A British Army officer in Afghanistan has highlighted the desperate shortage of resources and described the efforts of the RAF in the conflict as "utterly, utterly useless" in leaked e-mails.
Three sets of communications from a major serving in Helmand province talked of the death of a soldier, Corporal Bryan Budd, and more generally of the traumatic effect upon young men facing intense firefights.
The unnamed major described two junior colleagues as looking "very frightened and slow to react". "There is a fine line between giving them time to accept what has happened and adjust, and gripping them hard and forcing them to focus," he added.
In one of the e-mails, obtained by Sky News, the major gave examples of the failure of air support. "From my point of view, controlling and directing air, arty and mors [artillery and mortars] is the best way to influence the battle," he wrote. "The RAF have been utterly, utterly useless.
"Twice I have had Harriers in support when c/s on the ground have been in heavy contact, on one occasion trying to break clean.
"A female Harrier pilot 'couldn't identify the target', fired two phosphorous rockets that just missed our own compound so that we thought they were incoming RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades], and then strafed our perimeter missing the enemy by 200 metres."
In contrast to the RAF, the US Air Force had been "fantastic", according to the major.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence did not question the authenticity of the e-mails, saying they were a "moving and at times humbling account of fighting" in Helmand.
"It reflects both how intense the fighting can occasionally be, and the enormous courage, dedication and skill of the British troops operating there," the spokesman said. "The comments this major makes about the RAF are, however, unfortunate. They do not reflect the view of the vast majority of soldiers about the Harrier Force in Afghanistan, which has consistently performed brilliantly in defending coalition forces."
The Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, Nick Harvey, said: "The Government must provide an urgent statement in response to these disturbing comments. These e-mails demonstrate the need for a reassessment of the full range of capabilities required to accomplish the Nato mission."Reuse content