Thursday, December 28, 2006

Panting in the rear

It should actually have been the other way round, with the politicians complaining long and loud about how badly the Army has been treated. But, as we have observed before, such a poor job have they been doing that it has been left to serving officers to make the running.

This time it is Major General Richard Shirreff, commander of UK land forces in southern Iraq this summer, who told the BBC today that the Army was feeling the effects of a decade of underfunding.

He reminded listeners that soldiers put their "bodies and lives on the line" but, in return, they needed the nation's support. There was, he said, a weakening of the bond between the nation and its military and the covenant was "seriously out of kilter".

Shirreff's words, in some respects, echo that of CGS, General Sir Richard Dannatt although the two generals are not singing from the same hymn-sheet. While Dannatt was suggesting that the Army would have to pull out of Iraq, Shirreff declares that we are not in the business of cutting and running. "We are going to maintain a brigade or thereabouts in this part of Iraq for some time to come," he says.

Shirreff wants increased resources and support for the armed forces, both on the battlefield and at home. He is particularly concerned about the care given to wounded military personnel on their return to the UK. He adds that "The nation needs to understand that the quality work done by these courageous men and women out here only happens and can only continue if ... our soldiers are properly supported back home in terms of the support for training, infrastructure, barracks, accommodation."

And, of course, we have also had Field Marshal Sir Peter Inge, Chief of the Defence Staff until 1997, having a go, as well as General Jackson, the recently retired CGS.

All of this is leaving opposition politicians flat-footed. Our pictures show Conservative leader David Cameron talking to Shirreff during his visit to Basra at the end of last month, but it looks like the Boy could have spent a little more time listening.

He should also have listened to this blog (although he is far too grand for that) as it was then that we made it very clear that the military issue was one to go for. But, after the visit, Cameron did not even bother with a statement on the Conservative website.

This time, Liam Fox gets to respond to Shirreff, saying that it was time for the government to say "something resembling the truth" about the military's resources. "The PM repeatedly assures our troops that they can have what they want, assures the public that the troops have what they need, but we are continuingly told by our military commanders that shortages remain," goes his statement. As always, though, it lacks detail and, therefore, conviction.

Just supposing the Tories had produced their own wish list, think how much more powerful any statement from Fox would have been. But time and time again, Fox and his partner in crime, Gerald Howarth, have had an open goal in front of them and have dropped the ball. And now, they are left panting in the rear.

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