Page last updated at 00:00 GMT, Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Forces 'unprepared' for new tasks

British troops in Afghanistan
The committee said the Army had been working at "full stretch"

Campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have left UK armed forces ill-prepared to take on any new tasks, MPs have warned.

The Commons Defence Committee said that British forces needed a period of "effective recuperation" as a result.

It added it was "unsatisfactory" that the ability to carry out tasks not connected with current operations overseas had fallen to such an extent.

Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell said the government was committed to a "strong and balanced" military.

The committee said RAF pilots were unable to train because aircraft were tied up on operations, the Royal Navy had too many commitments, and senior generals believed the Army needed another 10,000 troops.

The MPs added that resourcing the armed forces on the assumption of maintaining one enduring medium-scale operation and one small-scale operation were "out of step with what is happening in reality".

'Troubled times'

The committee quoted Lt Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, Commander of the Field Army, who said his senior colleagues believed the Army needed to expand from about 102,000 troops to 112,000.

The MPs' report said: "The Army has been working at full stretch. Given the high tempo of operations over the last eight years, it is not surprising that some senior Army officers think that there needs to be a bigger Army."

The committee said that whoever formed the next government should not let any "stringency" cuts affect the strategic defence review (SDR) which all the main parties are committed to.

"We must warn against the risk that an early stringency budget might prejudge the outcome of the strategic defence review," it said.

"If the review concluded that the country faced a particular significant threat, the government would look foolish if only a few months earlier it had rendered itself less capable of dealing with it."

The MPs added: "The thinking of easier times - when public spending on health, education and social security was increased by much more than that on defence - must not be allowed to continue into these troubled times."

'Absolute priority'

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said the report "exposes the damage that has been done across the armed forces by Labour's refusal to hold a proper review for over a decade".

"It is clear that radical reform is needed to ensure that our armed forces are best configured to defend British interests and that our procurement programme gets our troops what they need, when they need it," he said.

"We need a step change, not tinkering, to fix these problems."

Mr Rammell said the scaling down of operations in Iraq last year had allowed the government to start rebalancing the country's forces.

"Over the last nine years our armed forces have been fighting hard in Iraq and Afghanistan, carrying out complex operations that few other nations are capable of," he said.

"Success in those operations, and providing our troops with all the resources needed to deliver them, has been our absolute priority, and we have consistently ensured that our troops have had the support that they need."

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