Overstretched troops face 'critical shortages'

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Indy Politics

Britain's armed forces are facing "critical shortages" in key personnel and urgent action is needed to rectify the problem, the House of Commons Defence Committee has disclosed.

The shortfalls, across all areas of the military, reduce time for recuperation and time spent by servicemen and women with their families, say MPs. The committee recommended that the Ministry of Defence should develop systems to monitor pressures on individuals and says it will keep tabs on what effect the lack of resources has on the near 6,000-strong deployment in Afghanistan.

The forces lack skills from bomb disposal and military intelligence to medical staff, which is 20 per cent below strength.

The report came as the sister of an RAF sergeant killed when his aircraft was shot down in Iraq, said she was suing the MoD. Sarah Chapman, 33, will claim that too little was done to protect Bob O'Connor, who was killed with 10 others when his Hercules was shot down in January last year. Mrs Chapman is among a group of bereaved relatives who will present a petition to Downing Street asking for a meeting with Tony Blair.

Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrats' defence spokesman, said: "The dangers of over-stretch can no longer be glossed over. But losses of hundreds of millions of pounds are unacceptable."

Dr Brendan McKeating, chairman of the BMA's armed forces committee, said: "A recent BMA survey showed that around half of the doctors in the armed forces are considering leaving in the next five years.

"We are sure the Ministry of Defence will meet its operational requirements but this will involve extra strain."

The report also revealed that rations worth more than £5m sent by Britain to the US in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were not distributed and still lie in American warehouses, because they do not meet US food importation standards.

Defence sources said yesterday that the ration packs were rushed to the US after Downing Street decided Britain should be among the first standing "shoulder to shoulder" with the ally it has gone to war with in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The rations were seized by the US Department of Agriculture the day after delivery was completed in September 2005. Two days later a Cabinet Office spokeswoman said the US had cleared the ration packs for onward distribution.

The Commons Defence Committee has found this was not the case. But MPs concluded that the reason for this embarrassment was "outside the MoD's control".

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