By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
The Telegraph (UK)
November 18, 2007
The head of the [UK] Army has warned that years of Government under-funding and overstretch have left troops feeling “devalued, angry and suffering from Iraq fatigue”, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.
General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, reveals in a top-level report that the present level of operations is “unsustainable”, the Army is “under-manned” and increasing numbers of troops are “disillusioned” with service life.
Gen Dannatt states that the “military covenant is clearly out of kilter”, and the chain of command needs to improve standards of pay, accommodation and medical care.
“We must strive to give individuals and units ample recuperation time between operations, but I do not underestimate how difficult this will be to achieve whilst under-manned and with less robust establishments than I would like.”
The report, a copy of which has been seen by this newspaper, reveals for the first time the general’s concerns on virtually every aspect of the Army, from levels of pay to the quality of food in canteens.
Gen Dannatt came to public prominence last year when, within weeks of taking over as head of the Army, he said the Iraq war was causing security problems in Britain.
In the new report, he says that operations on the two fronts of Iraq and Afghanistan are putting soldiers and their families under “great pressure”, and that the long-term impact of operations is “damaging” and is “mortgaging the goodwill of our people”.
In terms of “overstretch”, the report says, “the tank of goodwill now runs on vapour; many experienced staff are talking of leaving”.
Last week, Lt Col Stuart Tootal, 42, who commanded the Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan, resigned from the Army over the “shoddy” treatment of injured troops. In a letter to defence chiefs, he was reported to have criticised levels of pay, a lack of training equipment and the appalling housing – all issues raised in Gen Dannatt’s report.
The report lays bare how a lack of funding, resources and manpower are forcing defence chiefs into making decisions once considered unthinkable.
One such move includes sending “medically downgraded” or injured troops and soldiers as young as 17 to guard the Falkland Islands to release fit troops for operations – a move Gen
Dannatt says he wholly supports.
The report adds:
• Delays to military inquests are a disgrace
• Military housing estates are unsafe and being overrun by immigrant families
• Poor food quality is creating a “pot-noodle and sandwich” culture among junior soldiers
• Work-life balance is an increasing concern
• Soldiers are “going sick” to get out of the Army
• Leave is often cancelled or constrained because of operational overstretch
• Harmony guidelines – the time between operational tours – are becoming meaningless
• The Army is no longer fun
• Fitness in the Army is tailing off and more soldiers are medically downgraded
The report’s findings follow months of interviews with thousands of soldiers and their families from 47 units.
Entitled Chief of the General Staff’s Briefing Team Report (2007), the findings are described by Gen Dannatt as a “comprehensive, vivid and accurate” picture of Army life.
He writes that “improvements need to be made in accommodation, pay and medical services” and that the “chain of command must still improve things” if more soldiers are to be recruited.
The general accepts the view that delays in holding military inquests are a “disgrace” and writes: “I share the frustration and know that many families feel let down by the process. The delays are unacceptable and I will continue to press for improvements.”
Military housing is an area singled out for criticism. “Estates are becoming less safe and more run down. Some are degenerating – in Germany it is reported that many of the neighbouring areas are occupied by immigrant families with hordes of children.
This is of particular concern for wives when their husband is deployed [on operations].” In Britain, some service families’ accommodation areas have “ex-married quarters owned by housing associations, and disruptive civilian families have moved in, causing concerns over vandalism and theft”.
The report strongly criticises the “Pay As You Dine” policy of making soldiers pay for what they eat, which many in the Army call a “disaster”.
It says: “There are real concerns about the new eating habits of some soldiers due to Pay As You Dine. A “pot noodle and sandwich” culture is being created and soldiers are cooking rations over gas burners in their rooms. There are apocryphal stories of soldiers flaking during PT sessions from a lack of nutrients”.
The report adds: “Pay As You Dine was sold as a strap line of new restaurants, better choice and good quality. The reality is very different – for most, the only investment has been a till.”
There is a growing problem of troops “going sick” to get out of the Army.
There is a lack of “training areas, range availability, shortages of ammunition, spares and manpower – which is limiting the amount of meaningful training that can be undertaken. There are insufficient serviceable aircraft for parachute training. Apache flying hours are limited by lack of serviceable aircraft”.
Patrick Mercer, a Tory MP and former infantry commander, said: “These problem areas existed 10 years ago. Now we have a crisis and it is a disgrace that senior officers and ministers have allowed this to happen. I am staggered that the head of the Army thinks it acceptable to send kids and those medically unfit for war to guard the Falklands.”