Page last updated at 15:46 GMT, Sunday, 9 November 2008

Forces head backs army's vehicles

Sir Jock Stirrup
Sir Jock Stirrup claims the Snatch Land Rovers are essential

The head of Britain's armed forces has rejected claims that troops in Afghanistan have been let down over the equipment they are supplied with.

The Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, told the BBC troops want to keep using the light-armoured Snatch Land Rovers.

They have been criticised over the deaths of 34 UK personnel.

It has also emerged that British civil servants are banned from travelling in the vehicles when they visit war zones.

In an interview with BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, Sir Jock insisted that commanders on ground believed the size and manoeuvrability of the Snatch vehicles made them essential pieces of equipment.

'Small arms fire'

This type of Land Rovers are unpopular because they were originally developed to be used only for operations in Northern Ireland.

Their thin armour is designed to withstand small arms fire, not roadside bombs and large mines.

Last week, SAS Commander Major Sebastian Morley was said to have condemned the continued use of the vehicles when he resigned from the armed forces.

But Sir Jock said: "If you speak to people on the ground, the overwhelming view is that the kit they have in theatre is good."

snatch land rover

"I worry all the time about all of our equipment and all our vehicles and I worry particularly about Snatch and where it is being used.

"But I keep a very close eye on this and I speak to commanders all the time and they tell me unequivocally that they need a vehicle that has the size and manoeuvrability of Snatch in order to be able to conduct their mission."

Last month Defence Secretary John Hutton announced British troops in Afghanistan stand to benefit from a 700m scheme paying for 700 new and upgraded vehicles which will offer them better protection than they have now.

However many of these are not due to reach the frontline until 2010.

Sir Jock said: "We want a vehicle like that which is better protected than Snatch, and that is what we have been developing.

'Different rules'

"We have vehicles in theatre now that have better protection than Snatch, but of course they are not all arriving at once.

"Our task is to make sure that they have vehicles of that size and manoeuvrability with as much protection as can practically be put on."

His comments came the same day that it emerged that British civil servants are only allowed to use armoured Toyota Land Cruisers in war zones.

Sir Jock defended the practice and said: "The rules for civilians in these operational theatres are different from those for military, and that is obviously right.

The military are there to do things that are more dangerous than we would expect civilians to do."

But Des Feely, the father of Corporal Sarah Bryant who died in a Snatch in Afghanistan in June, told the Sunday Mirror the decision was "absolutely outrageous".

He described the vehicle his daughter was travelling in as nothing more than a "tent on wheels".

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