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Army 10,000 understrength according to Tory MP; POLITICS.

Claims that the Army is 3,000 understrength were dismissed as nonsense by a senior Tory MP and former military officer yesterday as he warned the real figure was closer to 10,000.

Patrick Mercer, a former commanding officer of the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters and ex-shadow Security Minister, said the "evil" of undermanning was so acute that units were deploying on operations at a non-combat effective strength.

According to Mr Mercer, the Army is about 3,000 short "on paper", but up to a further 7,000 cannot be deployed because, for example, they have been medically downgraded, are "compassionate cases", or on "career courses".

He challenged ministers to get a grip on the problem and "rattle the cages of incompetence inside the Ministry of Defence" to avert a crisis that was threatening to bring many units "to their knees".

In a Commons debate on the military covenant, Mr Mercer (Newark) said only "anoraks" like him understood the true scale of the problem.

"I wish to talk about the evil of undermanning inside, principally, the Army and the vast damage that this is doing to the covenant," he added.

"We are told that the army is 3,000 men understrength. That is complete and utter nonsense. It's more like 10,000 understrength.

"And it is rapidly approaching a position now where battalions, brigades, regiments are incapable of operating in the field - where units are deploying on operations at a non-combat effective strength."

And he warned: "If you haven't got enough blokes, then the nasty bits come round too often. When the nasty bits come round too often the blokes leave, simple as that."

Citing one example, Mr Mercer told the House: "The 1st Battalion the Staffordshire Regiment, now the Mercian Regiment, deployed to Iraq one rifle company strong and another company capable of driving and manning its Warrior armoured vehicles.

"That's all. They were not combat effective when they deployed."

He also referred to the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment which was involved in the operation to take back Musa Qala in Afghanistan from the Taliban.

One of two British casualties in the attack, Sergeant Lee Johnson, was serving with the battalion.

"They are meant to be 600-strong. That is their peace establishment. They are not, they are 100 men understrength already in peacetime.

"When they deployed to Afghanistan, to Helmand, they left behind 100 men who were unfit for operations, back in their barracks.

"They left behind another 200 men to man the barracks back in England.

"So a unit of 500 went into the field 200 strong - they had 100 reinforcements from the TA and 200 reinforcements from the rest of the regular Army.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 13, 2007
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