The Iraq Inquiry report has today stated that the British Army units deployed in the Iraq War were not given adequate or sufficient equipment.
The report identifies that the decision taken by the Government to accelerate the deployment of troops “compressed the timescales available for preparation”. While giving evidence to the Inquiry in 2010 Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup stated that by giving the military only four months to prepare for war, there was a “significant difference” in military capability. Sir John Chilcot further criticised the MOD for being “slow” to provide appropriate equipment for troops.
At a press conference held earlier by the families of soldiers killed in Iraq, many were critical of the manner in which troops were equipped. Roger Bacon who lost his son Matthew in 2005, just five weeks into his deployment, said “There is an equipment issue,” and suggested that legal action may be taken against the MOD based on the report’s contents.
Meanwhile, two soldiers who served in Iraq appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme, criticising the armour issued to troops in Iraq. Speaking on the programme, Lance Corporal Iain McMenemy said:
“We were issued with the body armour vest and we were given ceramic plates, one for the front, one for the back and that’s what stops a bullet.
“First week into the combat campaign itself we were asked to give them up. There were other troops that would be fighting, perhaps on foot, and the ones that were fighting on foot should have those ceramic plates because they may have more need for it.
“At the time we were asked, we were manning vehicle checkpoints on foot so we were very much at that point in the firing line, so we felt we shouldn’t be asked to give up the ceramic plates which were the difference between stopping a bullet and not.”
Lance Corporal Damien Hern recalled how he did not have the appropriate desert camouflage for the mission, and was deployed wearing ‘greens’, the name given to the camouflage intended for use in more temperate climates such as the UK. The soldier was told to “stay away” from a press event, so as not to be seen wearing the wrong equipment.
“Coffins on Wheels”
The continued use of the Snatch Land Rover was singled out for particular criticism in the report. The vehicles were lightly armoured, having been originally purchased for patrolling the streets of Belfast, and were unable to withstand the threat posed by roadside bombs. In the Summer of 2005 the issues with the Snatch peaked after twelve vehicles were destroyed, resulting in the deaths of 19 service personnel with many more injured. The vehicles were nicknamed “Coffins on Wheels” by the press, as an indictment of their poor safety record. However, it was not until almost a year later that the MOD finally placed an order for the replacement vehicle, the Mastiff. The report states:
“Although work had begun before 2002 to source an additional [Protected Patrol Vehicle], it was only ordered in July 2006 following Ministerial intervention.”
The report’s authors criticise the Executive Committee of the Army Board for lacking “focus” when there was an immediate need for a medium weight PPV to be selected.
Fighting on Two Fronts
The deployment of British troops in Afghanistan also affected the availability of resources for troops in Iraq. In particular, it was found that there weren’t sufficient helicopters to support both missions simultaneously. Without sufficient transport helicopter capability troops were faced to undertake dangerous overland journeys, exposing them to hostile forces. The report states:
“Between 2003 and 2009, UK Forces in Iraq faced gaps in some key capability areas, including protected mobility, ISTAR and helicopter support.”
Former Defence Secretary John Hutton painted the picture of the MOD being a “procurement shambles”. The helicopter shortage was compounded by issues being faced with eight Mk3 Chinook helicopters ordered from Boeing in 1995. A failure to include a key clause in the procurement contract left the aircraft lying unused in a hangar in Wiltshire with the total cost of the programme estimated at over £500m by the National Audit Office.
The Iraq Inquiry, dubbed the Chilcot report after it’s chairman Sir John Chilcot, is the longest running in British political history. After almost 7 years the Inquiry today published a 12.6 million word report, highly critical of the decisions taken surrounding the 2003 Iraq War. In the six years the war lasted there were 179 British service personnel killed, with the death toll from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) standing at 47, the largest single cause of death.