One in five reservists is resisting call-up for war

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The Independent Online

One in five of the military reservists called up in preparation for a possible war in Iraq has asked to be excused from duty or simply ignored the order.

One in five of the military reservists called up in preparation for a possible war in Iraq has asked to be excused from duty or simply ignored the order.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed yesterday that hundreds of part-time soldiers, airmen and sailors called up as part of the largest build-up of Britain's armed forces for a decade had applied for deferral or exemption.

More than 200 of the 3,300 reservists who have so far been sent call-up notices are also thought to have failed to reply within the two-week deadline and could face legal action.

Under the terms of the 1996 Reserve Forces Act, any part-time member of the armed forces who refuses to answer a call-up is liable to a court martial or prosecution in a civil court and a jail term of six months if found guilty.

Less than two weeks ago the Government announced it was embarking on the largest call-up of reserve forces in more than 60 years, with 6,000 required for service.

Officials said that 1,100 personnel had already answered the call-up, of whom about 80 were found to be unfit for duty. An additional 1,500 are also expected to report for duty in the coming days. But 429 had claimed exemption on grounds of ill health or family responsibilities, or their employers had written submissions saying they were indispensable at work, officials said.

The MoD refused to comment on claims that 210 reservists had ignored their call-up orders. But this would bring the drop-out rate to about 22 per cent of the number called up so far, compared with a drop-out rate of between 8 and 10 per cent during the 1991 Gulf War and the conflict in Afghanistan.

But officials insisted that the total number of drop-outs was fewer than expected. An MoD spokesman said: "Members of the reserve forces are entitled to seek exemption or deferral and those cases will be decided by adjudication in due course. That figure has been less than anticipated and the call-up process is continuing. Further notices will be issued over the coming weeks to engage the required numbers of personnel."

The reservists, most of them taken from the ranks of the Territorial Army with a further 500 from the Navy and Royal Marine reserves and 1,600 RAF reservists, will play a vital role in support units such as logistics, signals, engineering, intelligence and medical care.

Shortages of full-time military medics mean that substantial numbers of reservist doctors and nurses are needed for field hospitals when the Army deploys in large numbers abroad. A total of 35,000 regular troops has been earmarked for the Gulf force.

Reserve personnel trained to deal with nuclear, biological and chemical warfare (NBC) will also play a vital role. Three reserve NBC units, comprising about 250 personnel, have already been mobilised.

But one former member of an NBC team said yesterday that many of those heading abroad, among both regular and reserve forces, had doubts on the justification for any war.

Ray Hewitt, 32, an army NBC specialist who served in the Gulf War and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome, said: "A lot of the guys are worried about it becoming another Vietnam. They think it might be an open-ended commitment and they cannot see a clear reason for going to war against Iraq at this time."