A soldier writes from Afghanistan

A serving British soldier in Afghanistan, enraged by last week’s news of Army sackings-by email, believes our forces are being taken for granted. He decided to tell The IoS of his feelings...
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The Independent Online

As I write this I'm sitting in a forward operating base in Afghanistan. I've just been told about 100 trainee pilots being sacked weeks away from getting their wings and sergeant majors getting their notices via email – one receiving his notice while currently serving in Afghanistan. Not exactly morale-lifting news.

I feel the need to speak up. We cannot just lie down and take a beating round after round from the Government. How can we be focused on fighting a war when we have to worry about redundancies and allowances being taken away? Would you carry on fighting for the same government that just emailed you your notice while you're still in Afghanistan? Leading men into battle with that in the back of your mind must be soul-destroying.

This is not new. It started all way back when the Government announced the strategic defence review. The lack of communication between the Government and the armed forces is potentially destroying the military covenant. I read about the outcome of the strategic defence review in a newspaper long before we were told officially. Stupid of me to think that we deserved to be told personally by our commanding officer; far better to read about cuts in a paper while having a brew. And let us be honest here, that is all they were: cuts. It seems no effort was made in thinking about how these cuts will affect soldiers. It seems penny-pinchers were employed to ruthlessly cut the Army for no other reason than to save a few quid. A proper review would have looked a little further than just the accounts of the MoD, saved more money and been less morale-destroying.

It doesn't get any prettier as you dig deeper. Allowances and bonuses will be withdrawn as of April. Get-you-home pay for soldiers whose families live well away from their bases will be cut. I know as a soldier I was surprised by the cost of housing personnel in rented houses and apartments because there's not enough housing in camp to accommodate everyone. There's ample land around our bases to build decent accommodation. Why not invest in that instead of renting out ridiculously expensive apartments? Instead of cutting allowances for soldiers travelling to and from a personal residence, why not increase it?

Surely if more soldiers own their own homes it will have several benefits. First, with a stable job it's not like they are going to be made redundant (unless you're a sergeant major – better check your emails first). The banks shouldn't have a problem lending because of the job security and high disposable income. With 100,000 in the Army alone, even if a small percentage took up the incentive it would instantly revitalise the mortgage market and create a snowball effect.

As more soldiers realise how much better it is to own your own place they will naturally want to get involved. Second, with a soldier able to commute to and from his place of work this would free up space to rein in the soldiers living in rented apartments just outside of camp, thus saving money. Third, the most important point of all: personal pride. Being able to say that I served my country on the front lines of Afghanistan and Iraq. I saw terrible things. I persevered through pain and struggle and I here I am now in my house, which I saved up for, a house that would have been impossible to buy without help.

Sadly, that's not what's happening now. Instead you've got soldiers living in blocks of one-man rooms, even up to ridiculous 12-man rooms in places, festering in rats, sharing toilets and showers. Prisoners have better accommodation.

We are told British troops will be home soon. You'd think things must have drastically improved. The troops here can't patrol any further than 3km without coming under attack. Hardly a drastic improvement. IEDs are still being laid all over our area of operations. We get some intelligence from the locals as to where they are being put, but it's patchy. The IEDs themselves, though, are getting more sophisticated. We, too, have got more sophisticated, and can jam remote IEDs inside ISAF-controlled areas. So now the insurgents are targeting the locals who co-operate with ISAF forces by detonating IEDs on approach roads to our areas.

A row of compounds 400m from our base had been left empty after Afghan forces had been blown up by IEDs in 2010. One of the locals wanted to move back, so we agreed to go to the compounds to make sure it was clear of IEDs. It wasn't. We found IEDs all over.

We know of several places like this. An operation was launched later on in the month to clear some compounds known to have IEDs around that area, so an observation post could be set up. The engineers were blowing through compound walls to avoid the IEDs in the doorways. The explosions weren't very loud. Then a couple of minutes later, an explosion went off that was so loud it echoed through the base. It made me feel sick. This time the compounds were only 500m away; it sounded like a bomb had been dropped two feet away. I won't describe what happened next – it's too horrific to be printed. All I'll say is the soldiers around him reacted quickly and prevented the casualty bleeding out. The Chinook landed 20 minutes later to take the triple amputee back to Bastion and eventually back to England in an induced coma.

Then a second explosion went off minutes later. A double amputee. The day all this happened was New Year's Eve. It was the worst day so far of my time here. I just remember previous happy New Year's Eves, as against this year's, with sheer chaos around me. The most frustrating thing was knowing that these life-changing injuries would not make the news. No injuries make the news these days. It would be a reality check for everyone back home when they turn the news on and every other day another person has received life-threatening injuries.

When someone is injured out here all communication is cut with the outside world, so the next of kin can be informed properly. It's on at least every other day, and this is a winter tour, supposedly a quieter time. I dread to think how bad the summer tour will be.

A lot of brave soldiers died in Sangin. From the WikiLeaks files, it's clear the Americans never had confidence in us holding that ground. The truth is we never had enough boots on the ground. Now the Americans are there and from what I've been told it's pretty much been levelled – they've saturated the area. That's what 90,000 US marines in theatre gives you. We've got about 12,000 troops in Helmand province; at least 6,000 are doing jobs back in Bastion. That doesn't leave many boots on the ground. We can't compete with those numbers. Eventually the Americans will take over the whole of Helmand province, surge thousands of troops in, have air assets 24/7, with Predators and Reapers patrolling the skies above.

The US marines are less than 1.5km away on an operation to disrupt the green zone. It's a 30-day operation, and the first day they must have dropped about 10 guided bomb units. Their A10 support planes are doing strafing runs nearly every hour. It seems the Americans are happy to level everything to show some kind of victory has been achieved before they get bored, or can't afford the cost of this war, and pull out. When that happens, Afghanistan will be the next Iraq, forgotten and ignored. It certainly won't be a success story, though I'm sure the Americans and the British will move the goal posts to make the pull-out look like a victory.

The lives sacrificed in Sangin and the rest of Helmand province should never be forgotten. Every day brave men fight through the worst conditions man can imagine. Yet it feels as if Sangin has already been forgotten by the public. I just hope when this war is over we won't forget about the lives lost in all of Helmand province. People mustn't forget this war before it's even finished.

So why am I writing this? You may see this as just a whinge at cuts and a few people getting made redundant. You may say join the queue, nothing's new, thanks for the insight to your life out there. You might even say "We are all in this together", but I don't see many politicians all in it together on the front line, do you? Nor do I see banks falling into line. Bob Diamond and all the other bankers should remember he lives the life he does because soldiers every day get killed or suffer life-changing injuries. He should donate his bonus to Help for Heroes.

What a pathetic attack on our lives, slashing allowances and sacking sergeant majors so close to receiving a full pension they have earnt through blood, sweat and tears. That's more than you can say of the politicians.

The British Army has no voice at grass-roots level. We have no union. There will be no strikes. No riots. Certainly no fire extinguishers thrown off buildings. We are just an easy target, and the Government knows it. We will carry on patrolling Helmand. We will carry on getting shot at. The Government will carry on selling us out.

We've always been praised for our gallows humour. We will carry on laughing in the face of death, whether that comes from government cuts or IEDs.

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