Cost of fighting war on two fronts doubles despite troop cutbacks

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The cost of Britain's war on two fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan has almost doubled in the past 12 months, a report reveals.

Expenditure on military operations for this financial year is due to reach £3.297bn – a 94 per cent increase on last year, according to figures released by the House of Commons Defence Committee.

The spending on Iraq will rise by 72 per cent, despite the cutback in the number of troops and UK forces leaving their last base inside Basra city for the airport. Meanwhile, the cost of the Afghan conflict, with British forces involved in near constant combat against the Taliban, will increase by 122 per cent.

The estimated cost of each of the two missions – £1.648bn for Iraq and £1.649bn for Afghanistan – is near to reaching the total for both combined last year, and the figure for Afghanistan is expected to continue rising as new equipment is sent to the frontline.

Senior officers also said that British troops at Basra were likely to stay for another three years as a reserve force to be kept in case of emergencies.

The committee said it was "surprised" by the amount of money needed for Iraq despite the slowdown in the tempo of operations by British troops.

According to defence officials, the increase is mainly due to the costs of depreciation, the supply of armoured vehicles such as the Mastiff, which has better protection against roadside bombs, as well as the payment of operational bonuses.

The Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey said: "This shows how the Iraq war is continuing to bleed our finances dry, leaving our soldiers in Afghanistan overstretched and under-equipped.

"If the Government, supported by the Conservatives, had not been so keen to support the illegal war in Iraq, the Afghanistan operation could have been much better resourced.

"When Alistair Darling is writing his Budget speech he might want to consider asking his boss why he thought it was such a good idea to sign the cheques for this disastrous operation in the first place."

While the committee recommended that the House of Commons should accept the estimates, it said the Ministry of Defence needed to provide more information on how the additional cash was being spent.

The chairman, James Arbuthnot, said: "Few people will object to the investment being made in better facilities and equipment for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"However, this estimate represents a lot of public money. We expect the MoD to provide us with a full explanation for the very significant increase in the indirect resource cost of operations in response to this report."

Bob Ainsworth, minister for the Armed Forces, said the increased costs reflected the need for additional equipment to meet an evolving scenario. "The threat changes. The enemy learns and changes the threat to our people. We have to stay ahead of the game as best we can and it is not cheap," he said. "The job that is being done by our people there can't be underestimated and we can't sell them short, so we have to spend money on force protection."