Ex-soldier James Blunt in war of words with RAF

Top brass angered by claims of military incompetence after singer's morale-boosting trip to front-line troops is thwarted

Brian Brady,Whitehall Editor
Saturday 22 October 2011 22:29

James Blunt, the award-winning singer and a former soldier, has run into trouble with military top brass after he complained about "gross incompetence" in the Royal Air Force. RAF chiefs have protested that they were not "helping to lose the war" in Afghanistan, after Blunt criticised the transport delays that forced the cancellation of his "morale-boosting" trip to entertain British troops in the country.

The former captain in the Life Guards launched a furious attack on the RAF following a 15-hour wait for a plane at East Midlands airport before the visit was abandoned. It was the third time a trip of his to the troops in Afghanistan had been thwarted. The Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins was also one of the entertainers.

Jenkins sang "Silent Night" to the 160 troops stranded on the plane with them last December, but Blunt wrote on Twitter about their predicament and later blamed the confusion on "bad organisation, verging on incompetence". He also complained about the RAF's performance in an email to Mark Cann, the boss of the British Forces Foundation, which had organised the visit.

But it has now emerged that air force chiefs were incensed by the criticism and protested that the mix-up was not their fault. A personal letter from Air Vice-Marshal Barry North, obtained by The Independent on Sunday, details his riposte to Blunt's criticisms, including his claim that the RAF was "helping us to lose" the war.

Air Vice-Marshal North thanked the singer for "the magnificent support that you provide to our service men and women across the globe". But he added: "I wish to take issue with you with respect to your assertions that: the RAF is not up to the job; there is gross incompetence in the organisation and structure of the RAF; the officers of the RAF are not interested in the events of 20 Dec; the RAF is not 'fighting' the 'war' in Afghanistan; the RAF is 'helping us to lose it'; and that the RAF is failing to move soldiers around the world."

The air vice-marshal offers a two-page explanation of the problem trip, including the facts that the plane was not a Ministry of Defence aircraft and that it had been "unserviceable" when it landed.

In contrast, Jenkins received a letter apologising profusely for the inconvenience and thanking her for "in the face of adversity... entertaining the passengers as you did".

Blunt, who had frequently written about how he was looking forward to the chance to "sing the Taliban into surrender", was deeply frustrated by delays caused by the weather, repairs and aviation regulations. He tweeted at the time: "Plane delayed 6hrs (snow) then 8hrs (broken part) boarded but crew hrs exceeded; spent 5 more hrs in plane on runway as no buses!"

Blunt was unavailable for comment yesterday.

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