Page last updated at 13:48 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 14:48 UK

MoD denies delay to vehicles' use

Ridgeback armoured vehicle
The government ordered about 150 Ridgback vehicles 18 months ago

The Ministry of Defence has denied a claim that new armoured vehicles were delayed from being used in Afghanistan owing to a lack of transport planes.

The Conservatives had complained that nine heavily-armoured Ridgbacks were stranded for weeks in Dubai.

But the MoD said the vehicles were being shipped for troops trained to use them not yet deployed to Afghanistan.

The government has ordered about 150 Ridgbacks, which are designed to offer greater protection from landmines.

Tory shadow defence secretary Liam Fox had called it "inexcusable" that the nine vehicles remained in Dubai for weeks after arriving on 16 July.

The party claims they were left at an airbase after RAF C-17 planes were deployed to move equipment in Iraq.

Defence officials say six of the nine vehicles have now been delivered and the other three will arrive by the end of the week.

In a letter to Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, Mr Fox asked: "If we are having difficulty moving only six out of the nine Ridgbacks into theatre in a period of three weeks, what plans are in place to move the 50 Ridgebacks which are expected in Dubai this November?"

'Necessary training'

An MoD spokesman said the vehicles had not been intended for use by 19 Brigade, currently in Afghanistan but without enough trained drivers to use them.

"They are being shipped in time for the arrival of their successor formation, 11 Light Brigade, which has spent all summer training on the new vehicles," the spokesman said.

"Training is not discretionary. These are complex pieces of equipment that will operate in an extremely demanding and dangerous environment.

"We will not put lives at risk by asking soldiers to drive these vehicles without the necessary training."

The deployment of 11 Light Brigade in Afghanistan begins in October.

The Ridgbacks are due to offer extra protection, weapons and communications systems aimed at providing better protection from roadside bombs and landmines.

In his letter, Mr Fox asked for details of the remaining 100 Ridgbacks announced by the government in 2007.

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