Following hot on the announcements that troop levels in Iraq will now be remaining at 4,000 and also that the UK is about to deploy a further battalion of 600 troops on a peace-keeping mission to Kosovo, the Observer today reports that the British army's frontline fighting capability has been severely weakened by an acute manpower shortage that has left military commanders short of two infantry battalions. It quotes an MoD document which admits that the British infantry is 1,280 men under strength ahead of this year's spring offensive in Afghanistan and that every battalion out there is 100 men short of its full complement.
The revelations were made in a document submitted to the House of Commons Defence Committee's inquiry into Recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces. The MoD admits that there are 70 'pinch points' of critical skill shortage - 31 in the RAF, 30 in the Army and 9 in the RN - and these are having a 'detrimental impact' on the ability of the Armed Forces to conduct two major conflicts. Shortages of aircraft gunners, intelligence analysts, mechanical engineers and medical personnel were highlighted.
Despite having spent a record £95million in recruitment over the last year (an increase of almost 50% on 5 years ago), the services are still failing to attract the recruits they need. The only factor from the report that the Guardian chose to mention is obesity: 'Increasing levels of obesity and resultant health problems among young people reduce the number eligible to join.' All the bad publicity about poor living conditions, inadequate compensation payouts, low pay and the Government's general failure in its duty of care can't be helping recruitment either. The Defence Committee's report on the subject will make interesting reading.
Link> The Guardian: Army weakened by recruitment failure
Link> The Guardian: New mission for British troops in Kosovo
Link> AV: Defence Committee web forum on recruitment and retention