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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 August 2006, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
Troops in Iraq 'under-equipped'
A British soldier inspects the site of the blast that earlier killed two colleagues
Soldiers now face a higher threat in southern Iraq, MPs say
British troops fighting in Iraq are under-equipped and overstretched, a group of MPs has warned.

The all-party defence committee said the soldiers needed more helicopters and better-protected patrol vehicles to shield them from roadside bombs.

Committee members visited Iraq in June and also say operations in Afghanistan are being done on a "shoe string".

Defence Secretary Des Browne insisted that British forces in the country were "stretched, but not overstretched".

And he claimed that many of the equipment problems were being dealt with.

Committee chairman James Arbuthnot, a Conservative MP, said the troops now faced a "significantly higher threat" in southern Iraq.

"We cannot send them on operations without giving them the tools they need to do the job. The MoD must address equipment shortages and capability gaps as a matter of urgency."

Mr Arbuthnot told BBC Radio 4's Today programme his committee had also recently visited British troops in Afghanistan and had similar concerns there.

"There was a feeling that the whole thing was being done on a shoe string and that we are not spending enough money on the troops we are putting into danger, and that we are asking [them] to do extremely difficult things on our behalf," he said.

'Courage and dedication'

The MPs said their research had raised fundamental questions over whether the armed forces were structured, trained and equipped to fulfil their role.

The Land Rovers were not designed for the job they're doing now
Col Bob Stewart
Former Army commander

They promised to return to those questions in the future.

BBC security and defence correspondent Rob Watson labelled it a "remarkably critical report" from a "usually constrained" committee.

Mr Browne said he welcomed the scrutiny, adding: "I am glad the committee recognises the professionalism, courage and dedication of our people in Iraq.

"On helicopters, we have a long-term programme to increase operational availability levels - and we continue to explore ways of meeting short-term needs."

'Appalling'

The MPs were particularly concerned with the use of Snatch Land Rovers, which have been deemed "ineffective" against the more sophisticated roadside bombs.

They said the Land Rovers were originally designed for use in Northern Ireland and offered "far too little protection" against the increasingly sophisticated roadside bombs seen in Iraq.

Mr Browne ordered an urgent review of them after a number of soldiers were killed.

And the Ministry of Defence is sending extra Cougar vehicles. Mr Arbuthnot said this was good news but they were not ideal and the government had not acted quickly enough.

The government's reckless decision to cut the size of the Army is having obvious consequences
Nick Harvey
Lib Dem defence spokesman

Colonel Bob Stewart, who was a British commander with the UN forces during the civil war in Bosnia, agreed with the committee about the Land Rovers.

"It's been appalling that so many of our soldiers have suffered as a result of roadside bombs and these Snatch Land Rovers," he said.

"The Land Rovers were not designed for the job they're doing now."

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey said equipment and capability shortages in Iraq could "prove fatal and must be urgently addressed".

"The government's reckless decision to cut the size of the Army is having obvious consequences," he said.

"With major operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a reassessment of whether our capabilities are sufficient to meet our commitments is long overdue."




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