A fifth of Britain's infantry is unfit for to serve on the front line, MoD reveals
Ian Drury, Daily Mail, 12 January 2010

A fifth of Britain's infantry are unfit to fight on the frontline, it was revealed this morning.

Damning new figures revealed nearly 5,000 troops are not healthy enough to be sent on the gruelling mission against the Taliban.

In total 4,764 infantrymen - or 20.7 per cent of the total number of 22,987 - are 'not fully deployable', according to the Ministry of Defence.

This means they are either barred from combat operations or can only serve in military bases with medical facilities to care for them.

The increasing numbers of combat injuries suffered by soldiers in Afghanistan has had an impact on the numbers of available troops

The number of troops considered 'not fully deployable' has soared as the Army has suffered rising casualties in firefights with insurgents and from booby-trap bombs.

Other infantrymen have been pulled from the frontline, which means they cannot go on patrol or engage insurgents, because of illness.

But a worrying proportion are simply not physically fit enough to carry out these duties, according a senior British military men.

Since the invasion in 2001, 246 British troops have been killed in Afghanistan - including more than 100 last year. About 1,000 have been admitted to field hospitals after sustaining combat wounds, and 2,190 more have been laid low by diseases or non-battle injuries.

The attrition rate - the worst since the beginning of the Gulf War in 2003 - means a smaller pool of fit infantrymen are available to commanders on the battlefield. Crisis point? The MoD data related to 36 battalions and three Guards companies.

Last night the Government was under pressure to provide more money to train replacements.

The Guards, which includes the Welsh Guards, who were involved in some of the fiercest fighting last year during Operation Panther's Claw - a military mission to smash insurgents - had the highest proportion unfit for battle, with 23.7 per cent not 'fit for task'.

And the Rifles, who have been at the forefront of the fight against the Taliban in Helmand Province, have 22.5 per cent of soldiers unfit for battle.

The figures were uncovered by Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, a member of the Commons defence select committee, from asking Parliamentary questions.

He said: 'These figures show that the Army's human capital is being depleted at an unsustainable rate and this is eroding readiness and the ability to react to other events and threats.

'Headlines naturally focus on our heroes who are killed in the line of duty, but these figures reveal a wider and unfunded cost of maintaining combat forces. 'Crucially, the MoD does not get extra money to care for those who are rendered medically unfit for the front line, nor for the recruitment and training of their replacements.'

Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: 'The infantry is the tip of the spear of the conventional Army. This is the same sad story resulting from a decade of Labour's neglect of our Armed Forces and there is no sign of improvement. This situation is not sustainable.'

Major General Patrick Cordingley, who commanded the Desert Rats in the first Gulf war, said: 'In any unit in normal circumstances, I would expect the figure to be closer to 1 per cent, because you will always have someone who has a problem that has to be sorted out.

'It's going to be impossible to sustain if you are losing the ability to send soldiers back as we are at the moment.'

Colonel Bob Stewart, former commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia, said soldiers were downgraded because of injury, illness and problems such as dental work.

But he added: 'More and more of a problem, is that they are unfit; they are too fat. This is because of cut-backs on training, meaning that when not on active service, soldiers spend a lot of time doing sedentary jobs, meaning that all they have to look forward to is eating.'

As many as 22 per cent of the 73,000 Army personnel who should be available for the battlefield, including artillery, engineers and signals, were 'not fully deployable'.

An MoD spokesman said: 'The majority of those classed as Medically Non Deployable are fit enough to work in some capacity and continue to make a contribution to the effectiveness of the armed forces.'