Blair condemned by Army for 'you will have what you need' pledge
Sean Rayment – Telegraph.co.uk October 8, 2006
Senior army officers have condemned pledges by Tony Blair that British commanders in Afghanistan will get "whatever they need" to defeat the Taliban.
In an interview on British Armed Forces Radio yesterday, the Prime Minister said: "If commanders on the ground want more equipment — armoured vehicles for example, more helicopters — that will be provided. Whatever package they want, we will do." And in an article for The Sun, Mr Blair went further, stating: "[British forces] will get, I promise, whatever front-line commanders tell us they need to complete their job."
But defence sources said that what commanders needed most desperately was more troops on the ground — something Mr Blair notably failed to mention.
Another source said it was scandalous for the Prime Minister to suggest that commanders could have as many helicopters as they liked when it was a "well-known fact" within the military that virtually all helicopters were committed to training or operations.
Patrick Mercer, the Tory homeland security spokesman and a former infantry commander, said the Government was clearly "paying the price for fighting wars on two fronts".
He said: "The Afghan campaign will not be won with the use of hi-tech gadgetry, it will be won by boots and bayonets and this is what the Prime Minister has singularly failed to guarantee."
Although only 18 per cent of the Army is actually on operations, six of the military's eight operationally deployable combat brigades are already committed to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Senior commanders are reluctant to commit extra troops to Afghanistan because, according to one officer, "there would be nothing left to deal with any unforeseen emergency".
Only last month, Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, the chief of the general staff, admitted that the Army could only just cope with the operational demands troops were facing in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Prime Minister's comments came in the same week that the Government finally conceded that it was unacceptable to treat wounded soldiers on mixed NHS wards, a scandal first highlighted by The Sunday Telegraph as part of its "Fair Deal For Our Troops" campaign.
In the interview, Mr Blair also hinted that the Government would give tax breaks to service personnel taking part in operations overseas, an issue also highlighted by our campaign.
The review of soldiers' pay and conditions was ordered by the Prime Minister after this newspaper revealed that soldiers fighting Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan were being paid less than £2 per hour. The disclosure prompted a national outcry and forced the Government to act. Defence sources have told The Sunday Telegraph that it is highly likely that servicemen will not have to pay income tax or council tax when they are on operations overseas.
Meanwhile, as part of an attempt to boost the welfare package available to injured soldiers, the Ministry of Defence announced that troops wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq are to get more financial support while they are in hospital. To help pay for costs of using telephone, the internet and television, hospitalised troops will get £5 a day in the United Kingdom and £10 overseas.
Last updated 10/10/2006