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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 August 2007, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Browne denies 'failing' UK troops
Des Browne in Afghanistan (MoD handout photo)
Des Browne says the government is trying to tackle troop grievances
Defence Secretary Des Browne has denied claims the government is failing in its duty to UK troops who put their lives on the line for their country.

The Royal British Legion had said the Military Covenant - guaranteeing troops fair treatment in return for forgoing other rights - is not being upheld.

But Mr Browne told the Sunday Mirror he did not believe it had been broken and that it was crucial to "live up to it".

He also said Iraq troop numbers would be cut by 500 to 5,000 within weeks.

The forces charity announced its Broken Covenant campaign last week to highlight issues facing troops.

We have a responsibility to support our troops and support their families, particularly when we are asking people to do very difficult and dangerous things
Defence Secretary Des Browne

They include the need to boost medical care, strengthen the system of coroners' inquests to ensure swift closure for bereaved families, and provide more compensation.

Responding to claims the covenant had not been upheld, Mr Browne told the Sunday Mirror: "I don't accept that it is broken but I think that we have to be careful that we live up to it. It is our duty to live up to it.

"I agree with the British Legion that we have a responsibility to support our troops and support their families, particularly when we are asking people to do very difficult and dangerous things for our security."

He said he accepted that the government had to "get better" in the areas the charity had identified but said things were "improving".

Unfair burden

Shadow Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "We face the problem that in Britain the government has overstretched our armed forces without giving them sufficient resources to do the job they're being asked to do."

He went on to question whether Britain was taking on an unfair military burden in the Middle East.

He told BBC News 24: "Our international allies, particularly some of our European allies and Nato, simply have not been stepping up to the plate in an international operation of this nature.

"It seems that some countries are very good when in the conference room to signing up to resolutions, but not very good when it comes to the fighting."

'Reduced commitment'

Mr Browne said he was "willing to review" the compensation system and admitted some troops had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan more regularly than advised by military guidelines.

But he said the government was doing a number of things to tackle the redeployment issue, including reducing Iraq troop levels from 5,500 to 5,000.

"We have in the last months reduced our commitment by withdrawing from Bosnia, where we had about 1,000 troops," he said.

"We've brought an end to the operation in Northern Ireland. And I expect we will be down to 5,000 troops in Iraq in a matter of weeks."

Critically, our soldiers feel valued and supported and thanked for what they are doing
General Sir Richard Dannatt

Head of the Army General Sir Richard Dannatt told the BBC that although troops were "certainly stretched" and soldiers were not getting as long in barracks as he would like, morale was good.

"We can be busy, we can be stretched, we can run hot - provided we are looking after individuals," he said.

"Critically, our soldiers feel valued and supported and thanked for what they are doing."

Senior military figures have warned that British forces are stretched to the limit on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and there have been complaints about inadequate equipment.

There has also been criticism of the care and support given to some wounded personnel on their return from conflict as well as the backlog in coroners' inquests for service personnel killed serving their country.


SEE ALSO
Ministers 'failing UK soldiers'
15 Aug 07 |  UK Politics
'The Army ignored my illness'
03 Aug 07 |  Health

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