From the Telegraph Army cannot afford to recruit By Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent (Filed: 06/07/2004) The MoD is deliberately keeping the Army down to 102,000 soldiers, 5,000 below its proper strength, because of a cash crisis. The Army has been short of soldiers for a decade and the rapid increase in overseas operations over the past few years has left it overstretched and unable to cope. Army chiefs complain that the training cycle has been completely disrupted, with some regiments having served in both Afghanistan and Iraq while others are already returning for their second tour in Iraq. They were pleased to find recruitment booming in the wake of the war in Iraq, offering potential respite from the problems of overstretch as well as a move towards a fully manned army of 107,000 men. But, with recruitment booming and the Army's strength approaching 103,000, they were told by the MoD that there was not enough money in the defence budget to cope with more than 102,000 troops. Furious Army chiefs realised they had only two options: take money from other areas of their budget to pay for the extra 1,000 soldiers or slow down recruitment and accelerate the discharge of soldiers. The Army Board decided that, with cuts in other areas likely only to damage morale, they had no choice but to order Lt-Gen Sir Alistair Irwin, the Adjutant-General, to bring numbers down to the 102,000 figure they could afford. Sir Alistair's response was to ban infantry recruitment from May to October to keep numbers down to the level they could afford. The move has infuriated officers in battalions threatened by defence cuts expected next week because the argument for axing them was lack of recruits but they are currently banned from recruiting. Battalions set to be axed include the Black Watch and the Royal Scots, both of which have severe shortages. The Black Watch is about a third short while the Royal Scots has kept its numbers higher only by recruiting troops from Fiji. Overstretch has put immense pressure on the Army's more experienced NCOs and officers, most of whom have wives and families and do not want to spend long periods separated from them. Large numbers of those men, vital to the efficiency of regiments, have left but not enough to satisfy the civil servants. The ban on recruitment was accompanied by a series of measures to speed up the number leaving. Army personnel chiefs had already instigated active measures to get rid of soldiers under a system known as "manning control". That involved tearing up the contracts of soldiers due to serve 22 years, when they would receive an immediate pension, and forcing them out early. But, faced with hundreds of legal challenges, they have now resorted to other measures. Any soldier putting in his notice is likely to be told he must leave immediately, whether or not he has had time to sort out a new job, to bring the number down to the 102,000 level that can be paid for, one defence source said. "There is an undisclosed, conscious policy to reduce further the size of the Army; ostensibly by the very same people - the Army Board - who supposedly tell ministers how overstretched the Army is," the source said. And we're surprised? At least it is being said.