Years of strain in Iraq and Afghanistan have left nearly a third of British military units suffering from serious deficiencies, a UK parliamentary committee said in a report issued yesterday.
The Public Affairs Committee said the country's armed forces had yet to recover from the impact of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and that continued deployments since then have gone beyond the maximum scenarios predicted by planners.
Strain on the British military has been the focus of renewed attention in recent weeks since the government announced an ambitious three-year mission to southern Afghanistan, beginning within months, before troops come home from Iraq.
"We found that almost a third of forces had serious or critical weaknesses to their required peacetime readiness levels their readiness to deploy on any future operations against a backdrop of a continued high level of commitment to current operations," the report said.
"The continuing high levels of operational commitment are leading to significant strain on equipment support in particular areas, with long term effects."
The Ministry of Defence played down the findings.
"It would simply not be true to interpret the report to say that about a third of Britain's armed forces would struggle to deploy," Junior Defence Minister Adam Ingram said in a statement.
"The impact of current operations on the Armed Forces is judged by the Chiefs of Staff to be manageable and the Armed Forces as a whole remain ready for future operations."
A ministry spokesman said that while many units have deficiencies, none of the shortages is defined as "critical," or bad enough to prevent deployment without a quick fix.
This year could be a crucial test for Britain's military strength. When plans for the new Afghanistan mission were drawn up, British officials were hoping their 8,500-strong contingent in Iraq would be mostly home by the middle of this year.
But so far there are few signs that British troops will be returning from Iraq for months at least, raising the prospect of Britain fighting two medium-sized wars at once, with a military that never fully recovered strength from the Iraq invasion.
As Washington's only major ally during the invasion of Iraq, London sent more than 45,000 troops to the Gulf in 2003, its biggest deployment since the Korean War 50 years ago.
Since then it has maintained about 8,500 troops in Iraq. Its new deployment to Afghanistan is set to peak at about 5,700 troops this year.
Source: China Daily