Readers to this site may wish to read The Times Editorial below which was written in 1999. In view of the constant breaking of harmony guidlines and the overstretch which is currently prevalent in all services seven years later is it better or worse and what do senior officers and politicians propose to do? Can we meet our next commitment to deploy troops to Sudan to meet a UN commitment which may be asked for, along with other UN members, in September. The African Union forces currently there have indicated that if we and others do not deploy extra forces to support them they will pack up and go by late September. THE TIMES TUESDAY AUGUST 3 1999 THIN RED LINE Undermanning is unmanning the British Anny If George Robertson is confirmed as the next Nato Secretary General, one problem will outrank all others in the in tray marked "most urgent that will await his successor. That is the Army's shortage of trained fighting manpower, which is now so acute that there is a serious mismatch between Britain's strategic policy choices and the capacity to implement them. Kosovo offers a high profile example of this worsening dilemma. Of all Nato forces deployed there, the British Army has by common consent the best Â¬equipped troops in terms of professionalism, training and, largely because of Ulster, experience in robust but fair intercommunal peacekeeping. Yet, well before a stable environment has been secured, one Parachute battalion has already been pulled out, a Royal Gurkha Rifles battalion is packing up and one from the Irish Guards will follow them out in October. From a peak of more than 11,000, the British Army in Kosovo will be down to 5,000 by midwinter. In Bosnia, similarly, Britain's presence will be more than halved, to 2,000, by the New Year. These retrenchments are being driven neither by military assessments of need, nor, on the part of a Government strongly committed to restoring stability to the region, by political choice. The disturbing truth is that the Army simply does not have enough soldiers. Nearly 50 per cent of the Army is now on operational duty, and even when this is reduced to 28 per cent by next year, the Government's target of 24 month gaps between tours will still be beyond reach. The Army is more overstretched than at any time since the late 1940s. And the longer this continues, the harder it will be to recruit and retain career soldiers. Last year's Strategic Defence Review provided, in addition to the Army's routine commitments, for the simultaneous deployment of one warfighting brigade over six months and an equivalent force for longer term peacekeeping. Kosovo would have stretched capacity therefore, even if the Army were up to its much reduced official trained strength of 102,000 which is 27 per cent down on its Cold War complement, and which the Government is committed, by 2004, to raise by 3,500. But instead of rising towards 105,500, it is down to around 96,000, a 6,000 shortfall, with more people leaving than joining. The root of the problem is that the cuts in Army manpower in the early 1990s were so sudden and so steep that, with regiments broken up or merged and 40,000 servicemen abruptly made redundant, the Army ceased to look like a distinct community offering a career for life. By the mid 1990s there was a recruitrfient crisis. That picture has improved; the past year was the best since 1991 for recruitment of soldiers, although there remains a shortfall at officer level; but retention is another story. The outflow of expensively trained troops is about 10 per cent a year 900 a month. Still more worrying is the rate at which the Army is losing officers. Among captains in their late 20s and early 30s tomorrow's commanders more packed their kitbags and left last year than ever before. They cite deteriorating conditions of service itself related to manpower shortages the question mark over the boarding school allowance which compensates for constant moves, the narrower promotions pyramid that goes with a smaller Army and strains on family life that show up in disturbingly high rates of marital breakdown. The Territorial Army shows a similar downward trend; the lesson of the mid 1990s is that it may be the Government's plan to cut the TA by 18,000, to 42,000, which is reducing its appeal: only 31,000 are currently undergoing sufficient annual training to qualify for the TA bounty. Mr Robertson has rightly insisted on restoring predictability to military careers and to doing more to meet the needs of family life. But this is not easy to reconcile with the further "efficiency" savings demanded, along with cuts in real terms of Â£685 million, by the Treasury. Tony Blair is ambitious for Britain's role as an effective military power, seeing it with reason as a distinctively British asset. The concerns of the Chief of the General Staff, which we report today, underline that if Mr Robertson goes, he must be replaced by a heavy hitter at least as'.capable as he of winning spending battles. The Government must will the means to its ends.