Recruitment crisis for TA poses 'severe' threat to Army

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The Independent Online

The Territorial Army has been hit by its worst recruitment crisis for decades in the wake of the Iraq war, putting the Army under even greater strain.

The Territorial Army has been hit by its worst recruitment crisis for decades in the wake of the Iraq war, putting the Army under even greater strain.

Official figures passed to The Independent on Sunday reveal that the TA has lost thousands of members over the past three years, and now has 25 per cent fewer soldiers and officers than it needs.

The worst affected are Britain's battlefield hospitals - which are heavily dependent on volunteer surgeons and doctors from the NHS. Bruce George MP, chairman of the Commons defence select committee, said the shortfall would have a "very severe" effect on future operations.

The slump has bolstered claims that potential recruits have been put off by the controversy over the Iraq war and by the Government's new strategy to give the TA a greater but riskier role in frontline fighting. One-10th of the British military personnel sent to Iraq have been TA, with several killed.

George Solomou, who resigned as a lance corporal in the TA medical corps last month in protest at the Iraq war, claims a "sizeable minority" of reservists no longer want to stay in the TA because they believe the invasion was immoral.

Mr Solomou, 38, from east London, said a third of the 120 men from his TA regiment who served in Iraq had since resigned. "It's the highest amount of resignations they've ever had," he claimed. "Quite a few of these soldiers don't believe in what they're doing."

The latest figures from the Ministry of Defence show that total TA numbers now stand at 31,600 - 24 per cent less than the 41,800 personnel needed. As a result, the MoD is spending £2.2m on a four-month TV and newspaper recruitment campaign in an attempt to bolster recruitment.

It admits the worst-affected regiments are the specialist and technical units most needed by the armed forces in wartime - the surgeons, doctors and nurses in the Royal Army Medical Corp, and engineers, logistics specialists and signallers.

Mr George said the shortfall added to growing problems with "overstretch" since ministers had decided to give the TA and reservists the largest frontline role since the 1950s in future operations. "This calls into question the numbers the MoD is working on with the regular Army," he said. "The strain upon our smaller military is beginning to show."

Paul Keetch, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: "These figures raise questions about the effectiveness of recruitment and retention of our reserve forces, and the impact of a protracted, difficult and controversial campaign in Iraq. These shortfalls could have knock-on effects in terms of capabilities across the Army."

The MoD denied there is any "chilling effect" from the Iraq war, and claimed that TA recruitment has been in steady decline since the late 1990s.

A spokesman said: "There is no evidence to support any suggestion that operations in Iraq have had a widespread impact on manning levels in the TA. Levels have been gradually declining for several years, and this is in line with this long-term trend."