Page last updated at 21:20 GMT, Sunday, 18 May 2008 22:20 UK

Clegg concern over 'old' army kit

Nick Clegg
Mr Clegg has concerns over army equipment and pay for soldiers

Nick Clegg has said he is concerned the British army in Afghanistan has "old kit" and suffers equipment shortages.

The Lib Dem leader, who is on his first visit to the country, also said there were "big issues" over soldiers' pay.

Earlier, he said failure in Afghanistan would be "devastating" and the Nato mission was "hanging in the balance".

The Ministry of Defence has said it is spending 6bn a year on new equipment and insists there are huge improvements in its standard and supply.

Mr Clegg spent two days visiting British troops and holding talks with Afghan leaders.

"I've seen some of the kit they've had to deal with," he said.

"Some of it's great, but frankly some of it's old ... some of the vehicles don't have enough spare parts, some of it's very hot and... there are big issues surrounding whether we're paying, particularly some of the junior starting soldiers, enough.

The consequences of failure would be devastating
Nick Clegg
Lib Dem leader

"I think there's been some improvements about some long-standing issues surrounding accommodation for soldiers' families back home, but we need to go further still.

"I think we owe all the men and women here a huge debt of gratitude because we sometimes forget that the cost of failure would be catastrophic for Britain as a whole."

Mr Clegg had warned earlier in his visit that without lasting peace and stability Afghanistan could revert to a "pariah state".

'Greater unity'

"The consequences of failure would be devastating," he said.

"Afghanistan is the most important conflict of our generation," he said.

"If we fail to secure lasting peace and stability, Afghanistan will revert to a pariah state, feeding the international drugs trade and offering a haven for terrorism that will threaten global security for the conceivable future.

I doubt whether the British Army has ever put a brigade into the field as well equipped as [the current] 16 Brigade and it continues to improve with each deployment
Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith

"Yet the success of our mission in Afghanistan hangs in the balance. International efforts have not yet delivered the stability and security that the people of Afghanistan deserve."

Mr Clegg said the international community needed to demonstrate "greater unity in the way aid and reconstruction support is provided".

There were also crucial questions over how many UK troops should be on the ground, how to tackle the opium trade, and how to engage with neighbouring states, he added.

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman pointed out that Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, commander of British forces in Helmand, Afghanistan, had previously gone on the record to the troops felt "extremely well supported" and soldiers were "much better equipped" than in 2006.

He was speaking as his 16 Air Assault Brigade took over from 52 Infantry Brigade last month.

He added: "I doubt whether the British army has ever put a brigade into the field as well equipped as 16 Brigade and it continues to improve with each deployment.

"The next brigade will probably be even better equipped."




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