Brown's promise on new vehicles for Afghanistan is full of holes
Posted by Jamie at 9 30 PM on Saturday, March 6
From Camp Bastion
HEAD in hand, the grim face of Gordon Brown is reflected in a sunlit memorial plaque to fallen heroes as he visits Afghanistan yesterday.
The picture was taken less than 24 hours after the Prime Minister told the Chilcot Iraq war inquiry that he had never refused a funding request for equipment.
And the plaque’s words were an epitaph to the responsibilities lying heavy on his shoulders.
But during his surprise visit to our frontline troops in Helmand, the PM promised another £100million will be spent to replace the ageing Snatch Land Rovers — nicknamed “mobile coffins”.
However, the News of the World can reveal our forces in Afghanistan will have to risk their lives in the mobile death traps for at least another 18 MONTHS — before the new generation of “light patrol vehicles” arrives.
Coincidentally, four of the 30 lives lost during Operation Herrick 8, to which the memorial plaque was dedicated, were being investigated at another inquiry this week.
They were Corporal Sarah Bryant and her three comrades killed when a roadside bomb blew their Snatch Land Rover apart in 2008.
Mr Brown used his last visit before the General Election to thank troops involved in Operation Moshtarak, the biggest airborne assault since World War II. And he also seized the chance to unveil plans to buy the new patrol vehicle.
A No10 spokesman said: “These vehicles will offer unprecedented protection.” Some 200 will be deployed in Afghanistan. But they are still on the drawing board and will not arrive in Helmand until the end of next year.
Until then furious British soldiers are still being sent on Afghan patrols in lightly modified versions of the Snatch — and some are prepared to quit rather than risk their lives in them. Just last week 20-year-old Senior Aircraftman Luke Southgate from 2 Squadron RAF was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol near Kandahar airfield in one of the Land Rovers.
Last night an RAF source said: “No one has a problem fighting for their country. But going out on patrol in these vehicles is suicide. I know a number of guys willing to quit for the sake of their families. The Land Rovers they’re having to use aren’t fit for war zones. They’re fine for protecting you from a few bumps on the Yorkshire Dales, but they’ll do nothing for you if you go over an IED.”
Since 2003, some 37 UK personnel have been killed in Snatch vehicles. They were replaced by slightly modified versions called Vixens — but troops still fear using them.
Our source said: “They’re just Snatches with a thin steel plate bolted underneath. Are our soldiers expected to resign themselves to coming back either dead or limbless?”
Downing Street also used the trip to Afghanistan to announce 150 new recruits to train up Afghan police to take over from British forces. And it unveiled an £18m programme to combat roadside bombs with 2,000 extra handheld metal detectors.
Speaking at multi-national base Camp Bastion, Mr Brown praised the “bravery, sacrifice and professionalism” of all the troops involved.
And he told 200 Brits at Lashkar Gah: “We’ll do everything we can to support you with the equipment necessary and the resources you need.”