Page last updated at 11:35 GMT, Sunday, 19 July 2009 12:35 UK

Helicopter shortage 'a scandal'

Uk soldiers fighting in Operation Panther's Claw
The MoD says all available helicopters have been deployed

David Cameron has said the failure to supply more helicopters to British troops in Afghanistan is "a scandal".

The Tory leader questioned the government's commitment to the mission telling Sky News shortages were not just about money.

He said it was "not good enough" that of 500 available helicopters only 30 were deployed in Helmand province.

But the Ministry of Defence hit back - saying all of its other helicopters were being used for other purposes.

In a statement, the MoD said: "The Royal Air Force does have a number of helicopters in the UK and elsewhere in the world other than Afghanistan but these are all either used for other purposes (such as training), under maintenance, or not yet ready for deployment on Operation Herrick (the UK operation in Afghanistan).

"It is certainly not the case that there are helicopters, free and ready for use in Afghanistan."

'Not good enough'

In an interview with Sky News' Sunday Live, Mr Cameron suggested a future Conservative government would prioritise the immediate equipment needs of frontline troops over long-term defence spending plans.

He was speaking as former defence secretary John Hutton added his voice to growing calls for better resourcing of the Afghan campaign.

I do not believe that a request for 2,000 extra troops to be deployed was made or turned down
Lord Mandelson

The Conservative leader told Sky News' Sunday Live: "It is a scandal and we have been warning about it for three years.

"Of course it is partly about money, but a lot of it is really about commitment. If three years ago, the government had really put its shoulder to the wheel, it could have delivered more helicopters.

"What is required is commitment and focus, frankly, that hasn't been there for the last three years and we have got to see urgent action by the government."

Helicopter deal

Despite Mr Brown's claim that the UK force in Helmand province had the equipment it needed, it was "perfectly clear" that more helicopters were required to transport troops and evacuate the wounded, said Mr Cameron.

He said that training the Afghan National Army was a vital task for UK forces, who will only have an "exit route" from Afghanistan when home-grown troops are able to take over security responsibilities.

It was "very worrying" that Mr Brown appeared to have turned down a request from military chiefs for 2,000 additional troops, who may have been required for training duties, he added.

But Business Secretary Lord Mandelson told Sky News: "I do not believe that a request for 2,000 extra troops to be deployed was made or turned down."

The MoD has confirmed it had twice in the past three years been offered a deal to purchase US-made Sikorsky helicopters for the armed forces, but decided to press ahead instead with plans involving British firms.

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