War hits Army morale as 14,000 quit in a year

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The Independent Online

More than 14,000 soldiers left the Army last year, Ministry of Defence (MoD) figures have revealed, raising fears that low morale and "overstretch" in Iraq and Afghanistan is leading to an exodus from the armed forces.

The MoD put the best gloss possible on its latest recruitment figures, indicating that numbers joining had increased. But the figures also showed that the Army shrank last year by 1,500 soldiers.

The campaign group Military Families Against the War said the haemorrhage of troops - coupled with increasing numbers going "absent without leave" - was caused by the stress of service after the "illegal war" in Iraq. Sally Keys, mother of Tom, a redcap who was killed in an uprising because his platoon had no working phones to call for back-up, revealed her second son, Richard, 21, was one of those leaving the Army. "He's leaving because of parental pressure," she said. "We asked him to leave because we have lost one son and we don't want to lose another. We get people ringing us anonymously to say they have done three or four tours and they don't want to go back to Iraq."

The MoD stressed that the figures showed a rise in recruitment of 9.2 per cent last year, making a total of 11,460 extra joining the Army. The armed forces minister, Adam Ingram, said: "I'm pleased to say that this year we have seen a significant increase in those expressing an interest in joining the Army."

But the rise in recruits still fell short of the Army's overall target figure by more than 1,000 soldiers

Mark Harper, the Conservative defence spokesman, said: "Retention is still poor, with more than 14,000 leaving the Army in the past year outstripping the recruitment. With ever increasing commitments and a shrinking Army, the effects of overstretch are just going to get worse."

The figures show that 13,740 soldiers left the Army last year. An MoD spokesman said that 740 troops were currently "on the run" but had not been dismissed from the service.

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