Army reservists to be used to police Kosovo peace deal

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The Independent Online
THE ARMY is being forced to use reservists to fill gaps in under- strength units to police the peace deal in the Balkans, according to leaked documents obtained by The Independent.

The Second Battalion Royal Green Jackets is being sent to Macedonia on 8 August but officers have been told that they will have to take Territorial Army or regular reservists to make up about one-sixth of their strength. The Second Battalion will need reservists to fill 140 infantry posts, with more reservists for other trades.

The Tory defence spokes-man, Robert Key, used a Commons debate yesterday to highlight the manpower shortage in the armed forces, which is requiring some soldiers to spend a year away from their families.

The Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, recently admitted to the Select Committee on Defence he was concerned at the problems in retaining troops in the Army.

Tory sources said the numbers leaving were partly due to the "overstretch" on troops, with long tours of duty abroad.

However, Doug Henderson, the Armed Forces minister, disclosed that the 1,400 soldiers currently on guarding duties in the UK - the equivalent of two and a half infantry battalions - could be moved to frontline service . "They want to be in the field with their units, putting into practice the skills they have learnt," he said.

An expansion of the military Provost Guard service to 600 was announced last month and Mr Henderson said he planned to expand the guard by another 200 to release personnel for the front line. The Government planned to expand the guard further to replace the 1,400 regular soldiers engaged in guarding - a move that would meet about one-sixth of the current shortfall of soldiers.

Richard Ottaway, for the Tories, said the Strategic Defence Review undertook to increase the Army's strength by 3,300 but did not expect full manning to be achieved until 2004.

"With 89 per cent of the [deployable Army] deployed or warned to deploy, we do not have a lot of room for manoeuvre to confront contingencies that may emerge. To fulfil our commitment to Kosovo, we will need up to 30,000 troops."