Army chief deplored lack of helicopters days before he died

Most senior British officer killed in Afghanistan sent damning e-mails to MoD
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The Independent Online

A shortage of helicopters was highlighted in a damning e-mail to the Ministry of Defence by the most senior British officer to be killed in Afghanistan shortly before his death.

In a warning that as good as described his own death less than a month later, Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe told his superiors that troops' lives were being put at risk by the lack of helicopters.

"I have tried to avoid griping about helicopters – we all know we don't have enough," he said in a weekly report. "We cannot not move people, so this month we have conducted a great deal of administrative movement by road. This increases the IED [improvised explosive device ]threat and our exposure to it." He complained he had "virtually no" helicopters suitable to transport troops instead of sending them by road and described the Nato system of managing helicopter operations as "not fit for purpose".

The e-mailed memo sent on June 5 was classified as "Nato Secret" but was passed to a newspaper by Conservative MP and former Grenadier Guards officer Adam Holloway.

It offers a different perspective to that of Prime Minister Gordon Brown who in July and again this month denied that soldiers were dying for a lack of helicopters.

Mr Brown said in July: "In the operations we are having at the moment it is completely wrong to say that the loss of lives has been caused by the absence of helicopters. For the operation we are doing at the moment we have the helicopters we need." He added: "It is very important to recognise what the commanders are saying on the ground."

Lieutenant Colonel Thorneloe, of 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, died alongside Trooper Joshua Hammond, of 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, on 1 July when their vehicle was caught in the blast of an IED in Helmand.

A second leaked report by another senior officer in Afghanistan was written on 10 July and revealed the problem of helicopter shortages persisted with only half the number he had requested that week being made available. "Aviation has been erratic throughout this week. This has forced us to conduct more road moves than I would like. I understand the strains in the fly programme but any improve- ment would greatly assist," he wrote.

Mr Holloway said the leaked reports from an MoD official unhappy at the lack of improvements in provision of suitable equipment to troops, showed defence chiefs "should be ashamed" of their failure to provide the troops with enough equipment.

He said it was "a heart-wrenching irony" that Lieutenant Colonel Thorneloe wrote of the exposure to IEDs caused by a lack of helicopters and was then killed in exactly that way.

Bob Ainsworth, the defence secretary, said last night that the government knows "the value of helicopters on operations" and remains intent of providing the "very best" equipment.

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