Page last updated at 18:21 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Army to restrict foreign recruits

By Michael Buchanan
BBC News

British soldiers in Basra, Iraq (Dec 2008)
Foreign nationals fight for the British army in war zones like Iraq

The government will limit the number of foreign citizens serving in certain units of the Army, the BBC has learned.

The decision, which could be announced next week, follows years of discussion over the increasing role that foreign service personnel play within the Army.

Radio 4's PM programme has discovered three units will be asked to employ a maximum of 15% foreign nationals.

They are the Royal Logistics Corps, the Royal Army Dental Corps and the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps.

Technical

Figures obtained by the programme indicate that the logistics and nursing corps are approaching that ceiling. However, the nursing unit already has 15.2% foreign nationals, according to the latest Ministry of Defence figures.

The number of foreign nationals serving in the army has mushroomed in recent years, as recruiting officers have turned to countries like Fiji, Ghana and South Africa to fill positions.

Excluding the Ghurkhas, whose Nepalese roots make them a special case, almost 7% of the army is made up of foreign nationals. Ten years ago the figure was around 1%.

Non-UK personnel in the army
Fiji: 2,2205
Ghana: 885
South Africa: 870
Jamaica: 645
St Vincent & Grenadines: 330
Source: MoD (figures for 1 Oct 2008)
At least 17 foreign nationals have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting in the British army.

Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry, who in 2005 became the first recipient of the Victoria Cross since the Falklands War, was born in Grenada before moving to the UK in 1999.

Professor Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute, told the PM programme that the Ministry of Defence was right to focus on these three units.

"I think the challenges in these particular areas, because they are technical areas, are that you don't want to become too dependent on foreigners in logistics, dental and medical where services could be severely disrupted.

"You can always make up extra infantry by bringing in new units and so on, but if you have a dental service or a medical service it's very difficult to make up numbers quickly.

"So I think there's a degree of prudence here that these particular technical areas should not be hostage to political fortune by having too many foreign people serving in them."

This is thought to be the first time the Army has put limits on the nationality of its soldiers, having historically been open to foreign service personnel.

The defence minister, Kevan Jones, confirmed PM's story in the House of Commons on Thursday following a question from a Conservative MP.

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