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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 November 2007, 09:44 GMT
The battle over forces spending
By Caroline Wyatt
Defence correspondent, BBC News

British troops in Basra
There are about 5,500 British troops in Iraq and 7,100 in Afghanistan
A group of former military chiefs and politicians, calling themselves the UK National Defence Association (UKNDA), has launched a campaign for a major increase in funding for the armed forces.

It is rare for former top brass to start such a public campaign, let alone in such a sensitive political area - but they believe it is time to speak out.

The establishment of the UKNDA can be seen as a sign of the growing gulf between ministers and some in the military over the course of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are claims that the government is no longer honouring the military covenant, Britain's duty of care to its servicemen and women.

Winston Churchill, former MP and grandson of the UK's prime minister during World War II, is president of the group and insists that the government must prioritise spending on the armed forces.

"Successive governments have let people down," he says.

"Whereas health and education have seen surges in spending, defence has seen a decline, and that needs to be reversed if we are to ensure our men and women on the front line have what they need.

"That decline in spending also means that when they come home injured there are few defence medical facilities for rehabilitation and some have to rely partially on charity for funding.

"While in terms of compensation, they get a fraction of what a civilian would receive for injuries."

'Let down'

The recent case of Rifleman Jamie Cooper, who at the age of 18 became the youngest soldier to be badly injured in Iraq, is one example.

These are the forgotten soldiers, the ones coming back injured
Caroline Cooper
Mother of Rifleman Jamie Cooper wounded in Iraq

He lost the use of his right hand and one leg, and suffered severe stomach injuries when he was struck by shrapnel from two mortars in Basra last year. He is still in hospital recovering from a super-bug infection he caught after his latest operation.

He is to receive 57,000 in a one-off compensation payment from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), on top of a small annual income when he leaves the Army.

His parents are planning to appeal against the compensation amount.

"Jamie feels very let down," says his father Phil.

"Yes, he chose to join the forces, but the MoD should look after their own - he's a young man who needs to be able to rebuild his life."

Jamie's mother, Caroline, says their appeal is not just on behalf of their son.

"I feel disgusted, angry and upset," she said. "These are the forgotten soldiers, the ones coming back injured, and we want more for the next soldiers to be injured too."

Another former chief of defence staff and UKNDA member, Adm Lord Boyce, agrees that servicemen and women fell let down by those in charge.

And he says that feeling could hit troop recruitment and retention hard.

'Public debate'

The UKNDA's launch comes after the establishment last year of the British Armed Forces Federation, a staff association set up amid growing discontent among the rank and file.

It also follows a report by the think tank Demos on Monday, which warned that the future for Britain's armed forces looked bleak unless steps were taken to improve pay, housing, training and recruitment.

The report's authors, Dr Timothy Edmunds, senior lecturer in the politics department at the University of Bristol, and Professor Anthony Forster of Durham University, said Britain needed a "pragmatic and public debate" on defence.

British soldier in Afghanistan's Helmand province
Gordon Brown has announced an extra 7.7bn for defence

That debate should focus, they said, on what role the armed forces should be playing in the 21st Century and whether their work in Iraq and Afghanistan was making Britain a safer place.

In July, the MoD was awarded an annual 1.5% real-terms increase in its budget. That compares with 4% for health and 11% for international development.

The MoD also announced extra spending on accommodation for servicemen and women, bringing the total defence budget for 2008 to 34bn.

In a statement, the department said overall spending would increase by 7.7bn by 2011.

This, it said, was "evidence of the government's commitment to defence and to the men and women who serve with the utmost bravery in our armed forces".

The MoD also said it welcomed the contribution of the UKNDA to the spending debate.

"The UKNDA's supporters include prominent former senior military personnel, including chiefs of staff, and their experience will undoubtedly be invaluable in any such debate," it said.

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