Half-trained troops to fight the Taleban

Nearly 1,000 new army recruits face having their combat training cut by half so that they can be rushed to the battlefields of Afghanistan.

The “exceptional” measure is being proposed by senior officers to meet a serious shortage in manpower, The Times has learnt. It would affect those infantry battalions being earmarked to fight in the country next year. One senior defence source admitted that the new recruits would not be properly qualified to fight since they would receive only 50 per cent of the basic training usually given to qualified combat infantrymen.

“I would be very nervous of having to deploy with this limited level of expertise and experience in the frontline companies,” the source said. He added that such a scheme could undermine the reputation of the Army.

At present every battalion due to deploy next year is at least 100 soldiers short of the required manpower level – that is, 550 instead of 650 men.

Normally soldiers being prepared for Afghanistan spend 26-28 weeks on the Army’s combat infantry course, which has a reputation for producing some of the best infantry troops in the world.

However, to cope with the manpower shortages the combat infantry course would be cut to 14 weeks – even though senior planning officers involved in the proposal have acknowledged that there would be risks attached.

The Ministry of Defence claimed that no decisions had been made. A spokeswoman said: “There is no question of training being compromised.” However, she added: “We have adapted our training in terms of our operational requirement and we’re taking action in terms of the manning challenges.”

The Army has been facing serious manning shortfalls for some time. The trained strength should be 101,800 soldiers, but the current figure is 98,160, and there is little sign of the MoD reaching the required target.

Under the new form of “accelerated training”, selected recruits would be put on a fast track into the Army and on to Afghanistan. Under the scheme the recruits would also be offered a shorter engagement – less than the normal commitment of four years. In addition those accepted would have to be over 18.

The controversial proposal has emerged as the Government plans to announce today the next rotation of troops to Afghanistan. Paratroopers of 16 Air Assault Brigade, who were the first British troops to be sent to Helmand province in the south in 2006, are returning for a second tour.

A full complement of 7,800 troops will replace 52 Brigade, which deployed to Afghanistan last October. Their mission is codenamed Operation Herrick 8. The paratroopers will do six months and be replaced in October and November.

However, the Army has to plan well ahead for future deployments, and with the Government’s pledge that 7,800 troops would be committed to Afghanistan until at least 2009, senior officers have been drawing up details for the two rotations for next year, Operations Herrick 10 and 11.

When dealing with manpower shortages in the past, the Army has filled gaps in infantry battalions with soldiers from other regiments to ensure that they are of sufficient strength to fight a war.

But for next year’s deployments to Afghanistan, officers were asked to look at exceptional measures to meet the manpower gaps. Defence sources said that once integrated into the battalions, the soldiers with the proposed shortened form of combat training could represent 60 per cent of the “bayonet strength” of each unit.

Although recruitment has been improving in recent months, there has been a steady rise in the number of officers and other ranks leaving the Service early. This was highlighted this week by the Commons Defence Committee, which said that one of the main reasons for the early departures was the failure of the MoD to give soldiers enough of a break between tours. Attitude surveys carried out by the MoD have shown that soldiers have become increasingly concerned about the time spent away from home, as well as key welfare issues such as poor accommodation.

However, there is little evidence that the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has demotivated soldiers or been the main cause for putting off youngsters from joining up. Soldiers have generally welcomed the operational experience, and in 2006 while 16 Air Assault Brigade was engaging the Taleban in Helmand, applications to join the Parachute Regiment rose significantly.

But many of the infantry battalions have suffered manpower shortages, including the Paras. The MoD has had to resort to offering generous bonuses and welfare packages, such as free phone calls home when serving overseas, to try to retain troops with combat experience.
Right, I start my CIC on Febuary 24th 2008, this does NOT make me feel better, there is no way on earth I would be happy with a mere 14 weeks training and then being wisked off to f*cking timbucktoo.

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