As quota of reserve troops rises, Fox denies Britain relies on 'Dad's Army'

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The Independent Online

The Defence Secretary plans to extend the use of reserves troops in the army, potentially leading to cuts in the number of full-time soldiers. Any reduction in numbers of soldiers will occur only after the UK has successfully withdrawn from Afghanistan, Dr Liam Fox said.

Speaking ahead of the release of the "reserves review" today, Dr Fox pledged to build up the Territorial Army and make more money available to ensure that members are properly trained and supported.

Reports at the weekend suggested up to 5,000 full-time soldiers could be replaced by reserves. If they replace full-time soldiers it could lead to the smallest army for a century, but Dr Fox refused to be drawn on specific details before today's announcement.

"One of the problems in the UK has been the rundown of the reserves and I have, in Opposition and during our time in Government, been very concerned to see that we are going to put the correct resources into the reserves to make sure they're properly trained and equipped," he said.

"We cannot simply see the reserves as a group of people from whom we draw a six-month tour of Afghanistan and let the rest wither on the vine. That's simply not good enough. What I intend to do is see a build-up again of the reserves so that their utility is greater and also so that over time we create the sort of civil contingency in the UK that sadly we've been lacking."

Dr Fox was asked whether he was prepared for criticism that reserve soldiers were the Dad's Army equivalent of the regular Army. "I do feel it's a little offensive when we've used the reserves so successfully in Afghanistan to talk about them as Dad's Army," he replied. "In fact, one of the problems with the reserves is that there has not been sufficient investment in recent years."

Yesterday, the Commons Defence Select Committee said plans to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2015 must be reconsidered. Pulling out large numbers of troops too soon would dangerously weaken the UK's mission, the MPs said.

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