Gulf war equipment may have ended up in Bosnia

BRITISH military equipment from the Gulf war may have found its way to Bosnia and other war zones, the Commons Public Accounts Committee heard yesterday.

Later, the committee went into private session to hear allegations of corruption in the chartering of ships supplying troops and equipment to the Gulf prior to the retaking of Kuwait in 1991. Ministry of Defence police are investigating the claims.

A recent heavily critical National Audit Office report into the operation found that 228 pallets and 80 containers and their contents remained unaccounted for at the end of the war. Dr Malcolm McIntosh, chief of defence procurement at the MoD, said inquiries had found the pallets and containers were probably used by troops as makeshift desert shelters, while their contents, which included everything from tanks to water bottles and ammunition, may have fallen victim to profiteering. Dr McIntosh promised to supply the committee with a full list of the missing items.

Dr McIntosh also conceded the MoD had had no contingency plan for sending tanks and heavy artillery to the Gulf, despite Iraqi troop build-ups and hints of an invasion.

He said that for years the MoD and Nato had geared their whole thinking towards fighting the Cold War and the likelihood of conflict in Europe. As a result, while plans did exist for the deployment of troops and light equipment around the world, there were none covering a full-scale assault in the Gulf region.

Out of a total fleet of 162 merchant ships used, only five were British - a fact MPs questioned. Dr McIntosh reassured the committee that the MoD and Hogg Robinson, the government freight agent, checked the ownership of the foreign ships. He said when offers were sought from shipowners, a lot of British ships were already chartered and could not be diverted.

Criticism that Hogg Robinson, the government freight agent for 120 years, enjoyed a 'peculiar advantage' over other operators, was rebutted. 'That description is a little harsh,' Dr McIntosh said. 'The (MoD) leant heavily on its adviser of 120 years.' But he added that because the MoD had relied on Hogg Robinson for its freight arrangements for so long, 'it felt unable to make judgements itself'.

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