Norfolk MP backs troops over leave shortfall

Elaine MaslinA Norfolk MP has added to criticism to be levelled at the Ministry of Defence today over its support to troops on the front line in Afghanistan. Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk, has called for better management of troops' leave after discovering that more than half of all flights out of the warzone had been delayed in 2008-9, cutting rest and recuperation periods.Elaine Maslin

A Norfolk MP has added to criticism to be levelled at the Ministry of Defence today over its support to troops on the front line in Afghanistan.

Richard Bacon, MP for South Norfolk, has called for better management of troops' leave after discovering that more than half of all flights out of the warzone had been delayed in 2008-9, cutting rest and recuperation periods.

His comments come as the Commons public accounts committee today published its report on support to high intensity operations, specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The report highlights a heavy reliance on emergency procurement procedures to get badly needed equipment to troops fighting in Afghanistan, lack of spares for helicopters and armoured vehicles and a reliance on contracted or coalition helicopters.


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Unreliability of equipment was also raised - one vehicle, the Vector, originally bought to replace the lightly-armoured Snatch Land Rovers, performed so poorly it had to be withdrawn and replaced with an upgraded version of the Snatch, according to the report.

In some cases, a lack of reliability only emerged once the equipment had been deployed in theatre.

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According to the report, when the Mastiff armoured vehicles were initially deployed to Afghanistan last year, at one stage only 20pc were classified as "fit" due to the effects of the harsh terrain and a lack of spares, although the situation has since improved.

It also said 'hardened accommodation' for troops outside Basra airport in Iraq had not been completed before UK forces withdrew in 2009.

However, medical support on the front line had increased the number of survivors from severe battlefield injuries and there was better detection of those at risk of developing post traumatic stress disorder, the report said said.

Mr Bacon said the MoD was looking at other options to compensate soldiers who lose out on leave, such as extending leave after the end of their tour, but that this was not good enough.

'Our troops deserve better than this,' he said. 'At present the clock starts ticking for armed forces' leave the moment they are due to embark from the war zone.

'This is quite unfair, leave should begin for our troops when they arrive in the UK. Simply telling exhausted troops 'we'll make it up to you later' is not good enough.'

The report recommends that the forthcoming strategic defence review should "fundamentally re-examine' whether the current equipment programme was delivering the right balance of capabilities for both current operations and future needs.

Edward Leigh, the committee chairman, said that there were important areas in the system of support for forces deployed on operations where the process was "creaking'.

"This equipment has mostly performed well. But the serious downside is that problems with reliability have sometimes emerged only after the kit has actually been deployed,' he said.

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