Sunday, February 17, 2008

The British spend the last of their army

Oh yeah. Kosovo. Everyone forgot about that little episode.
Britain's overstretched Armed Forces are to send as many as 1,000 troops to the Balkans in a move that will see the military's last remaining reserve unit deployed on operations. Britain's overstretched Armed Forces are to send as many as 1,000 troops to the Balkans in a move that will see the military's last remaining reserve unit deployed on operations. The deployment - part of Britain's commitment to the Nato-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) - takes place at a time of growing pressure on the military. It will mean that more than 14,000 British troops are on overseas operations, a figure last equalled at the end of the Iraq War in May 2003.
And with that, the British army and marines are spent. There is no regular reserve force available for any other contingency. If an emergency, requiring the British military to respond, occurs over the next few months something will break. Something will have to be dropped.
The Army is currently 3,800 men under strength, virtually every infantry battalion is undermanned and one in 14 serving soldiers is not fit for active service. In the next few weeks thousands of Paras from 16 Air Assault Brigade will fly out to Helmand in southern Afghanistan for the start of a widely anticipated Taliban "spring offensive".
It's worse than that actually. Here I pointed out that the two Para battalions are understrength by about 100 men each. They are pulling 60 men (total) from the Territorial Army (part-time reservists) in an attempt to make up some of the manning deficit.

There's more, however, and it could be the thing that puts the British army into a flat spin.
Sources have also indicated that despite the troop shortages, the British Task Force in Helmand might need to be reinforced before the summer in order to hold on to the strategic town of Musa Qala, which was taken from the Taliban in December.
Who those reinforcements would be remains a question at this time. One thing is certain, if the British contingent in Helmand requires reinforcement and it has to come from the British military, it will be a unit which has just recently returned from deployment.

Then there are commitments which tend to fly under the radar and are leading to desperation moves.
The lack of available troops has also forced the MoD to call up two entire Territorial Army regiments to serve with the United Nations in Cyprus, to free troops for operations elsewhere.
Two entire TA regiments. Those are part-time reservists intended for home defence. Cyprus should cause a few Canadian ears to perk up. Canada had maintained an infantry battalion in Cyprus until it was withdrawn by the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney and left the British holding the bag.

The British had hoped to be fully air-mobile by the time 16 Air Assault Brigade arrive in Afghanistan in April. They too have been taking losses by having to move on the roads. That, however, appears to be unlikely.
Commanders had hoped that an extra fleet of Chinooks would have been available for operations but software problems have meant that the helicopters will not be ready for another year, it can also be disclosed.

The helicopter shortages will force troops to travel by road, making them vulnerable to attack from mines and improvised explosive devices.

So, you'd think that, given this horrendous tasking placed on its peacetime armed forces by the British government that they would be finding ways to get more money into the services.

No such luck.

A SENIOR defence official has warned that the armed forces are heading for a “train crash” because the government is starving them of funds for vital equipment.

In a confidential presentation to colleagues at a meeting in the Ministry of Defence to discuss budget cuts, he said defence spending had been so severely pruned that vitally needed equipment was simply unaffordable. He also warned that the government risked “mortgaging the future” of national defence.

The official, a senior defence equipment capability manager, resorted to black humour, portraying the Treasury as an axeman who has cut off the arms of his MoD victim and is saying: “Stop whingeing . . . at least you have got your legs.” The meeting, one of a series to try to work out how to pay for all the equipment the forces need to meet their commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, was also told that the Treasury has exaggerated the increase in the military budget.

This is underscored by two British coroners' inquests which found that a lack of adequate equipment was a significant factor in the deaths of three British servicemen, all of whom were killed in Afghanistan.

The manning situation will only get worse. If the British MoD isn't able to provide sufficient equipment and the operational tempo of the British military remains at its present level, there will be a mass exodus of troops which will take years to correct.

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