New armoured trucks 'for use in autumn'

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The Independent Online

Heavily-armoured military trucks waiting to be shipped to Afghanistan were never intended to be used by British troops until the autumn, the Ministry of Defence said today.

Officials initially blamed "conflicting operational priorities" for delays in transporting a fleet of new Ridgback vehicles to UK forces in the troubled country.

Nine of the trucks, which are built to withstand mines and roadside bombs, arrived in Dubai on July 16.

Three remain in the emirate and are not scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan until this weekend.

But the MoD issued a new statement today in which it insisted that the vehicles were never meant to be used by 19 Light Brigade, which is currently responsible for British operations in Afghanistan.

They will instead be operated by troops from 11 Light Brigade, which takes over in October.

The statement read: "These vehicles were never destined for use by 19 Brigade who do not have enough trained drivers to operate them.

"This is because the vehicles were only delivered to the Army in May - a month after the brigade deployed.

"They are being shipped in time for the arrival of their successor formation, 11 Light Brigade, which has spent all summer training on the new vehicles.

"Training is not discretionary. These are complex pieces of equipment that will operate in an extremely demanding and dangerous environment.

"We will not put lives at risk by asking soldiers to drive these vehicles without the necessary training."

An MoD spokeswoman denied that this statement represented a "U-turn" and said it was a more accurate reflection of the situation based on updated information.

US-made Ridgbacks, which weigh more than 17 tons, have been used by the British Army in Afghanistan since June. A total of 157 have been ordered.

Meanwhile, the latest British soldier to be killed in a roadside explosion in southern Afghanistan will be named later today.

The serviceman, from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, attached to the Light Dragoons, died while on a vehicle patrol in Babaji in Helmand Province yesterday morning.

The soldier was part of British forces holding territory won in Operation Panther's Claw, a massive UK-led offensive to drive the Taliban out of a former stronghold in Helmand.

It is believed that his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device.

Lieutenant Colonel Mark Wenham, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said: "It is with great regret that we report the death of another soldier on Operation Herrick 10.

"The loss of a soldier, friend and colleague is tragic and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time."

July was the bloodiest month for UK forces in Afghanistan since the mission began eight years ago, with 22 soldiers killed and scores more wounded in action.

Panther's Claw, which ended a week ago, saw fierce fighting with insurgents as Nato and Afghan troops attempted to improve security in Helmand ahead of presidential and provincial elections on August 20.

The total UK death toll in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001 now stands at 192.

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