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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 December, 2003, 16:05 GMT
UK troops 'left without key kit'
British troops before leaving Cyprus for Iraq
Protection suits arrived late
Frontline forces were left without vital kit during the Iraq War because of supply failures, a report says.

Nuclear, chemical and biological weapon protection suits and desert clothing did not reach or fit many troops, the National Audit Office report says.

The Whitehall watchdog says morale was hit with a typical view being: "We're out here fighting and you can't be bothered to buy us a proper uniform."

Despite the failings the report praises the scale and speed of the operation.


Conservative MP Edward Leigh, chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, said: "We expect the men and women of the armed forces to fight and maybe die for us. So it is an outrage that they could not expect all of the proper equipment, protection and even clothing to do the job we ask of them.

"They were shamefully let down."

The supply system was simply swamped by the sheer volume of equipment
David Clarke
National audit office
The National Audit Office (NAO) report says it was a major achievement to deploy 46,000 of British troops to Iraq within 10 weeks - half the time taken in the first Gulf War.

New and improved equipment, such as the Challenger Two main battle tank and the SA80A2 assault rifle, "performed well", it says.

But some of the Challenger tanks were only finally fully armoured up for desert warfare 48 hours before they went into battle.

Confidence drop

Some tanks and armoured vehicles never received the protective nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protection filters with which they were meant to be equipped.

There was so much confusion in some cases that troops simply took the equipment they needed, says the report.

Overall, this was a remarkably successful operation
Geoff Hoon
Defence Secretary

"The lack of confidence in the ability of the logistics system to meet units' needs in-theatre led to a considerable degree of misappropriation of equipment and stores moving through the supply chain," it says.

In an "extreme case", 1 (UK) Armoured Division sent a team back from Kuwait to their stores at Bicester in a vain attempt to find missing NBC detection kit.

And some of the 200,000 body armour sets issued since the 1999 Kosovo campaign appeared to have "disappeared".

"The supply system was simply swamped by the sheer volume of equipment," said NAO director David Clarke, whose team which drew up the report.

Clothing problems

Many of the problems were made worse because Treasury pressure meant the Ministry of Defence only held limited stocks of some kit in an effort to reduce costs, says the report.

As the deployment began, the ministry had to replace urgent orders with manufacturers, who sometimes had only just enough or too little time to deliver.

There was a 40% too few nerve agent detector units and the MoD's entire stock of 4,000 vapour detection kits, used by troops when they unmask after a suspected chemical attack, was found to be unserviceable.

"Difficulties" in providing enough NBC protection suits in some sizes were found and a some gas masks did not fit as well had been thought.

And problems getting desert clothing and boots to frontline troops meant some soldiers had to wear their normal green and black camouflage throughout the war.

Morale effect

The NAO says equipment shortages eroded troop morale.

The lack of proper desert clothing was particularly resented by the troops, said Mr Clarke.

The report also points to failures in planning for the coalition's duties after the main phase of the conflict was over.

"Our experience from the field visit to Iraq was that the government had not fully appreciated the consequences of a total collapse of the Saddam regime and what the UK's obligations would be once hostilities ceased," it says.

'Remarkable success'

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, said: "The scale and speed with which the operation was carried out are both extremely impressive.

"There were problems, but these should be seen in the wider context of the overall success."

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said he had repeatedly acknowledged the operation had not been perfect.

"But overall, this was a remarkably successful operation and conducted in a very short space of time to deliver huge amounts of people and material to conduct a very effective operation," he told MPs.

Mr Hoon said he was publishing a "tough" document on the lessons to be learnt from the Iraq operation.

Read a selection of your comments below.

Historically the British Government (of whatever political persuasion) has always expected the utmost dedication and professionalism of the armed forces, but has always been too parsimonious to pay or equip them properly. However, the politicians and civil servants who hold the purse strings would never put their lives on the line in the way they expect the forces to. This report just shows that nothing has changed. It was like this 100 years ago, it was like this when I joined the army in the 1970's, and it is the same now.
Paul, Milton Keynes, England

As an ex-British soldier I know all about the lack of kit British soldiers have to put up with, but this lack of kit makes a British soldier more resourceful, inventive and adaptive, qualities of which breed good soldiers. This is one of the main reasons why the British squaddie is such a highly respected soldier throughout the world, compared to armies who get as much and what ever kit they want. This has always been the case and no doubt always will be.
Ben, Redhill, Surrey

As a serving soldier I do buy my own kit and equipment to supplement issued clothing as many soldiers do. When NBC equipment and body armour is concerned we have no option but MOD equipment and receiving a canister 15 years old (5 years out of date) isn't good news. That said my unit's moral was good throughout the war, we just get on with it.
John, Barnsley S, Yorks

A fairly typical story of how the British Army always goes to war
Marc, London
This is, I'm afraid, a fairly typical story of how the British Army always goes to war - with the wrong equipment loaded or not present thanks to cost-cutting in Whitehall. My Grandfather was a sergeant-major in September 1939 and recalled in his diary how shocked he was when the first British troops turned up. Some of the trucks had been hastily commandeered from civilians and hadn't been repainted khaki in time.
Marc, London

I was out in the Gulf, and the lack of proper equipment was embarrassing and potentially fatal for the troops out there. I have been in the RAF for 14 years and during that time there have been constant cutbacks to save money. Some good and plenty bad. If you are going to send someone out to, possibly their death, a war zone there should always be enough equipment in working order to enhance survival. What price do you put on a life? In some cases the price of a fuse it seems.
Mark S, Scotland

Although I do understand the need for appropriate equipment, surely troops in the field should be trained to be happy with what they have? Never in the history of warfare have the logistics been perfect. Two hundred years ago troops didn't have food - now they're complaining that they have the wrong coloured clothing. I'm not saying we shouldn't try and improve things - but a soldier's life is a hard one - fact. And we should really stop complaining.
Pete, York, UK

I served in the Army for 20 years, and all during that time, myself and my colleagues bought a lot of our own kit, as that issued was never really up to the job. It's a sad reflection when our guys/gals buy a mixture of other countries' and privately made kit. I believe the MOD knows that service people will do this and therefore buy the cheapest priced kit, or don't issue it in the first place. As was said to me on many occasions...."if we've got it, it's the cheapest tender on the market"!!
Steve Schanzer, Cwmbran Wales

A lack of funds to do the job properly
Anon, Cambs, UK
My brother is in the Army and works in the Logistics arena. The main problem they have is, as always, a lack of funds to do the job properly. Government cutbacks, as stated in the piece, mean inadequate supplies to hand, and difficulty getting new supplies from manufacturers in short timescales. Although the general 'management' of the army has improved dramatically, there are still limits to what can be done with limited funds.
Anon, Cambs, UK

This doesn't surprise me. Cost-cutting and outsourcing of logistics and store staff means that vital jobs are carried out by people on 4.00 an hour, working 8 hour days. No wonder 1 Armoured had to send a team back to Bicester! I visited that depot shortly before the ground campaign started, and three members of staff were playing indoor football while others attempted to pack kit.
Rob, Durham, UK

My brother had to buy his own kit before he left for Iraq and was sent across into the front line without body armour. He and his friends had to swap regimental badges with the Americans for decent equipment and desert clothing.
Heather, Leeds, UK

Where are their priorities?
Annie, Bristol
My partner is in the army and to ensure that he can do his job to the best of his ability, he has to buy various pieces of kit to replace the army issue stuff which is just not good enough. The lack of vital equipment for front line troops shows complete disregard for the safety of our boys by the government - and despite ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the war of terror, the forces are facing more cuts. Where are their priorities? It's clear the Blair's son isn't in the forces!
Annie, Bristol

I joined the Army in 1963 as a young boy soldier and received a re-issued First World War Uniform, complete with what appeared to be a bullet hole under the right arm. I continued to serve in HM forces in one form or another for a total of 36 years, and towards the latter end of my career found more and more soldiers purchasing their own items of uniform in order to be able to cope with the elements and the circumstances under which they were expected to serve their country.
Brian Lee, Doncaster Yorkshire

I served in the first Gulf War and these supply issues existed then. It would appear that the MOD/Treasury are more concerned with cost cutting/saving than provision of all essential equipment to its troops. British servicemen are respected the world over for their skills. However it is embarrassing to be constantly under equipped when in the field, a point often raised by other nationalities.
Pete, Norwich, Norfolk

Like Pete, I was in the first Gulf operation and I completely agree with his view. I was posted to a Field Hospital and we were embarrassed to have to ask forces from other countries for the basic eqiuipment {things like shelving} to allow the hospital servicable. I received my desert combat kit on the day the cease fire was ordered. The MOD will never learn until it becomes more accountable.
Alan, Herefordshire UK

The inability of the MoD to supply our troops with NBC suits doesn't sit well with the fact that for many months before the war the entire justification for sending our troops to Iraq was the existence, and possible use, of chemical and biological weapons. So were the MoD incompetent, or did they just never believe our troops were at risk of NBC attack?
Alan, UK

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