Page last updated at 17:47 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 18:47 UK

Anger at troops 'inadequate' kit

Black Watch soldier in Iraq
There is some concern about personnel retention in the armed forces

The head of a Conservative commission set up to review UK armed forces policy says there is not enough money to ensure troops have the right equipment.

Author Frederick Forsyth said up to 60 servicemen have died in Afghanistan and Iraq because the government failed to provide them with adequate kit.

He spoke out at the launch of the interim report of the Military Covenant Commission set up by David Cameron.

It warned of a "breakdown of respect" between ministers and the armed forces.

The commission looked at ways of restoring the "military covenant", the government's duty of care to soldiers, which the Tories say has been "broken".

'Litanies of waste'

Armed forces personnel are not allowed to form trade unions or go on strike - but in return the covenant sets out the treatment they are entitled to receive for the sacrifices they make.

Those of us who looked fairly carefully have been shocked by the inadequacy of some of the equipment
Frederick Forsyth

However, the Tory report said the covenant was "under serious and unprecedented strain" because of complaints over issues ranging from accommodation, healthcare, leave to military overstretch.

Mr Forsyth claimed there were "deplorable litanies of waste" within the Ministry of Defence which means there is not enough cash to ensure troops have the equipment they need.

"Those of us who looked fairly carefully have been shocked by the inadequacy of some of the equipment," he said.

"Not enough of it, obsolete helicopters, a man spending five hours lying in agony with terminal wounds because there wasn't a case vac helicopter - we had to eventually borrow one from the Americans - that's not good enough.

"What has angered me is to see fine young men coming home in boxes draped in a flag who should never have died at all and died because they were required to go in harm's way with crap equipment.

"If you add them all together, you are looking at 50 to 60 young men. That angers me because we have the money in this country."

'Second rate healthcare'

Mr Forsyth said there had been "the most unbelievable frittering away of billions on schemes that never work" by Gordon Brown when he was chancellor, who "repeatedly refused to recognise that with two vicious wars going on, we need extra funds".

The commission, which includes Falklands veteran Simon Weston, discovered that military overstretch was having a big impact on service families' life, with gaps between tours of duty frequently shorter than they should be.

"You can't just keep doing this to people who are risking their lives and then paying them a pittance, then expecting them to live in squalor, expecting them to use substandard equipment then expecting them to have second-rate health care when they come back," said Mr Weston.

Many personnel are thought to quit due to hardships faced by their loved ones, with forces families losing out in terms of health care because they were moved to the bottom of the NHS waiting lists every time they were relocated to a new base.

The commission's final recommendations are due in September, although Mr Cameron will not be bound to include them in the Conservatives' next general election manifesto.

Compensation

The Commission proposes that the military covenant is officially written into the rules of all three armed services - currently it only officially applies to the Army.

NHS Trusts should be required to hold places on waiting lists for medical and dental treatment for service families moving between postings, it adds.

And there should be additional funding for children of forces personnel, who tend to do less well at school than their peers.

The commission also proposed a review of the potential of the Royal Hospital Haslar in Gosport to provide healthcare for injured troops in the future.

There should be improvements in the compensation offered to those hurt in action, which compared unfavourably with civilian schemes for injures at work, the report says.

Public awareness

And services accommodation should be brought up to an acceptable standard "as soon as possible".

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox welcomed the report but said the Conservatives would need to look at details of the public finances before they could say how quickly the issues it raises can be addressed.

"There is growing public awareness of issues relating to the welfare of our serving personnel, their families and veterans, he said.

Many of the ideas from the commission are believed to be similar to those being considered by the government.

Its plans to improve the welfare of the armed services are set to be unveiled in the next few weeks.


SEE ALSO
Cameron: Military covenant broken
04 Mar 08 |  UK Politics

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