1,100 go AWOL since Iraq war
MORE than 1,100 British military personnel who have deserted since the start of the Iraq war remain missing.
Figures for those who remain absent without leave are 86 from 2001, 118 from 2002, 134 from 2003, 229 from 2004, 377 from 2005, and 189 for this year so far.
The news comes as Westminster debates a law that will forbid military personnel from refusing to participate in the ordered occupation of a foreign country. Last week a motion to cut the maximum jail sentence from life to two years for those who desert because they refuse to take part in a foreign military occupation was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs.
Yesterday, the Liberal Democrats' defence spokesman, Nick Harvey, said: "These are astonishing figures which show how much pressure the armed forces are under, with dangerous missions in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The Ministry of Defence insisted numbers going absent without leave had been constant in recent years.
The MoD said that in 2001, 2,670 soldiers went absent without leave, with the figure rising to 2,970 in 2002 and falling the following year to 2,825. In 2004 it rose to 3,050, falling back again in 2005 to 2,725.
"We regard the figure as fairly constant," a spokeswoman said. "It often happens for family reasons and there is no evidence to suggest operational commitments contribute significantly to the figures."
But John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, said: "What the MoD is saying flies in the face of all the other evidence and the experience of soldiers on the ground."
• British and Iraqi forces have seized their largest-ever haul of bomb-making equipment and weapons in Basra, it was revealed yesterday.
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