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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 September 2006, 09:13 GMT 10:13 UK
Army chief backs RAF Afghan role
General Sir Richard Dannatt
General Dannatt said he visited troops himself in Afghanistan
An e-mail criticising the RAF's work in Afghanistan was "irresponsible", the head of the British Army has said.

General Sir Richard Dannatt said it was "unfortunate" that the comments made by a major in the Parachute Regiment had been made public.

Major James Loden, of 3 Para, based in Helmand, had described the RAF as "utterly, utterly useless."

Gen Dannatt also admitted he was unsure how many soldiers had been wounded in Afghanistan since the conflict began.

He was responding to comments made by a senior officer who suggested the British army is sustaining higher casualties in Afghanistan than official figures indicate.

Gen Dannatt, the chief of the general staff, told the BBC that while the figures were "well known" at the Ministry of Defence, he had asked to be personally updated by early next week.

'Huge respect'

Speaking about Maj Loden's email, Gen Dannatt said everyone in the operation in Helmand was doing a "fantastic job".

"A lot of brave young men and women in both the British Army and the Royal Air Force - and some support from people from the Navy - are doing a fantastic job in Afghanistan, and in Helmand province in particular. And they're a team.

UK troops in Afghanistan
UK troops in Afghanistan are coming under sustained attack

"I've got huge respect for all of them... It's difficult, dangerous work and I think it's unfortunate that one e-mail that is about four or five weeks old has now surfaced.

"The media's had knowledge of this for quite a while. The Chief of the Air Staff and I discussed it quite a while ago."

In the leaked e-mail, confirmed as genuine by the Ministry of Defence, Maj Loden said there had been "plenty of tears" following casualties in the intense fighting with the Taleban.

His e-mail also gave an example of the RAF's failure to provide air support.

"... Harrier pilot 'couldn't identify the target', fired two phosphorus rockets that just missed our own compound so that we thought they were incoming RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades], and then strafed our perimeter, missing the enemy by 200 metres," it said.

As an ex-serviceman it comes as no surprise to me that the RAF is lambasted this way
Mark Neve

On Friday, an MoD spokesman said Maj Loden's comments about the RAF "do not reflect the view of the vast majority of soldiers".

The "tears" Maj Loden referred to were "not tears of exhaustion or frustration", he added.

"This is a reflection of the fact these men are under daily attack and sadly there are often daily casualties."

On Thursday it emerged that Major John Swift, a commander in Afghanistan, had raised concerns in an internal army newsletter that casualty numbers in Afghanistan were very significant and showing no signs of reducing.

He claimed that soldiers were often patched up and sent back out to fight without the injury being recorded.

Gen Dannett said that if incorrect casualty details had been made public it would be due to the "confused and difficult" situation.

He added that there was "nothing to hide" and figures would be rectified if needed.

"Everyone who is a casualty - whether killed or wounded - is a personal tragedy," he said.

British troops in action in Afghanistan

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