Shortages in key protective kit would have meant "severe" consequences if UK troops had come under chemical attack in the Iraq war, say MPs.
The MPs say the deployment was hurried
The Commons defence committee says the Iraq operation was a military success.
But troops had to cope with "real difficulties" caused by hurried deployment and inadequate supplies.
A year on from the start of the war, a new BBC poll suggests 48% of Britons now think military action was right, with 43% opposed and 9% undecided.
The ICM survey for BBC Two's Newsnight also suggests that 29% of people think Tony Blair told the truth about weapons of mass destruction.
But 40% of those interviewed said he exaggerated but did not lie, and 22% said he lied about the weapons threat.
The committee's new report on the lessons of the conflict criticises ministers for a "misjudgement" in failing to plan enough before the war for rebuilding Iraq for fear of making the conflict seem inevitable.
It also suggests the Department for International Development's (DFID) role in post-war planning was constrained because of ex-cabinet minister Clare Short's attitude towards possible military action.
Ms Short responded on Thursday by saying that criticism was "completely untrue" and is angry the MPs never put the claim to her.
Sgt Roberts' death highlighted kit problems
"I really am surprised by the slovenliness of it and I really think it casts
doubt on the quality of the committee," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
In the early days after the conflict, argue the MPs, it was a mistake not to have protected key buildings and infrastructure other than oil wells as a priority.
And the "potential goodwill of the Iraqi people was squandered" by not being able to establish troops on the ground quickly enough to prevent lawlessness after removing Saddam Hussein, they claim.
Failure to provide enough forces to guard munitions dumps also "cost Iraqi civilian lives".
Kit shortages have caused controversy for Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, especially over the death of Sergeant Steve Roberts days after he handed his enhanced flak jacket to other troops.
The MPs say enhanced body armour is another example of shortages in critical equipment caused by problems in supply and tracking of equipment.
And they find it "alarming" that a full system to track equipment once it is out in the war zone will not be running for another five years.
The committee says there were "serious shortcomings" in the supply of nuclear, biological and chemical protection equipment.
Ideally, troops should have been given four protective suits each but instead had only one, although the Ministry of Defence judged that enough.
Combopens, used for inoculations in the event of a gas attack, were also so scarce they had to moved around in Iraq to keep up with troops' needs.
The MPs say: "Had the Iraqis used chemical weapons systematically, as employed in the Iran-Iraq war, the operational consequences would have been severe.
"The lack of armoured vehicle filters seems to us to be a matter of the utmost seriousness."
The report also condemns as "unacceptable" that two weeks after fighting began 60% of extra desert clothing and boots had still not arrived.
It also says the MoD has to establish the scale of problems with ammunition supplies and investigate specific cases, such as the six military policemen killed by a mob in Iraq.
Committee chairman Bruce George said: "The fact that this operation was a notable military success should not blind us to the very real difficulties which our armed forces had to cope with in terms of hurried deployment, inadequate supplies and a lack of time for proper in-theatre training."
Former Desert Rats Lance Corporal Ian Stevens told BBC Radio Five Live he experienced clothing, breathing kit and food shortages in Iraq.
"We didn't have enough preparation, we didn't have enough equipment," he said.
A spokesman told BBC News Online the MoD welcomed the MPs' report, and a formal response would be issued once the recommendations were examined.
He said clothing shortages had been addressed, troops had enough gas canisters to guard against chemical attack, and catering provision was shared with the US army.
But Conservative shadow defence spokesman Nicholas Soames said political indecision had caused delays on kit orders.
"It is disgraceful that commanders were forced to take avoidable risks in
putting their men into action," he said.
Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Paul Keetch branded the chemical protection shortages "truly shameful".
"With a force massing in the Gulf, it is ridiculous for the MoD to claim that
post-war planning was hindered by a desire to respect diplomacy at the United
Nations," he added.
One Year On
Iraq - A Newsnight Special was screened on Tuesday at 2100 GMT on BBC Two.
John Churchill, Duke of Malborough, was able to in the 18th Century ensure that his men were fully equipped for their march to Blenheim, even down to the provision of spare boots. Yet every major war since, Britain has put into battle inadequately equipped armies, and suffered the consequences. That we won, in the end, has more to do with the bravery of the men who fought.
Steve Blunden, UK
Could it be that the reason there was no urgency on getting adequate supplies of NBC gear to the front, was that Tony and his mates knew that there was no chemical threat because Saddam didn't actually have any WMDs?
Andy, Aberdeen, Scotland
I am a serving soldier who deployed to both Gulf wars. Therefore I have experienced the significant improvements in personal kit and war-fighting equipment over the last 13 years. Politicians will, understandably, always delay until the last possible moment the political authorisation for the committal of UK forces to conflict, which despite the best contingency plans, results in rushed and therefore flawed deployments. War will always contain an element of disorganisation and chaos, plans will always require changing at the last minute, resulting in the mislocation of slow-moving or static logistical stocks and supplies. We are getting better, and yes, there is room for improvement, but you cannot compare a military operation of the complexity of Op TELIC with running a supermarket! The geographical spread, fluidity and joint/coalition-nature of modern operations make asset tracking an incredibly complex operation. Add to that harsh environmental factors, human error and the influence of the enemy and it is amazing that the logistical supply chain from manufacturer/home base to front line functions at all.
I have a son who is a front-line pilot, flying missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I am appalled to hear his stories of lack of basic kit for all the services. On the news at the time it was interesting to note the all the rear echelon officers and troops, hundreds of miles from any combat, had desert combat clothes while the troops at the sharp end were in NATO green. Our forces did so well, the government is shortly going to cut the defence budget even more. Already overstretched armed forces will be expected to make do, with far less. It is time that Hoon did the honourable thing and resigned.
Peter (an Englishman), Rio de Janeiro
Having served in Desert Storm 1 and various other theatres, this comes as no shock. On balance I understand why we don't have the equipment sat on shelves waiting for possible deployments due to shelf life issues; but it does astound me that in this day-in-age we cannot get a better stock control/ ordering / rotation system in place.
Let's face it we were always going to go to war, or if not then we would have certainly have to have gone for peacekeeping duties post-conflict, so why weren't the orders placed? Gordon Brown and the chancellery are not shy at taking money away from the taxpayers, but do seem reticent at signing any "cheques" for major government outgoings.
Ian K, Hertford UK
I was in Kuwait/Iraq last year and although 'sharp', didn't get issued desert boots and ballistic plates for my body armour until after being in Iraq for a week or so, and didn't get desert combats until after the war had ended. It says something of what the people in government think you're worth when you are stood around in green European coloured combat kit surrounded with all that sand and ballistic protection given as an after thought. Why do we bother?
Keith D, BFPO
As an ex-reservist I think I have the solution. If memory serves correct I believe that there are 4 civil servants to every sailor in the RN and no doubt a similar ratio applies to both the Army and RAF. So, firstly reduce the civil servants by at least 25%, as although we cut our armed forces we do not appear to reduce the number of associated civil servants. There should therefore be savings for the right amount of kit here. Secondly next time we have to deploy our forces to a war zone take another 25% of the remaining civil servants with them, preferably led by Geoff Hoon. I am sure this move would ensure all the kit is in right place at the right time !
Roger Harris, Cardiff
I am an ex soldier who saw active duty in Gulf War (1) with many friends still serving. A number of these served during the initial fighting in Iraq during Gulf War (2) - Return of the Bush. Many of the issues experienced during the first conflict have been re-experienced during the second. In 1991 Britain went to wage a desert war with next to no desert equipment as it had sold most of it to the country it was about to wage war upon. Troops were stuck in the desert wearing tropical combats whilst all around them were reporters wearing desert equipment. The second time around and no lessons seem to have been learned. Our troops are still under-equipped only this time the British Government added the obstacle of not bothering to ensure an adequate food supply line either, so that many troops were on half rations. The government might have changed hands, but evidently the storekeeper is still the same.
Mike, Birmingham, England
There have always been shortages of kit - even 25 years ago when I served, but I don't think ever to this extent. NBC items must always be in date and available, ditto body armour - you cannot deal with every situation from the fighting compartment of an armoured vehicle. The MOD seems to be trying to apply "Just In Time" supply philosophies from industry to a theatre of war and there is no comparison. As the buck stops with him I really do think Geoff Hoon should consider his position.
Dave Harmon, Aylesbury , UK
I find it amazing that when my local branch of Tesco's has an advanced computer system that can track every purchase down to the last tin of beans that the MoD is STILL 5 years away from being able to adequately computerise its' own logistics train.
Geoff, Bangor, Wales
It was not only kit that was in short supply. One tank regiment found itself having to refuel from the Americans who only had aviation fuel for our tanks to use. The unit went all through the campaign on avgas. Suitable camouflage nets were in such short supply that they had to be purchased from Israel. The Israeli nets have a certain heat reflecting property. Up-armour kits for tracked recce vehicles were also sourced from Israel. Also note that we are hearing from the Americans that they were also short of various bits of kit. Not all their troops had desert combats etc. They too ran short of rations and water as they advanced far ahead of their logistics trains.
Rod Woodhouse, Hemel Hempstead UK
Kit shortages are nothing new. As a TA soldier I went to Sandhurst for Officer Selection. On the final ex I carried the GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun), 5 (yes, five) rounds and a football rattle - for when I ran out of ammo. After 15 years in the TA I remain convinced that the only reason we win wars is that for some reason British Squaddies can dig themselves out of the mess they have been dropped in faster than anyone else.
Withheld, York, North Yorkshire
I served for 19 years in the armed forces. From day one I had to supplement my own kit at my expense and this never changed throughout. Decent boots, water proofs, additional uniform, navigation equipment, webbing, etc. The only thing not purchased was a decent weapon. How can ministers be surprised when they instigated the cutbacks? The main problem is that our services are highly professional and adaptable and as such always perform well. As a result the powers that be always think there is scope for more savings to be made. Troops are going from one operational tour to another without rest. Equipment stocks are not being replaced and new equipment being brought into service is delayed or cancelled to save money. When I left the Regulars and joined the TA kit shortages were even worse. We weren't even issued with a complete set of combats.
I was a reservist called up for the war in Iraq last February. I was issued with all the kit I needed including body armour combo pens and detector papers. I was based at Ali Al Salem air base and did not require any body armour as our chance of contact was minimal. While I was there a lot of body armour was being collected for the frontline troops from people such as myself. Body armour should be like respirator issue, you sign for it when you get to your unit and hand it back in when you leave to go to your next unit. Like our training before we left for theatre the war was hurried and under prepared. After leaving the army 5 years ago I thought things may have changed but I was obviously wrong
Daz, South Yorkshire
I used to be in the forces, so am acutely aware of the perennial problem of lack of kit even for operational deployments. There was an all too accurate comment that did the rounds:
"As a cost reduction measure, in future the military will only procure three sizes of uniform. These sizes will be designated:
"Too Big", "Too Small" and "Out of Stock"
Ian, Norwich, UK
The military have always had kit shortages even from my days in the TA. However in this instance they do not appear to have learnt any lessons from the first Gulf War nor have they planned properly for the last knowing in advance that action was likely. The most damming part is the failure of the basic equipment, boots, rifles, clothing, NBC kit and body armour - it appears that the MoD has a low regard for the troops own safety.
Matthew Baker, St Albans UK
It seems absolutely bonkers that time and time again, British Troops are sent into hostile situations without adequate protection. From WW11 when the tanks were not up to the job, through to Falklands when the Anti Aircraft systems and boots were inadequate, and now to Desert Storm (1) - tank filters - remember them? and inadequate non-operating field radios and Desert Storm (2) - insufficient body armour available. Do the politicians who deal with allocation of funds and budgets reckon that Army NCOs are there purely to bail them out by offering superior combat training to soldiers? How difficult is it to work out that if here are 5,000 men in the field, they need 5,000 weapons, 5,000 pairs of boots and 5,000 sets of body armour - or is it me?
Marcus Foster, Kingston, Surrey