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Last Updated: Friday, 22 December 2006, 13:59 GMT
UK army 'not too small to cope'
Des Browne
Mr Browne said he was listening to commanders' concerns
The Ministry of Defence has denied the Army is too small to cope with its current overseas commitments.

The denial came after defence secretary Des Browne told a newspaper operations in Iraq and Afghanistan meant there was a lack of time for training.

The MoD said it did not expect its overseas commitments to continue at their current level indefinitely.

A spokesman stressed there were no immediate plans to expand the strength of the Army.

Next year will see some troops being pulled out of Bosnia, Northern Ireland and, it is hoped, Iraq and Afghanistan, the MoD has said.

Operations

In an interview with The Times newspaper, Mr Browne said he was fully aware of concerns expressed by military commanders that insufficient time was being devoted to training.

But an MoD spokesman stressed that at no point in the interview did Mr Browne say the army was "too small to cope" or may need to increase in size, as had been reported earlier.

"It has long been our position, and the defence secretary reiterated it, that whilst we must ensure that the armed forces are able to succeed in the operations of today, we must also ensure they are able to meet tomorrow's challenges," a spokesman said.

The trained strength of the Army currently stands at 95,560 compared with 156,500 in 1990.

'Inappropriate' deployment

The UK has about 7,000 troops in the south of Iraq, mostly around Basra, although that number is expected to fall dramatically after the expected handover of the area to full Iraqi control in the spring.

However, earlier this month Mr Browne told MPs that British forces would not "cut and run" from Iraq by following a "prescriptive timetable" for withdrawal.

In Friday's Times interview, Mr Browne indicated that he was preparing to reduce the Army's commitment in Bosnia.

He said it was "inappropriate" that 14 years on from the original British deployment, the 600 soldiers still there were now simply involved in a policing role.

Overstretch warning

In November, a National Audit Office report warned that UK armed forces were understaffed and pointed to the strain that fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan at the same time was having.

The Conservatives said they had been warning for months about the Army becoming overstretched.

"As gaps between tours of duty continue to grow smaller the pressures on service families increases with the all too predictable effect on retention.

"If the prime minister commits our forces so much, Gordon Brown must be willing to fund them properly, said shadow defence secretary Liam Fox.




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