Constant tours of duty leading to exodus of officers

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The Independent Online

Continuous deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq are leading to an exodus of experienced personnel from the military, with the danger that it may be losing its next generation of commanders, an official report is expected to warn this week.

A number of senior officers who were due to form the future leadership of the Army have left, leading to worries about a vacuum in strategic posts. The report by the Commons Defence Committee is due to state that more than 20,000 people left the armed forces last year and that action must be taken to halt the trend.

The MPs suggest that the Government should take action to reverse the trend, in particular by offering wages that are competitive with the private sector. They also suggest that the erosion of gaps between tours, in breach of the Ministry of Defence's own guidelines, needs urgent attention.

As well as a potentially severe shortfall in the number of officers of a certain rank in two to three years' time, the report will point out that a number of "pinch-point" positions such as mechanics and nurses are under intense pressure. Those leaving the services cite extended tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving them little time with their families, combined with poor pay, for their decision to seek jobs elsewhere.

Latest figures reveal that the armed forces are currently 5,850, or 3.2 per cent, below strength at a time, say commanders, of acute overstretch, and the chief of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, says that the overall numbers of Britain's soldiers may need to be increased. He also pointed out that frontline troops were sometimes earning less than UK traffic wardens .

The MoD points out that service personnel received an above-inflation pay rise of 2.6 per cent last April and most fully trained soldiers were being paid more than £ 16,000, with bonuses for serving in Iraq and Afghanistan taking that figure to more than £ 22,000. A recent Command Paper also offers wide-ranging benefits for personnel, including a rise in compensation for those injured, free education and free dental care.

The measures, however, have failed to stop the haemorrhage from the ranks and, recently a number of high-profile officers have left, including Brigadier Ed Butler, a former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, who left his post of Chief of Joint Force Operation.

Another former British commander in Afghanistan, Lt Col Stuart Tootal also resigned recently and has since criticised the Government for not giving adequate support to troops and being, he said, "stuck in a cold war mentality".

Lt Col Tootal said he had been deeply affected by the way " our wounded soldiers were not being looked after".

"All the guys I fought with were really motivated and really professional and the least a grateful nation owes them is the right gear and right support," he said.