Page last updated at 09:08 GMT, Friday, 31 July 2009 10:08 UK

Minister: Troops upset at support

Bon Ainsworth in Afghanistan
Mr Ainsworth was made defence secretary in the June reshiuffle

Bob Ainsworth has conceded that British troops were unhappy with the support they got from ministers at the start of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The defence secretary told the Daily Telegraph forces personnel had been "pretty cheesed off" with the attitude of the government and British public.

Improvements made over the last two years had been "absolutely essential" to answer concerns, he said.

He predicted the defence budget would have to get higher priority in future.

On Thursday it was confirmed that British forces in Afghanistan suffered their highest injury rate in July - 57 personnel wounded in the first two weeks alone - since the mission began in 2001.

'Hard yards'

In the interview Mr Ainsworth said improvements had been made to support, pay and equipment for the armed forces over the past two years, which had been "essential".

"People were pretty cheesed off with the attitude, not only of the government, but of the British public," he told the Telegraph.

I don't try to pretend I am cleverer than a general or the Chief of Defence Staff but I can bring something else
Bob Ainsworth

"They were out there in Iraq, they were out there in Afghanistan, they were doing hard yards and putting their lives on the line - and nobody back here was nearly as interested as they ought to have been."

He said defence had "not necessarily had a high enough profile".

"We have tended in politics in this country to concentrate on the domestic, on the here and now - the 'what's in it for me'."

He added: "The defence budget has gone up but it has not gone up as fast as some other budgets."

Mr Ainsworth, who was promoted to the cabinet in June, has faced heavy criticism about a Ministry of Defence bid to reduce compensation to two injured servicemen.

He has since brought forward a review of the compensation scheme.

Answering critics who suggest he is not up to the job, he said: "I have strengths and I have weaknesses. I don't pretend to be able to write a great thesis or doctorate - I have no pretensions in that direction.

"But I'll tell you what I do have. I have a good feel for ordinary people, for politics, and those are my strengths."

He added: "I don't try to pretend I am cleverer than a general or the Chief of Defence Staff but I can bring something else, a knowledge and understanding of Parliament and of civilian life."

Print Sponsor

Weston angered by payouts cut bid
28 Jul 09 |  Wales

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific