Armour that could save lives in Afghanistan is stuck just off the M5
Posted by Jamie at 9 03 PM on Saturday, August 8
ROW upon row of desperately needed armoured vehicles are LYING IDLE at an army depot back home — as Our Boys ride flimsy trucks to their death in Afghanistan.
The vast hangars of the Ashchurch base in sleepy Gloucestershire are so full that the tough trucks, which could withstand Taliban bombs, spill out and are parked on fields.
Our exclusive pictures show life-saving vehicles — including Mastiffs, Panthers, Huskies, Warriors, Bulldogs and even state-of-the-art Ridgbacks — gathering dust 4,000 miles from the bloody frontline where 195 of our brave troops have died.
On Thursday three Paras were killed and a fourth critically injured when their lightly armoured Jackal vehicle was hit by an explosion and small-arms fire.
There was outrage last week when it was revealed that nine £300,000 Ridgback vehicles destined for Afghanistan had been stranded in Dubai for three weeks because the RAF was too busy to airlift them.
In the meantime, eight brave squaddies died in trucks unable to stand up to Taliban bombs.
Out of 157 Ridgback trucks ordered in December 2007, just 20 had reached troops in Helmand by last week.
There is also a shortage of Chinook helicopters, needed to safely transport men and equipment.
Yet, as the News of the World revealed last week, some are being used to give JOYRIDES to RAF families at a base in Odiham, Hants. Under-fire Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth boasted last month that the government had spent £1billion on more than 1,000 new armoured vehicles.
But our brave troops are asking where they are. And today we can tell them.
The brand new vehicles are lined up at Ashchurch, close to the M5 motorway, waiting for RAF planes with orders to ship them out.
The base has enough room for 12,000 vehicles to be stored, with 47,000 square metres of outside space. Five huge, controlled-humidity hangars provide another 47,000 square meters of storage.
They hold everything from motorbikes to Challenger II main battle tanks. There is another 5,000 square-meter railway loading area.
The Ministry of Defence says it would be “completely unsustainable” to have all our vehicles in Afghanistan. But our troops are dying because of a shortage of exactly the type of armoured trucks parked up in Gloucestershire.
One soldier at the site said: “It is unbelievable. There are hundreds and hundreds of vehicles there, probably thousands.
“There is everything the troops on the frontline want. The place is bursting at the seams.
“The hangars are so full, they have started parking the trucks up on the fields and Tarmac.
“And it is not as if they have just arrived here. Some of the vehicles have been here for months and months.
“I would estimate some have been here for about four months.
“The boys on the frontline are crying out for this sort of equipment. And it is not as if we haven’t got it. It’s sitting right here in the English countryside. It’s an absolute scandal.”
The MoD’s own website boasts of the site: “Almost every spare metre is taken up with storage of one vehicle or another.”
A military analyst added: “Everyone knows we need Ridgbacks. And our soldiers are crying out for Mastiffs in Afghanistan. The Taliban hate them.”
The Ashchurch site’s technical services manager, Jeff Trelfa, said: “Our primary function is to supply the right equipment at the right time and in the right place.”
Last night the Ministry of Defence defended the situation. In a statement it said: “It is completely unsustainable to have all our vehicles in theatre at once.
“It is imperative that if the mission is to be sustainable, we need to have a fleet in theatre and in the UK for training, maintenance and upgrades.
“We have now spent over £1bn on new vehicles for operations, with a total of 1,200 new vehicles supporting operations that have been ordered over the last two years.”
But Tory MP Patrick Mercer, who spent 25 years with the Sherwood Foresters regiment and now chairs the Commons counter-terrorism sub-committee, insists penny-pinching is to blame.
He raged: “This is outrageous. I have been talking to men who are out in Afghanistan. They are crying out for these armoured vehicles.
“We have the crews and all the resources they need to man them in Afghanistan. Why, therefore, are they in Gloucestershire? The vehicles are not being sent where they are needed because of tight defence budgets — no more, no less than that.”
Mr Mercer called on the MoD to start to operate “on a war footing”. He said: “Every day we see a bloody and lethal war being fought and played out on our TVs.
“So, when we hear stories of lack of armoured vehicles, helicopters and fighting manpower, it is understandable that morale drops.
“It is no good there being more civil servants in the MoD than there are soldiers.
“It is no good refurbishing the MoD offices to the tune of £300m when the boys haven’t got the right equipment, or number of men, to drive the Taliban back.”
SLIP Peter Mandelson some truth serum and he’d probably dissolve. But there’s one secret everyone wants to know.
What is he plotting? Getting rid of Gordon Brown? Taking the throne for himself? Setting up a permanent office in Corfu?
Tomorrow, he walks in to 10 Downing Street — in charge for one week only.
And we may get a glimpse of his real mission.
Already, Lord Mandelson of Voldemort has made himself the unofficial Prime Minister. More titles than Queen Victoria — and more staff. So why bother to stage a coup if you already have all the power?
He already has the PM at his mercy, playing cruel tricks with Gordo like volunteering him for TV debates with David Cameron.
Next week, he’ll show us his version of how to run a country. I’m told he’ll roll up to No10 “about lunchtime”.
Lesson One: True leaders take it easy. They don’t do Brown-style 5am starts.
He’ll talk about his car scrappage scheme, which has raised new car sales.
Lesson Two: Boast about successful policies.
Then — my favourite bit — Mandy will make a couple of regal visits to his subjects around the country.
Lesson Three: Bunkers are for bats. Real leaders meet real people, even if it means being pelted by eggs and worse.
Finally, Mandelson will step down next weekend.
Lesson Four: Don’t outstay your welcome.
He wants to exude calm and control. And add more unofficial job titles to his collection: Big Daddy of the Labour Party, Lifelong Godfather and Official Kingmaker.
When the party loses power, and starts an almighty civil war, he will be in a position to minimise the damage and choose a leader.
As Mandy knows, Labour is in grave danger. It may go bankrupt and be taken over by the trade unions. Unite, the union led by luxury-loving Derek Simpson, has already started what many fear is a creeping takeover of Labour.
I’ve been amazed at the number of senior Labour figures telling me the party may then split, like it did in 1981. “You could do worse than a social democratic party led by Vince Cable” one Blair ultra loyalist told me.
This still sounds far-fetched to me. But ministers are in despair — fearing nothing can stop a trade union takeover. The unions have the money. But Mandelson has the power. So what he does after the next election will be crucial.
His main mission is to undermine potential candidates he does NOT want to lead Labour, and support his friends.
James Purnell is out. His bushy sideburns won’t adorn Labour’s front bench for years. He’ll be planning a later comeback.
Alan Johnson would rather deliver post again than be leader of a defeated Labour party. It’s a job no sane person would want.
This leaves the field clear for devious Harriet Harman, who seems to consider madness a prerequsite for the job.
Her weird display of 70s- style feminism last week may appeal to a few Labour activists. But to real voters, it looks absurd. There are plenty of other unsuitables, oddballs and Ed Balls. But Mandelson will pick a Sane Labour candidate, and coach him.
Word is right now that his eye is on Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary. He’s a leftie, but with decency and sanity. You can bet Mandy has other candidates. He’s still close to David Miliband, our lanky foreign secretary, and others besides.
As for taking the crown himself? Forget it. He’d have to leave the Lords and fight a by-election.
He has a deep sense of Labour history, and will know the real battle starts after its election defeat.
That’s why Lord Mandelson of Foy and Everything Else has one final mission in politics: to save Labour from itself.