DES SPEAKS! Our troops are not underfunded - it's just normal military business The Afghan mission has to justify its expenditure - but no one is demanding cuts, says Des Browne Wednesday August 30, 2006 The Guardian Michael Moriarty's article on these pages is liberally scattered with accusations against British politicians and military commanders about operations in Afghanistan (Soldiers are paying with their lives for this incompetence, August 29). Moriarty claims that both I and the chief of the defence staff have "acknowledged" that force levels and equipment in Afghanistan are insufficient. This is untrue. In Afghanistan - as in every other campaign - the longer the operation goes on, the more we learn, and that includes learning about what we need and responding accordingly. That can mean providing more people and equipment - or different types of people and equipment. As the chief of the defence staff has said, this is "normal military business". Article continues The bigger charge by Moriarty is that the defence budget is not large enough, and that "the climate of financial threat" generated by the Treasury has encouraged military chiefs to take on discretionary operations in order to justify their budgets. As a former soldier, he should know better than to think the chiefs of staff would deploy their people in operations they saw as inadequately planned or funded in order to please the Treasury - or anyone else. Moriarty is wrong to say we're short of money or that the Treasury is demanding cuts. At the planning stage of the Afghan operation I was at the Treasury. I know what the MoD asked for, and what it got. They are one and the same thing. The operation is fully funded, and this includes extra costs which emerge, as they always do during military operations. There is a well-established procedure for approving these. Every time, without exception, I have gone to the Treasury to fund these extra costs, it has done so. Of course it asks for justifications, as it should with every use of taxpayers' money, but it has recognised the need in each of these cases. Similarly, I have identified a number of urgent equipment issues at defence which needed addressing - including the rapid acquisition of new armoured vehicles - and again the Treasury has made new money available. And crucially, these operational costs are all funded from the special reserve: in other words, the idea that the defence budget is threatened by operational costs is completely groundless. Contrary to Moriarty's claims, the annual defence budget has risen by Â£5bn pounds over the past five years - well in excess of inflation. But we still have to stay within that budget, of course. And we have to make sure we get the most out of it. We are looking to "cut the fat" wherever we can to ensure that cash goes to the frontline. It's not because we are short of money, it's because it's the right thing to do. Finally Moriarty suggests morale in Afghanistan is suffering. I think a recent comment by Lt Col Stuart Tootal, commander of 2 Para in Helmand, where the fighting has been most intense, sums it up. "I have never seen the morale of my men as high. This is exactly what they are trained to do." Â· Des Browne MP is secretary of state for defence email@example.com INCOMING! The Guardian welcomes comments responding to Swiss Des, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1860660,00.html scroll down to comments and let the Guardian and Des know what you think.