A major campaign backed by servicemen and women, their families, senior military figures, politicians from all parties and armed forces associations is launched today to press the Government to honour its obligations to the British personnel risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Independent on Sunday campaign calls on the nation to honour the Military Covenant, which stipulates that in return for putting their lives on the line, British troops, airmen and sailors should be given adequate equipment to do their jobs, the best treatment possible if wounded and the assurance that their families will be looked after if they die in their country's service.
David Cameron is among politicians backing the campaign. He told the IoS: "The Military Covenant is an unbreakable bond of identity, loyalty and responsibility. I don't want the nation to let the Army down."
The Government faces unprecedented criticism of its handling of the war and treatment of troops. The death toll stands at 168 British troops in Iraq, and 74 in Afghanistan. New figures obtained by the IoS show the total number of casualties airlifted out of both countries now stands at 1,741, with field hospital admissions at 2,942.
Several families have instructed lawyers to mount a class action over the continued use of "soft target" Snatch Land Rovers, which are considered vulnerable to roadside bombs because they have no armour. About 20 troops have died in this way. Tomorrow, they will demand a meeting with Des Browne, Defence Secretary.
Yesterday, General Sir Michael Jackson, head of the British Army during the invasion of Iraq, increased pressure on the Government to provide properly for British troops in the run-up to publication of his autobiography, Soldier. Commenting on the Covenant, he said: "You have to get people to risk their lives and you have to give them best odds you can."
Sir Michael also condemned American handling of the postwar situation as "intellectually bankrupt". He attacked Donald Rumsfeld, the then US defence secretary, over his decision to scrap the Ba'ath party state apparatus, and blamed that for the chaos in Iraq.
The IoS campaign also has the support of the British Legion, which is running an online petition for the Military Covenant that has gathered more than 6,000 signatures so far and will launch a major initiative this month. It is joined by the War Widows' Association, which is backing a specialist coroner to deal with military inquests, Combat Stress, the ex-servicemen's mental welfare group, and the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association. Retired generals, including Lord Bramall, were among many senior soldiers to speak out. "The wounded are getting lost in the system," he said.
Writing in the IoS today, Patrick Mercer, a Tory MP and former commander in Bosnia, said: "Scandalously, one battalion went to Iraq last year with only 60 per cent of its manpower. Once it would have been able to borrow men from another unit or use TA soldiers, but the well has now run dry."
He is also critical of the merging yesterday of three regiments – one serving in Afghanistan. The Staffordshire Regiment, the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment and the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters will combine as the Mercian Regiment. Colonel Bob Stewart said: "The Governmen is so far in breach of the Covenant it says is still intact that it is laughable."
Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "It is utterly unacceptable that the men and women we ask to carry out such difficult and dangerous tasks do not have the kind of equipment and level of care which they deserve."
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