled’ by Martyn’s bravery was his friend and colleague Prince William, who paid tribute to his bravery in a special City Salute pageant in London in May. ‘Compo, you’re more famous than me,’ the Prince joked recently. ‘You’re in the papers every day.’

Then, last month, his ordeal made the news again when it emerged the Ministry of Defence had offered him only £163,000 compensation, far less than the maximum of £285,000.

But to his bride Michelle he is not merely a symbol of courage, nor yet another serviceman who has been bitterly betrayed by the MoD, he is her husband, her soul mate and the man she loves just as much now as the day they first met.

And their wedding yesterday – held at a Kent manor house and in the company of their 100 closest relatives and friends – was as much a mark of Michelle’s own strength and devotion as it was a testament to their love for each other.

‘People keep saying I’m inspirational and strong,’ says Michelle. ‘But I can’t see it myself. It never crossed my mind that I couldn’t handle what had happened. I fell in love with Martyn’s cheeky smile and sparkling eyes. When I look at him now that is still what I see.’

Martyn, meanwhile – a softly spoken, reserved 24-year-old who exhibits a remarkable lack of anger or self-pity – credits his new wife for his extraordinary recovery.

‘Michelle is my rock,’ he says. ‘Without her, I wouldn’t have survived. I had to be here to stand at her side.’

The couple met in 2006 and clicked immediately. ‘He was easy to talk to and genuine,’ said Michelle, a 27-year-old secondary school teacher whose surname until yesterday was Clifford.

Martyn was equally smitten. ‘She was bubbly and positive, and quickly became a mate as well as a girlfriend,’ he says.

In June 2006, Martyn, whose mother died of a brain haemorrhage giving birth to his sister, Lorraine, when he was three, had a ring made in secret and proposed at Michelle’s family home in Frittenden, Kent.

Two weeks later, he left for his four-month stint in Afghanistan’s notorious Helmand province.

‘We both cried,’ Michelle admits. ‘I could see he was far more aware of the risks than I was.

We went for a long walk before he went and chatted about the wedding plans I was going to make while he was away. I told him to do what he had to do, then come back safely to me.’

Martyn adds: ‘I felt very emotional leaving her. But once I arrived and had spoken to her on the phone I just got on with things. I also made sure I regularly sent her bouquets of flowers.’

As the weeks passed Michelle got used to having her fiance in a war zone. ‘His dad would call or text me whenever there was a report about soldiers being shot or blown up.

'This sounds awful, but I started ignoring his calls – it was the only way I could cope.’

Five weeks into his stay, on August 1, 2006, Martyn’s troop was in Helmand, accompanying Danish soldiers who had been repeatedly ambushed while trying to collect supplies.

He was on driving duty because the regular man was sick. The convoy was in a village that appeared to have been abandoned when Taliban fighters suddenly started firing from high walls on either side of the road.

he vehicle in front kept going and as his commander, sitting behind him, told Martyn to reverse, a roadside bomb hit their vehicle. The back of their armoured Scimitar was blown off, killing the commander and two others.

A rocket-propelled grenade then struck the vehicle’s engine, which exploded and engulfed Martyn’s upper body and face in flames.

Jumping out of the Scimitar, he broke his arm but managed to pull off his body armour and helmet with the one that remained intact before rolling around in the sand to try to put out the flames.

Then, as he crawled down the valley to look for cover behind a wall, a Taliban fighter shot him in his right leg.

‘I didn’t feel it but saw my leg fly out to one side,’ Martyn says. ‘I thought I was going to die and felt so terrible for not marrying Michelle. I could only think of her and the wedding she was planning. If I didn’t get out of this, then I was letting her down.’

Having realised he was missing, his colleagues came back and risked their lives to rescue him, hauling his body into the safety of their tank. Martyn was rushed back to Camp Bastion, the British forces’ base, and airlifted to hospital in the UK. He ‘died’ three times on the long journey but each time was revived.

Martyn’s father, Rob, a lorry driver, called Michelle to tell her what had happened. ‘Initially, it just didn’t sink in,’ she recalls. ‘They told us Martyn’s injuries were serious and he was on his way home; they didn’t know any more.

‘My first thought was that I was going to see Martyn again, months earlier than I expected. That’s my positive nature. I just told myself we were going to be together again.’

She and Mr Compton went together to Broomfield Hospital burns unit in Chelmsford, Essex, where Martyn had been taken
He was covered from head to toe in bandages and his body had swelled up to about four times its normal size,’ Michelle says. ‘I didn’t trust myself to speak without breaking down, so I just sat with him and told him silently that I loved him and that he had to live.’

For the next three months, she sat at his bedside every day, except for Sundays when his father stayed with him so she could play football and try to relax.

She played his favourite songs, such as Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison and Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, endlessly.

She whispered that she would wait for him and told him gossip about their family and friends.

And, of course, she watched in anguish as he underwent 15 operations. Some were skin grafts using skin grown artificially as not enough of his own was available.

With 70 per cent burns, Martyn’s weakened body succumbed to infection from flesh-eating bugs that he’d acquired rolling in the sand.

At one point his temperature soared to a life-threatening 43C (110F). Michelle was warned that if he did regain consciousness, he could lose an arm and a leg and that his chances of ever walking again were slim.

Yet, after three months, he came round.

‘I’d plastered photographs all over his room,’ she says. ‘Pictures of the venue where I had booked our wedding, photos of the two of us together on holiday in Cyprus, family parties, his dad, my parents, even my parents’ dog.

‘When he opened his eyes, the first thing I wanted him to see was his loved ones.

When I went in one day he was sitting up in bed. He looked at me and said, “Hello babe, how are you?” It was typical of Martin to be thinking of me.’
Four months after what the couple refer to with breathtaking understatement as ‘the incident’, Martyn – who had been transferred from Broomsfield to Headley Court military hospital in Surrey for rehabilitation – saw himself in the mirror for the first time.

‘There were just the two of us when I held the mirror up for him,’ says Michelle. ‘I knew I had to be firm and confident so as he looked I said, “If you turn into a recluse, you will no longer be you and I am walking out.”'

Martyn adds: ‘I thought I looked so horrible I cried for an hour. I still felt like myself on the inside, I just didn’t look like me on the outside.’

Michelle cried too as she held him. ‘I didn’t let him go until he stopped,’ she says. ‘He told me he’d understand if I didn’t marry him looking like this, that we could call the wedding off. But I didn’t want to hear about him giving up.

He was still the man I loved and looking into his eyes, I knew we could get through this.’

Over the next year, she helped Martyn on his slow and painful road to recovery, feeding him like a child, washing his face and brushing his teeth.

His arms were bent 90 degrees at the elbows and locked in that position, and his skin needed moisturising every few hours.

‘I had been strong and independent and it wasn’t easy to have to be cared for,’ says Martyn. ‘But the truth is I’d never have made it without her.’

Besides, they had already set their wedding date. And even though he knew his frame was shrinking too much to be able to wear his uniform on their big day, Michelle refused to let him give up.
And, in January this year, a month after leaving hospital, he defied the doctors’ predictions and walked a few paces.

‘At the moment I get all sorts of aches and pains if I go any distance but I have set myself the challenge of doing a half marathon as part of Walk New York in November in aid of the Household Cavalry Operational Casualties Fund,’ he says.

Following yesterday’s open-air ceremony at the Port Lympne Wild Animal Park, near Folkestone, Kent, the couple will today leave for a lavish two-week honeymoon, a gift from the travel company Abercrombie & Kent, at a secret location.

But when they return, Martyn will go back into Headley Court. He will have four weeks of intensive physiotherapy interspersed by two weeks at the modern three-bedroom semi near Hastings that is now home to him and Michelle.

So far he has undergone 60 hours of surgery, the most recent to rebuild his upper lip and left cheek. The next will be to reconstruct his nose.

His ears will be ‘regrown’ with cartilage from his ribs. Because the skin on his scalp is still raw, he has to wear factor 50 sunscreen, even on cloudy days.

Yet despite everything, Martyn – who joined the Army straight out of school and believes he will be now medically discharged – does not regret enrolling.

‘Not at all,’ he replies. ‘I started going astray as a young teenager and decided instead to make something of my life.’

His Army pension is worth about £20,000 a year. To augment it Martyn is thinking of doing motivational talks and is writing a book about his experiences that will be published next spring.

While friends and family have been supportive, Michelle struggles with strangers’ reactions.

‘I notice it more than Martyn,’ she says. ‘Kids stare at him because they don’t know any different. However, when adults keep looking I stare right back until they realise their insensitivity and turn away.

‘If you look beyond the scars though, like I do, Martyn is still there.’

With astounding matter-of-factness, Martyn adds: ‘What happened to me was just one of those things. There is no point in being bitter.’

His injuries won’t prevent the couple having children, and they plan to start a family as soon as possible. ‘Of course it was difficult to have a physical relationship at first,’

Michelle explains. ‘But we learned to take things slowly. Cuddles counted for a lot. I can touch and hold him just as I did before. I think what we have been through takes a relationship to a whole new level. It goes beyond sexual attraction.

‘Now we’ve discovered so much more about each other. We’ve proved it’s true love.’

And, in January this year, a month after leaving hospital, he defied the doctors’ predictions and walked a few paces.

‘At the moment I get all sorts of aches and pains if I go any distance but I have set myself the challenge of doing a half marathon as part of Walk New York in November in aid of the Household Cavalry Operational Casualties Fund,’ he says.

Following yesterday’s open-air ceremony at the Port Lympne Wild Animal Park, near Folkestone, Kent, the couple will today leave for a lavish two-week honeymoon, a gift from the travel company Abercrombie & Kent, at a secret location.

But when they return, Martyn will go back into Headley Court. He will have four weeks of intensive physiotherapy interspersed by two weeks at the modern three-bedroom semi near Hastings that is now home to him and Michelle.

So far he has undergone 60 hours of surgery, the most recent to rebuild his upper lip and left cheek. The next will be to reconstruct his nose.

His ears will be ‘regrown’ with cartilage from his ribs. Because the skin on his scalp is still raw, he has to wear factor 50 sunscreen, even on cloudy days.

Yet despite everything, Martyn – who joined the Army straight out of school and believes he will be now medically discharged – does not regret enrolling.

‘Not at all,’ he replies. ‘I started going astray as a young teenager and decided instead to make something of my life.’

His Army pension is worth about £20,000 a year. To augment it Martyn is thinking of doing motivational talks and is writing a book about his experiences that will be published next spring.

While friends and family have been supportive, Michelle struggles with strangers’ reactions.

‘I notice it more than Martyn,’ she says. ‘Kids stare at him because they don’t know any different. However, when adults keep looking I stare right back until they realise their insensitivity and turn away.

‘If you look beyond the scars though, like I do, Martyn is still there.’

With astounding matter-of-factness, Martyn adds: ‘What happened to me was just one of those things. There is no point in being bitter.’

His injuries won’t prevent the couple having children, and they plan to start a family as soon as possible. ‘Of course it was difficult to have a physical relationship at first,’

Michelle explains. ‘But we learned to take things slowly. Cuddles counted for a lot. I can touch and hold him just as I did before. I think what we have been through takes a relationship to a whole new level. It goes beyond sexual attraction.

‘Now we’ve discovered so much more about each other. We’ve proved it’s true love.’

Armed forces 'get free education'

Service personnel are to be given university education free of charge after they end their duty with the armed forces, it has been reported.

According to the News of the World, personnel who complete six years service in the Army, Royal Navy or RAF will qualify for the scheme.

The government will pay tuition fees to study for GCSEs, A-levels, university degrees or other qualifications.

The measure is thought to be in Thursday's Armed Forces Command Paper.

This document will deal with a whole range of welfare issues affecting soldiers, sailors and airmen.

Ian Kirby, assistant political editor for the News of the World, said the scheme was a method to help those who left the armed forces get back into civilian life, and could save people up to £9,000.

He BBC Radio Five Live: "My Ministry of Defence sources say this is a no-strings-attached deal. Basically, the bill for the tuition fees will go straight to the government."

Currently those serving in the armed forces can have tuition fees fully or partially paid for certain courses, but the incentives are based around retaining personnel. This new package can be taken even after they have left the service.

Mr Kirby also said if a service member who qualifies for the scheme is killed, then the credit for having free tuition will pass to their spouse.

A recent Ministry of Defence survey of 9,000 servicemen and women suggested that some 47% of Army and Royal Navy respondents and 44% of those in the RAF regularly felt like quitting.

Among the concerns raised by those surveyed were the frequency of tours, levels of pay and the quality of equipment and housing.

Our Boys: bombed and betrayed

It is in the nature of all failing organisations to go into denial, or to lie, about the mismanagement and poor decision-making that has brought them to their knees. This sort of thing is depressing enough when it happens in a commercial operation. When it happens to our Armed Forces - as is now the case - it is disastrousIt is, of course, demoralising for our Forces to be caught up in two apparently unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, those who join the Services do so with a view to the possibility of having to go into battle, and to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country and for the civilised values of our nation.

What they do not expect is to go into battle with inferior equipment that makes them sitting ducks for a vicious enemy. Nor do they expect the politicians who take the decisions that affect their deployment to lie to them about why they are in the front line, or to lie about the quality of the kit that they are expected to use when engaging the enemy.

This is the root of the betrayal of every soldier, sailor and airman in our Forces: and it is a betrayal not merely of the poor bloody infantry, or of cannon-fodder among the enlisted men and women, but of the most senior officers too.

Almost daily we hear of brave soldiers being blown up in Afghanistan because their Land Rovers are useless, or being killed or injured because their air transport falls out of the sky. If you talk to Labour loyalists about this - not that there are many of those left these days - you are fed the line that there used to be problems with kit, but these have been resolved
They jolly well haven't. But when anyone in authority seeks to argue the contrary they are summarily dealt with.

Look at the case of General Sir Richard Dannatt, an honourable man and Christian soldier in the most literal sense of the term. Distressed by the offhand treatment of soldiers for whom, as Chief of the General Staff, he is ultimately responsible, he has made his feelings known regularly since taking up that post.

This is the highest mark of honour for him, and the right thing to do on behalf of his subordinates: but it has, inevitably, simply attracted contempt from his political masters.

General Dannatt was a strong candidate to succeed Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup as Chief of the Defence Staff: but Sir Jock has, unusually, had his term of office extended until 2011, and it has been made clear to Sir Richard and the chiefs of the Navy and Royal Air Force that they need not entertain hopes of promotion.

That is, in particular, Sir Richard's reward for behaving like an officer and a gentleman in his relationship with a political class now dominated by quite the worst sort of NCO.

What will happen to our Armed Forces if this goes on is all too clear. Patriotic and brave young people simply won't want to join them. Those in the ranks will leave at an ever-higher rate, fed up with the contempt with which they are being treated.

Officers, depressed at the treatment they and those under them are getting, will simply choose a better-paid job in civilian life. If you doubt any of this, go to the internet and look at some of the blogs run by services insiders to see just how shamefully bad things are, not least in the MoD itself.

Then we will face a choice between a conscript Army or no Army at all. At last, Liam Fox, the Tory defence spokesman, yesterday spoke up for our Armed Forces, and said they would need to be better resourced. It was high time, for this is becoming not just a national disgrace, but a national catastrophe.



Major cock-up

A MAJOR heading the Army’s war on sex harassment has been suspended — for allegedly verbally abusing a lesbian sergeant.

John Wooldridge, 51, "relentlessly" harassed the 32-year-old NCO for almost two years over her sexual preferences, it is claimed.

The officer — in charge of ridding the service of sexual and racial prejudice — told her GAYS and LESBIANS should not be in the Army, she says.
One senior officer said last night: "It’s mind-boggling that the man in charge of rooting out sexual and racial prejudice in the Army should himself be accused of harassment."

Major Wooldridge served with the Royal Military Police for 20 years, most of it with the Special Investigation Branch.

He became a major in 1995 — five years before gays were legally allowed in the Armed Forces — and was involved in "several" inquiries into lesbians and homosexuals.

An RMP insider said: "He’s regarded as something of an expert in sexual crime.
"His reports resulted in a number of servicemen and women being sent for court martial or dismissed on sexual deviant grounds."

After retiring, he became the £50,000-a-year civilian head of the Equal Opportunities Inquiry Team (EOIT) based at Bulford in Wiltshire.

The lesbian staff sergeant claimed last February that he had been harassing her since May 2005.

Another source said: "She makes no secret of the fact she’s a lesbian, but that is perfectly legal in the Armed Forces nowadays.

"She’s not alleging Major Wooldridge in any way tried to thrust himself on her or physically interfere with her.

"Her allegations are basically that on numerous and relentless occasions he said that lesbians and gays should not be serving in the Army."

It is understood the staff sergeant is in a civil partnership with a female Army officer.

The Ministry of Defence said last night: "The civilian head of the EOIT has been suspended without prejudice pending an investigation into allegations made by a former investigator in the unit.

"Every MOD employee, civilian or military, has the right to live and work in an environment free from harassment.

"We expect the highest standards of behaviour from those in authority. At the same time, all our personnel have a right to a fair hearing."

Sex act’ Red Cap cleared

Corporal Nicola Robinson-Humphreys — nicknamed Red Baps — admitted her face touched his manhood, saying: “He is very well endowed.”

Sgt Major Alan Robinson, 35 — who is now her husband — said he exposed himself during a boozy party in Germany.

Nicola claimed she told him to put it away or she would bite it off.

He then pulled her face to his manhood.

She told the court martial: “He smothered my face with his groin and it touched my face at the side of my mouth. He is very well endowed.”

She denied performing a sex act.

The couple, of Catterick, North Yorks, were cleared of disgraceful conduct of an indecent kind.

Nicola, 26, was dubbed Red Baps after The Sun printed photos of her naked in the mess during another drunken party

Nine injured in 'friendly fire'

Nine British troops have been injured in a "friendly fire" incident in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence confirmed.

A British Apache helicopter opened fire on troops on patrol from 2 Para.

Six of the injured have returned to duty and two are stable and under observation in the field hospital at Camp Bastion.

One soldier is on the way back to the UK. Next of kin have been informed, the MoD said.

A drunken military policewoman performed a sex act on a Serg

sat in tears as graphic details were read out about her alleged behaviour in an army mess.

She is accused of disgraceful conduct of an indecent kind, along with Sgt Major Alan Robinson, the officer involved and who she has since married.

The court heard that they were in the Military Police Corporals' Mess in Sennelager, Germany, last May, where the beer is extremely cheap and people would get extremely drunk.

Lt Col Mark Dakers, prosecuting, said: "A lot of alcohol was being consumed and then cries went round 'Naked Bar' and Robinson exposed himself."

He claimed Cpl Robinson-Humphreys then performed a sex act on him, adding: "That is not an offence in the privacy of their own home, but to perform an act of that nature in any mess would be disgraceful conduct of an indecent kind."

Sgt Major Robinson, a member of the Royal Logistics Corps, who has served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Northern Ireland and several other campaigns, and his wife, who are currently serving in Catterick, North Yorks, pleaded not guilty when the charge was put to them.

Cpl Lee Davis, a former Military Policeman who has now transferred to a bomb disposal unit, gave the court martial in Colchester, Essex, a graphic account of what he saw while another Corporal, Phillip O'Grady, took a photograph on his mobile telephone of the couple.

He said: "I was drunk, but I could see them clearly at the bar. I heard someone say: 'He's got his trousers down' and when I looked I could see Sgt Major Robinson standing and I could see the top of Cpl Robinson-Humphreys' head moving backwards and forwards.

"It went on for five or six seconds and then she stood up."

He added: "Sgt Major Robinson had been drinking and he was drunk, but he was in control. Cpl Robinson-Humphreys seemed to be drunk."

Defending Sgt Major Robinson, Chris Hill suggested that Cpl Davis would not have been able to see what he claimed from the other side of the bar.

He said: “You could not possibly have seen his (Sgt Major Robinson) waist or his groin area considering the height of the bar.

”And if Corporal Humphreys had kneeled down on the floor behind the bar you would not have been able to see anything at all.”

The case, expected to last three days, continues

US Iraq war hero Joseph Dwyer dies of apparent drugs overdos

A US army medic who became a symbol of American heroism and integrity in the Iraq war has died of an apparent drugs overdoseThe premature death of Joseph Dwyer at the age of 31 has highlighted the neglect many American veterans believe they face once they return home.

He was made famous by a photograph, taken in March 2003 during the first week of the war, in which he is seen running to a makeshift hospital.

In his arms, the soldier was cradling an injured Iraqi boy who he had rescued from crossfire.

The arresting image, held up by the war's supporters as the human face of the invasion, was reproduced around the world and Specialist Dwyer was hailed as a hero.

However, he was always uncomfortable with the media attention, attempting to deflect its focus on to his entire unit. He had done no more than any of the other soldiers in his unit, he told reporters.

It emerged that Mr Dwyer's post-war civilian life was also no different to that of many fellow veterans.

For years, he struggled against post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug abuse, unemployment and marital breakdown.

On June 28, Mr Dwyer, 31, called a taxi to take him to a hospital near his home in Pinehurst, North Carolina, after earlier taking presciption pills and inhaling fumes from a computer cleaner aerosol.

When the driver arrived, Mr Dwyer said he was too weak to open the door. Police had to kick it down and found he had collapsed. Within minutes, he had died.

Police in several states had been dealing with Mr Dwyer for several years as he suffered from violent delusions that he was being hunted by Iraqi soldiers.

He was in and out of psychiatric care, once being committed after he started firing at imagined attackers inside his home, leading to a three-hour police siege. He had also crashed his car several times after swerving to avoid imagined roadside bombs.

Mr Dwyer's family said he had also been struggling with depression and sleeplessness, symptoms associated with PTSD. He would spend nights hiding in a wardrobe clutching a knife, and started inhaling from aerosols to help him sleep.

His mother said the army could have done more to help him.

"He loved the picture, don't get me wrong. He just couldn't get over the war," said Maureen Dwyer.

"He just wasn't Joseph. Joseph never came home. Talking to him, he knew he was going to die."

His wife, Matina, said: "He was just never the same when he came back, because of all the things he saw.

"He tried to seek treatment, but it didn't work."

She said she hoped that her husband's death would bring more attention to PTSD issues.

A recent report by the RAND corporation, a US think tank, criticised as inadequate the treatment of the one in five American troops who exhibit symptoms of PTSD or depression following service in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Mr Dwyer, a New Yorker who enlisted after the September 11 terrorist attacks, got married just before leaving for Iraq. His unit, a squadron of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, was in the vanguard of the initial US thrust and involved in fighting almost every day for the first three weeks.

On the day before his famous photograph was taken, Mr Dwyer's Humvee vehicle had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade - an event which his family said sparked his depression.

After seeing the village of Al Faysaliyah caught in the fighting, he grabbed a four-year-old boy from his father and rushed him to safety.

When he returned home after three months, he was exhibiting the symptoms associated with PTSD.

In restaurants, he would always sit with his back to the wall and he avoided crowds. At home, he would pile his furniture up against the walls, too.

As his marriage fell apart, he stayed away from friends, abused inhalants and got into frequent trouble with the police.

In 2005, he and his family gave an interview to try to help other veterans struggling with PTSD.

"I know I don't need to be carrying a weapon. And I'm scared of going home without having one, even though I know probably nobody's going to attack me," he said.

Low pay leads to poverty in British Army

A report on the state of the British Army released this month revealed considerable resentment amongst ordinary soldiers over low pay, leading many into financial difficulties, under-nourishment and the quitting of the armed forces altogether.

The findings are contained in a briefing team report prepared for the head of the British Army, Chief of the General Staff Richard Dannatt, and are based on months of interviews with thousands of soldiers and their families between July 2007 and January 2008.

Much of the report is concerned with manning levels in the armed forces in light of the increased military engagement, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. But new light is also thrown on the levels of poverty suffered by many frontline soldiers.

In a section entitled Pace of Life, the report says:

“It is viewed that the ‘pace of life’ has been compounded by undermanning, the amount of change being implemented and the lack of support and expertise to deliver that change. COs [Commanding Officers] are concerned at the impact this is having on the moral component.”

The report goes on to say that undermanning is “having a serious impact on the retention in infantry battalions.”

Almost half of all troops are unable to take their entitled annual leave as they are forced to cover gaps.

The brief section on pay then reveals:

“More and more single income soldiers in the UK are now close to the UK Gov’t definition of poverty. Thus many married junior soldiers feel that they are being forced to leave because they cannot afford to raise a family on current pay.”

The study also states:

“A number of soldiers were not eating properly because they had run out of money by the end of the month.”

Army COs now enforce “hungry soldier schemes,” whereby destitute soldiers are loaned money in order to enable them to eat sufficiently.

A scheme known as Pay as You Dine (PAYD) requires soldiers not on active duty to pay for their meals. COs have reported being inundated with angry complaints from soldiers due to the quality of the food and the large amount of paperwork involved. Such schemes are a break from the past when the army provided, as a bare minimum, a staple of three square meals a day, free of charge to all serving soldiers.

According to the Independent newspaper, “Now hard-up soldiers have to fill out a form which entitles them to a voucher. The cost is deducted from their future wages, adding to the problems of soldiers on low pay.”

The report contains warnings from senior officers that “there is a duty of care issue” involved. Also the “core meal” on offer “is often not the healthy option.”

Despite the obvious alarm among senior ranks, General Dannatt has made clear that he intends to persist with the current food schemes. He said recently, “I am determined that PAYD must be made to work to both the financial and physical well-being of those who are fed.”

Along with millions of workers, rising costs have made buying a home impossible for many serving soldiers. “The ability to purchase a property was a major area of concern across all ranks. Discussion included an increase in... Buy to Let legislation and the cost of moving from one private home to another private home near their new appointment.”

Also cited as growing concerns amongst soldiers and their families were children’s school fees and the lack of medical support for families, especially dentists.

Previous studies show that, due to their hours of service, UK soldiers are actually paid well below the national minimum wage. Most serving soldiers earn only £16,000 a year, with a “new entrant rate of pay” of just £13,012.

According to the Armed Forces Pay Review Board, a 2007-08 pay increase of 2.6 percent has to be measured against an estimated net increase in charges of 3.9 percent.

The report also touched on the increasing resentment felt amongst the ranks towards the governments’ cap on the amount of compensation received by the families of wounded soldiers, as well as the growing incidents of “accidental deaths.”

Dannatt said, “I am concerned at the comments from the chain of command, some elements of which clearly believe that they will lose influence over their soldiers and that this will impact on unit cohesion.”

Douglas Young of the British Armed Forces Federation was one of a number of military figures who utilised the report to demand an increase in funding for the Army, in line with the demands of fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

He told the Independent, “People are leaving the armed forces for financial reasons. There’s no question about it.”

Patrick Mercer, a Conservative MP and former army colonel said, “I’ve been talking to some very senior officers recently, all of whom privately have said to me that the Army is running on empty; the money has run out. The manpower situation is in crisis, and the so-called Military Covenant is abused at every turn. The thing that really worries them is that the MoD [Military of Defence] seems to be in denial about it.”

Colonel Bob Stewart, a former commander of British forces in Bosnia, said that the British Army was “woefully imbalanced, badly equipped, particularly for training, and quite honestly I’m afraid to say it is losing its edge as a top-rate army in the world because it cannot maintain it.”

Major Gen Patrick Cordingley, who led the “Desert Rats” into Iraq during the first Gulf War in 1991, said, “I would be very concerned about the strain on the armed forces remaining at this level of deployment in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It cannot be sustained for longer than perhaps another two years.”

Colonel Clive Fairweather, former deputy commander of the elite SAS, commented, “I really do think the Army is heading for the rocks and I don’t say this lightly.”

There has been a concerted campaign, sanctioned by the government, orchestrated by the military, and aided by the press and the monarchy to “rehabilitate” the British Army which is now associated with the brutal video and photographic images of detainee abuse in Iraq.

The government is, for example, proposing a new law making it a criminal offence to “discriminate” against anyone wearing a military uniform in public. The hostility toward soldiers from members of the public, which the law is supposedly directed against, was largely concocted by the media and the government by amplifying a few isolated cases.

It is one of 40 proposals contained in a report, “National Recognition of Our Armed Forces,” ordered by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and drawn up by Quentin Davies, the former Tory MP who switched to Labour last year. Davies has called for a “new era of greater openness and public involvement of the [armed] services.”

A new Armed Forces and veteran day is under consideration as a public holiday, as well as more media-friendly parades for regiments returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, secondary schools are being strongly urged to set up cadet forces. At present only 260 grammar and independently maintained schools have them.

The current report into the actual conditions faced by soldiers in the British Army goes some way to unmasking this grotesque propaganda campaign, whereby princes and aristocrats born into privilege and plenty parade at the head of an ill-fed, poverty-waged army prosecuting wars of imperialist aggression

Half of all British servicemen say they want to quit

Bearing brunt of two wars is hurting family lifeBritain’s ability to sustain campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan was called into question last night as it emerged that almost half of all military personnel are ready to quit. Patrick Mercer, Conservative MP for Newark and a former commanding officer, said that the findings reflected the duress under which military personnel were operating. “I think the tempo of operations has produced such a level of stress on the families that it is no wonder so many are thinking of leaving,” he said.

The report highlights the pressures on the Armed Forces of enduring two medium-scale military campaigns simultaneously. Returning for second and third tours, particularly in Afghanistan where the Taleban are in resurgent mood, has had a significant impact on families.

The same sense of overstretch is reflected across all three Forces, and 45 per cent of those questioned admitted they were not happy with the level of separation from family and friends.

Asked whether they regularly considered leaving, 47 per cent of soldiers and officers in the Army said that they did. The same percentage of Royal Navy personnel agreed, along with 37 per cent in the Royal Marines and 44 per cent in the RAF. The Regular Army is already 5,000 soldiers short and experienced young officers are leaving at an increasing rate.

The survey was carried out between July and October last year, a time when 20 Service personnel were killed in Afghanistan and 15 in Iraq.

Casualty figures in Afghanistan have remained high. A total of 110 have died since November 2001, including 24 so far this year, most by roadside bombs and mines. In Iraq the death toll is 176, with two killed this year. The British, Americans and Canadians have borne the brunt of casualties in Afghanistan.

Dissatisfaction with equipment and resources was also a common theme, reflecting the criticisms voiced by coroners. Andrew Walker, the assistant deputy coroner for Oxfordshire, has attacked the MoD numerous times during soldiers’ inquests for failing to provide enough of the right equipment to protect the troops.

The research revealed contrasts in morale. Individual personnel appeared to enjoy high morale, but the perception of morale as a whole in their particular Service was poor.

In the Army, 59 per cent of those questioned rated the level of morale as “low” or “very low”. In the Royal Navy it was 64 per cent and the Royal Marines 38 per cent. The worst perception of morale was in the RAF, where 72 per cent of those asked thought that morale was low.

Vice-Admiral Peter Wilkinson, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (personnel), said that 15,000 military personnel were committed to operational theatres in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans in mid-2007, with a further 15,000 deployed on other military tasks around the world and in Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships.

He said that pay and disturbance money — known as the X factor — had risen and living accommodation had improved and that it was in this context that the tri-Service attitude survey had been carried out.

However, personnel appeared not to be satisfied with the improvements. Asked if they were satisfied with the 13 per cent increase in the X factor as a way of compensating for working conditions, 64 per cent of the Army said “no”. The figures were higher in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and RAF.

Asked whether the frequency of tours had an impact on whether to leave the Services, 47 per cent of the Army said that it made no difference; 38 per cent said it increased their intentions to leave. The figures were roughly similar for the other Services.

The MoD said that the research had revealed “areas of concern”. It said that a number of measures had been introduced, including tax-free operational allowances for those serving six-month tours and pointed out that about two thirds of the personnel surveyed thought that the current frequency of operational tours was “about right or not enough”.

The first survey to assess attitudes across the Armed Forces reveals unprecedented levels of concern over equipment, morale and pay.

The research was conducted by the Ministry of Defence and involved more than 24,000 military personnel.

It found that the sense of overcommitment means that 47 per cent of soldiers and army officers think regularly of handing in their resignations.

The MOD - Unfit For Purpose

I am often asked why the MOD makes so many strange decisions and seems to care so little about the welfare of its personnel. People are surprised to read about expensive computer systems that fail to pay service members their proper salaries — or pay them late. Some are shocked by the apparent dumping of severely wounded personnel from Afghanistan and Iraq into civilian hospital wards, remote from their regiments and families, or the massive contracts for systems that are delivered late and don’t work properly, or the strange failure to publicise genuine successes and minor victories achieved “against the odds” in Afghanistan and Iraq.None of these scandals — or many others less well known — would surprise anyone who knows the MOD and what it has become.

Most people still believe that the MOD is essentially a military organisation. It is not. It is an organisation dominated numerically, culturally and structurally by civil servants and consultants, many of whom are unsympathetic to its underlying purpose or even hostile to the military and its ethos. You just have to spend a few days at the MOD before you realise that the culture there is not just non-military, but anti-military.

That is one reason why so few of us (except for the chiefs of staff) regularly wear our uniforms to the office. Officers who desire a career in politics or the Civil Service try to seem as civilian as possible, and soon start speaking in the consultants’ jargon favoured by the “fast-track” Civil Service. (It is telling that senior officers have generally failed to champion the wearing of uniforms in public by members of the armed forces.)

I once attended a meeting of MOD civil servants about “outsourcing” parts of the military. I was out of uniform. My colleagues were keen on outsourcing as much as possible; I argued that stripping out logistics and other capacity from the armed forces is dangerous — it means no longer having cooks and technicians who can be handed a weapon and told to fight. I asked the people around the table, “Who actually loves the military in all this?” There was an awkward silence. So I repeated the question in different form: “Who is putting the military requirement first?” One of the civil servants, a woman on the “fast track”, actually giggled. I reiterated that this was a serious question and noted that I was the only service person present. There was then great embarrassment as no one in the room had realised beforehand that I was a serving military officer. I probably wouldn’t have been invited if they had known.

The contrast with the US Department of Defense could not be greater. The Pentagon is a first-rate military organisation (at least in terms of status) where the MOD is not. At the Pentagon, every military person is expected to be in uniform; and it’s the civilians who feel and recognise that they are the supporting cast. Military officers are frequently loaned to other ministries such as the State Department and they continue to wear their uniforms there. The reverse is true in the UK where the Civil Service and its “unions” not only resist the wearing of uniforms but also any systematic secondments (as opposed to hand-picked placements) from the military.

The MOD has slipped from being one of the top five ministries to one of second or even third rank. Moreover, even if our top generals wanted to oppose some aspect of defence policy, they would find the MOD’s structure is now rigged so that civil servants increasingly come between them and the government.

Back in the late 1980s things were very different. It was only two decades since the Admiralty, Air Ministry and Ministry of War had been folded into a combined HQ. In those days there was broadly a one-to-four ratio of civilian to military personnel. On any project you would have one member of each service, plus a “scientific civilian”.

After that two doctrines came into play — “jointness” and “equivalency”. Together they drove out specialised military professionalism and brought in a new managerial, non-specialist cadre of civil servants. The result was that MOD projects needed only one member of the armed forces. A pre-existing and efficient culture of interaction and debate and testing of ideas was driven out.

Now the ratio of civilians to service-members is closer to six to one — not including the ever-growing numbers of consultants and Spads (special advisers) or the parallel government structures in the cabinet office and the PM’s policy unit which may be driving the ratio towards 12 to one. Essentially the military has lost command of its own HQ.

Worse still, the civil servants who now dominate the MOD are a different breed from those who staffed it in the 1980s. In those days there were still many civil servants who had served in the Second World War or Korea, or who had at least done national service. They respected and understood the armed services; they believed an effective military was important and had usually learnt essential skills of leadership and management. They were loyal to the Queen (then the head of the Civil Service), to the Civil Service itself and to its code, and to the service arm they were working for. They have all gone.

Their successors tend to see the services as a tiresome anachronism, peopled by unsympathetic, old-fashioned social types. For many of them the MOD, with its part-time minister, is merely a stepping stone to greater things. From the perspective of such bureaucrats, the main point of the organisation, apart from furthering individual career paths, has less to do with the defence of the realm than with policy goals such as Europ­ean integration, the implementation of UN mandates and the expansion (and therefore dilution) of Nato.

Cost-cutting at the MOD comes at the expense of the uniformed services. That is partly because military officials are more expensive: the civilian equivalent of a colonel is paid less. But it is mostly because military people get in the way and ask awkward questions.

At the MOD, while there’s endless talk of “throughput” and other jargon, there is surprisingly little technical knowledge. There used to be a strong cadre of science civil servants but they went too, after the Defence Research Agency was sold off to Qinetiq, leaving behind a managerial rump known as DSTL (Defence Science and Technology Labor­atory) — soon probably also for the chop. Qinetiq, through a process of asset-stripping, has gone on to sell what were the crown jewels of British science. Our famous wind tunnels, and also the “Dark Hangar”, where some of the most important SAS techniques and weaponry were developed, have all been demolished. And where have the public millions gone? Often to the private pockets of the public servants who led on privatisation. It is a national disgrace.

The real point of most MOD contracts is industrial strategy. We buy planes or vehicles or systems not because they are the best we can afford for the task in hand but because they mean jobs in some part of the country. Or because they further European integration. This is why we buy helicopters like the Merlin that cost more than three times the price of the US Blackhawk. As a result we don’t have decent airlift capacity in Afghanistan, and our infantry in Basra were the first British troops to go into battle without dedicated “on-call” air cover since the First World War.

Though all the services suffer under the MOD regime, relations between the forces are worse than ever. The Army is angriest because it is bearing the brunt of actual operations. It used to complain about the RAF. Now that so much money is being spent on maritime projects unlikely to see action, it increasingly resents the Royal Navy. This is only deepened by the arrogance and incompetence of the Navy itself, as exemplified by the Shatt-al-Arab incident last year.

Because the services haven’t had the budget increases they need to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military is running out of everything. We’re running out of trucks, for instance. And when things break they aren’t being replaced. Increasingly one gets the impression that the civil servants don’t care if the forces are broken — their careers will not be affected. But it may also be that some civil servants and a body of politicians, from both Left and Right, would actually be happy for the military to be broken in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then they will have truly achieved the Europeanisation of Britain’s armed forces along the lines of a purely defensive “UK Defence Force”. War will somehow have been abolished — until, of course, it returns at a time of our enemies’ choosing.

The author is a military officer who has worked for several years at the MOD.

Army must wait for bombproof vehicles

British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan will have to wait another year before desperately needed vehicles capable of withstanding bomb blasts are ready.

The revelation comes less than a month after four soldiers died when their "Snatch" Land Rover was destroyed by a roadside bomb. Among the fatalities was Corporal Sarah Bryant, the first British female soldier to die in Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Defence, already under fire for failing to provide troops with adequate equipment, was yesterday condemned by families and top military brass over the latest delay in replacing the soft-skinned Land Rovers.

Around one in six of the troops who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan – 46 – have been in poorly protected vehicles.

Yet the need for a manoeuvrable vehicle that can withstand mines was identified in 1998. Since then the MoD has spent £380m on research before settling in 2004 on the so-called Future Rapid Effects System of 3,000 new vehicles. These, however, are unlikely to see service before 2017,.

Meanwhile, the Government is spending £120m on the short-term solution of Mastiff and Bulldog vehicles – described by the Prime Minister as offering "the best-known protection" against explosive devices.

There are 36 Mastiffs in Afghanistan. These can cater for only 288 soldiers at a time – just 3.6 per cent of the 8,000 British forces there. In Iraq, there are 49 Mastiffs for 4,000 troops.

Patrick Mercer MP, a former army commander in Bosnia, said: "The Snatch Land Rover is a wholly inadequate vehicle. The first fatality by enemy action in Afghanistan [in January 2003] was against an unarmoured Land Rover. It is disgraceful death traps like these are still being used."

Major General Julian Thompson, a commander during the Falklands conflict, added: "When I was in Northern Ireland we were not allowed to use Snatch in South Armagh because they were so vulnerable. So why are they being used in Iraq?"

The MoD recently announced that it has ordered 174 extra Mastiffs and 150 Ridgbacks – also designed to withstand roadside bombs. But these will not be ready until next year.

Last year the MoD pledged that all Snatch Land Rovers would be removed from Afghanistan before the end of 2007.

Colin Redpath lost his son Kirk, a lance corporal, in Iraq last August. He is now joining legal action by other families of troops killed in Snatch Land Rovers against the MoD.

"At the inquest the officers said they had asked for better-protected vehicles, but were told there weren't any," Mr Redpath said.

An MoD spokesman said: "Through investment in Mastiff and Ridgback we are already reducing the number of roles in which we use the Snatch Land Rover."

MoD vows to crack down on sexism

Women soldiers endure a 'canteen culture' of lewd behaviour ranging from humiliating comments about their sex lives to being sent pornography, according to research set to trigger a controversial crackdown on sexism in the forces.

Between 2005 and 2007, servicewomen reported a rise in six out of nine types of inappropriate sexual behaviour, ranging from comments about their sex lives to obscene gestures. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed were sent explicit material such as pornography, according to the previously unpublished survey for the MoD. Other incidents included peepholes being cut in the walls of women's showers and a servicewoman being told by a senior officer that 'I should sleep with him because he is a higher rank'.

Another was humiliated at an official function in the officers' mess, when a card was sent to the top table suggesting she was 'available for sexual favours'.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has been studying the treatment of servicewomen and will tomorrow launch a joint venture with the MoD to tackle so-called 'canteen culture' and change attitudes.

However, the move is controversial: some senior officers argue privately that operational effectiveness could be jeopardised by imposing civilian attitudes on army life and that traditions such as soldiers decorating their lockers with pornographic pin-ups should be left alone.

Liam Fox, the shadow Defence Secretary, said that while the armed forces should meet their duty of care to all troops, they should not apply 'a degree of political correctness which might be excessive' to the military. 'The armed forces are different. They may be asked to put their lives on the line for the rest of us and this is not like working in an office,' he said. 'None the less, with a more mixed-sex environment, clearly patterns of behaviour need to adapt.'

The EHRC is expected to give its verdict on the armed forces this week, three years after the Ministry of Defence agreed to co-operate with the commission's predecessor on improving treatment of servicewomen. It is expected to say that good progress has been made and that harassment is now taken seriously at the top, but that the MoD will commit to further efforts to change attitudes among servicemen.

A spokesman for the MoD said it aimed for 'an environment where all personnel were treated with dignity and respect, where any inappropriate behaviour is challenged ... and where people feel comfortable raising a complaint.' Harassment of any kind was 'completely unacceptable' in the modern armed forces, he added.

Ministers will cite the decision to let serving gay officers join the Pride march this weekend in full uniform as evidence that times are changing. However, Trevor Phillips, the head of the EHRC, is expected to say that while he believes the issue is being treated seriously at the top, the survey of more than 2,500 servicewomen shows attitudes in the ranks may be very different.

One in five servicemen still did not think that telling a junior woman she would get a promotion if she slept with them was harassment; asked why they thought harassment cases happened, 46 per cent of the men said it was because women 'over-reacted'.

But the report concluded that servicewomen were 'fairly resilient', arguably more so than civilian women.

One former senior army instructor said there was a danger of MoD directives being too zealously interpreted down the ranks: 'In my day, soldiers were allowed - were positively expected - to have pin-ups inside their lockers.'

The survey also found that, despite a major programme to encourage the reporting of sexual harassment, the majority of victims still did not make formal complaints, with many fearing it would damage their careers. However, 51 per cent of servicewomen thought their service was trying to prevent harassment, up from 45 per cent in 2005, while the number reporting 'particularly upsetting' incidents went down from 17 per cent in 2005 to 11 per cent in 2007.

The MoD said the survey showed 'some encouraging results and some areas failing to show progress', adding that efforts to promote awareness may have encouraged women to be honest about what had happened to them

Iraqi torture victims slam UK 'contempt'

raqi civilians who were tortured by British soldiers say the government is treating them with 'contempt' ahead of a potential multi-million-pound payout for the abuse they suffered.

The eight Iraqis arrived in London yesterday for this week's long-awaited mediation into how much compensation the government is willing to pay to civilians who were tortured while held in British custody. The eight accused the Ministry of Defence last night of trying to block them from attending the high-profile meeting.

The Iraqis will meet MoD lawyers on Wednesday inside the Treasury for negotiations presided over by the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, to determine a settlement which will include compensation for the death of Baha Musa.

The 26-year-old receptionist had suffered 93 identifiable injuries at the hands of British soldiers in Basra in September 2003. He had died after being subjected to 36 hours of beatings and abusive treatment, including being double-hooded with hessian sacks in stifling conditions.

Musa's father, Dawood, a colonel in the Iraqi police force who had struggled for weeks to get a UK entry visa, was among the group that arrived in London yesterday. He said that the behaviour of the government in the five years since his son was killed had convinced him that the MoD viewed Iraqi lives as 'cheap'.

Maithem al-Waz, who had been abused alongside Musa, accused the government yesterday of not helping the group to obtain UK visas to attend the high-profile hearing. 'It took so long, from May until today, to get the visa,' Waz said. 'Although the MoD agreed to the mediation they gave no co-operation - we have struggled for two months to get our visas. I feel that they don't want to co-operate. We are so disappointed by the way they have acted.'

He also voiced serious concerns over the treatment of himself and other witnesses at the 2006 court martial of seven soldiers charged with the killing of Musa. 'At the court martial they put us in military camps, it felt as if we were in detention, they treated us very badly, the military shouted at us if we were just two minutes late. They wouldn't allow us to leave the camp and said they would put us in prison if we left,' he said. 'At the court martial itself, we didn't feel free to talk; we weren't given enough time or freedom to express what we wanted to say. When they asked us questions at the court martial - [they] were so vague and unclear we didn't always understand . If we get the same treatment at the mediation as we did at the court martial we will be very disappointed.' Despite admitting liability over Musa's death and the abuse of other detainees, the MoD is understood to have not accepted the psychological assessments detailing the trauma of those abused. It is also contesting elements of the beatings and hoodings British troops inflicted. Leigh Day, the law firm acting for the Iraqis, said the claimants were seeking 'exemplary and aggravated damages' from the MoD.

Following the court martial, only Corporal Donald Payne, of The Queen's Lancashire Regiment (now renamed Duke of Lancaster's Regiment), was convicted of inhumane treatment of a prisoner. However, The Observer has learnt that Payne has now been released from prison and is living with his family in the north of England after setting up his own business. Legal sources said he is furious with his treatment by the army and feels he was made a 'scapegoat'.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, the chief of the general staff, recently announced a public inquiry into the death of Musa. Dannatt said that it was still possible that some soldiers or officers might face disciplinary punishment if their conduct proved below the required standard. After a three-year investigation into the incident the MoD admitted last April that the Iraqis were ill-treated.

An MoD spokesman said they would not comment until the mediation had been concluded, most likely on Thursday.

Gurkhas lose pension court battle

Three ex-Gurkha soldiers have lost a High Court challenge to the British government over a pensions deal.

Kumar Shrestha, Kamal Purja and Sambahadur Gurung said they had been treated unlawfully and unfairly.

They said years of service for Gurkhas who signed up before July 2007 but retired after that date were valued at between 24% and 36% of British rates.

But Mr Justice Ouseley ruled that the Ministry of Defence's pension valuation had been "justified and proportionate".

Dozens of names left off official list of British soldiers k

Ministers were last night accused of 'incompetence and insensitivity' after it was revealed that a list of war dead compiled for MPs and Her Majesty's coroner had missed out dozens of dead British soldiers.

Professor Sheila Bird, who discovered the 'forgotten soldiers' during a detailed study of the military inquest system for the Medical Research Council, said the government appeared to have lost track of the actual date of death of the fatally injured soldiers.

Families of troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq last night reacted with outrage amid calls for an inquiry into the 'disappeared' dead soldiers.

Corroborative analysis by Tory MP Patrick Mercer of ministerial statements concerning the death toll suggest that as many as 33 dead British soldiers literally vanished from the list of fatalities awaiting inquests given to parliament by defence and justice ministers.

Maureen Shearer, who waited more than 550 days for an inquest verdict into her son Richard's death in Iraq from a roadside bomb, said: 'From the MoD's point of view there might be a lot of soldiers who have died, but for anyone to just go missing is ridiculous. It's bad enough to feel that your son died for no good reason, but to feel they were not even cared about to the extent they disappeared is dreadful. I cannot imagine how it must be for parents whose sons literally disappeared in every sense.'

Rose Gentle, who had to wait more than 1,150 days for a coroner's verdict into the death of her teenage son Gordon, also killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, described the news as 'disgraceful' and 'insensitive'.

Sheila Bird, a vice-president of the Royal Statistical Society and scientist with the Medical Research Council, conducted the study to analyse the length of delays of military inquests. However, she discovered that the list compiled by ministers to inform parliament of the numbers of Britain's war dead awaiting inquests was 'incomplete'.

She said that ministers may have lost track of personnel because of the sheer length of military inquest waiting times, or when a board of inquiry into a fatality had been convened, therefore postponing the inquest date. 'There are a variety of reasons, but it might be that ministers had not appreciated the extent of inquest waiting times and that could partly explain why these casualties went missing. But it is particularly important that when we are talking about service personnel who have given their lives for their country we get it right', said Bird, whose previous study, published in the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute, caused embarrassment for defence officials by revealing that the army was dismissing the equivalent of almost a battalion of soldiers every year for taking drugs.

Details of her latest research for the Medical Research Council's statistical unit arrive in the wake of a grim week for the British army during which the death toll in Afghanistan reached 102 with five paratroopers killed. The latest two casualties, Lance Corporal James Bateman, 29, and Private Sean Doherty, 20, were shot dead last Thursday while patrolling in Helmand province. In Iraq a further 176 UK troops have died since the start of operations in 2003.

Bird's study was launched last autumn when she contacted the Oxford coroner, the closest to RAF Brize Norton, where the bodies of British soldiers are repatriated, to obtain details of inquests concerning casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her report states: 'It quickly became apparent that the list of deaths which the Oxford coroner's office was working with was incomplete - not all military fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan featured on it. The time to sort this out was liable to be an undue burden on the coroner's office. Moreover, lists being tabled by ministers were likewise incomplete'. She said no blame could be attached to the Oxford coroner; instead questions of 'competence' should be directed towards those who collated figures for the government at the time.

Mercer, a former army officer who has campaigned to help speed up delays concerning military inquests, said that problems may have arisen because the conflict in Iraq was the first time a British government had been responsible for granting inquests to large numbers of war dead. 'It appears to have been difficult for the government keeping day-to-day track of the numbers who have died,' he said. 'But they have a dead body, name and regiment, they know where they were killed and where the death certificate was issued. But it must be said that things have improved considerably.'

A spokesman for the MoD said that problems associated with the military inquests system had now been resolved following extra funding to coroners and the introduction of a dedicated inquest unit. 'Together these have significantly reduced the time between death and inquest. Ministers attach significant importance to reducing the time taken for inquests to be heard. While efforts are made to reduce unnecessary delays, elements such as the comprehensive police investigation and the date set by the coroner are beyond the control of the MoD.' He said that, of the 278 deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, 199 inquests were now complete, with 52 in 2008 alone. By contrast, Bird's analysis of 90 military casualties between March 2003 and May 2005 found that almost half of the families involved had to wait more than 1,000 days for an inquest verdict

Military closure plans outlined

Plans to shut down 46 British military bases have been released by the Ministry of Defence.

The Defence Estate Development Plan sets out the disposal of sites previously earmarked as "surplus to defence requirements".

Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth said he wanted to see fewer but larger sites - on the scale of Catterick, Aldershot and Plymouth - in the UK and overseas.

But he told MPs that the future of many other bases was "not fully assured".

'Clear indication'

The programme sets out the UK armed forces' needs to 2030.

Sites which have already been highlighted for closure include St John's Wood Barracks in London, Rhine Garrison in Germany and RAF Uxbridge.

The plan outlines the MoD's intention to concentrate resources within bigger "defence communities" instead of smaller sites.

Mr Ainsworth added that this approach "will deliver an estate that supports flexible, balanced forces optimised for expeditionary operations, enabling the efficient and effective generation, deployment, sustainment and recovery of military capability."

The Chief Executive of Defence Estates, Vice Admiral Tim Laurence, said the plan would help give military families greater security.

He added: "It gives a clear indication of our intent to manage the estate in a structured and co-ordinated way.

"We aim to use the resources available to achieve the very best that we can for those who live and work within it."

Defence spending row as chiefs spend £730 million on taxis,

The row over defence spending on vehicles for troops on the frontline has been reignited after it was disclosed the MoD spent £730 million on meals, hotels and taxis for civil servants in a 12-month period.
It is more than twice as much as was spent on vehicles for servicemen and women in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The figures emerged two weeks after Cpl Sarah Bryant and three members of the SAS were killed when their lightly protected Snatch Land Rover was destroyed by a landmine in Afghanistan.

The Snatch Land Rover was brought into service in the 1970s for those serving in Northern Ireland but critics say the vehicles do not offer enough protection for troops in Afghanistan and should be replaced.

Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon, 19, died when his Snatch Land Rover was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004, said: "It's a national disgrace that soldiers are forced to patrol in these totally inadequate vehicles - but clearly giving a soldier the right equipment is less important than officials' comfort."

Expenses for civil servants included first class train seats, business class flights and wine with meals.

The latest available figures were for 2005/6 and showed expenditure of £730 million on "hotels, restaurants and transportation" with £330 million spent on "motor vehicles and parts".

The MoD is now hurrying through delivery of better protected vehicles and in the next 12 months 150 heavily armoured, 19.5-ton Ridgbacks will be in use.

But there are still about 100 Snatches in Afghanistan and the vehicle has been described by its critics as a "death trap".

Oxfordshire coroner Andrew Walker, who has handled most military inquests, has called the lack of investment in protecting British troops a "breach of trust".

Families of those who have died in Snatches are now lining up to sue the MoD under human rights laws.

Papers in the case of Pte Phillip Hewett, 21, who died near Basra in July 2005, will be served within weeks.

In recent days defence chiefs have ordered an emergency review of the Snatch which could lead to it being removed from service.

More than 30 soldiers have been killed while patrolling in the vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.

Brig Mark Carleton-Smith, the commander of British forces in Helmand, said: "It's not a vehicle of last resort but it's clearly not a vehicle of first choice

Snatch Land Rover to be scrapped by the British Army

Defence chiefs have ordered an emergency review of the Army's controversial "Snatch" Land Rover after the deaths of four soldiers in Afghanistan, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.
Commanders have been told to establish whether the vehicle, which was designed for operations in Northern Ireland almost 20 years ago, is critical to the Afghan mission.

The move means the Snatch is expected to be removed from service in the near future and to be replaced by another vehicle better equipped to cope with the threat of landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

More than 30 soldiers have been killed while patrolling in Snatches in both Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. While the vehicle offers passengers protection from gunfire and small mines, it is highly vulnerable to powerful IEDs
The review has been launched after the deaths of Cpl Sarah Bryant, the first female soldier to die in Helmand, and three members of the SAS, who were killed when their Snatch was destroyed by a landmine two weeks ago.

Details of the review were disclosed following the death of another British soldier in southern Afghanistan. The soldier, from 13 Air Assault Regiment Royal Logistic Corps, was killed when a vehicle, believed to be an open-top Wmik Land Rover, rolled over during a patrol in central Helmand on Friday. Two other soldiers were injured.

The pressure on the military to scrap the Snatch Land Rover was further raised by Patrick Mercer, the Tory MP and former infantry commander, who described the vehicle as a “death trap”, during a debate in the House of Commons.

The review of the Snatch’s role was ordered by Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, at a meeting of senior Army officers in London last Wednesday. Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff, Lt Gen Andrew Figgures, the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (equipment capability), and Lt Gen Nick Houghton, the Chief of Joint Operations, all agreed that the vehicle’s suitability should be reassessed.

Commanders in Afghanistan will be asked if there is a requirement for a light patrol vehicle and, if so, whether the Snatch is of the standard required. If not, the military will search for something more suitable, which could take several months. The Army has about 100 Snatches in Afghanistan and they are preferred in the more benign areas of Helmand province because they appear less aggressive than heavier troop carriers.

Brig Mark Carleton-Smith, the commander of British forces in Helmand, told The Sunday Telegraph that Snatch Land Rovers were not safe for use in high-risk areas. Asked if he would rather not have to use the Snatch Land Rover in Helmand, the brigadier said: “It’s not a vehicle of last resort but it’s clearly not a vehicle of first choice.”

The brigadier also said that the mine which destroyed the Snatch and killed four of his soldiers had contained more than 220lb of explosives and would have defeated the armour of any but the heaviest vehicle.

In the next 12 months, about 150 heavily armoured, 19.5-ton Ridgebacks will also join the fleet. But they are much less mobile than the 3.6-ton Snatch.

A spokesman for the MoD said: “Through investment in Mastiff and Ridgeback we are already reducing the number of patrolling roles in which we use the Snatch.”

British soldier killed in Afghanistan as concerns over Snatc

A British soldier has been killed in Afghanistan, the twelfth to die this month, as the Army considers replacing controversial 'Snatch' Land Rovers with better protected vehicles.
The soldier, a member of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, died when an improvised bomb exploded in the troubled southern Afghan province of Helmand yesterday.

The soldier, who was working for NATO, died while on a security patrol with an Afghan National Army unit in Lashkar Gah, the capital of the troubled province.

The announcement of Britain's 110th troop death in the country came as defence chiefs ordered a review of the Land Rovers used on many patrols amid renewed concerns they are unsafe
Commanders have been told to establish whether the vehicles, which were designed for operations in Northern Ireland almost 20 years ago, are critical to the Afghan mission.

The move means the Snatch is expected to be removed from service in the near future and to be replaced by another vehicle better equipped to cope with the threat of landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

More than 30 soldiers have been killed while patrolling in Snatches in both Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.

On Friday, a soldier from 13 Air Assault Regiment Royal Logistic Corps was killed when a vehicle, believed to be an open-top Wmik Land Rover, rolled over during a patrol in central Helmand. Two other soldiers were injured.

While the Snatch vehicle offers passengers protection from gunfire and small mines, it is highly vulnerable to powerful IEDs.

The review has been launched after the deaths of Cpl Sarah Bryant, the first female soldier to die in Helmand, and three members of the SAS, who were killed when their Snatch was destroyed by a landmine two weeks ago.

The pressure on the military to scrap the Snatch Land Rover was further raised by Patrick Mercer, the Tory MP and former infantry commander, who described the vehicle as a "death trap", during a debate in the House of Commons.

The review of the Snatch's role was ordered by Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, at a meeting of senior Army officers in London last Wednesday.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff, Lt Gen Andrew Figgures, the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (equipment capability), and Lt Gen Nick Houghton, the Chief of Joint Operations, all agreed that the vehicle's suitability should be reassessed. Commanders in Afghanistan will be asked if there is a requirement for a light patrol vehicle and, if so, whether the Snatch is of the standard required.

If not, the military will search for something more suitable, which could take several months.

The Army has about 100 Snatches in Afghanistan and they are preferred in the more benign areas of Helmand province because they appear less aggressive than heavier troop carriers.

A spokesman for the MoD said: "Through investment in Mastiff and Ridgeback we are already reducing the number of patrolling roles in which we use the Snatch."

Family of soldier killed in Afghanistan want better troop pr

The family of a soldier killed in a "Snatch" Land Rover by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan has called on the Government to provide better protection for British troops.
Marine Gary Wright, 22, from Glasgow, died when a terrorist stepped between two Army Land Rovers and detonated explosives strapped to his body as a convoy passed through Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province.

An inquest in Oxford heard on Friday that the blast fired a projectile into the face of Marine Wright who was a top cover sentry on one of four "Snatch" light armoured vehicles.

The use of Snatch Land Rovers in Afghanistan and Iraq has been controversial because it offers little protection against mines.
Almost one in eight of all fatalities in the two countries - 34 out of 282 - has been caused by roadside bombs targeting the Land Rovers. They included Cpl Sarah Bryant, 26, the first woman soldier to die on active service in Afghanistan.

Although Marine Wright was wearing body armour, the inquest heard additional shoulder and neck collar protection was not available. The equipment arrived about 10 days after his death.

The coroner Andrew Walker recorded a narrative verdict and said that even if Marine Wright had been wearing the additional clothing he would not have survived.

But he criticised "defects" in the military system that resulted in the equipment not being available for six months prior to Marine Wright's death.

In a joint statement afterwards, Marine Wright's parents, Ian and Rosemary Wright; his sister, Karen; and his girlfriend, Joanne Burns, said: "Gary died doing the job he loved. He was proud to serve his country and wanted to help improve the lives of the Afghan people.

"Nothing could ever fill the void in our lives following Gary's tragic death but the Government must take action to protect our troops.

"Although the alternative transport or body armour available would not have saved Gary, consideration must be given to what is used in dangerous areas.

"Far too many of our leaders and ministers are more interested in how they can improve their personal circumstances instead of taking responsibility for their actions and decisions.

"We sincerely hope that our loss as with other bereaved families will not be in vain and action will be taken immediately to give our troops the protection they need and are entitled to receive."

The inquest heard that Marine Wright, of 45 Commando Royal Marines, was part of a quick reaction force which was carrying out various tasks on Oct 19 2006.

Sgt Gary Ellis, who was in charge of the unit, said he was in the lead vehicle with Marine Wright acting as top cover.

He said: "There was a bang and flash. I had no idea what happened."

The inquest heard the attack may have been "opportunistic" and the bomber's target could have been the regional governor of Helmand Province, who was at a nearby press conference

Nimrod Crash Families Plan To Sue MoD

The families of servicemen killed when their Nimrod plane exploded in Afghanistan are planning to sue the Ministry of Defence.

An RAF NimrodThe relatives of some of the 14 who were killed in the crash have begun talks with lawyers about taking a case to the courts.

At an inquest last month, a coroner said a design fault had led to the plane exploding just minutes after undergoing air-to-air refuelling.

Assistant deputy coroner for Oxford Andrew Walker ruled that the entire RAF fleet of Nimrod aircraft had never been airworthy and should be grounded.

Graham and Trish Knight, whose son Ben, 25, died in the crash are among the families who plan to lodge an action.

Mr Knight said: "Had this been a bus company and the vehicle had been unworthy then legal action would have been taken, if not by the families, then by the Crown Prosecution Service.

"In our case, however, nothing seems to have been done. There have been no charges and nobody has been brought to blame for it.

"I feel that the Ministry of Defence is not beyond the law."

Barrister John Cooper, who is instructing the families of some of the other men who died in the crash, said: "We are certainly considering the legal ramifications of a government sending Armed Forces personnel into theatre without properly functioning equipment, and that includes aeroplanes."

The Government has refused to agree with the coroner's recommendation that the entire fleet be grounded.

And the MoD has said new air-to-air refuelling procedures meant the Nimrod aircraft was now "safe to fly".

It has also said that compensation will be paid to the families.

An MoD spokeswoman said: "The Secretary of State has directed that compensation will be paid, and claims will be handled quickly and amicably."

The crash was the biggest single loss of life suffered by the military since the Falklands War.

Taliban chief who killed Cpl Sarah is taken out by laser-gui

The fanatical Taliban mastermind behind recent attacks in which six British soldiers died in Afghanistan has been killed in a missile attack by an Army Apache helicopter.

In what military chiefs described as a 'deliberate and surgical strike', the 35-year-old rebel leader - known as Sadiqullah - died alongside nine fellow Taliban fighters after the Apache fired two laser-guided Hellfire missiles at their red pick-up truck and destroyed it.

The rebel leader had been tracked down after weeks of secret intelligence work.

His death would have been instantaneous, as the warheads of the 5ft-long missiles, which travel at 950mph, are loaded with high-explosives designed to destroy even the heaviest tank armour.

The British military spokesman in Afghanistan, Lt Col Robin Matthews, said last night: 'This was a deliberate and surgical strike against a man who facilitated a number of fatal attacks on British, Nato and Afghan forces and civilians.

'It was conducted with meticulous precision and strikes a blow at the heart of the Taliban's leadership in southern Afghanistan.'

The secret operation was carried out on Thursday by two Army Air Corps pilots who were ordered to fly to a dusty road ten miles northwest of the town of Kajaki, where intelligence reports had confirmed that Sadiqullah was a passenger in the pick-up truck.

It is believed that his whereabouts were leaked to British forces - quite possibly by Afghans who want the violence destroying their country to end.

The attack came after an intense summer campaign mounted by Sadiqullah and his Taliban fighters against British, American and Nato forces.

Victims of his roadside bombs included intelligence officer Corporal Sarah Bryant, 26, the first British woman soldier to be killed in Afghanistan. She died alongside three SAS reservists. Two Paratroopers also died in Taliban ambushes last week.

Sadiqullah was one of a number of key Taliban militia known as 'Sarbaz' - people who care nothing for their own lives.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of young men have been recruited by the Taliban to join their guerilla war against the Coalition-backed government of Mohammed Karzai.

Sadiqullah is said to have put his life on hold - even though he was engaged - in order to fight what he saw as the western invaders.

He was interviewed in 2003 and said: 'My parents insisted that I wait a while and get married, but I told them that my first and last commitment is jihad and I don't want to make any other commitments at this stage.'
Taliban use swords to slit the throats of Afghan 'traitors' in public executions before thousands

The rebel is thought to have often spent days travelling on foot through deserts and rugged mountain passes to avoid capture, while mounting daily hit-and-run attacks.

On Friday, a Royal Logistics Corps soldier died in an accident when a vehicle he was travelling in rolled over. He is expected to be named today.

SAS soldier was killed just days before he left Territorial

One of the SAS men killed in Afghanistan had been only days away from leaving the Territorial Army so he could dedicate more time to his family.

Lance Corporal Richard Larkin wanted to be at home with his wife watching his three children grow up after sacrificing years away from them while serving, friends said yesterday.

But with days left of his final deployment, the 39-year-old nurse was killed with fellow SAS reservists Corporal Robert Reeve and Paul Stout and Intelligence Officer Corporal Sarah Bryan

Lance Corporal Richard Larkin (left) had been only days away from leaving the TA but was killed along with Paul Stout.

Their Snatch Land Rover was blown up by a Taliban bomb in Helmand Province on

Last night as their families and friends were comforted and tributes poured in, the controversy over whether they should have been travelling in the lightly protected vehicle - a frequent target of the Taliban.

Cpl Bryant, 26, was the only fulltime soldier among those killed and was said to have an outstanding future in the Army. Her family had been notified that she had been promoted to sergeant.

Cpl Sarah Bryant, left, was the only full-time soldier among those killed while Corporal Robert Reeve was described as 'a pillar of strength'

Her commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Suggit, said: 'We mourn her, we
salute her and we will remember the sparkle she brought to us all.'

'I walked her down the aisle...I'll be there to meet her coffin', father's tribute to soldier Sarah
SAS soldiers who died alongside first British woman to be killed in Afghanistan are named

L/Cpl Larkin, the oldest of those to die, worked for the past four years as a night charge nurse at Evesham Community Hospital, Worcestershire.

A friend, from 23 SAS Regiment, told how he had been looking forward to repaying his family's support by spending more time with his wife and children following the Afghan deployment.

'He had a son who is a toddler and twins a few years older and he wanted to spend time at home and see them grow up - now that won't happen,' the friend said.

'Rich loved his family and talked about them a lot, but he missed out a lot of quality time with them because of his dedication to the regiment.

His family described him as 'a beloved husband, father, son and brother whose tragic and untimely death will be deeply mourned'.

The family of Cpl Reeve, 28, of the Royal Signals, called him 'a dearly loved son, brother, godparent, uncle, grandson and friend, who was loving, loyal, honourable, selfless and gentle, a pillar of strength that all could turn to'.

And 31-year-old Mr Stout's relatives said he was a 'wonderful son and brother and will be greatly missed by all his family and friends'.

The incident took the British death toll over a bloody ten-day period to nine. The bodies are due to be flown home on Monday.

Last night the row continued to rage over whether the soldiers should have been in a Snatch Land Rover, which offers no protection against the roadside bomb which has become the Taliban's main method of attack.

Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth said other vehicles, such as the more heavily armoured Mastiff, 'would not have been suitable for the task they were doing in the area in which they were required to work'.

He said the vehicle was fitted with electronic counter-measures designed to jam mobile phone signals used to trigger improvised explosive devices.

He added: 'All that I am being told by commanders on the ground is that they still need Land Rover-based platforms. . . and they will do for the foreseeable future.'

But Tory defence expert Patrick Mercer, a former colonel, called for the Snatch vehicles to be withdrawn from service.

He added: 'They are entirely unsuitable for operations in Afghanistan. The reason they are there is because that's all the Army has got.'

Killer runs after guilty verdict

A soldier who was 15 when he murdered a waiter in an Orkney restaurant in 1994 fled court after being found guilty.

Sgt Michael Ross, 29, who became a Black Watch sniper, had denied shooting 26-year-old Shamsuddin Mahmood.

As he was being led away at the High Court in Glasgow, Ross jumped out of the dock and managed to escape. He was caught by a court official and police.

The victim's relatives said they were pleased with the verdict. Ross faces a life term when sentenced in next month.

Michael Ross shot Shamsuddin Mahmood in 1994

His brother, Abul Shafuddin, said: "The family feel happy with the verdict and happy with the performance of the police.

"Justice has been done. We are grateful to all who worked to bring the accused to trial."

The jury found Ross, now of Inverness, guilty after a six-week trial.

After the majority verdict, Ross ran from the courtroom through a side door used only by court personnel, pursued by police.

He was stopped from escaping further by court official Gordon Morison who grabbed Ross and held onto him until police arrived seconds later, handcuffed him and took him down to the cells.

Mr Morison is thought to have suffered carpet burns to his face, but was otherwise unhurt.

He was later taken to trial judge Lord Hardie's chambers, where he was praised.

Lord Hardie said: "Mr Morison brought the accused to the ground and was injured in the process. Mr Morison is shaken, but all right and the accused is back in custody."

Michael Ross kept his murderous past secret for 14 years

He told the jury: "I hope that the events of today haven't been too dramatic and too upsetting for you. I hope you are all right after that unexpected experience."

Lord Hardie told the jury that counselling would be available to them if they needed it, and excused them from sitting on a jury for life.

Earlier, the judge told first offender Ross: "In view of the verdict of the jury and the fact you have no previous convictions, I require a social inquiry report before sentencing you."

Mr Mahmood, born in Bangladesh, was shot in the head in Kirkwall's Mumutaz restaurant in full view of a room full of diners, including families with children, by a masked gunman in June, 1994.

The killing sparked one of Northern Constabulary's biggest investigations.

Ross's father - police officer Eddie Ross who was called to the scene of the shooting - was later jailed for four years for trying to defeat the ends of justice.

This was a callous murder of an innocent young man who was well-known and liked within the town

The charge was that he withheld information from investigating officers over ammunition he found in his own home. It resembled the cartridge used to kill the waiter.

The murder remained unsolved, but a breakthrough in the case came when new witness, Willie Grant, came forward.

He claimed he saw who he believed may have been Michael Ross coming out of a cubicle in public toilets on the night of the shooting.

He said the person he saw had a gun and was wearing a balaclava or ski mask.

During the trial, the Crown claimed Ross was a racist, and this was the motivation behind the crime.

One witness said he overheard Ross saying: "Blacks should be shot and have a gun put at their head."

Prosecutor Brian McConnachie QC claimed there was circumstantial evidence which proved Ross's guilt.

However, defence counsel Donald Findlay QC asked the jury if a boy of 15 could have committed such a calm and professional killing.

The court heard that Ross had later been praised for his bravery while serving in Iraq.

Northern Constabulary Det Insp Iain Smith, the officer who led the investigation team, described the shooting as a "shocking and sickening crime".

He added: "There is reason to believe that this dreadful crime was racially-motivated and I would like to take this opportunity to underline the force's commitment to tackling crimes of this nature."

'Cowardly act'

On Ross's former police officer father Eddie's actions, he said he believed they were those of a "father protecting his son".

Area procurator fiscal for the Highland and Islands, Andrew Laing, said: "This was a callous murder of an innocent young man who was well-known and liked within the town.

"This cowardly act shocked not only the local community but people throughout Scotland.

"My thoughts remain with Shamsuddin's family, who I know, since 1994, have been keen to see the perpetrator of this terrible crime brought to justice."

He added: "Prosecutors and officers from Northern Constabulary were determined that justice would be done in this case. Many people have worked on this investigation over the years and all will be satisfied with today's outcome.

"It is also appropriate to highlight the crucial part played by members of the public in Kirkwall and elsewhere who acted in great public spirit to assist the police and the court in coming forward and providing vital information

Forces' Afghan Base 'Can Only Grow'

Camp Bastion lies deep in the Helmand desert, five square miles of British base positioned to resupply and co-ordinate an army brigade in the field.

Camp Bastion in HelmandHercules transporters can land on its airstrip so en route to the forward echelons almost all the troops must pass through here.

New arrivals are briefed about their quarters, their deployment and about acclimatisation.

It's way over 46C in the summer months. There are issues of dehydration, heat stroke and gastrointestinal health that have to be constantly reinforced. There are jerry cans of water and bacterial handwash everywhere on the base.

The army chefs work round-the-clock to keep their residents and transit visitors fed. Thousands of meals are prepared and served every day.

The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) keep the vehicles on the road. Whatever the damage, clutch or explosive, there's little that can't be repaired or replaced in Bastion.

Crucial to the troops patrolling on the ground are the Army Air Corps Apache helicopters.

There's a squadron in Bastion, with two aircraft always on standby.

With their hellfire missiles, rockets and 30mm cannon, they are constantly engaging Taliban on the ground supporting the ISAF foot patrols.

The Taliban are said to loathe the Apache.

At least once a week the Royal Logistics Corps run convoys out to the FOBs, the Forward Operating Bases.

Medical work at Camp BastionThe columns will be 80 vehicles or more. Low loaders, trucks, container carriers with armed Land Rovers and the new Jackal vehicles riding shotgun.

The journey can be 18 hours constant driving through the dusty, parched desert before the supplies of tents, water, food, ammunition, vehicles, tables, electrical wire and cement reach their destinations.

The troops tend to travel from Bastion to the FOBs by helicopter. The RAF's fleet of eight ageing Chinooks gets little respite. The Apaches fly overhead to keep them safe.

Bastion can only grow. Every month the campaign continues, the more upgrading takes place on the facility. It sits on a deep water table from which the Brits drink freely through the water bottling plant on the base.

Every week more kit arrives - gym equipment, air conditioning, portakabins to replace tents, tarmac to replace gravel.

If anything, Bastion is a symbol of commitment in this conflict.

Soldiers can wear their uniforms with pride at gay parade, s

Combat trousers and dog tags have long been in fashion at London’s annual Gay Pride parade. However, this year, for the first time, real soldiers will be allowed to wear the military uniform alongside the rainbow flags and banners.

After issuing strict edicts last year forbidding army personnel from attending the parade in uniform, the Army has finally bowed to pressure to lift the ban.

The move brings it in line with the more relaxed approach of the RAF and the Royal Navy, which gave approval for gay sailors to march in uniform last June.

Individuals from all three Services will now be able to celebrate their profession and sexuality at the same time on July 5 without fear of facing disciplinary action.
An MoD spokesman confirmed the ban had been relaxed: “Personnel from all three Services can attend this year’s gay pride march in uniform. The individual services have reached their own decisions about the wearing of uniform at the event, having given the issue due consideration.

“The Armed Forces are committed to establishing a culture and climate where every individual’s contribution is respected and valued regardless of sexual orientation, race, ethnic origin, religion, gender or social background.”

New orders state that Service dress may be worn by members of the march. But parade paraphernalia, such as banners or whistles, are not allowed – the intended tone is military, not militant.

“During the march, proper military discipline is to be maintained. Arms are to be swung above waist height throughout, eyes front, and with no acknowledgement to the public.”

A defence source told The Times: “Observers at last year’s Pride were satisfied uniformed personnel can maintain the integrity of the military Services, especially with regards to respect for the dead as they pass the Cenotaph. To ensure this no uniformed personnel will attend the carnival afterwards.”

The source added that the new orders were part of a wider recruitment drive. “These people have made a commitment to the military. This is our commitment to them. Gays and lesbians are already serving with honour and we are actively recruiting more.”

Lieutenant-Commander Craig Jones, MBE, the most senior openly gay member of the military and lead consultant for the gay community in the Armed Forces, was among the 20 sailors in bell-bottoms who attended London Pride last year.

He said: “Men and women from the Armed Forces look and behave exactly like men and women from the Armed Forces. We are the front line of the Armed Forces, not the lineup of the Village People.”Referring to last year’s march, he said: “The Forces are all about integrity and it felt good to be honest. It was a great day and the sky didn’t fall in.”

General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army, provoked criticism last year, when he told all men and women in the Service that they could not wear anything identifying them as soldiers if they attended the march.

He pointed to Queen’s Regulations which stipulate that service personnel should not appear in uniform at political events.

However, his stance conflicted with that of Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, the First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, who authorised the attendance of uniformed sailors. The RAF compromised, with Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy allowing airmen to march in RAF polo shirts.

Derek Munn, Stonewall’s director of public affairs, welcomed the move, saying: “This is the latest in a series of strides made by the Forces to embrace lesbian and gay people in recent years. It shows there’s no part of society that cannot tackle homophobia, if there’s a will to do so.”

The Ministry of Defence issued an open apology last year to all servicemen and servicewomen who suffered persecution and discrimination before the ban on homosexuality was lifted eight years ago. Until then, men and women of the Armed Forces were dismissed if it was discovered that they were gay or lesbian.

Gordon Brown pulls rank to stop General Sir Richard Dannatt

Gordon Brown has blocked General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the army, from being promoted to lead the armed forces because of his repeated calls for better pay and conditions for servicemen, senior Whitehall sources have disclosed.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the current chief of the defence staff, will now have his tenure extended for a year, ensuring there is no vacancy for Dannatt before his retirement.

Despite repeated attempts to rein him in, the general complained 10 days ago that troops fighting in Afghanistan are paid less than traffic wardens while their families in Britain are living in “appalling” housing. The criticisms forced Brown to say he would look again at forces’ pay.

“It was Gordon’s decision,” said one Whitehall source. “Dannatt has made a lot of enemies among the senior reaches of the Labour party.

Related Links
Army chief: troops paid less than traffic wardens
General deceives with traffic warden gibe
Army pay: the wages of war
“They want him gone sooner rather than later.”

Dannatt was appointed chief of the general staff in August 2006, so his standard three-year stint in charge of the army will end in August next year. Stirrup was due to leave next April before the order came to extend his term for a year.

An alternative was to promote Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy to the top post next April, but that is seen as unlikely. Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, the first sea lord, has also spoken out over cuts to the navy’s ships, warning that “if [the fleet] turns into the Belgian navy, then I’m gone”, so is not seen as an option.

There have been suggestions that Stirrup is fed up with inter-service bickering over the increasingly stretched defence budget and is looking for a post in industry.

Ministry of Defence officials, however, want Stirrup to stay on so that all the current service chiefs have been replaced by the time he has finished his term.

“By cleaning house and putting a new team under Stirrup, the PM gets a new group of senior officers who will be too busy trying to climb the greasy pole to rock the boat,” said one senior army officer.

Dannatt has expressed concern that underfunding and the two continuing operations will “break the army”. Nearly 1,500 officers left in the 12 months to April, 50% more than joined. Those leaving included Lieutenant Colonel Rick Williams, commanding officer of the SAS, and Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Tootal, who had just returned from commanding 3rd battalion, the Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan. They were followed by Brigadier Ed Butler, who left after being passed over for the post of director of special forces after criticism of Whitehall.

Dannatt has caused problems for government from the start. Within weeks of taking over, he said that British troops needed to leave Iraq “sometime soon” because their presence was exac-erbating the situation. Although Blair publicly backed Dannatt’s comments, privately cabinet ministers were furious.

“It is not his job to criticise government policy,” one said. “He needs to get back in his box and shut up. His next mistake will be his last.”

Dannatt, however, continued to lobby hard for better funding for troops, whom he described as being “devalued, angry and suffering from Iraq fatigue”.

Even before these comments, there were suggestions that Dannatt might be forced to retire a year early this August, but that was deemed too obvious.

Recently Dannatt complained, about the poor money paid to soldiers fighting the Taliban. That forced Brown to say ministers would “do everything in our power . . . to try to reward our armed forces for the dedication and commitment they show”.

He is expected to be succeeded by General Sir David Richards, the head of land command.

The MoD said: “No firm decisions have been made on the end date for the chief of defence staff, so it would not be appropriate to comment.”

Gordon Brown has blocked General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the army, from being promoted to lead the armed forces because of his repeated calls for better pay and conditions for servicemen, senior Whitehall sources have disclosed.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the current chief of the defence staff, will now have his tenure extended for a year, ensuring there is no vacancy for Dannatt before his retirement.

Despite repeated attempts to rein him in, the general complained 10 days ago that troops fighting in Afghanistan are paid less than traffic wardens while their families in Britain are living in “appalling” housing. The criticisms forced Brown to say he would look again at forces’ pay.

“It was Gordon’s decision,” said one Whitehall source. “Dannatt has made a lot of enemies among the senior reaches of the Labour party.

Dannatt was appointed chief of the general staff in August 2006, so his standard three-year stint in charge of the army will end in August next year. Stirrup was due to leave next April before the order came to extend his term for a year.

An alternative was to promote Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy to the top post next April, but that is seen as unlikely. Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, the first sea lord, has also spoken out over cuts to the navy’s ships, warning that “if [the fleet] turns into the Belgian navy, then I’m gone”, so is not seen as an option.

There have been suggestions that Stirrup is fed up with inter-service bickering over the increasingly stretched defence budget and is looking for a post in industry.

Ministry of Defence officials, however, want Stirrup to stay on so that all the current service chiefs have been replaced by the time he has finished his term.

“By cleaning house and putting a new team under Stirrup, the PM gets a new group of senior officers who will be too busy trying to climb the greasy pole to rock the boat,” said one senior army officer.

Dannatt has expressed concern that underfunding and the two continuing operations will “break the army”. Nearly 1,500 officers left in the 12 months to April, 50% more than joined. Those leaving included Lieutenant Colonel Rick Williams, commanding officer of the SAS, and Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Tootal, who had just returned from commanding 3rd battalion, the Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan. They were followed by Brigadier Ed Butler, who left after being passed over for the post of director of special forces after criticism of Whitehall.

Dannatt has caused problems for government from the start. Within weeks of taking over, he said that British troops needed to leave Iraq “sometime soon” because their presence was exac-erbating the situation. Although Blair publicly backed Dannatt’s comments, privately cabinet ministers were furious.

“It is not his job to criticise government policy,” one said. “He needs to get back in his box and shut up. His next mistake will be his last.”

Dannatt, however, continued to lobby hard for better funding for troops, whom he described as being “devalued, angry and suffering from Iraq fatigue”.

Even before these comments, there were suggestions that Dannatt might be forced to retire a year early this August, but that was deemed too obvious.

Recently Dannatt complained, about the poor money paid to soldiers fighting the Taliban. That forced Brown to say ministers would “do everything in our power . . . to try to reward our armed forces for the dedication and commitment they show”.

He is expected to be succeeded by General Sir David Richards, the head of land command.

The MoD said: “No firm decisions have been made on the end date for the chief of defence staff, so it would not be appropriate to comment.”

Soldier died in vehicle lacking defence system

A coroner has called for a change in Army policy after a soldier fighting in Afghanistan died in an armoured vehicle that had not been fitted with electronic equipment capable of disabling roadside bombs.
Guardsman Neil 'Tony' Downes, 20, from Droylesden, Greater Manchester, was blown 20 metres into a ditch when insurgents detonated a bomb by remote control.

The vehicle in front of him was equipped with an ECM (Electronic Counter Measure) and therefore survived the attack.

Guardsman Downes' mother, Sheryl, 44, told an inquest in Stockport: "In my opinion, having the ECM fitted on Tony's vehicle might have saved his life.

"I cannot understand why all vehicles do not have these systems fitted. It will be preying on my mind for the rest of my life. I just do not want other family to go through what I have."

Her husband, Ronnie, 60, said: "I would say that it should be fitted as standard to all vehicles because it obviously saves lives".

The south Manchester coroner, John Pollard, said he would be writing to the Ministry of Defence over the issue.

In recording a verdict of unlawful killing, he said: "It is my view that all vehicles used in this type of operation should be adapted to be able to carry their own ECM equipment.

"If some vehicles are not so equipped, then it should be clearly understood that the order of march should be arranged to afford protection at all times to those vehicles and that the order of march should not be deviated from, save in exceptional circumstances."

The inquest heard that Guardsman Downes, described by commanding officers as "resolute and steadfast", was on a six-month tour with the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards.

On June 9 last year he was a gunner in an armoured vehicle that was among a convoy of 10 dispatched to investigate reports of gunfire.

His vehicle had not been fitted with ECM despite the fact that it was carrying more than 200 grenades.

The bomb that killed him was detonated by remote control. ECM might have saved him by either jamming or scrambling the bomb's detonation mechanism.

Warrant Officer Wayne Scully, who survived the blast, said: "I remember seeing greyness, then being thrown forward. I landed on my front on the ground. I remember seeing the mangled vehicle, flames and smoke."

An MoD spokesman said: "Not every vehicle is provided with individual ECM equipment. Protection was, and continues to be provided, through a combination of equipment and tactics, techniques and procedures.

"Guardsman Downes' vehicle was under the protection of the ECM provided by other vehicles in the patrol. Regrettably, no defence system can guarantee protection against all threats.

"It is not possible to say what may or may not have happened in different circumstances

More British troops are to be sent to Afghanistan, the Gover

The Daily Telegraph has learned that reinforcements are being deployed as British forces face fierce resistance from the Taliban and doubts grow about the West's strategy in Afghanistan.

Five men from the Parachute Regiment have been killed in Afghanistan this week, taking the British death toll in the country to 102.

Britain has 7,800 troops in Afghanistan and Des Browne, the defence secretary, will tell MPs on Monday that at least 200 more are being deployed.

The increase will take British numbers in Afghanistan above 8,000 for the first time.

The reinforcement may add to fears that Britain is being sucked into an unwinnable fight in southern Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, the Daily Telegraph revealed that British diplomats have warned Gordon Brown in confidential briefing documents that the Afghan drug trade and the corruption of the country's government will prolong the insurgency against UK forces.

Ministers reject suggestions that the British mission lacks a clear strategy, and many British troops in Afghanistan are frustrated that their tactical victories over the Taliban are not fully appreciated in the UK.

Mr Browne is expected to tell MPs on Monday that progress is being made in Afghanistan, with

But he is unlikely to be able to give any indication about when British numbers in the country will start to decline, and there are signs that the mission could last for many years to come.

Last month, Britain agreed to take on full command of NATO troops in southern Afghanistan for a 12 month period starting next November.

Previously, command of the region rotated between NATO members every nine months.

The 200-man reinforcement to be announced next week is smaller than that first recommended by an MoD review of British force levels in Afghanistan.

At a cabinet sub-committee meeting in March, ministers had agreed to send as many as 450 extra troops.

Patrick Mercer, a Conservative MP and former Army commander, said that ministers are only starting to realise the scale of the military challenge in Afghanistan.

He said: "I think you have got to take a gentle glance at British history and Soviet history with the Afghans to know that when they start fighting, they fight.

"I think there has been a corporate intake of breath at the Ministry of Defence which has been used, since the Korean War, to relatively bloodless fights.

"Now we are going back to the battles our fathers and grandfathers experienced."

Lieutenant Colonel shot by Taliban is most senior Afghanista

Lieutenant Colonel David Richmond, Commanding Officer of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, was leading an operation near Musa Qaleh in Helmand Province on Thursday when he was hit by a Taliban bullet.

It is understood that the 41-year-old was caught "out in the open" during an engagement with enemy forces. He was airlfted straight to a field hospital.

The Ministry of Defence refused to comment on how serious his injury is.

But despite receiving treatment in Afghanistan, he is due to be flown back to Britain for further medical attention at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.

He is the most senior army officer to be counted among casaulty lists in Afghanistan.

Two years ago Wing Commander John Coxen of the RAF - whose rank was equivalent to Lieutenant Colonel in the Army - was among five service personnel killed when a Lynx helicopter crashed in Iraq.

The most senior British officer to have died during the current war in Afghanistan was Major Alexis Roberts, of 2nd Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles, who was killed by a roadside bomb in October last year.

Maj Adam Fairrie of 5 Scots said: "The Commanding Officer has received the very best medical care following him sustaining a gunshot wound to the leg.

"He will be returning to Selly Oak in due course.

"His thoughts are very much with the families of the members of the Parachute Regiment who died in other incidents this week, and also with his Battalion who, along with all the coalition, are continuing to make progress in Afghanistan."

Secret terror files left on train

Police are investigating after top-secret documents containing the latest government intelligence on al-Qaeda were left on a train.

The documents belonged to a "very senior" intelligence official working in the Cabinet Office.

A passenger on the train from London Waterloo to Surrey spotted the envelope containing the files abandoned on a seat and handed it to the BBC.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith now faces demands for an official inquiry.

Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the powerful Home Affairs select committee told the BBC: "Such confidential documents should be locked away...they should not be read on trains.

There has been a security breach, the Metropolitan Police are carrying out an investigation

"I will be writing to the Home Secretary to establish an inquiry into the affair."

The Conservatives backed calls for an inquiry, with their security spokeswoman, Baroness Neville-Jones, describing the loss as the latest in a "long line of serious breaches of security."

Home Office minister Tony McNulty told the BBC that he was awaiting the results of a police investigation into the breach.

Just seven pages long but classified as "UK Top Secret", the latest government intelligence assessment on al-Qaeda is so sensitive that every document is numbered and marked "for UK/US/Canadian and Australian eyes only", according to BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner.

The two reports were assessments made by the government's Joint Intelligence Committee.

One, on Iraq's security forces was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence. The other, reportedly entitled 'Al-Qaeda Vulnerabilities', was commissioned jointly by the Foreign Office and the Home Office.

According to reports, this document may have contained details of names of individuals or locations which might have been useful to Britain's enemies.

However, it appears that in a serious breach of the rules, according to our correspondent, the papers were taken out of Whitehall by an unnamed official and left on a train on Tuesday.

When a fellow passenger saw the material inside, which included a top-secret and in some places "damning" assessment of Iraq's security forces, they handed it in to the BBC.

Reports suggest that the official, described as a male senior civil servant, works in the Cabinet Office's intelligence and security unit, which contributes to the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee.

His work reportedly involves writing and contributing to intelligence and security assessments, and that he has the authority to take secret documents out of the Cabinet Office - so long as strict procedures are observed.

He is understood to have already been interviewed, but has not been suspended from duty.

Meanwhile a full-scale search for the documents had been launched by the Metropolitan Police, amid fears that such highly sensitive material could have fallen into the wrong hands.

Our correspondent said that across several departments in Whitehall on Wednesday evening there is said to be "horror" that top-secret documents could have been so casually mislaid.

The inquiry is likely to focus on the Cabinet office, and the security procedures that made it possible for sensitive information to be allowed out of a secure environment.

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said: "Two documents which are marked as 'secret' were left on a train and have subsequently been handed to the BBC.

"There has been a security breach, the Metropolitan Police are carrying out an investigation."

The spokesman declined to discuss the contents of the documents.

One Whitehall source sought to play down the impact of the breach: "The embarrassment of the loss is greater than the embarrassment of the contents of the documents.

"We don't believe there is a threat to any individuals in what was in these documents if they had got into the wrong hands."

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "We are making inquiries in connection with the loss of documents on June 10."

Review Of Soldier's Compensation

The Government has pledged to review the compensation offered to a soldier who sustained horrific injuries during a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan which killed three of his comrades.

Lance Corporal Martyn Compton suffered third degree burns to 70% of his body, plus a gunshot wound to his leg, during a roadside bomb attack in Helmand Province in August 2006.

He was awarded £163,000 by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) - well below the £285,000 maximum limit - but veterans minister Derek Twigg told MPs he would "look again" at L/Cpl Compton's file.

L/Cpl Compton, who served with The Life Guards, Household Cavalry Regiment, was the only survivor of the attack, losing his ears and nose, and was shot in the leg as he crawled 80 metres to safety.

He has since undergone intense medical treatment at the Broomfield Hospital in Essex and rehabilitation at the Defence Services Medical Rehabilitation Centre Headley Court in Surrey.

His case was raised in Parliament by former Lifeguard Hugh Robertson, Tory MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, who said the compensation payment was "inadequate recompense".

He said L/Cpl Compton, from Staplehurst, Kent, appeared to have received the "lowest amount available for each of his specific injuries".

Describing the soldier as a "wholly extraordinary man", he told the Westminster Hall debate: "There is a very clear case for the minister to call for the file personally and look again at this case, as quickly as possible, with a view to awarding him the maximum compensation payable."

L/Cpl Compton was driving a Spartan armoured reconnaissance vehicle when it was attacked with an improvised explosive device and a rocket propelled grenade.

Mr Twigg also assured the injured soldier that officials would shortly carry out an assessment for his Guaranteed Income Payment, a scheme designed to support wounded veterans for the rest of their lives

Afghanistan: British troops feel their hard work is not appr

British troops in Afghanistan are angry that the hard fighting they are doing is not fully appreciated by the public.

'We are doing our part out here defeating terrorism so it does no come back to our shores'
Soldiers told the Telegraph that while American troops are welcomed home as heroes, their own sacrifices often go unacknowledged.

This view is confirmed by the Ministry of Defence's private polling, which shows 48 per cent of people in Britain support the Afghan mission.

While the figure has risen from 42 per cent earlier this year, work is now under way across Whitehall to improve the efforts to "sell" the conflict to the British people.

"If you have nearly 8,000 people in Afghanistan, fighting and sometimes dying, you have a responsibility to do more to explain why they are there and what they are doing," a Government source said.

The British death toll in Afghanistan reached 100 on Sunday with the death of three members of the Parachute Regiment.

The MoD has now confirmed that British troops killed on operations or in terrorist attacks were to receive a posthumous award.

Paratroopers feel that the deaths of three colleagues will mean little if the campaign is not properly valued at home.

Major Adam Wilson, A Company commander in 3 Para, said: "Death is a fact of life that out here and in The Parachute Regiment we expect to take casualties.

"But even though we have lost 100 men we are proud of the steps we have made and we want to get on with the job in hand.

"We are doing our part out here defeating terrorism so it does no come back to our shores but I don't think people in the UK see us having a clear mission," he said.

If the soldiers return home and don't feel valued "that will really hurt and make the guys question why we are here".

He added that "little things" like the 10 per cent discount offered for flights with Virgin airlines, made a huge difference to soldiers feeling valued.

Sgt Danny Leitch, 32, who trained two of the private soldiers killed on Sunday, realised that it was hard for civilians to understand the job troops were doing in Afghanistan.

"But people can sleep easily in their beds at night in Britain - including my wife and two children - simply because of what we are doing out here," said the paratrooper.

"People don't appreciate what we do back home, especially compared to America where soldiers are admired across the country. The public should pause and think for a minute that this is not an easy job to do."

Exclusive: Victory for Daily Mirror campaign to honour our b

Troops killed in action WILL be honoured with a new heroes' award.

In a historic victory for the Mirror's Honour the Brave campaign, relatives will receive an emblem - possibly a silver cross - and a scroll.

Campaign founder Colonel Richard Kemp said last night: "I welcome this symbol and pay tribute to the Mirror for its fight to achieve it." Our 10 month drive to win recognition for those killed or injured in action was backed by Gordon Brown, more than 330 MPs, military chiefs and families.

Today Defence Secretary Des Browne will tell the Commons that Chiefs of Staff have finally agreed to honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
The new award for those killed in operations or by terrorist activity has been approved by the Queen.

It is also likely to be handed to relatives of those killed in previous conflicts such as Northern Ireland and the Falklands War.

The award is unprecedented in the UK although there is similar recognition in Canada and New Zealand.

It is believed the scroll will be similar to those issued to the families of personnel killed in the two world wars and in the 1950-53 Korean War. Colonel Kemp, head of British forces in Afghanistan in 2003, said: "Servicemen and women killed on operations have made the supreme sacrifice in defence of their country.

"It's right that this should be recognised in a form that will not only provide some comfort to their grieving families but can also be proudly handed down to future generations.

"But while pleased at today's announcement I am deeply disappointed that the Chiefs of Staff have chosen not to afford any recognition to the brave fighting men and women seriously wounded in combat.

"Those who have lost limbs, been blinded or burned, or sustained other appalling injuries also deserve recognition for their extraordinary sacrifices."

Among campaign backers were Major General Sir Patrick Cordingley, who led the Desert Rats in Gulf War I, Lord Healey, John Major and Mums for Medals whose brave sons died in action.


August 8 2007: We launch the Honour the Brave campaign with Colonel Richard Kemp.

September 5 2007: PM Gordon Brown backs us, saying: "It is important to honour the bravery of people who have died in the service of our country." The Mirror begins to pile pressure on with its running stories, right.

November 6 2007: Early Day Motion at Commons lodged by Labour MP Kevan Jones calls for MPs to back us.

Within weeks it was the most popular motion lodged and now stands at 333 - meaning most MPs back us.

November 11 2007: Alliance of MPs joins campaign. Col Kemp makes stirring speech at Commons urging military chiefs "to do the right thing".

Mums for Medals also join us, led by Pearl Thrumble, 44, whose son John, 21, died in Afghanistan. She tells the meeting she will soon face questions from her grandchild. She said: "Inquisitive minds will ask, 'What did Uncle John get for giving his life?' I don't want to say, 'Nothing'

Army pays out for 'anti-Muslim bias'

An Army lawyer seeking £685,000 compensation for alleged discrimination against her as a Muslim has settled with the MoD.

The size of the award sought - dwarfing those paid to soldiers maimed in Afghanistan and Iraq - had angered some fellow officers.

But yesterday, although the exact figure she was paid was not known, Maj Rabia Siddique was said to have accepted 'considerably less' because she had resumed her career as a civilian lawyer.

An industrial tribunal in central London was due to begin hearing the case yesterday. After a day of talks, however, a confidential deal was hammered out.

Afterwards, the 36-year-old said: 'I'm honoured to have served as a legal officer in the armed forces for seven years and for most of that time I enjoyed my career very much.

'I am disappointed that matters came to this but content now to be able to move on.'

A letter from chief of the general staff, Sir Richard Dannatt, was given to her as part of the deal.

In it, he paid tribute to the 'courageous role' the major played in Basra, Iraq, in September 2005 when she helped resolve the kidnapping of two British soldiers, who were held at the Jamiat police station before being rescued.

Sir Richard said: 'The Army will consider carefully your perception of the way that you were treated in the period that followed the Jamiat incident with a view to ensuring that appropriate lessons are learnt.'

Maj Siddique, from Salisbury in Wiltshire, claimed it was in Basra that her career stalled after she complained about the local Army commander.

She had claimed her gender and faith played a role in that discrimination.

An MoD spokesman said after the settlement: 'We can confirm that Major Siddique's claims have been resolved without admission of liability and without recourse to the employment tribunal. The terms of the agreement are confidential.'

MoD in urgent talks to halt mass exodus of 900 South African

Ministry of Defence officials are seeking "urgent talks" with their South African counterparts to prevent the potential loss of almost 900 experienced soldiers from the already overstretched British Army.

Under anti-mercenary legislation due to come into force this autumn, any South African serving without permission in even an official foreign military force would be subject to five years in prison.

Military sources say emergency measures to prevent a mass exodus are likely to include waiving current five-year residency rules to grant immediate UK citizenship to "Springboks" who choose to soldier on in British uniform.

If individuals apply for and receive special exemption from Pretoria on the grounds that the foreign army belongs to an allied nation, they would still be banned from taking part in active combat operations or of "furthering the military interests of a party to an armed conflict".

The UK has hired 880 mainly white South Africans soldiers, including a number of officers, who currently account for the equivalent of almost one and a half battalions of highly trained infantry.

Many of them enlisted in the British Army after becoming disillusioned with the increasingly dilapidated state of the the South African Defence Forces.

Pretoria's draft legislation, first flagged up more than a year ago, is aimed at curbing the estimated 20,000 South Africans hiring themselves out as soldiers of fortune in various Third World conflicts or volunteering for foreign armies.

It follows a spate of bad publicity involving bungled mercenary coups such as the one in Equatorial Guinea three years ago in which Mark Thatcher, son of the former prime minister, was alleged to have played a role in bankrolling the plotters.

Many of those involved were former members of the South African army's 32nd battalion, a hard-bitten unit containing both black and white soldiers. The new law would make it illegal for the 2500 South Africans working for private security firms in Iraq as bodyguards, convoy escorts and intelligence advisers to ply their trade

Three soldiers from 2 PARA killed in Afghanistan on 8 June

three soldiers from 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment have been killed in Afghanistan yesterday, Sunday 8 June 2008.

At approximately 1100 hours local time, the soldiers were on a routine foot patrol 1km west of their Forward Operating Base in the Upper Sangin Valley, when their patrol suffered a suicide explosive device.

Four soldiers were injured in the attack and were evacuated to the medical facility at Camp Bastion. Sadly one soldier was pronounced dead on arrival and despite the best efforts of the medical team, two of the soldiers died as a result of their wounds.

A fourth soldier is currently receiving treatment for his wounds and is expected to make a good recovery.

Next of kin for all of the soldiers have been informed and have requested a 24 hour period of grace before further details are released.

Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said:

"It is with both a sense of deep sadness and pride that I have reflected on these most recent British deaths in Afghanistan, and as the Chief of the Defence Staff I would like to say a few words.

"As you know, 100 brave and professional servicemen have now died in Afghanistan. They laid their lives down for their country and their comrades.

"Every one of those deaths is a tragedy. Nothing can ever compensate for the loss felt by their loved ones and to them all I extend my deepest sympathies.

"I only hope that the terrible hardship that they have been asked to bear can be eased by the certainty that in Afghanistan our forces are engaged in a most worthy and noble endeavour. And they are making good progress.

"Right across the country, the international effort is beginning to affect real change. Ordinary Afghans face immense hardships but bit by bit life is improving. In parts of Afghanistan which were once lawless, there is now governance and rule of law. Across the country, more than seven million children are now in school and increasing numbers of people have access to healthcare.

"Nowhere is the battle for the future of Afghanistan more pressing than in Helmand, the focus of the British effort, where UK forces have magnificently taken the fight to the Taliban and put them on the back-foot. Make no mistake, the Taliban influence is waning, and through British blood, determination and grit, a window of opportunity has been opened.

"The international community is starting to grasp this opportunity, and throughout the province the indications are promising, with the green shoots of development emerging from Musa Qala in the north of the Sangin Valley to Garmsir in the south. But much of this progress could quickly unravel without a continuing and energised international commitment.

"Our Armed Forces are resolute in doing what their country asks of them. These deaths, though hard to bear, remind us all of the extraordinary sacrifices they and their families make on our behalf – and of the price of failure if we falter in Afghanistan. We continue to owe them a great debt of gratitude.”

Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, said:

"I would like to express my deepest sympathy for the family, comrades and friends of the three soldiers killed in Afghanistan this weekend. My thoughts at this time are also with the loved ones of each and every one of the 100 courageous members of the British Armed Forces who have now lost their lives in Afghanistan.

"They gave their lives securing freedom and stability, not just for the people of Afghanistan but, as the tragic events of 9/11 showed, for all of us. We will never forget them.

"Every visitor to our forces in Afghanistan comes back with the same sense of awe and admiration for the courage, professionalism and dedication of the remarkable young men and women serving out there. As a nation we have always been supremely proud of our Armed Forces, and with considerable justification. Quite simply they exemplify the very best qualities of the human spirit. Their effect on Southern Afghanistan in the last two years has been remarkable. They have transformed the heartland of the Taliban from an area of lawless oppression and terrorism to a place of democracy and development.

"We must never forget that this extraordinary achievement, which makes us all safer from the scourge of terrorism, has come at a very significant cost to our brave servicemen and women, their families and friends."

SAS chief resigns over lack of kit

A FORMER head of the SAS has quit the army after criticising the government for risking soldiers’ lives by failing to fund troops and equipment.

Brigadier Ed Butler, one of Britain’s most experienced and decorated special forces soldiers, is the most senior of three key commanders to have resigned in the past year amid widespread anger over lack of funding.

News of his resignation comes in the same week that General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the army, called for better treatment for the forces and more money to be spent on defence.

In a statement issued through the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Butler said he was leaving for “a number of factors and reasons” and singled out difficulties faced by service personnel.

He praised the “extraordinarily brave men and women” who repeatedly did their job well in the face of “constraints and restraints”. He said the country owed them “a huge debt of gratitude”.

The MoD said it was “not a protest vote”. But close friends said Butler was disappointed that the government put soldiers’ lives at risk by failing to pay for sufficient troops and equipment.

“He was very frustrated at the cuts going on in the army at present,” one close associate said. “Sadly, many of the concerns held by senior officers have not been resolved and, across the armed forces, there are a lot of officers and soldiers who are not happy.”

Butler, 48, was widely expected to become the next director of special forces, friends said.

He led the first British deployment to southern Afghanistan in 2006 and said in his statement that his decision to quit came “after a great deal of discussion and deliberation over the last six months”.

Six months ago the board of inquiry into the death of Captain Jim Philippson, the first British soldier to die in action in Helmand province, cited Butler’s criticism of the failure to provide troops and kit and blamed “political machinations” for his death.

Butler was highly critical of John Reid, then defence secretary, for keeping troop numbers low and of the failure of the Treasury under Gordon Brown to fund equipment.

Lieutenant Colonel Rick Williams MC, another commanding officer of the SAS, resigned last July after being criticised by senior officers for spending too much time on the front line with his men.

He was followed in November by Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Tootal, commanding officer of third battalion, the Parachute Regiment.

Butler’s special forces career during the 1991 Gulf war, in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan had him marked down for great things.

He is the grandson of Richard “Rab” Butler, the former Tory foreign secretary and chancellor.

He was mentioned in dispatches in Northern Ireland, awarded the Distinguished Service Order twice, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his time in Helmand.

He is currently the commander of Joint Task Force Headquarters which is based in the UK and contains a strong special forces element

French army falling apart, documents show

Most of France's tanks, helicopters and jet fighters are unusable and its defence apparatus is on the verge of "falling apart", it has emerged.

France's military has been given a bleak prognosis
According to confidential defence documents leaked to the French press, less than half of France's Leclerc tanks – 142 out of 346 – are operational and even these regularly break down.

Less than half of its Puma helicopters, 37 per cent of its Lynx choppers and 33 per cent of its Super Frelon models – built 40 years ago – are in a fit state to fly, according to documents seen by Le Parisien newspaper.

Two thirds of France's Mirage F1 reconnaissance jets are unusable at present.
According to army officials, the precarious state of France's defence equipment almost led to catastrophe in April, when French special forces rescued the passengers and crew of a luxury yacht held by pirates off the Somali coast.

Although ultimately a success, the rescue operation nearly foundered at an early stage, when two of the frigates carrying troops suffered engine failure, and a launch laden with special forces' equipment sunk under its weight.

Later, an Atlantic 2 jet tracking the pirates above Somali territory suffered engine failure and had to make an emergency landing in Yemen.

"External operations, in the Ivory Coast and Lebanon are a fig leaf: we are able to keep up the pretence but in ten years our defence apparatus will fall apart," one high-ranking official said.

The disclosure comes just ten days before President Nicolas Sarkozy announces a major reform of the armed forces, with a defence white paper outlining France's military priorities for the next 15 years.

He is expected to argue that the situation can only improve by reducing the number of France's operational troops from 50,000 to 30,000, and its fighter aircraft, as well as closing military bases.

He will also use the occasion to push for greater military integration in Europe, an issue that France will highlight when it takes over the EU's six-month rotating presidency in July.

French proposals circulating in Brussels show that France wants a new EU military headquarters based in the Belgian capital and run by Europe's new foreign policy chief. It is also calling for a bigger rapid reaction force and for countries to spend more on defence.

France has played down its European defence ambitions for fear of boosting the No vote in Ireland's referendum on the Lisbon treaty on June 12.

In parallel to beefing up the EU's defence capability, Mr Sarkozy is keen on France becoming a full member of Nato's integrated military command structure, which Charles de Gaulle left in 1966. But he is unlikely to make a decision on this until next year.

Soldiers pay: Gordon Brown to consider rise after General Si

Gordon Brown has promised to do everything in his power to help soldiers after General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army, called for the Armed Forces to get a pay rise.

Gen Dannatt today used a newspaper interview to make another outspoken intervention in the debate over the Government's treatment of the military, pointing out that traffic wardens get paid more than soldiers.

As Chief of the General Staff, the general is the most senior active soldier in the Army, and he has repeatedly used his position to highlight the conditions his men wok in.

"I'd like to see soldier's pay go up above inflation over the next couple of years," the general said today. To make sure that we have Armed Services - in my case an Army - populated by motivated and well-trained people, we have got to look after their individual needs well enough.

In February, the Ministry of Defence announced a pay rise of 2.6 percent for all servicemen and women. Last year's award was more than 9 per cent for the most junior ranks.

The MoD today said that soldiers earn not only pay but also other benefits, including housing, food, tax relief, operational allowances and boarding school allowance.

Speaking in Downing Street this morning, the Prime Minister suggested he will try to find more money.

We will do "everything in our power" for the Forces in the years to come, Mr Brown said.

In an interview with the Sun today, Gen Dannat said the question of pay was the most important issue facing the Armed Forces today.

More than 20,000 personnel left the Forces last year, many citing the poor salary as their reason. The lowest paid soldiers are on just £12,572 a year while traffic wardens receive a basic salary of £17,000. Servicemen and women were given a pay rise of just 2.6 this year.

The Chief of General Staff also insisted that more money must be spent on soldier's welfare, and on improving their "appalling" accommodation.

And he called for a bigger slice of the national wealth to be spent on defence, the first time a serving Army chief has ever demanded more funding in public.

General Dannatt, 57, said: "You look to see how much a traffic warden is paid and compare that against what a private soldier gets paid. Servicemen go on operations knowing they are putting their lives on the line. It is very hard to put a price on that.

"Given the insecurity in the world today and what the Armed Forces are being asked to do, then a slightly increased share of the national wealth going to defence would be appropriate.

"I regard what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere as non-discretionary - we have got to do those things.

""That means things like housing, pay, medical provision and general welfare facilities have got to be good. That's where I would like to see additional resources spent."

General Dannatt first raise the question of the military covenant - the duty of a country to look after it Armed Forces personnel who go to fight - nearly two years ago, saying he did not want the country to "let the Army down."

Gold standard cock-up’ that keeps key helicopters out of Afg

A Botched Ministry of Defence helicopter deal which will eventually cost the taxpayer more than £422m is described as "a gold standard cock-up" in a damning Whitehall watchdog committee report.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the public accounts committee, said the purchase of eight Boeing Chinook Mark 3 helicopters, which had been unusable in operations since they were delivered and had been in storage hangars for almost seven years, represented "one of the most incompetent equipment procurements of all time".

The Chinooks cost £259m and were intended for SAS missions, but because of problems with their MoD-specified avionics software, they only had safety clearance to fly above 500 feet in clear skies when landmarks were clearly visible to the pilots.

The committee reports that the problem stems from MoD insistence that Boeing provide aircraft with a flight deck controlled by a mix of analogue and digital systems which could not pass the UK's stringent flight safety regulations.

The MoD is paying an extra £90.1m to "revert" the Mark 3s to workhorse Mark 2 status to ease the desperate shortage of helicopters supporting the 8000 British troops fighting in Afghanistan, plus another £22.5m from the Treasury's contingency fund to install special equipment to cope with the region's "hot and high" atmosphere.

None of the helicopters, which have been kept in climate-controlled hangars at a cost of £560,000 will go into service before the end of 2009.

Mr Leigh said: "The MoD took so long to agree to a workable plan for getting the helicopters into the air that events intervened. It was the urgent need for more helicopters in Afghanistan that led to the department's change of course.

"In the meantime, the Mark 2s in service had been upgraded for use in special operations. This has involved fitting a night enhancement package which obscures the pilot's forward view, potentially endangering the safety of the aircraft and service personnel aboard.

"By the time it is sorted, the whole gold-standard cock-up will have cost more than £422m - and probably substantially more."

Nick Harvey, the LibDem defence spokesman, said: "It is incredible that millions can be frittered away on bad decisions and yet penny-pinching on other MoD equipment has cost the lives of service personnel."

Defence Minister Baroness Taylor said: "The reversion programme will allow delivery of more aircraft to Afghanistan in the shortest time-frame

MoD acts over submarine incident

Legal action is being taken by the Ministry of Defence after a sentry was caught sleeping on a nuclear submarine based at Faslane on the Clyde.

The incident resulted in a severe verbal reprimand being delivered to the crew, which was filmed on a mobile phone and has been given to the media.

Last week HMS Superb hit a rock in the northern Red Sea, damaging sonar equipment and forcing it to surface.

An MoD spokeswoman said the two incidents were unrelated.

You know far better than to allow stuff like that to happen - as submariners, you accept responsibility for yourselves and your shipmates

Executive officer

The sentry was caught sleeping in January, about two months before the submarine sailed from Faslane. He was removed from the crew and is now awaiting court-martial.

The resulting reprimand to the duty watch, all junior ratings, was delivered by the vessel's executive officer but was captured secretly by one of the crew on a mobile phone. The video was given to The Sun newspaper.

During the six-minute address, which is peppered with expletives, the officer strongly criticised the sleeping watchman, the removal of safety ropes around storage tanks and the turning off of fans.

He told the men: "The incident last night is entirely f***ing unacceptable.

"You know far better than to allow stuff like that to happen. As submariners, you accept responsibility for yourselves and your shipmates.

HMS Superb ran aground in the Red Sea

"Getting your f***ing napper down while watching a f***ing DVD and swigging lager isn't accepting responsibility for your shipmates.

"It's throwing that responsibility away and saying, to me - I don't give a f*** what happens to my mates on board the boat and I don't give a f*** what happens to the boat.

"That's the worst example I can f***ing think of, but it stirs up some of the other things that have been going on."

Last week, HMS Superb hit an underwater rock in the northern Red Sea, 80 miles south of Suez.

The submarine's nuclear reactor was "completely unaffected", according to the Ministry of Defence. An investigation is under way to determine the cause of the collision.

An MoD spokeswoman said an inquiry had been completed into the the sleeping-on-watch incident and the case was now subject to legal proceedings so no further comment could be made.

"The extent of damage from the grounding is still being investigated and it would be wrong to speculate at this stage about what will happen to the submarine once she is back in the UK."

The MoD spokeswoman said the filming on board the sub was also being looking into, because it was against the rules. Staff were not allowed any unauthorised contact with the media

Tyson gives title belt to hero Ben

FORMER boxing champ Mike Tyson has given one of his precious world title belts to battling soldier Ben Parkinson.

And Tyson, 41, insisted: “He is the real hero – an inspiration.”

Lance Bombardier Ben, 24, who lost both his legs when his Land Rover was blown up by a mine in Afghanistan, was “amazed” to meet his sporting hero at a celebrity dinner.

His mum Diane Dernie, 50, said: “Ben had a wonderful evening. He was over the moon at meeting Mike and getting the belt.

“Mike was an absolute gentleman, he was gentle, caring and kind.”

Para Ben suffered 37 other injuries in the bombing in 2006 – including a blast injury to his brain.

Ben, the worst-injured soldier ever to survive such wounds, met Tyson when the American went to his home town, Doncaster, South Yorks, with the signed IBF title belt.

Diane, a supporter of The Sun-backed Help For Heroes campaign that raises money to care for injured troops, added: “Ben was a heavyweight and boxed for 7th Para.

“He was always a fan of Mike. Despite what has happened, Ben never thinks of himself as special and could not believe Tyson wanted to meet him. We tried to keep the belt a surprise but Ben found out.

“When Prince William and Prince Harry came to Hedley Court, where Ben is being treated, it was the first thing he told them.

“We were informed the belt is very special to Mike – but he has given it to Ben.”

Tyson, who presented the belt at a dinner for 800 fans, said: “I was humbled when I met Ben. I wanted to do something special for him.”

Hero lawyer sues Army over sex discrimination

A female Army lawyer who helped to rescue two SAS soldiers held prisoner in Iraq is suing the Army for £650,000 after claiming she was "victimised" by senior officers.
Major Rabia Siddique is claiming that her career in the Army Legal Service was destroyed after suffering months of religious, racial and sex discrimination by colleagues.

Major Siddique, who is believed to be a Muslim, is also claiming that she never received the proper recognition for the part she played in the negotiations to free two undercover members of the SAS who had been taken prisoner by police in Basra in Sept 2005.

The 37-year-old officer will tell an employment tribunal in London on June 9 that after she returned to Britain from Iraq she was offered posts within the Army Legal Service which "lacked prestige" and were "career limiting".

She will claim that her involvement in the SAS rescue was vital but she received only a minor decoration while a more senior officer won the Military Cross.

Major Siddique, who is married to an RAF officer, has blamed both Brig John Lorimer, who commanded 12 Mechanised Brigade in Basra, and Maj Gen David Howell, the Director of Army Legal Services, for damaging her career. Both officers strongly deny the accusations.

The disclosure that Major Siddique is seeking £650,000 compensation for the alleged loss of her career has angered many colleagues.

One officer said: "It would be an absolute disgrace if she is awarded many hundreds of thousands of pounds when soldiers who lose arms and legs or suffer brain damage can only receive a maximum of £285,000.

"The size of the claim, in this climate when many injured guys are getting just a fraction of the amount she is demanding, has caused a lot of upset in the Army. There is a very real sense of betrayal."

L/Bdr Ben Parkinson, who lost both legs in Afghanistan in 2006 when his vehicle struck a mine, will require 24-hour care for the rest of his life. So far he has received £285,000 in compensation, the maximum that can be awarded to injured troops.

The SAS hostage crisis took place on September 19, 2005 following an undercover operation to identify a senior Iraqi policeman who was believed to be responsible for the murders and torture of dozens of civilians.

The soldiers, who were disguised as Arabs, had their cover blown when they were spotted by plain clothes Iraqi policemen. A short gun battle broke out before the pair were captured and taken to the notorious Jamiat police station.

Once the British headquarters learned that the two SAS men were being held, a team was quickly assembled to try to negotiate their release. The team was commanded by Lt Col James Woodham, who conducted the negotiations, while Major Siddique was sent along to explain the legal situation to the police chief. The team also consisted of two members of the SAS who provided "close protection".

Senior officers have said that it was a dangerous mission and that there was a very real risk that the negotiating team might be taken prisoners themselves. Ultimately the negotiations failed and the SAS detainees were eventually rescued in a daring operation after they were moved from the jail into a nearby house.

Warrior armoured vehicles smashed through the wall of the police station, while a force composed largely of SAS troopers stormed the house and rescued the captive soldiers.

Following the rescue, riots broke out in the streets in Basra and a British serviceman was severely burned when his armoured vehicle was set on fire by protesters. The Iraqi justice minister ordered the British Army to hand over the soldiers and demanded unsuccessfully that they be put on trial for attempted murder.

Lt Col Woodham won the Military Cross for the part he played in the rescue while Major Siddique received the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service.

Her citation reads: "Major Rabia Siddique is commended for her support to units and their soldiers in ensuring they fully understood their legal powers."

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: "This case is going to employment tribunal. It is not our policy to comment on individual cases."

Gordon Brown orders defence delays to plug £2bn hole

Gordon Brown has overruled services chiefs and told them to delay replacing ageing weapons, vehicles and aircraft to plug a £2 billion black hole in the defence budget.

The heads of the armed forces had suggested cancelling two programmes outright to preserve the rest of their replacements from “salami-slicing”.

The prime minister is understood to have vetoed individual large-scale cuts for fear of negative publicity. A total of at least eight programmes will now be delayed. The highest-profile postponement will be the Future Rapid Effects System (Fres), a new generation of armoured vehicles that was due to come into service next year but which has been repeatedly put back.

Procurement chiefs who predicted that the budget for 2008-11 was so bad it was heading for “a train crash” now expect the black hole to be even wider in the two years after that.

“It is only going to get worse,” said one defence source. “The service chiefs are in ‘survival mode’, trying to avoid making any decisions to kill off programmes in the vague hope Gordon might go.”

The army has been the main loser after a series of damaging inter-service rows over what needs to be cut to pay for two new aircraft carriers, each costing £2 billion. Brown insisted that the carriers, to be built in the Rosyth dockyard where many of his constituents work, go ahead.

In addition to the Fres delay, intended to save £800m, other postponements include the Future Integrated Soldier Technology (Fist) programme, an attempt to have every soldier “networked” to their headquarters using information technology. Postponing this programme will push £100m of spending three years into the future.

A software upgrade designed to give the army’s Bowman communications system a battlefield tracking system to avoid friendly-fire attacks has been delayed indefinitely, pushing back more than £300m.

The RAF will receive no replacements for the three Hercules transport aircraft lost in Iraq and Afghanistan or the nine scrapped over the past year due to fatigue problems, saving £600m.

Replacements for the ageing Nimrod fleet, whose faults have been blamed for killing 14 servicemen in an explosion over Afghanistan, are unaffected by the moves.

The navy has survived virtually untouched, being forced only to accept that it will now only get six Astute submarines instead of the nine originally planned and six new Type-45 destroyers, instead of the original seven. But both these cuts were already accepted in return for the carriers.

“We have recently concluded our planning round which prioritises across the defence programme,” the Ministry of Defence said. “Some decisions will be put on hold while the examination of the equipment programme is carried out.”

RAF tip trip for chopper parts

RAF engineers picked up a spare part for a helicopter’s broken radio in a SCRAPYARD, it was revealed yesterday.

The equipment was desperately needed so the Puma chopper could be sent into action in Iraq.

But spares for the ageing Puma fleet are hard to come by.

So two men from the RAF’s 33 Squadron were sent to a local tip that sometimes keeps clapped-out military equipment.

And they found the vital electronic housing connector that was needed for the conked radio to be fixed.

A source at the unit, based at RAF Benson, Oxfordshire, said: “The radio is the key link between the pilot and troops on the ground so you can’t do without it.”

The engineers plundered a salvageable part from a Wessex helicopter taken out of service five years ago.

The source said their action showed Defence Secretary Des Browne just how cash-strapped the forces are.

The MoD said the spare part was available through normal procurement but it was quicker to get one from the scrapyard.

Iraq and Afghanistan troops under pressure as more resign fr

Almost a thousand servicemen have left the Armed Forces since the start of the year, prompting fears for the safety of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Government figures released on Thursday showed that the number of full-time trained personnel leaving the services had accelerated.

From January to April 1, provisional figures showed that staff levels had fallen from 174,910 to 173,960, leaving the Armed Forces more than 5,000 troops short of its own target. The casualty rate in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the 97th soldier died this week, and the low pay of infantry soldiers have been identified as factors persuading recruits to leave early.

The latest losses represent a significant increase in the rate of departure from the Armed Forces. In the period between last October and January this year, the number of full-time service personnel increased by 130. The figures follow a report by the Commons Defence Committee, which said earlier this year that it was “deeply concerned” that the Armed Forces had been operating above the level of their resources for seven of the past eight years.

James Arbuthnot MP, the committee chairman, said the treatment of personnel after tours in Afghanistan and Iraq was “unacceptable’’.

The Ministry of Defence insisted that it had turned a corner, claiming that the rate at which service personnel are leaving the Forces was slightly less than it was last year. It added that there has been an 8.3 per cent increase of 1,600 recruits who joined the Armed Forces in the past year compared with the previous year.

Baroness Ann Taylor, the defence minister, said: “We continually monitor the Armed Forces manpower situation so we can look at trends and take action where necessary.

“Recent initiatives include pay rises, increased operational allowances, the introduction of increased commitment bonuses of up to £15,000 to reward longer service, and a new £20 million pilot scheme to offer more affordable home ownership.”

Dr Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, said the Ministry of Defence’s attempt to put a positive slant on the figures was “an insult to our troops and their long-suffering families”.

He said: “No amount of spinning can disguise the fact that our Armed Forces are seriously overstretched.”

Patrick Mercer, a former Tory defence spokesman, said the latest figures were “disastrous” and the numbers able to serve could be even smaller because of injured servicemen who were out of action.

He said those leaving the Armed Forces were split between young recruits, up to 35 per cent of whom are now dropping out before qualifying, and full-time soldiers who are frustrated by having to spend more time in theatre away from their families because of troop shortages.

Helicopter crash leaves one dead

One person has died after an army helicopter with two crew members on board crashed in Devon.

The Squirrel training helicopter came down near Kingscott, Torrington, at 1545 BST. An air exclusion zone has been put in place.

One crew member was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash.

The other has been flown by air ambulance to North Devon District Hospital. He is believed to have life-threatening injuries.

A rescue team from RMB Chivenor was scrambled and Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue has crews at the scene.

About 12,000 homes in the area lost electricity supplies about the time of the accident, although it is not known if this was linked to the crash.

Western Power Distribution said it had switched to an alternative supply, but was unable to confirm if the incidents were related.

Roads close to the crash site have been closed and a two nautical mile air exclusion zone put in place.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "We are aware of an incident and will release further information in due course."

Ayia Napa bar owner sues Cyprus-based British soldiers for £

A Cypriot pub owner is suing nine British soldiers and the Crown for €5million (£4million) after his bar in the Ayia Napa resort was ransacked.

Writs have already been served to the nine members of the 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, said a lawyer for Kyriakos Hadjiyiannis, the owner of the Bedrock Inn.

The nine soldiers, who range in age from 19 to 27 and come from Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle upon Tyne and London, are facing a separate criminal trial on charges that carry custodial sentences of between three months and five years.

They are all accused of disturbing the peace and causing criminal damage at the Bedrock Inn on February 2 when they were celebrating before leaving Cyprus after a two-and-a-half year posting - during which each had served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Two of the men, both lance corporals, face charges of causing actual bodily harm. One, also a lance corporal, faces a charge of grievous bodily harm. All nine have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Their trial was opened in Paralimni yesterday and adjourned to July 3 after their lawyer said he would challenge the grounds of their arrest.

No writ has yet been served against the Crown, while Mr Hadjiyiannis and one of his customers seek an out-of-court settlement. But Christos Neophytou, the plaintiff's lawyer in the civil action, said legal representatives from the British military bases in Cyprus had shown no interest in a settlement and had just issued “blatant denials”.

Nick Ulvert, a spokesman for the British military in Cyprus, said: “From our perspective, there's nothing to say. If a civil action has been brought against the individuals, that's a personal matter.”

Mr Neophytou alleged that the soldiers had launched an unprovoked attack on Mr Hadjiyiannis, 40, at his Flintstones-themed bar. As a result, he had developed cataracts in both eyes and has since had three operations, Mr Neophytou said. Costas Kkollos, 31, needed 22 stitches for facial injuries from the attack, the lawyer said. Mr Kkollos was a customer in the pub at the time, but is now employed by the Bedrock Inn. An estimated €6,000 in damage was caused to the pub. Mr Neophytou said that, in addition to the personal damages and injury, the publicity had caused a significant loss of income to the Bedrock Inn which is a family facility.

At yesterday's criminal hearing, Andreas Charalambous, defending the soldiers, said he planned to challenge their arrest, based on witness accounts of the identification procedure that were followed before the defendants were taken into custody.

Another soldier, Fusilier Darren Mason, 27, from Manchester, spent three weeks in a hospital in Cyprus after the incident, with a depressed fracture of the skull, before being flown to Britain for further treatment.

Blair urged to support soldiers

THE Granddad of a hero trooper shot in Iraq today challenged former Prime Minister Tony Blair to donate money from one after dinner speech to a charity supporting Our Boys.

David Godfrey’s grandson Rifleman Daniel Coffey was shot through his helmet in the back of the head while on patrol in Basra in February last year.

At his inquest today Coroner Dr Elizabeth Earland gave a narrative verdict where she accepted Mr Coffey’s helmet was not designed to protect against small arms fire and no helmet could do this and "be practical".

After the verdict, Mr Godfrey spoke of the "tragic loss" of his grandson.

"The world in my perspective has suddenly grown much smaller," the 62-year-old said.

"If the Government intend to put our valuable human assets at risk of death and injury in the name of freedom and democracy then they should be fully equipped to do so.

"The Armed Forces of Great Britain cannot be expected to function as a force for good unless they have proper provision and protection to do so."

Mr Godfrey, from Cullompton, Devon, called on Mr Blair to "give a small gift to charity" in return for those who have made "the ultimate sacrifice".

He said: "I challenge you sir to donate the proceeds of just one speaking engagement to one of the charities who work hard to support our wounded servicemen and women."

Rifleman Coffey, from Cullompton, died on February 27 after his four-vehicle patrol of Warrior and Bulldog armoured vehicles had been fired on near Basra.

Ballistics expert Edward Wallace earlier told the inquest that analysis of bullet fragments revealed rifling characteristics of a Nato-type weapon.

The composition of the round was consistent with American manufacture.


The inquest accepted the findings and also ruled the round was fired from a weapon which had injured six other soldiers in Basra over a five-month period.

Dr Earland, coroner for Exeter and Devon, said she had been told in a letter from Colonel Tony Farmer of the Ministry of Defence Inquests Unit that Iraqi insurgents had a number of UK SA80 and US M16 weapons but it was not known how many.

Recording her verdict, Dr Earland said: "The helmet Daniel was wearing was not designed to protect against small arms fire.


"There are no helmets that would do this and be practical.

"We are all indebted to Daniel and his comrades who have paid the ultimate price on our behalf for the preservation of the values we hold dear and the safety of others."

Rifleman Coffey, who had volunteered for a second tour of duty in Iraq, was serving with C Company of the 2nd Battalion The Rifles when he was killed while returning to base at the Shatt-al-Arab Hotel after a task mentoring Iraqi police.

He was providing "top cover" for the patrol, standing with his head and shoulders exposed outside the hatch of his armoured Bulldog vehicle while keeping watch.

Rifleman David Spence, also "top cover" in Rifleman Coffey’s Bulldog, said a round was fired at their patrol when they stopped at a police station as part of the task.

Rifleman Spence said they re-boarded their vehicles under cover of smoke grenades and their Bulldog was stoned by teenagers and children.

Describing how their convoy slowed to a stop, he said: "I heard a loud crack, a high velocity shot."

He then saw that Rifleman Coffey had been shot.


EXCLUSIVE Sniper kills 5 British soldiers in Basra using a NATO RIFLE
By Rupert Hamer Defence Correspondent 9/09/2007
Related Articles
More Sunday
Have your say on What are you talking about? in our Forums
News picturesA day of the Jackal-style sniper is believed to have killed at least five British soldiers in Basra - using a NATO-issue rifle.

Ballistics experts say the bullets were all fired from the same gun - possibly an SA-80 - and were the same calibre used by British and US forces in Iraq.

Now SAS sharpshooters are trying to track down and take out the hitman in case British forces - now based outside the city - have to go back in.

The sniper's confirmed death toll began with Rifleman Daniel Coffey in Basra in February. The 21-year-old from Cullompton, Devon, was shot while patrolling with Iraqi police.

A month later Kingsman Danny Wilson, 28, serving with The Duke of Lancaster Regiment, was killed by a single round after leaving his Warrior vehicle to check for explosives near the Army's Basra Palace base.

Next day the sniper killed Rifleman Aaron Lincoln, 18, from Durham, who was also on patrol near the palace.

The fourth victim, Kingsman Alan Jones, 20, from Liverpool, died three weeks later in the Al Ashar district of Basra.

Victim No5 is thought to be 19-year-old Kingsman Jamie Hancock from Greater Manchester, hit while on on sentry duty in the heart of Basra. All five soldiers were killed by 5.56mm bullets. Coalition troops carry the SA-80 which uses a 5.56mm round.

The Iraqi insurgents usually carry Russian-made AK 47s with the much bigger 7.62mm round.

Confirmation that the deaths had been caused by a lone gunman came at an inquest in Cumbria into Kingsman Wilson's death. Coroner John Taylor was told that markings on the bullet removed from his body were consistent with those on the rounds taken from Rifleman Lincoln and Rifleman Coffey.

And a ballistics expert said it was "very likely" the same rifle also killed two other soldiers including Kingsman Jones. The inquest heard graphic details of how the sniper struck - hitting Kingsman Wilson in a spot not covered by his body armour.

Corporal Paul Bond, who was on the same patrol, said: "I heard a single gunshot, turned to my right - and saw Danny fall backwards. I rushed over to him. He was going into shock.

"He had a cold sweat on his forehead and his body appeared to go rigid."

The bullet had cut the main artery supplying his heart with blood and he died almost instantly.

Coroner Taylor told the Sunday Mirror: "It is clear from the ballistic report that the same weapon was used to kill three soldiers. It has not been established categorically that the other two servicemen were killed by the same weapon - but that is the suspicion."

Last night it emerged the assassin's toll could be much higher, with another five troops killed by a single bullet over the past three months.

An early victim may have been SAS hero Sergeant Jonathan Hollingsworth, 28, killed last year by a 5.56mm round.

Last night the Army insisted: "The 5.56mm round is the NATO standard round and this ammunition and the weapons that fire it are widely available on the open market.

"There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the ammunition that has tragically killed British soldiers has ever belonged to British forces.

"Any accusation that it has is entirely speculation."


The Day of the Jackal was written by Frederick Forsyth. His bestselling book tells the story of an assassin hired by a secret paramilitary group to kill French leader General de Gaulle - using a sniper's rifle.

The plot takes place in 1963 and was also a hit movie starring Edward Fox as the Jackal, who uses several identities to dodge de Gaulle's protectors and close in on his quarry.


Daniel Coffey, 21, Victim No1 - shot as he patrolled with Iraqi police

Daniel Wilson, 28, Victim No2 - bullet found chink in his body armour

Aaron Lincoln, 18, Victim No3 - killed by a single shot out on patrol

Alan Jones, 20, Victim No4 - cut down in Basra hotspot of Al Ashar

Jamie Hancock, 19, Victim No5 - he died on sentry duty in Basra City

Archbishop's leap of conscience

He was among the most prominent opponents of the war in Iraq, but the Archbishop of York John Sentamu is determined to improve the lives of the people sent to fight it.

And Dr Sentamu's latest gesture is as eye-catching as any that this most colourful member of the Church of England's senior clergy has yet performed.

He plans to leap from a plane at 12,000ft (about 3,660 metres) above the Nottinghamshire countryside - although bad weather has for the moment kept the clergyman grounded.

Dr Sentamu has never made a parachute jump before and has admitted that he has had butterflies in his stomach.

But he is determined to make what he calls a "leap of faith" - from Langar Airfield - to raise money for service personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is also a challenge to the general public to get over its embarrassment in dealing with the servicemen and women who are sent to do the nation's dangerous work overseas.

Government plea

Dr Sentamu believes that Britain does too little to meet its debt to the armed services, and shared the sense of shock that attacks on RAF personnel led in March to their being ordered to dress in civilian clothes while off duty.

The Church's second most senior leader has said the government needs to do more to look after servicemen and women.

"That means paying them more when on active service," he says, "housing them better and providing for the best medical and respite care if injured."

So the archbishop signed up for the jump from a plane belonging to the Parachute Regiment's Red Devils display team, and has even consented to being filmed leaping from the door and during his journey to the ground.

Dr Sentamu is hoping to raise at least £50,000 for the Afghanistan Trust, which provides care for soldiers injured there.

He said it was not too late to sponsor him.

These men and women risk their lives - the least we can offer them in their return is to deliver on the covenantal promise of a welcome return

Dr Sentamu

Archbishop's charity jump in doubt

Many airmen left the Langar airbase, after it was established in 1942, on risky bombing raids over Germany - and a significant proportion of them never returned.

As well as raising money for the successors of those front-line airmen, Dr Sentamu wants to prick the public's conscience about its attitude to those who fight on its behalf.

"These men and women risk their lives," says Dr Sentamu.

"The least we can offer them in their return is to deliver on the covenantal promise of a welcome return."

The British attitude to service personnel - not least those who return from Iraq or Afghanistan - is in marked contrast to that of the US.

In that country, for example, flight attendants will draw attention to a returning soldier and most of the passengers will applaud.

In the UK there is so much less public acknowledgement of their war service that the government talked about a plan to get personnel to wear their uniforms in public as a way of engendering respect and appreciation for them.

Public attention

That plan received a set-back when airmen and women from RAF Wittering were targeted in the nearby city of Peterborough because they were connected with Iraq and Afghanistan.

At first glance Dr Sentamu seems an unlikely champion for the armed services, as a leading critic of the decision to go to war in Iraq.

However, in an article in December he said "whilst those reservations remain, so does my respect for the professionalism of those service personnel whose work has been so valuable in the rebuilding of that country (Iraq)".

He went on: "Our armed forces have my deep admiration and respect for what they strive to achieve in the name of the is country and on behalf of others. They are second to none in their sense of courage and duty."

Dr Sentamu believes they are being short-changed, and hopes that taking to the skies will draw public attention to it

133rd Iraq death soldier inquest

A SNIPER weapon which killed a UK soldier in Iraq was used to injure six other servicemen there, an inquest heard today.

Rifleman Daniel Coffey, 21, from Cullompton, Devon, was shot through his helmet in the back of the head while on patrol in Basra in February last year.

His four-vehicle patrol of Warrior and Bulldog armoured vehicles had been fired on earlier, the inquest in Exeter, Devon, heard.

It was not known what kind of weapon the steel-jacketed tracer round came from.

Ballistics expert Edward Wallace said in a statement that analysis of bullet fragments recovered during the post-mortem examination on Rifleman Coffey revealed rifling characteristics of a Nato-type weapon.


The composition of the round was consistent with American manufacture.

The round was fired from a weapon which had injured six other soldiers in Basra over a five-month period, said the statement which was read by ballistics expert Ann Kiernan.

Exeter and Greater Devon Coroner Dr Elizabeth Earland said she had been told in a letter from Colonel Tony Farmer of the Ministry of Defence Inquests Unit that Iraqi insurgents had a number of UK SA80 and US M16 weapons but it was not known how many.

And it was not known from what sort of weapon the round which killed Rifleman Coffey had come.

Miss Kiernan said modern helmets were designed to protect as much as possible "but in this instance they would not stop a 5.6mm calibre projectile".

She agreed with the coroner that the helmet could not be expected to stop a high velocity round of the sort which killed Rifleman Coffey.

Miss Kiernan said she was not aware of any helmet available which would have stopped that kind of projectile, which she estimated could have been fired from between 50 to 100 yards away.

Rifleman Coffey, who had volunteered for a second tour of duty in Iraq, was serving with C Company of the 2nd Battalion The Rifles when he was killed while returning to base at the Shatt-al-Arab Hotel after a task mentoring Iraqi police.


He was providing "top cover" for the patrol, standing with his head and shoulders exposed outside the hatch of his armoured Bulldog vehicle while keeping watch.

Rifleman David Spence, also "top cover" in Rifleman Coffey’s Bulldog, said a round was fired at their patrol when they stopped at a police station as part of the task.

A Warrior vehicle was hit, after which "some Iraqi police started to laugh, some were using their mobile phones". He described the atmosphere as "intimidating".

"You can tell they do not want you there," he said.

Rifleman Spence said they re-boarded their vehicles under cover of smoke grenades and their Bulldog was stoned by teenagers and children.

Describing how their convoy slowed to a stop, he said: "I heard a loud crack, a high velocity shot."

He then saw that Rifleman Coffey had been shot.

Private Michael Allport, of the 1st Staffords said while the patrol was at the police station two shots were fired from a white car, and he returned fire and was "positive" he hit the vehicle.

The inquest continues

Inquiry begins into army cadet's death

An inquiry has been hearing how organisers of a training exercise in which a teenage army cadet died, didn't log the names of those who boarded the boat.

14-year-old Kaylee McIntosh from Aberdeenshire drowned after becoming trapped under the capsized vessel on South Uist last summer. A fatal accident inquiry into her death began at Inverness Sheriff Court today.

The inquiry today heard from witnesses who had been on board the boat which had capsized. A 14 year old boy who can’t be identified told how he had become hysterical. A 17 year old cadet told how he had become stuck underneath the boat and he described how he had managed to breathe through
The cadets were on a training exercise
an air pocket before getting free and pushing to the water’s surface. Two adults who were also on the boat gave evidence – instructor John Shaw who was classed as a passenger, the court heard, said he’d only volunteered for the trip the night before to man a machine gun mounted on board which had been used to fire a warning to one of the other boats that their vessel was turning back after radio calls failed. The gun was produced in court and the inquiry was told that it weighed around 14kg.

A Marine Accident Investigation Branch report previously condemned instructors because it was found that Kaylee, and indeed the rest of the cadets were wearing lifejackets designed for adults – basically they were too strong and Kaylee had been pinned underneath the vessel. It was some time before her disappearance was noted. Another witness told how as far as he was concerned no headcount had been carried out. But the major in charge, Major George McCallum had said everyone was safe. The court heard that some of the cadets in the capsized boat had waited for help while sitting on top of its overturned hull. The inquiry continues.

RAF gives assurances on Nimrod safety

Minister of State for the Armed Forces Bob Ainsworth MP and the RAF's most senior engineer, Air Marshal Sir Barry Thornton, have made statements following the conclusion of the Inquest into the crash of RAF Nimrod XV230 on 2 September 2006 in which 14 servicemen lost their lives.

Nimrod MR2
Air Marshal Sir Barry Thornton, Chief of Materiel (Air), said:

"My thoughts today are first and foremost with the families and friends of those who died, and with the men and women of the Armed Forces, who I know feel the loss of their colleagues very deeply.

"From the evidence heard at the Inquest, and from the findings of the Board of Inquiry, it is clear that the crew of XV230 acted with the utmost professionalism in the face of a complex and demanding emergency situation. I pay tribute to their courage and dedication.

"With respect to the airworthiness of the aircraft today, we have stopped air-to-air refuelling and no longer use the very hot air systems in flight. This eradicates any dangers from the serious design failures noted by the Coroner that have been present in this aircraft since the 1980s. These measures have been supplemented with enhanced aircraft maintenance and inspection procedures to ensure the aircraft, as it is today, is safe to fly.

"In addition, to ensure we can operate the aircraft safely until its planned retirement from service, we have in place an effective package of more permanent measures which are being progressed as quickly as practicable. All of this work and our safety assessment are based on advice from both inside and outside the Department.

"I can assure you that the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Air Force place the highest priority on airworthiness and the safety of our personnel in the air and those we support in operations in the ground. We would not ask our personnel to fly in aircraft we did not believe were safe."

Bob Ainsworth said:

"My thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues of those who died in XV230. On behalf of the MOD and the Royal Air Force, I would like to apologise again to the families of those who died for our failings which led to this tragic incident.

"I would like to reassure all those concerned that the Chief of the Air Staff has reaffirmed to me that the Nimrod is airworthy, and that we are dealing with all the issues raised by this incident. The independent review of the airworthiness and safety of the Nimrod is ongoing.

"I have noted the coroner's comments and I will consider them carefully. The Nimrod is saving lives in operational theatres every day. However, if it was not safe we would not be flying it; it is safe with the measures we have taken and that is why we will not be grounding the fleet.

"Finally, in remembering the crew of V230, we must not forget that that they acted with the utmost professionalism throughout and I pay tribute to them."

Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne MP, added:

"The deaths of 14 brave servicemen in Afghanistan nearly two years ago was a profound and tragic accident, and my thoughts and sympathies are with their families today. The safety and security of our service personnel is an absolute priority for me. That is why I have sought the advice of the RAF’s most senior officers and have been assured that the changes we have made to the Nimrod mean that it safe to fly."

10 crew quit over Nimrod safety fears

AT LEAST 10 Nimrod pilots and crew quit RAF Kinloss over fears they would be killed in the ageing fleet, it was claimed last night.

They walked out BEFORE a coroner ruled the planes should be grounded in the wake of the disaster which claimed 14 of their colleagues' lives.

The Nimrod exploded in a fireball after an air-to-air refuelling over Afghanistan.

At the inquest last week into the 2006 crash, Oxfordshire coroner Andrew Walker said all Nimrods should be grounded.

Experts believe Mr Walker's damning verdict could spark a wave of walkouts.

Aviation writer David Morgan, who has flown thousands of miles in Nimrods over 20 years, said: "I know of 10 who have left in the past decade fearing for their safety.

"I would expect further resignations due to family pressures following the coroner's finding that the aircraft are not fit to fly."

Retired squadron leader Bob Hellyer admitted dodging flights involving air-to-air refuelling during his four-and-a-half years captaining a Nimrod.

Mr Hellyer, who runs a computer centre in Forres, Moray, said: "I believe the Nimrod is not unsafe as an aeroplane but the air-to-air refuelling makes it unsafe.

"I actively avoided missions involving air-to-air refuelling because the aeroplane was not designed to do it, and who in their right mind would fly with two large planes within feet of each other?

"I would not be telling you this if I was still in the Air Force."

Families of the 14 servicemen killed are to discuss legal action.

Former Nimrod ground engineer Jimmy Jones, who is advising the bereaved families and their solicitors, said: "I would be surprised if disaffected air crew had not left to go elsewhere."

Last night the MoD refused to discuss the specific claims.

But Air Marshal Sir Barry Thornton said: "The Ministry of Defence and the Royal Air Force place the highest priority on airworthiness and the safety of our personnel."

Iran 'paid Iraq insurgents to kill UK soldiers'

Iran has secretly paid Iraqi insurgents hundreds of thousands of American dollars to kill British soldiers, according to a leaked government document obtained by The Telegraph. The allegations are contained in a confidential "field report" written by a British officer who served in Basra during one of the most dangerous periods of the conflict. The report, which has never been made public, shows the full level of Iran's involvement in the insurgency for the first time.

The document states that the Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) – also known as the Mahdi Army – one of the most violent insurgent groups operating in Basra, used money from Iran to recruit and pay young unemployed men up to $300 (£150) a month to carry out attacks against the British. The findings have been passed to the highest levels in the military.

The leak comes at a time of rising tension between Iran and the international community, as Tehran continues to stonewall UN inquiries into allegations that it has carried out research to develop a nuclear weaponThe report, "Life Under Fire in the Old State Building", details the activities of British troops under the command of Major Christopher Job, of the 2nd Lancashire Regiment, between November 2006 and March 2007.

In the report, Major Job discloses that in the course of five months his base was attacked 350 times. Old State Building, which is in the centre of Basra, is the most-attacked British base in recent history.

In an attempt to discover who was behind the attacks, the officer says he established a network of informers, who supplied him with detailed intelligence on the actions of the insurgents and who was behind their funding.

The officer states that the reports of Iran's involvement came from a network of 25 sources, which included a former Iraqi army general, prominent businessmen, local sheikhs and council leaders.

He writes: "We learnt from a number of our Key Leadership Engagements [local contacts] that the source of the problem was the level of unemployment in Basra.

"JAM, using funding from Iran, paid the unemployed youths in the region of $300 per month to attack Multi National Forces. We also learnt that JAM had a drugs culture and that youths literally got hooked on being associated with JAM."

Twenty-seven members of the Armed Forces died and dozens were seriously injured in southern Iraq between November 2006 and May 2007, the period that Major Job covers in his report.

A senior British officer who has recently returned from southern Iraq said that the existence of "Iranian finance teams" in Basra was widely known by the British military and Foreign Office, although always officially denied.

He said: "It suited Iran to arm JAM in order to allow them to have the means to hit us."

Patrick Mercer, the Tory MP and a former infantry commander said: "This report makes it quite clear that Iran is directly involved in funding the insurgency."

He added: "The Government must confront Tehran over the deaths of British troops – anything else is appeasement."

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: "There is evidence to suggest a malign influence in Iraq by Iran, including the supply of equipment and armaments which are used by insurgents against UK forces in Iraq.

"This influence is completely unacceptable and serves only to undermine the efforts by the government of Iraq and the coalition."

'Wrong bomb' row over MoD payouts

British soldiers seriously injured in Iraq and Afghanistan are being denied government compensation because they were wounded by the 'wrong type of bomb'. The Ministry of Defence has refused payouts for injuries under its criminal injuries scheme that may have been caused by landmines left by the Soviet army in Afghanistan or other discarded ordnance.

Under the MoD's criminal injuries compensation overseas scheme, frontline troops can claim for an injury or death not caused by military operations against the Taliban or Iraqi militia.

British soldiers seriously injured in Iraq and Afghanistan are being denied government compensation because they were wounded by the 'wrong type of bomb'. The Ministry of Defence has refused payouts for injuries under its criminal injuries scheme that may have been caused by landmines left by the Soviet army in Afghanistan or other discarded ordnance.

Under the MoD's criminal injuries compensation overseas scheme, frontline troops can claim for an injury or death not caused by military operations against the Taliban or Iraqi militia. British soldiers seriously injured in Iraq and Afghanistan are being denied government compensation because they were wounded by the 'wrong type of bomb'. The Ministry of Defence has refused payouts for injuries under its criminal injuries scheme that may have been caused by landmines left by the Soviet army in Afghanistan or other discarded ordnance.

Under the MoD's criminal injuries compensation overseas scheme, frontline troops can claim for an injury or death not caused by military operations against the Taliban or Iraqi militia.

Alternatively, troops injured after April 2005 can also apply for financial support under the armed forces compensation scheme, which offers payouts for soldiers injured or killed on duty.

However, troops rejected from the criminal injuries scheme are no longer eligible for the other scheme, with soldiers' lawyers claiming that a number of injured frontline troops are being denied their rightful compensation.

Manchester-based Hilary Meredith Solicitors, which has more than 20 years experience in pursuing claims against the military, said: 'The government's logic is bizarre and they are clearly wriggling out of paying men injured in war zones by suggesting they have been injured by the wrong type of bomb.'

Recently the government increased the maximum payout under its armed forces compensation scheme to £285,000. Payments under the criminal injuries scheme are higher with a maximum of up to £500,000.

Lawyers representing British troops believe that Soviet landmines and discarded explosives should be classified as causing criminal injuries as they were not deployed against British forces.

Yet the MoD's criminal injuries scheme has rejected a number of claims after their investigations indicated the explosives were deliberately planted by the enemy to target British troops.

Afghanistan is the most mined country in the world because of the vast number of Soviet landmines. Some estimates suggest there could be up to 10 million.

A number of cases also relate to Iraq where British servicemen have been injured by devices that lawyers believe were planted by local criminals.

One soldier, Sergeant Steven Llewelyn, who sustained a lifelong disability in a roadside bomb attack and whose appeal was last month turned down by the MoD, condemned the decision as 'absolutely disgraceful'.

Llewelyn said that the attack on his ambulance in southern Iraq appeared to have been carried out by criminals who looted the vehicle. He also said that, unlike militia attacks, it was not circulated by local groups as propaganda.

Llewelyn, 45, from Accrington, Lancashire, has been diagnosed as 40 per cent disabled following the attack in 2003.

'Men have been sent to Iraq, their friends have died and they are getting nothing. It is absolutely disgraceful they will offer us no compensation because they disagree who caused the explosion,' said Llewelyn. He suffers tinnitus, severe pains in his legs and was medically discharged from the army two years ago.

An MoD spokesman said the terms of the criminal injuries scheme were clear and that each case had been investigated thoroughly before any decision. He said 'a comprehensive' compensation package was available for injured troops

Withdrawing ‘Mighty Hunter’ would hit fight against Taliban

Afghan crash Nimrod should never have flown, RAF chief admit

SAS soldier killed in Afghan blast

We covered up Iraqi bomb attack which destroyed a £30million

Soldiers test positive for drugs

Ten soldiers serving with the Black Watch have tested positive for illegal drugs in a random test, the Army has confirmed.

MOD announces Baha Mousa Public Inquiry

The Ministry of Defence has announced today, Wednesday 14 May 2008, that a Public Inquiry will be held into the death of Baha Mousa, who died in British custody in September 2003.

Rocket 'bounced off' army officer

An Army officer from the Highlands survived an attack in Afghanistan when a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) bounced off his chest before exploding.

US troops to help deluded British in southern Iraq

American troops will be deployed to southern Iraq this summer with orders to adopt a more robust approach than the "self-delusional" British.

British troops in Afghanistan should fight for 15 months

not six, says Nato chief

Afghanistan hero criticises poor care for troops

A decorated paratrooper who was wounded as he led a bayonet charge against the Taliban has criticised the hospital treatment he received in Britain.

Paratroopers forced to practise parachute jumps in a wind

tunnel due to shortage of planes

Exclusive report: Soldiers need loans to eat, report reveals

Senior figures react angrily to damning indictment of life inside the Army. Jonathan Owen and Brian Brady investigate

THE Red Arrows have been banned from performing at the 2012

London Olympics as they are too


Forces' centre gets £24m boost

The armed forces rehabilitation centre, Headley Court, is to get an extra £24m to improve facilities for injured servicemen and women.

Lt Harry Wales has received his medal for service on

Operation Herrick alongside comrades from the Household Cavalry Regiment.

New mission for British troops in Kosovo

Students bid to ban army

The Iraqi teenage girl killed for loving a British soldier

Army weakened by recruitment failure

British Soldier Killed By Afghanistan Mine

Paras tread warily in Helmand province

The newly arrived troops from 2nd Battalion are eager for action, but first they must get to know their enemy in Taleban heartland

Bullets, blood and bravery on the 999 run in Afghanistan

Stuart Webb joins Britain’s elite combat medics on a relentless series of dangerous flights to rescue the injured – both friend and foe

UK research study into driver behaviour

The Law Explored: human rights on the battlefield

No job, race, creed, colour, class or age puts a person outside the ambit of human rights, says Professor Gary Slapper

British soldier killed and nine injured as armoured car

ploughs into them in Germany

Troops have some rights - Browne

Human rights laws do apply "to some degree" to British soldiers in combat, Defence Secretary Des Browne has said.

Families can sue MoD over failings that led to

deaths of troops

Human rights 'apply to UK troops'

Human rights laws can be applied to British troops on active service, a High Court judge has ruled.

Iraq snubbed Britain and calls US into Basra battle

Mothers lose bid for Iraq public inquiry

Disabled soldier goes back to war in Afghanistan

Six months after losing a leg, Corporal Stuart Hale has returned to the battle zone in Afghanistan

Redcap families take inquiry fight to Europe

Wounded soldier forced to live in tent after being made

homeless by local council upon return from Iraq

My Son's in Afghanistan,

So WHY is the Media Obsessed with Trivia?

Special forces ‘tried to menace’ Hercules death-crash witnes

Army heroes' wives face DEPORTATION

Jo Gooderson had barely waved her soldier husband William off to Afghanistan when the envelope dropped on her doormat.

Civilian QC chosen to run military court despite MPs push

for specialist candidate

Blast kills two British soldiers

Two British soldiers have been killed in an explosion in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

Army offers bursaries to boost recruitment

School leavers will receive total of £2,000 to join up

MoD criticised over soldier death

A British soldier who was crushed while repairing a tank in Afghanistan died because his regiment was not provided with proper equipment, a coroner ruled.

MoD to admit breach on Mousa case

The Ministry of Defence is to admit breaching the human rights of an Iraqi man who died in British custody in Basra, the defence secretary has said.

Soldier wife wins deportation row

The wife of a Northumberland soldier threatened with deportation has won the right to stay with her family.

British soldier is killed in Iraq

A British soldier has been killed during a firefight in Iraq, the Ministry of Defence said.

'Refusal is a slap in the face'

A soldier from the Commonwealth who served more than four years in the British Army, including two tours in Iraq, has been told he can't become a British citizen because he applied on the wrong date.

Soldier's wife leaves UK over row

The wife of a Northumberland soldier has moved to Spain after the Home Office threatened her with deportation.

Defence Secretary wants to gag coroners accusing MoD of

'serious failings' over soldiers' deaths

US military Iraq toll hits 4,000

The number of United States military personnel killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion five years ago has passed the 4,000 mark.

Teachers reject 'Army propaganda'

You Couldn't Make It Up!

Disabled veterans jeered at swimming pool


Links to Online Tributes

A Thank You Letter.

From Iraqi Kurdistan...

To Uncle Paul

A letter that needs no further introduction...

Home | About M.F.S.G | In Memory | Going on Deployment | Memorials | Make A Donation
Can You Help | Links & Resources | Information & Leaflets | Forum | News | Disclaimer | Privacy | Legal Information | Contact Us

Copyright © Military Families Support Group 2006 - 2019, Created and Hosted by Zero-One Design Ltd.
military families support group, military families welfare, military families, military families support, support for military families, advice, help, guidance, army welfare, navy welfare, air force welfare, uk armed forces, uk service personnel,