A leaked government report on "lessons learnt" after the Iraq war reveals "appalling" failures that left the British Army ill-equipped for battle and the subsequent occupation, it was reported today.
The documents, obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, emerged just two days before the start of the public inquiry into the UK's involvement in Iraq, chaired by Sir John Chilcot.
They are reported to contain classified interviews in which Army chiefs describe how troops were exposed to "significant risk" because of a "rushed" operation "lacking in coherence and resources".
Plans for the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 did not include "detail once Baghdad had fallen", which allowed insurgents to exploit a "notable loss of momentum" in the post-war period.
Operations were dogged by kit shortages - from body armour that failed to arrive in time for battle to a lack of desert boots and chemical weapons protection, it was reported.
Some troops apparently had their weapons confiscated by airport security when flown to war on civilian airlines and were forced to carry their equipment as hand luggage.
Lt Col ML Dunn, of 9 Supply Regiment, Royal Engineers, said his soldiers "only had five rounds of ammunition each, and only enough body armour for those in the front and rear vehicles".
Another commanding officer, Lt Col John Power, of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, described part of the supply chain as "appalling" in the report.
"The in-theatre asset tracking was absolutely appalling," he said. "I know for a fact that there was one container full of skis in the desert."
Communications were also beset with problems. Ptarmigan, the main longer-distance radio, "tended to drop out at around noon because of the heat".
In some cases "mobile phones (using the Kuwaiti network) were the only means of communication available to troops in contact (combat)".
The report also highlights an Army weighed down by bureaucracy: "The overall impression is of headquarters which were large and busy, but which produced relatively little output. Deployed HQs contained too many people, busied themselves with too much nugatory planning and did not run well internally."
Though analysis of the war phase describes it as a "significant military success", it was one achieved against a "third-rate army".
The commanders note that "a more capable enemy would probably have punished (our) shortcomings severely".
Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said: "The accusation that British troops may have died because equipment was not ordered as part of a deliberate political act of deception is one of the most serious charges that could ever be levelled against a Prime Minister and his government.
"It is essential that the Iraq inquiry uncovers the truth."