Page last updated at 18:15 GMT, Saturday, 1 November 2008

Minister 'horrified' by SAS claim

snatch land rover
Snatch Land Rovers are lightly armoured

A minister has said he is "horrified" by accusations the government has been "cavalier" with soldiers' lives by not giving them proper equipment.

An SAS commander in Afghanistan resigned over what he is said to have called "chronic underinvestment".

The Daily Telegraph said Major Sebastian Morley accused ministers of ignoring his warnings about the safety of the Army's Snatch Land Rovers.

But defence minister Quentin Davies said safer vehicles were now available.

Maj Morley, an SAS reservist commander in Afghanistan, is reported to have blamed a lack of adequate resources for the deaths of four service personnel.

Quentin Davies
I recently visited Afghanistan, and 100 per cent of those I asked said they were now satisfied with their equipment
Defence minister Quentin Davies

They include Corporal Sarah Bryant, the first British female soldier to die in Afghanistan.

The troops were killed on 17 June when their Snatch Land Rover struck a roadside bomb in Helmand Province earlier this year.

In his resignation letter Maj Morley is said to have accused ministers of "gross negligence" in allowing soldiers to go into battle without adequate resources.

The lack of equipment, he is reported to have said, was: "Cavalier at best. Criminal at worst".

But Mr Davies, defence and equipment minister, told the BBC he found these accusations "surprising and very sad".

"The idea that we have been cavalier with soldiers' lives is horrific".

Mr Davies said, while three or four years ago there may have been "serious shortcomings", soldiers now had access to better equipment.

The government had recently announced the purchase of 700 new armoured vehicles and commanders already had access to a wide range of vehicles.

"I recently visited Afghanistan, and 100 per cent of those I asked said they were now satisfied with their equipment."

Travesty of reality

He said, given the nature of war, "there may be occasions when in retrospect a commander chose the wrong piece of equipment, the wrong vehicle, for the particular threat that the patrol or whatever it was encountered and we had some casualties as a result".

However he said the idea the Ministry of Defence was "indifferent" to the need to get the right kit into theatre was a "travesty of reality that it is actually quite difficult to take this at first face value".

The Snatch Land Rovers are unpopular because their thin armour is designed to withstand small arms fire, but not roadside bombs and larger mines favoured by insurgents.

Mr Davies defended the decision of the MoD to keep Snatch Land Rovers in service because, he said, it was important commanders in the field were able to chose the most appropriate vehicle for different situations.

"The Snatch Land Rover can offer speed, flexibility and access in places other vehicles cannot reach," he said.

'Better protection'

But some relatives of soldiers who died in Snatch Land Rovers have repeated calls to have them withdrawn altogether.

Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004 said: "The Government have been talking about replacing Snatch Land Rovers but they need to put their money where their mouth is now.

"I have been asking for this for four years. It is too late for Gordon and the others who have died but there are a lot of boys out there still who deserve better protection."

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said British troops were suffering over what he called Gordon Brown's "lack of commitment" to the war in Afghanistan.

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey said the 700m investment in new armoured vehicles had come "tragically late".

"Many voices have been warning about the inadequacy of our vehicles in Afghanistan," he said. "The government should have acted very much sooner."

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